Showing posts with label relationships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relationships. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an odd, but interesting and entertaining story. The author sells well in Japan apparently, and has several titles published there. This is her first English translation.

The novella is about a Japanese woman, Keiko Furukura, who is in her mid-thirties and who seems to the rest of the world to be stagnating. She is neither in a successful career, nor is she married with children which seem to be the only two viable options available to Japanese women, reading between the lines here.

in fact, Keiko has some sort of deficit disorder in that she doesn't see life like her peers do. For example, when she was in middle school and two boys were fighting, and other girls were urging them to stop it to no avail, Keiko's solution was to grab a nearby shovel and hit one of them on the head with it, which expediently stopped the fight at once. Problem solved.

She couldn't understand why she got into trouble for this any more than she can grasp why it's not acceptable to stick something sharp into a baby to shock it into stopping its endless wailing. Fortunately, she has learned that her solution would be socially unacceptable, and doesn't attempt it, even though the offending baby is her nephew, the son of her younger sister Mami. Keiko has learned that by watching how her peers deal with situations and then emulating them, even though the emulation itself makes no sense to her, she can get by. Mami, realizing Keiko has a problem, helps her with this.

This emulation even extends to copying their mannerisms, clothing choices, and speech inflections, although she's careful not to emulate her peers too precisely. Instead, she imbibes each of their essences, and regurgitates a meld of that as her own style. Keiko is like a robot who is given an AI learning program. In this way she's able to hold down a long-term job at a convenience store named Smile Mart which always seems to be pushing special offers.

The store is actually the perfect environment for Keiko, because it's highly-structured and the daily routine follows a specific set of simple rules. In such circumstances, she flourishes and becomes the store's most reliable and efficient employee. In this way she reminds me of Jeff Daniels's character Bill Johnson in the excellent movie Pleasantville, although she doesn't become anywhere near as lost as he does when routine changes. She feels completely at home in the Smile Mart, more so than anywhere else, and she volunteers for extra shifts because given a choice, that's where she'd rather be. Over the years she sees eight managers come and go, and many more of the staff. Those managers have all seemed to revere her as a stellar and exemplary employee.

This all starts to unravel with the arrival of a completely disaffected, rude, self-absorbed, and frankly gross employee by the name of Shiraha. He is fired, but when Keiko meets him lurking around the store because of his unrequited interest in another female employee, she starts to bond with him. He has no interest in her and she has never been interested in romance or sex, but he moves into her apartment and in that way she can assure her family that she has a boyfriend even though he is, in her own words, really like a stray pet that she took in, and feeds. This nevertheless brings big changes to her life.

I enjoyed this. It is a fast read: even though it's around 160 pages, the book is a very small format. Had it been a regularly-sized print book, it would have probably been less than ninety pages and looking quite skimpy, so it felt rather dishonest that the publisher had made an attempt to 'bulk it up' like this. Despite that, I commend it as a worthy read and may well come back to this author at some point in the future to sample more of her work (assuming more is translated because my Japanese is non-existent, sad to say!).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Life After Life By Kate Atkinson

Rating: WARTY!

This was another attempt at Kate Atkinson via audiobook. It failed.

I came to her as an author via Case Histories on TV, which I really enjoyed, but my foray into her novel about the same characters was boring. I had the same experience here, but I confess it did take me longer to get bored! Normally when an author has failed me I don't go back to that same author. I had the same policy on dating when I was single! LOL! I don't see the point in revisiting a disappointment so I've never done it with dating and very rarely with authors. I only went back to this author because I got three of her novels from the library at the same time and wanted to at least give them all a try as long as I had them.

This one had sounded really interesting. In some ways it was reminiscent of my own Tears in Time, although that was sci-fi and didn't involve the character dying. This novel was a bit more like the movie Groundhog Day except that instead of the main character falling asleep and reliving the same day over, the main character here dies and then somehow continues on as though nothing has happened. There's no information as to how this works: whether it actually is a redux or whether this is a trip through parallel universes. Perhaps by the end of the novel this is made clear, but I only made it to just under halfway through.

I gave up on it because it was becoming tedious and repetitive. It wasn't so much that it went over the same story again and again, although it did to begin with. In this story we did slowly move forward and the character did progressively grow older as the story went on, from infant-hood to childhood to teen years and older, and even into a marriage which didn't work out. I lost interest because the tedium of her life remained the same, the relationships remained the same, and the kind of events that befell her remained the same. Nothing really different happened, so while she was growing, the story was not!

On top of that, Ursula, the main character, simply wasn't that interesting. She was so passive and she didn't do anything! Instead, things happened to her, and this never changed. She was far too passive: even a rape and a subsequent botched abortion did not impinge upon her significantly. You'd think that repeatedly dying and then finding out they had survived the death and had a second (and a third, fourth, etc) opportunity, would actually change a person and have a profound effect on them, and that this effect would become increasingly powerful as it was repeated, but this wasn't the case here at all. Ursula was Teflon™ coated! Nothing affected her. Nothing left a mark! It was entirely unrealistic, and this story simply wasn't for me. I do not recommend it. I'd much rather have read about Ursula's aunt Isabella, who sounded far more interesting than ever Ursula could be.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Rating: WORTHY!

Read with gusto and love by Jenna Lamia, this was an adorable audiobook story. It was literally short and sweet and very amusing. The three main characters were brilliantly-drawn and admirably entertaining. The author's name was so familiar to me that I thought I'd read something by her before, but I can't find any record of it, so this is evidently my first encounter. I plan on it not being the last. This was a pleasant find. I tend to experiment a lot more with audiobooks than other formats, and many of them fail because of that. Once in a while a gem like this comes along and makes all of the unsatisfactory assaults on my ears bearable!

Raymie isn't a Nightingale, she's a Clarke. Nightingale is the book about Florence (of the lamp, not of Tuscany, which is really Firenza) which Raymie was taking to read to a resident of a retirement home (Raymie has to do good deeds). Raymie is missing her father, who ran off with a dental hygienist, and she figures if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition (which requires good deeds and baton-twirling), her father would see her picture in the paper and be so proud of her, and miss her so much that he would immediately return home and all would be well.

Raymie has a lot to learn about guys.

Also competing in the contest is Louisiana Elefante, daughter of the Flying Elefantes, the famous trapeze artists, now deceased. Louisiana has 'swampy lungs', and is living with her kleptomaniac grandmother. They are so poor that Louisiana is counting on winning the contest to shore-up their finances.

Beverly Tapinski has no intention of winning the contest. She hates these contests so much that she's dedicated to sabotaging this one. The only reason these three girls meet is that they all show up for baton-twirling lessons as taught by the irascible Ida Knee who is the antithesis of long-suffering. The girls don't really get along too well to begin with, but inevitably they get into bizarre and amusing mishaps and scrapes, and are drawn into a tight trio who call themselves The Rancheros (it's Louisiana's idea). That's all I'm going to tell you. Like I said, the story is short and it's fun, so what have you to lose? Very little time if you don't like it. I loved it and I recommend it.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sociable by Rebecca Harrington

Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel was very short and not appealing to me at all. I started out not liking it, began to like it when I got a little bit in, when the main character had a career change, but then went right off it when I realized that nothing really had changed, nor was it going to. The main character, with the unlikely name of Elinor, shades of Hill House, was one of the most drab and uninteresting people I've ever had to read about. She showed no sense of self-worth, no intelligence, no motivation, and was quite willing to be in an emotionally abusive relationship with a complete jerk of a guy for no reason whatsoever. She wasn't even smart enough to know she was in an abusive relationship nor did any of her friends care enough for her to warn her off it. In short she was an idiot and showed no sign of ever improving. How she ever hoped to be a real journalist is a mystery.

The story was all dot com, but paradoxically was so starkly newspaper black and white as to be a caricature of itself. There was not one single decent guy depicted in this entire novel that I saw - although I freely admit I read only half of it, skimmed another quarter, read the end and then gave up on it completely. The end was entirely dissatisfying. If I were to judge solely from this novel, which I won't, I'd be forced to conclude that the author hates guys! Either that or she doesn't know how to write decent male characters or even gray-area character, but paradoxically the women were such drab people in this story that they were colorless. And everyone was so one dimensional that I honestly believe it I had the print version of this, and turned it sideways, I would not be able to see it any more, and I'd be fine with that.

The story is essentially of Elinor getting a new job writing those idiot dumb-ass lists that far too many websites post. She apparently excels at this mindless task while her boyfriend, who doesn't give a shit about her (which begs the unanswered question as to he's even with her in the first place) is an having an affair right under her nose, gets this purportedly prestigious job and then finds it's not as great as he thought. He leaves Elinor and then wants to come back to her and Elinor doesn't take him back because she's too stupid to even realize that's what he's after!

That's it! That's the entire story and it drags on and on page after page with one moron after another trooping through the meandering paragraphs. Some parts were flashbacks, but they were so badly written that I had a hard time telling when they were done and we were back in the present. I detest flashbacks. This was an awful story and I resent even the relatively small amount of time I spent reading what I did of it. here;s badly written: "The headphones were giant white conical spheres." What, exactly, is a conical sphere?! I cannot recommend this, not even as soporific reading, because it is so irritating it wouldn't actually put you to sleep.

Fresh Ink by various authors

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was an anthology put together by Lamar Giles under the Random House Children's Crown Books for Young Readers imprint, but the themes here seemed rather adult, so I'm wondering if young adult might have been better than 'young children's' - to me that's misleading. Worse than this there are os many books out there titled "Fresh Ink" that it's a bit sad the publisher could not have come up with something better and less over-used.

Overall I was not impressed by this. Out of thirteen stories only two were really enjoyable and one was a maybe, but the rest were not interesting, and overall the stories belied the anthology title - there really wasn't anything fresh here at all. Maybe the stories were newly-written, but that doesn't mean they're fresh, and most of the themes featured here have already been done to death. They need really fresh ink to keep these themes alive, and sadly, this wasn't it.

The range of authors was in one way commendably diverse, but the problem with that is that all of these authors are USA authors! Only Melissa de la Cruz and Nicola Yoon were not born here and they apparently got here as soon as they could, and every story was set in the USA, like no other country in the world matters. I found this to be a big indictment of the 'fresh' claim: it really was very much same old, same old, and this made me sad. There's little point in talking about diversity and inclusiveness, and "#ownvoices" when it's all USA all the time, like there is nowhere else in the world worth writing about or setting stories in. It makes the whole enterprise hypocritical.

The blurb on Goodreads and on Net Galley says, "Careful--you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written--whose next chapters are up to you." but this is disingenuous bullshit! All of these stories are copyrighted to their authors. You start writing 'chapter two' of any one of these and you will be sued.

The story titles are listed below with my comments on each. I'd heard of only three of these authors before through reading their work, so this felt like a good opportunity to 'meet' the others and see what they can do.

  • Eraser Tattoo by Jason Reynolds
    This story was a poor lead-in for me because it led me nowhere. I'd never heard of this author, so I was interested to see if I liked the story, but it turned out to be a maudlin meandering tale of a young couple who were going to be separated by distance. It felt like fluff to me - like nothing. People split up all the time, so if you're going to relate a story about it, you'd better bring something new to the table: a twist, a new angle, something. There was nothing new revealed here, nothing fresh. I guess there could have been, but a story like this needs to be handled better than it was. I found it boring. The title sounds almost sci-fi, but the eraser tattoo is quite literally a tattoo made from rubbing an eraser on your skin - and painfully so. I have no idea why anyone would want to do that, so from the off these two people struck me as morons and they never changed that opinion. I honestly wondered if this one had been included only because the title of the anthology suggests tattooing, and this is the only story which features it? If I'd known that the author had won the 2016 Kirkus Prize, for As Brave As You I might have skipped this story altogether. Kirkus never met a story they didn't like, which means their reviews are utterly worthless except in their utility in warning me off books I will not like.
  • Meet Cute by Malinda Lo
    After reading Ash and Huntress Malinda Lo was way up there in my esteem, and I was looking forward to reading this more than any other story here. Once again she came through for me with a sweet, gentle easy story about two girls who happily meet by accident at a comic con. While I do recognize the story potential inherent in such scenarios, I'm not a fan of comic cons or of that culture, so for her to bring a story out of that which impressed and pleased me was even more commendable. When I say the story was easy, I mean it was easy on the mind. The story itself was layered and complex with delicious subtle undercurrents. I always felt the ending had to be a happy one, but the author kept it up in the air naturally enough that it made me feel a small sense of panic that it would not. The two girls will not forget that particular comic con in a hurry.
  • Don’t Pass Me By by Eric Gansworth
    This was a story about the American Indian experience which has been an appalling one, and which is still going on far too long, but I didn't think that this was a very good way to relate it. It did make a point about how schools are designed for white folk, as evidenced in the predominantly white (or worse, pink!) appearance of characters in biology books, but aside from that it could have been a story about anyone undergoing acceptance problems, yet it wasn't! By that I mean I think this story would have popped a lot more if there had been two people enduring the same passive bullying and rejection, one of which was American Indian, the other of which was differentiated in some other way. As it was, it was just so-so and I'm not convinced it will achieve its aim which makes me sad to report.
  • Be Cool for Once by Aminah Mae Safi
    This story was ostensibly about a Muslim experience, as exhibited in this case by Shirin, but the story really could have been about anyone in her position Muslim or not, so it failed to make a good impression on me as such a story, and the writing never rose above your standard YA girl main character story. It seemed to have no focus, being much more of a generic story about two girls going to a concert and one of them having a crush on a boy than ever it did about what it felt like to be Muslim, and maybe isolated and different. You could have quite literally put any person in the place of Shirin, anyone who had some sort of issue, male or female, and pretty much told the same story word for word. It's been done! There's nothing fresh here. Because of this, it actually rendered Shirin more 'the same' than ever it did different, and I don't mean that in any positive way. I mean it was not a fresh story, and it didn't cut to the real chase, but instead meandered into some sort of ersatz chase that stood in for and thereby negated the real story that could have been told here.
  • Tags by Walter Dean Myers
    I did not like this one at all. It was written lazily, like it was a movie script, but with speech only, and no scene setting or 'stage' directions at all, and was so boring that I quit reading after a couple of pages. Big fail.
  • Why I Learned to Cook By Sara Farizan
    This was about a girl, Yasaman, who is Persian and a lesbian. She's come out to her family, but not to her grandmother because she doesn't know how grandma will take this news, but she eventually gets around to inviting Hannah, her girlfriend, over to grandmas and it worked out of course. This story I did not find objectionable, but that was the best I could say about it because it really was nothing I haven't read before. If you're going to do a coming out story you need a fresher edge than this one offered. If the story had been set in Iran, that would have made a difference, but the author played it safe. You're not going to hit any balls out of the stadium if you're afraid to really swing that bat.
  • A Stranger at the Bochinche by Daniel José Older
    This oen was really short and so rambling that I honestly glazed-over and could not take in the story assuming there was one to be had. I'm not sure what it was trying to say, but whatever it was, if anything, was lost on me.
  • A Boy’s Duty by Sharon G Flake
    I've read three novels by Sharon Flake and liked two of them, so she was batting a .666 coming into this, but now she's down to .500 because I did not like this one. It was about racism in World War Two, and an idiot kid who seemed to delight in pissing people off. There was nothing here to interest or impress me.
  • One Voice: A Something in Between Story by Melissa de la Cruz
    While I really liked the TV version of this author's Witches of East End, I did not like her original novel, nor did I like one other novel of hers (Frozen) that I read, so I was not expecting to like this, and my expectations were met. This story was like a dear diary with somewhat disconnected episodes in this girl's life. The message was about racism, but if the message is the medium, then the medium was tedium not freedom. It was so boring that the message was blurred beyond recognition which is truly sad.
  • Paladin Samurai by Gene Luen Yang, Illustrations by Thien Pham
    This was a graphic novel which was poorly illustrated (and even more poorly exhibited in Amazon's crappy Kindle app). It wasn't well told at all, which is why I gave up on it after reading two or three pages. I really didn't care about these characters or what happened to them.
  • Catch, Pull, Drive by Schuyler Bailar
    Schuyler (pronounced like Skyler) Bailar is a ftm transgender athlete, and this story felt like a memoir, because he's a swimmer who has been through this change, but it also felt dishonest because it did not reflect what he went through. While a change like this always brings difficulties, he seems to have had the support of coaches and teammates. This story is just the opposite and that doesn't mean there aren't people who suffer through this process; I'm sure there are because we are a long way from where we need to be, but for someone who has come through this change relatively unscathed, this story felt disingenuous. If he'd told his own story, even fictionalized as this was, it would have resonated far more with me, because not every story is negative and because we need an honest balance.
  • Super Human by Nicola Yoon
    This one actually did feel like fresh ink because it took an old problem and one which is still with us, and it needed a new twist. This did the trick, which is why I liked it. The story is of Syrita, who has been chosen to talk with a super hero known only as X, who has been stellar in the past but who is now not willing to be heroic any more. It wasn't clear from the story whether he was planning on simply retiring and letting the world go to hell by simply withholding his help, or if he would actually go over to the dark side and start wreaking revenge on a society he feels (with some reason) is chronically unjust. In the end, the real super hero here is Syrita, who proves to have a lot more faith in him than he does in society! The only flaw in this story was “And those dark black eyes” which is nonsensical. Either one would work, but black is dark do you don't need both!

So I was not impressed overall, and I can't recommend this collection. There are one or two gems in it and if it's worth it to you to buy this load of crude ore in the hope of finding a gem or two in it, then you may like it, but I definitely wouldn't like to buy this, only to find that most of the stories don't really offer what the title suggests they will.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Single Girl Problems by Andrea Bain

Rating: WARTY!

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

While this was an advance review copy I found a lot of errors in it. If it had been run through a spellchecker one more time before being submitted to Net Galley it would have fixed a lot of these, and presumably these will be fixed in the final copy, but as it was, it just came over as being sloppy and as having little regard for reviewers.

Errata (page numbers in this review are all from the Adobe Digital Editions copy):
p 23: "But regardless of our marital status, we aren’t any different from anyone else regardless." One too many regardlesses!
p 39: Cuckoo was misspelled as "cuckcoo"
p 46: "Things have changed completely, or better or worse" should read, "Things have changed completely, for better or for worse"
p 48: " we all wai to see who gets the ring." Should be "as we all wait to see who gets the ring."
p 97: "Even after getting caught men and ending the affair, men still miss the excitement of the affair." There's an extra 'men' in there which actually could be the theme of this book!
p103: "Someof us also" missing a space.
p128: "...and though we hadn’t talked about being exclusive, r, we were smitten" I don't know what that lone r represents! (In Dating Horror Story #11)
p131: "...won’t-settle-for-anything-less-tha n-a-great-guy you..." that space in 'than' is a problem for how the words fold at the end of the line. The line break should be at the dash, not in the middle of the word!
Since the author is Canadian, there were some British spellings of words such as favourite as opposed to the American 'favorite'. I did not class these as errors although some readers might.

Subtitled "Why Being Single Isn't a Problem to Be Solved", I thought this might be an important book and was definitely one I wanted to read because I've been making this same case in reviews of young adult books (and too many adult books) for years, chastising authors for stories that take the forty-minute TV show or the Hollywood movie route that the woman has to get her man or she's a failure. Given how rife this motif is in books and movies, I was rather surprised the author really didn't mention how pervasive this 'gotta get married' paradigm is there.

The thing is that I was predisposed to favor the book from the start, and I started out liking it for the good points being made and for the sense of humor:

I compare dating to sifting through a bin at a second-hand clothing store. You’ve gotta go through a lot of crap other people threw away before you find what you like, and even then you have to smell it, check it for stains, look at the stitching, and see if it even fits before you bring it home.
Have you ever gone grocery shopping without a list when you’re really hungry?
Amusing as it is, I'd add a caveat to that last one which is that if you can’t control your impulses with groceries then you sure don’t want to be trusting yourself in a relationship with a new man!

My favorable perspective rapidly deteriorated though when I started reading dating tips. The book, while claiming in the blurb "Andrea Bain takes the edge off being single and encourages women to never settle," seemed like it turned a complete 180°, and started pressing women to change their approach and get a date! Not that single women can't have dates without a view to getting married, but it felt like a betrayal of the premise. Of course this depends on how you view single in the "Single Girl"! Is it single as in not married, or single as in not dating? And why 'girl'? Why not woman, since this is really aimed at more mature women, not those who are just embarking upon dating as teens, for example.

I have to say here that the conversion to a Kindle format book was a disaster, and far too many publishers do this without even checking the end result especially when the intent is to get the review copy out to reviewers in several formats. Amazon's crappy Kindle app is a disaster unless the book is essentially stripped of all special formatting and submitted as little more than a dumbed-down student-essay RTF format effort.

I recommend to publishers not to issue books in Kindle format at all if they have anything in them like images, special formatting, or anything fancy at all, because Amazon will trash all of it. In the case of this book, every header had apparently random caps in the middle of the header. These, on closer inspection, were not random and seemed to affect only characters 'c', 'f', 'p', 's', 'w', and 'x'. Why? Ask Amazon! I don't know! Chapter 14 was an amusing example of this. After the chapter number, it read: "the C Word aS Far aS i’m ConCerned" I thought having all the C's capitalized was amusing given the chapter title!

It was not only the headers (and in the contents), but also in the first handful of words in the first line of text in each chapter, which in the PDF copy was also block caps, so the line starting chapter two, for example in the PDF read, "I DECIDED TO WRITE THIS BOOK IN HOPES of changing", but when you enter the Amazone, this becomes: "i deCided to Write thiS Book in hoPeS of changing."

It would be nice to say I hope these will be fixed in the published edition, but I have zero faith in Amazon beforfe which author must debased themselves and dumb-down their text to get decent results. Full disclosure: This is one of several reasons why why I no longer do business with Amazon of any kind, neither in terms of buying things from them, nor in publishing my own work with them. I'd honestly rather have no sales than associate with them any more.

This book had sidebars and insets, and these were thoroughly trashed by Amazon. The sidebars were actually inset into the text and looked fine in the PDF format in both Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) on my desktop computer, and in Bluefire Reader (BFR) on my iPad. They looked sweet there except for another issue regarding margins which I shall also go into shortly, and which is increasingly becoming a review factor with me - not that anyone seems to care about that issue, sorry to report! Anyway, the PDF format represents much more closely (although not precisely, curiously enough!) what the printed copy will look like, and it looked fine.

In the Kindle formatted book, the background to the inserts was on one screen, and the dark gray and therefore hard-to-read text that ought to have been superimposed on the background, was on a separate screen. Note that I have my phone set for white text on black background because it saves power, so I get a somewhat different and more informative perspective than I imagine many - if not most - people do when using the more usual black text on a white screen.

The small text inserts that ought to have appeared inset into the main text looked exactly like the main text except again they were a hard-to-read dark gray and appeared right in the middle of a sentence of the main text! The "Dating Horror Story" inserts ought to have been added between chapters, not in the middle of them. As it was, these suffered the same issues: separated from their background and in dark gray text.

The book cover was also sliced-up, so that instead of a complete cover announcing "SINGLE GIRL PROBLEMS" there were two slices one announcing 'SINGLE' and the other, 'GIRL'. Where 'PROBLEMS' went is a mystery only Amazon can answer! Again, this isn't on the author or the book content itself, so much as on Amazon's disdain and incompetence, so I'm not rating this book on these issues. I read most of it on the iPad so it was not a problem anyway.

However, with regard to the PDF formatting I do have a few words to say about white space. I know the library of Congress has its antiquated rules, and no one wants to read a book which has the text crammed into every corner (which begs the question: why read in Kindle format, right?! - joke!), but within certain boundaries of aesthetics, a publisher can make more of an effort to save trees if they're planning a long print run of a book, by slimming down margins (not profit margins, book margins, silly!) without affecting the look and appeal of the printed page.

In this particular book, on my desktop monitor in ADE, I had the page display at nine inches tall by six wide. I don't know if this is the actual format of the print copy, but it is a common one and since we're dealing with relative percentages, it really doesn't matter. At this size, the book's gutter and outside margins were one inch, and the bottom was 1.5, so let's call that one inch to allow room for a page number. The top was also one. The total page area was therefore 54 square inches while the printed area was closer to twenty-eight! That's about half the page which was blank. Plus the text lines were quite widely-spaced and in quite a large font, and it did not actually start with chapter one until page nineteen! (I routinely skip introductions; they're boring!)

Obviously readability and aesthetics need to play a fair part, so my only suggestion is that narrower margins, slightly narrower spacing between lines and/or a slightly smaller font, dropping the antiquated introduction, and have fewer filler pages up front could have easily shrunk this book to maybe two-thirds its size, saving maybe sixty pages per printed book! How many trees would that save? Trees are not disposable! And if you care nothing for trees, (then you're no friend of mine, but) please think of how much overhead can be saved by reducing a book size by one third!

But back to the book, which was the real problem for me. The chapter headers are these, FYI (cleaned up to remove random caps!):

  1. Being single sucks
  2. Changing the narrative
  3. How not to talk to single people
  4. Even Disney gets it
  5. Why are you still single?
  6. Is dating dead?
  7. My love/hate relationship with online dating
  8. Chasing your own tail
  9. Settling is such an ugly word
  10. Insecure much?
  11. Sex: to do it or not to do it
  12. Why do men cheat?
  13. Fear of relationships
  14. The C word
  15. Single girl solutions
  16. Revamped
  17. The dating experiment
  18. Where are all the good men hiding?
  19. The whole kid thing
  20. Handle your money honey
  21. Single for the holidays
  22. It’s not only the guys’ fault
Note that this is from an ARC, so the headers may change but this will give you an idea of what's covered. I was sorry not to see a 'Why do Women cheat?" header. Let's not pretend it doesn't happen! The introduction and conclusion I omitted from the above list, so that last title I listed was a guys' perspective, but it was so skimpy and so limited in perspective that it really wasn't of much value to women - plus it was written by a woman - the author, hence my comment about the perspective being narrow.

One item of unintentional humor which amused me was when the author wrote of her childhood interest in Disney princesses. She was making a good point here, but she said, "I loved watching Disney movies and I especially loved the Disney princesses. Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel, Aurora...." I think it could have used a colon there before listing the princesses, but I agree with her point.

The amusing thing was that Rapunzel, in the form of Disney movie Tangled (which was actually a good movie, but not a patch on Frozen), did not come out until 2009 when the author was presumably in her thirties. Was she still wearing silk ribbons in her hair and frilly socks? This is no big deal, but this blog is about writing more than it is about reading, and this is a writing issue: about being careful how we flit from one idea to the next when writing without re-reading later what we wrote. I saw this kind of thing more than once.

While on the topic of being careful to keep track of what you're saying, sometimes the author is her own worst enemy. At one point (p21) I read, "...beautiful, sultry, sexually fluid woman, with a great pair of legs." I read this just three paragraphs before the start of Chapter 2 which is titled, "Changing the narrative." You don’t change the narrative by reducing a woman to being “beautiful, sultry...with a great pair of legs." That's entirely the wrong message to send and the author doesn't seem to get this.

It's like the manufacturers of breakfast cereal pushing sugar (which is what most breakfast cereal is) to children and then tarting it up with some OJ (more sugar) and toast (carbs which are converted to sugars) and saying "Part of this complete breakfast." Yeah it's complete if you're a humming bird and subsist entirely on sugar, but no child should start the day hopped up on that much sugar.

Employing that motif, there's nothing wrong at all with part of a woman being sugar, but for a healthy, complete relationship a partner needs more than that. There had better be fiber and protein and dairy (so to speak!), and those portions of the relationship are far more important than the sugar. Telling people they're not not by repeatedly pushing the sugary beauty drug at the expense of everything else is irresponsible, and worse it's counter-productive.

it's hypocritical, especially since later in Chapter two we read: And are relationships only for "pretty" people? Well yes, if that's how you routinely portray people, consistently listing 'beautiful' before 'smart' or 'educated' (the two are not the same although this author uses them interchangeably), and using 'beautiful' like it's a given or a requirement, and less than "beautiful" people need not apply. It's nauseating and it makes this author part of the problem, not part of a solution which is direly needed.

There is nothing wrong with a woman being and/or feeling attractive, not at all! No, the problem is in reducing her to that and only that, like she has nothing to offer except her looks. For example on page 105, I read, "They just couldn’t understand why their beautiful, smart daughter..." (again according to the list, beauty is what's most important).

In another instance, I read, "Not only does the dating pool shrink as a woman gets older, but she may find herself competing with twenty-somethings." (p136) This is why this author’s habit of describing every woman as beautiful is a serious mistake - it buys right into the youth and beauty pangloss which is not only a problem for older women who may have or may think they have lost that 'gloss', it's also a problem for younger women who find they have an impossible standard to live up to!

They don't airbrush out women's pores in "beauty" magazines for nothing. They also Photoshop® those women to make them look thinner, younger, and more hairless than they really are, and women are culturally brainwashed to buy into this impossible paradigm through billion-dollar cosmetics and weight loss con-trick industries which assault females from a very early age.

Hypocrisy was rife with this 'beauty' requirement where in men, 'beauty' is read as "six-foot tall" (or greater) in this book. At one point the author writes, "...needing a man to be six foot four should be negotiable unless you’re a six-foot glamazon yourself —and even then, ask yourself how important that is." (p44). I don't know what a 'glamazon' is - an Amazon isn't enough? Again with the beauty! But a few pages later we read, "A gorgeous six-foot-tall man caught my attention." (p57) and "I want a man who is six feet tall, with a muscular build, white teeth, a strong hairline," (p142).

So shorter men, the same height as the author maybe, who may have a very common male pattern baldness, and not be able to afford a purely cosmetic and therefore totally unnecessary professional Hollywood teeth whitening can go fuck themselves? How cruel is that? I read later, "...he wanted me to help three viewers navigate online dating...The viewers’ names were Brad, Suzan, and Carolina." Of the three, the only one she mentions the height of was Brad, and if he had been five feet six instead if six feet four, I’m guessing it would not have garnered a mention.

What's with the height? If these men had been the author's own height, five feet seven, would they no longer have been gorgeous? Routinely men are categorized in terms of height in this book, whereas women never are. Why? Are we not supposed to be treated equally when it comes to looks? Is the author such a child that she needs a father figure taller than her? I know in practice men get many byes where women are unjustly held accountable, but that does not mean an author of a book like this needs to buy into it and sell it in reverse! Again, the author is part of the problem, not the solution!

Being a part of the problem was evident in other things she wrote, too. At one point she mentioned a typical question she's asked by giving an example of it. She was asked, "Are you still single? What’s the problem?" Instead of tackling this at the source her reaction was: "I smiled politely and shrugged my shoulders." Then she complained, "But how dare she? From that moment on I lost all respect for her."

It's a pity she did not lose respect for herself for not addressing the insult right there! I can only hope she's changed her approach since that incident. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks didn’t change the conversation of black people being forced to ride at the back of the bus by giving up her seat and backing down. Admittedly she was simply tired and cranky that day, but that takes away nothing from her brave stance, and the paradigm shift she gave birth to when she refused to move! It's a pity the author didn't take a leaf from her book.

At one point the author says, "First, I love hosting reality shows." This was one thing which really turned me off taking her seriously, because there is nothing real about reality shows. They are completely artificial. They have only "beautiful" people in them for a start! Everyday people need not apply; you know the guys who are not six feet tall, with a muscular build, white teeth, and a strong hairline and the women who are not quote beautiful unquote? Worse even than this, is that the show's format is deliberately and purposefully set-up to maximize conflict: the more the better. If 'girls' can be induced to physically fight on the show, they become real celebrities.

These shows are utterly detestable. I know they're popular, but that only serves to sadden me in regarding how low people will sink for 'entertainment'. These so-called reality shows are actually the modern day equivalent of the old Roman gladiator fights. I'm not kidding. You have serious issues if you truly class these lowlife shows as entertainment and wallow in how far we've sunk as a society that this kind of trash is considered remotely normal. They're no better than the older Disney princess stories.

The hypocritical thing here is that the author appears to agree with me on the bachelor shows, but thinks it turns “beautiful, educated women into delusional, sobbing, catty little girls." Again with the beauty leading all other traits, including educated! This is part of the problem! And if they reduce women to girls, what does this say about the title of this book I'm reviewing here?!

Seriously though: educated? They may be academically educated, but that shouldn't be conflated with civilized, with having integrity, or with having any self-respect. If they were truly educated in the broadest of senses, they would never lower themselves to appear on a show which forces them to run around like so many bitches in heat after the "alpha male" whose credentials (beyond looks and/or status, and/or wealth) we learn nothing of. But then he's not the one being judged, is he?

Let's talk about how successful those shows are shall we? The author mentions this in passing, but the sorry truth is that, according to Just Jared dot com, out of 30 seasons (as of 2015) of both bachelor and bachelorette (seriously?), only six couples were still together. Not that a single one of us should be surprised by those lousy results from such an inexcusably pressurized and artificial situation. But the demonstrated fact remains that it's not reality, it's fiction!

And bachelorette? I guess that's marginally better than spinster, but what, the woman can't simply be a bachelor too - she has to be singled out for special treatment because she's a woman? She can't be an actor, she has to be an actress? She can't be an aviator she has to be an aviatrix? Screw that. Women should boycott that show based on the abusive title alone.

The genderism (I don't call it sexism because well, sex! It's too loaded a word) is rife in this book. In Dating Horror Story #2 I read, "He asked all the right questions, paid for our coffees and snacks." Excuse me? Are we equal now or not? The short answer to that is 'not' of course, but it will not improve matters if we perpetuate stereotypes that the guy always pays no matter who earns the most and no matter who asked who out on the date. Again, this is part of the problem! Later, I read the author whining, "What about paying for dinner? You’re not working, so how do you figure that part out?" It's never going to change with attitudes like this.

Why is it that we're supposed to be equal, but very few of us see anything wrong with the guy paying for everything, opening doors, sliding out chairs? It makes no sense whatsoever; it's like one party wants to have the cake and eat it, and the other party wants to treat the woman like a child. It's not romantic to infantilize a woman. I can't respect either of those antique perspectives.

Another example popped-up in Dating Horror story #10 where the woman described her date. "On the first date, he did everything right: opening doors, ordering my food and wine...." How exactly is treating you like a child doing everything right? The guy in this scenario had problems admittedly, but so did the woman with that attitude. The age of the Disney princess is long gone, sister.

In a book where the author counsels honesty, openness, and communication in relationships, where does this have a place: "Some of my personal favourites are not...pretending to be asleep to avoid having sex when you’re not in the mood." She's listing things she can get away with as a single person, and while I appreciated her completely down-to-earth approach and honesty in her list, it's hardly honest to fake a headache when you could simply say how you feel instead of outright lying to your partner. It's just wrong and if you find you're having to do that then you're in the wrong relationship, period.

The book starts out by proclaiming that it's a supportive work for woman who want to be single without the hassle of becoming pariahs, but towards the end it betrays this by offering dating advice. It felt like it started out wanting to be one kind of book, but turned into another. Worse than this for me, it seemed like it was solely-aimed at women who are well-paid professionals like the author! It really had nothing to say to working-class women, and the obsession with online dating websites was painful to read. Like this was the only way any woman can ever meet people to date! No! Neither did the book talk about women who were not into guys, but who might be interested in dating another woman. It's like the LGBTQIA community doesn't exist in this author's universe.

It doesn't help to read that "Talking to more people will lead to meeting more people" when it's actually the other way around, but it is the skewed perspective you get on life when that life is conducted purely electronically! Why not suggest avenues other than electronic ones? It's like the real world doesn't exist in this book, which is as sad as it is telling.

How about taking up a sport or a hobby? What about maybe going to online forums that are not about dating, but about things you're interested in? How daring is that?! Why not consider, god forbid, volunteering for some charity work or other, or taking an interest in your local government, school board, or something like that? What about community activism? Urban farming? Working with youth? Anything other than e-dating forums and sites?! There are lots of ways to meet people and it never hurts to have a support network, but the fact that this author mentions none of this is an indictment of the narrow and even selfish approach to this whole topic.

Nor did it have a thing to say about single moms, which was unforgivable. The author talks about the choice (or sadly, lack of choice) in having children, but offers no advice for single women who have children! That’s a cruel omission. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2016, out of about 12 million single parent families with children under the age of 18, more than 80% were headed by single mothers. A third of single moms are over forty. That's quite a chunk of the population to ignore.

This is when I realized that this book is, in the final analysis, a self-help book for the author and very few others - unless you happen to share her lifestyle and habits! She has no children so we don't need to consider women who do. She's a well-paid professional so we don't need to learn anything about about women who are not. She's not gay evidently, so let's not concern ourselves about women who are! She's a black Canadian woman, so we don't really need to worry ourselves with anyone who is not. It just felt so elitist that it was upsetting to me, and I'm not even female or single!

So in short, while I applaud the thought, it's the words that count, and they were all wrong. It started out great, but got badly lost somewhere along the way. I wish the author all the best and would probably enjoy reading a work of fiction were she to write one, but I cannot in good faith recommend a book which seems skimpy and thoughtless, and which flies in the face of too many sound principles, and which also ultimately fails to do what it set out to do.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an interesting story about a school bully and a deaf girl. Shoya's problem is boredom, but instead of finding benign ways to deal with it, he resorts to destructive ones - picking on other children and doing dangerous stunts like jumping off bridges. Shoko is a girl who is deaf, and consequently her speech is impaired. She is new to Shoya's school, and she communicates by writing in a notebook, and encouraging others to use it to write questions to her.

Shoya immediately starts picking on her because she is such an easy target for him, especially since she has such an accepting and friendly disposition, and she never retaliates. His behavior is abominable, but the thing is that very few people in the class treat Shoko with respect and consideration, not even other girls. Shoya's behavior is the worst though, and even as his friend start deserting him and abandoning their juvenile practices as they mature and pursue academic interests more studiously, he never does.

Inevitably, Shoya goes too far and Shoko quits the school. Several years later, they meet again. This meeting is where the story begins. All the rest is flashback, and since this is a series, the story is never resolved in this one volume. On the one hand this is why I detest series as a general rule, and why I dislike flashbacks. On the other, this series - at least this introductory volume of it, was not so bad. The art was a bit too manga for my taste, but on the whole, not bad, and the writing was enjoyable, but all this can ever be is a prologue. I detest prologues!

So while I may or may not pursue this series, I did enjoy this one volume despite my reservations about such efforts, so I recommend it, and I may well get into volume two as time and opportunity permit.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura

Rating: WORTHY!

This title was so bizarre that I pulled it off the shelf in the library and glanced through it, and decided to take it home. I'm always game for a good graphic novel, and this one was so weird it intrigued me. I love the utterly bizarre names the Japanese give to their manga and anime. This delightfully-named author-illustrator is apparently quite accomplished in Japan and this particular book has already been made into a Japanese TV show and a live-action film which I may try to catch if I can.

This girl named Tsukimi Kurashita lives in this apartment block which is for girls only, and several of those who live there are artists for comic books. She is painfully shy and poor at interacting either with men or with what she describes as princesses, which are good-looking and fashionably-dressed girls. The story gives an interesting insight into Japanese culture. How authentic it is, is hard to gauge, but I assume it has at least some roots in reality. Tsukimi believes that there are only two kinds of women: the princesses, and what she calls fujoshi, which literally means 'rotten girl' and is a term used to describe Japanese women who do not want to get married, stay at home, and raise children.

Tsukimi is of course a fujoshi, who is obsessed with jellyfish because that was the last good memory she had of time with her mother before she died. She views some of the jellyfish, in their natural finery, as dressed like princesses, and she starts drawing them and collecting pictures of them. She ends up with a pet jellyfish when she passes a pet store and sees two different species in the same tank which she knows should never be kept together.

She ends up taking the jellyfish home, accompanied by a princess who helps her when the guy at the pet shop is abusive to her. This princess stays with her in her room, and it's only the next morning that she realizes that the princess is actually a guy named Kuranosuke Koibuchi, who cross-dresses to avoid having to deal with the political aspirations of his family.

He's much more interested in getting into the fashion industry than ever he is in pursuing politics. He's adopted by the girls that Tsukimi knows in the apartment, because they don't know he's not really female, and because he brings food from home, which they enjoy. Tsukimi doesn't dare tell anyone she's invited a guy into the house. He ends up giving them all make-overs!

I'm amazed at how bizarre this story is, but I adored how playful and mischievous it was. You have to wonder how writers like this come up with these totally oddball ideas. Both Tsukimi and Kuranosuke were delightful. Other than friendship with an interesting woman, Kuranosuke has no professed attachment to Tsukimi when they first start hanging out, but he suffers distinct pangs of jealousy after he gives Tsukimi a make-over and his older brother - very much a suit - starts showing an interest in her. His bother is the only one who knows that he cross-dresses, and has kept his secret even though he finds it rather objectionable. This relationship was a joy.

Overall this was a delight to read - amusing, entertaining, and fun. I recommend it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

Rating: WORTHY!

I found this in the library and it looked good at first glance. The artwork was cool and interesting, and the story looked entertaining. When I started in on it this morning, it proved to be every bit as entertaining as it promised – which is always a nice feeling to have delivered between the covers! I have to say, full disclosure, that the author suckered me in. The story is set in Charlottesville, Va, where I’ve lived, and within the first few pages there was not only a mention of Doctor Who, but a quote from one of my favorite characters from that show, Sally Sparrow! Way to lure me!

It wasn’t all plain sailing though. The ending was a bit trite and predictable, and seemed to center around the main character miraculously getting over herself and finding validation from nothing more than a guy liking her, which rather sold her out in my opinion, but other than that, it was entertaining and the artwork remarkable.

The main character, Will, is nyctophobic, and has been ever since childhood. She sees some really interesting shapes in the dark, very few of which are out-and-out scary, but some are definitely on the creepy side. Others are truly works of art, and if I saw them, I’d find them fascinating, but Will doesn’t seem to pay that much attention to them despite her fear. Or maybe it’s because of it.

Talking of which, apparently no one locks their doors in this town? That wasn't my experience I'm happy to report! Will is able to go over to her friend Autumn’s house, enter the house, go upstairs, and wake up her friend. That really creeped me out. I seriously hope people do not live in that manner. That person entering the house and going to the teenager’s bedroom might not have been one of her friends.

There was more than one incident of this warped nature. Three friends, Autumn, Noel, and Will take a trip down the river on air mattresses with Noel’s thirteen-year-old sister Reese, who can’t swim. She’s tipped into the water by Noel, who thinks it’s a great joke. The water is extremely shallow at that point, but Reese didn’t know it, and Will never said a word to Noel about how cruel that was, despite her own experience with fear. I have to say that made me wonder about Will. Overall, I rather liked her, but she made that hard to do sometimes, especially when she appeared really dumb with regard to this guy liking her. She was blithely unaware of it, despite herself having advised Autumn of Noel's liking for her, of which Autumn was blithely unaware. What’s with the too-dumb-to-see motif?

We need to get away from the tired trope that girls are too stupid to realize a guy likes them. Yes, I'm sure there are some who are, but you'd think it was every other woman if you judged them by how many times this cliché is played out in novels. It's tedious and it makes the girl look stupid. Maybe you can argue that Will is so self-absorbed by grief over her parents' deaths (a year previously) that she's inured to the attention, but she sure didn’t seem like she was that badly-off for the most part. Besides, this behavior says a volume of other things about the character that are equally off-putting, and if she's that far enveloped in grief, then she sure as hell isn’t going to get over it in the course of a couple of days, as is depicted here!

That said, this novel was interesting, the people were pleasingly and refreshingly not your usual run-of-the-mill types (apart from the stereotypical blindness to attention from the other gender), and the story worked, so I consider it a worthy read.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ghost Buddy: Zero to Hero by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler

Rating: WARTY!

Billy Broccoli has moved to a new home with his mom, which they're sharing with her new husband and his daughter. No word on what happened to his original dad. Billy is facing a new school and is missing his old friends (although why he can't visit them isn't explained), but he's not expecting that his new home is haunted by a ghost named Hoover.

I know this novel, the first in a series, is not aimed at my age group, but I found it to be far too black and white and simplistic to be even mildly entertaining, and Henry Winkler's reading of it left something to be desired. Maybe younger kids will like this because it seemed to me that it was pitched too low for middle grade. Cliche abounded and it was boring and predictable. Things were too disastrous to begin with, the pain-in-the-patoot neighbor kid was a ridiculous caricature (I can't imagine any cops even responding to a kid who calls them and reports a car being parked one inch over the no parking area, much less the cops having the car towed for that).

Billy does show some maturity in how he handles his revenge on this neighbor, but there was too much bullying and threats. It's stories like these which put a young kid's foot onto that dreary road to reality TV, sports is everything, and frat parties. if that's what you want for your kids, then have at it. I'd prefer something which has the guts to take the road less traveled instead of the lowest common denominator. I'd like to see some moral ambiguity, some gray areas, and some thought-provoking options which seem to me to be more age appropriate for the audience this book is aimed at. An approach like that that would have made for a much better story and a better educational experience for kids.

It's not like Winkler (or Oliver for that matter) is an unknown who doesn't have the mojo to ease a series like that through a publisher's door. Why would he need to take the easy way out as though he's some unknown children's book writing wannabe? For that matter, was the publisher so star-struck that they didn't want to look too closely at this? Whatever. I can't recommend this one. Winkler is dyslexic and I think he could have turned out better work than this on that and other such topics.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Rating: WORTHY!

Analyn Pearl Yengko, aka Apple, is a Filipino girl who has moved to the USA, and is living in fictional Chapel Spring, Louisiana. She's very conscious of her appearance and doesn't consider herself "American". She learns what losers her "friends" are one day when jerk Jake makes a jackass "joke" about all Asians eating dogs, and how Analyn is on the Dog Log - a virtual list of ugliest girls in school that some boys create each year.

Given that the author is a Filipino and hates carrots, it seems to me that this novel might be very much autobiographical, at least in its roots, although that's just a guess. The biggest problem for me with it was that it's first person PoV, which is actually Worst Person PoV. That said, this effort actually didn't nauseate me. Some authors can make it work, and this is evidently one of those!

Analyn wants to become a rock star. Improbably, her favorite band is the Beatles because all she left the Philippines with was a tape from her deceased dad. The tape was Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles recorded together, although not the last to be released. Now Analyn has a whole set of Beatles albums of her own, although how she managed to get those if her mom is as stingy as we're led to believe is a mystery.

Analyn wants to buy a guitar she's seen in a store, but her mother is very negative on pretty much anything Analyn wants to do, except that in a fit, Analyn finally gets her mom to quit calling her Apple. My prediction at that point was that, given her love of The Beatles and her desire to play guitar, Analyn will be proud to be Apple by the end of this novel. It felt that predictable. But it is a middle grade novel, so I tried not to down-grade it too much for the trite factor!

The author does make the classic debut novel mistake, however, of having the character look at herself in the mirror so we can get a description of what she looks like. I think it was even a bigger mistake in this case because it's not necessary to know exactly what she looks like. In fact, I think the novel would have been better had we had no idea (other than that she's Filipino, of course) what she looks like.

On the subject of cliché, the new cool guy in school has his hair in his eyes, but on the other side of this coin, he's improbably not actually the new cool kid. The A-list girls take an immediate dislike to him because he's not fawning over them, and he almost gets into a fight with one of the A-list boys at the dance over them making fun of one of the dog list girls - one who is trope-ish-ly overweight.

I think she had the new boy hail from California because there's perhaps a Filipino population there, so he's got an 'in' with our main characters and doesn't think she's ugly. That said, the author offered no explanation for why he and his mom moved from California to a penny-ante little town in the middle of Louisiana. His mom is an artist, so it's not like she had to move there for her work. She paints abstracts, but why she wouldn't want to live by the sea, or in the forests, or in the mountains, for pure inspiration is unexplained.

For that matter, why did Analyn's mom move there? Yes, we're told there's a nurse shortage and so she got in on that, but is there really a huge nurse shortage in that little town? It would have made more sense had they moved to a large city where a shortage might be expected. And why would the US hospitals be looking to hire nurses from the Philippines given how picky they are about what schooling nurses have had? This wasn't well thought through, and it makes little sense to adults, but I guess the author thought it wouldn't matter for a middle grade novel.

On the up-side, the novel did make for an interesting and engaging read. There's a subtle undercurrent of humor running through the text which I appreciated even as I cringed at some of the clichés: school bullies, cliques, the overweight girl, the snotty cheerleader type, mean boys, the derided teacher, the beloved teacher, and so on.

The bottom line is that this story, for the grade it's written, isn't bad at all. It's a very fast read: the lines are widely spaced, so despite it being ostensibly almost three hundred pages long, it would probably be only half that if it were single-spaced and in a slightly smaller font size.

The situations Analyn gets into are reasonable and realistic, and her behavior, for her age, is understandable, so for me, overall, this rates as a worthy read.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dear Digby by Carol Muske-Dukes

Title: Dear Digby
Author: Carol Muske-Dukes
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This is a seminal novel, particularly in that it mentions the word seminal - nearly always in conjunction with fluid - some 31 times. That has to be a record outside of in-vitro fertilization hand-books (and perhaps even there, too).

This hilarious and tragic story was first Published in 1989. It's related by a 'Dear Abby' style editor, Willis Digby (her father wanted a boy). And no, she doesn't work for Seed magazine. Instead she works for a feminist magazine which has a circulation of some five million. Willis, the narrator, is not at all satisfied with her job and is concerned about some of the whack letters she gets, but this doesn't prevent her from being a smart-ass in her responses to some of them.

She's also concerned that she's going quietly nuts, so it's rather nice that she has someone with whom she can compare herself. She befriends a woman named Iris (as in seeing Iris), who is officially nuts, supposedly, and who starts writing to Willis about finding a certain fluid in her underwear each morning. She's convinced someone is raping her in the night, but of course no one believes her. Willis decides she will believe Iris.

Willis also receives threatening letters of a more or less vague quality, and she's rather foolish in not taking those a bit more seriously, as events demonstrate, but she gives an impressive account of herself when push comes to shovel. There exists a number of YA authors, as impressive as it is sad, who seriously need to take a page or ream from Carol Muske-Dukes's writing.

This novel is about relationships, about definitions of crazy, about a woman coming to terms with her life, and taking the reins. About time! I highly recommend it for its impressive story-telling, its humor, and the superior quality of the writing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

Title: Pretty Girl-13
Author: Liz Coley
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Rating: WORTHY!

Well I'm in love with Liz Coley, and I've only just started this one! This novel impressed me from the off, so I am thrilled to be on my third novel in a row to which I find I can warm up. I love this title which translates to PG-13(!), but this book is a disturbing book, especially after the very recent revelation (at the time I'm writing this) of the three brothers who abducted three teen-aged girls and held them for a decade. I don’t know how anyone can come back from that, but it's heartening that people do. At least those women were not tortured and left in shallow graves; that is they weren't tortured physically in the commonly understood sense. They were very much tortured emotionally and psychologically, and that's more than probably worse.

In this fictional account (perhaps rooted in fact? I don’t know, but I'm going by Coley's dedication: For J, who survived) Angela Gracie Chapman was abducted from summer camp when she was thirteen. No one ever discovered what had happened to her. Now she's sixteen and "wakes up" walking down the street towards her home. Her parents almost go into shock; they're also victims of this crime.

The detective who was on the case arrives quickly and she's subject to the indignity of having to go to the hospital for a rape examination by a male doctor. Nowhere is there a social worker, psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist of any appropriate kind available. I find that hard to believe - unless the hospital she was taken to was truly second rate. She can’t get such an appointment until the next afternoon.

Meanwhile, the nurse keeps calling her 'sweetie', which doesn’t seem to bother Angela in her 13-year-old state, but I definitely feel like I want to catch that nurse upside her condescending head for it. Angela blacks out for a few minutes when the doctor examines her vagina and no one seems to see this, not even Angela - not properly. Hopefully the psychiatrist will latch onto that. From her physical state, it's clear she has been manacled and held prisoner for the intervening three years, and from her mental state, it’s clear that she dissociated herself from what was happening and walled it off in order to try and cope with the horror of it, which accounts for the "amnesia" (yes, in quotes- more on this anon!).

She has flashbacks in a different person to things she did or things from which she was protected by dissociation. Her thirteen year old self did not know how to cook, but her sixteen year old self seems to have that knowledge hidden away somewhere. She's very strong for her size, and her hands are calloused, like she did hard work, but she cannot recall it. When she woke up that day on her own street, she carried a bag with clothes and a shiv. She recalls none of what that means.

Her immediate problem right then is that she still thinks she's thirteen and expects to be treated like that, but her dad won't even hold her hand. She can barely handle the knowledge that she's actually sixteen and the world has moved on three years while she was on hold like some kid's forgotten DVD. She can hardly stand to look at her face in the mirror which looks so different from her mental image of herself. Her favorite clothes don’t fit and her body seems like it belongs to someone else. It’s ironic that someone, someone with very piercing dark eyes, she half-recalls, "borrowed" her, and now she feels like she's borrowing someone else. Since her clothes are annoyingly useless, she goes with her mom to the mall to buy fresh, and is outraged by the prices. She buys very little, but later, she finds something in the bag that evidently her alter ego (or one of them!) lifted from the store without her (Angela's) knowledge. The fact that she lets this go without even analyzing it is portentous.

The psychologist, Lynn Grant seems very much on the ball. I was impressed with her first meeting with Angela. It was very well written. She failed to address what might happen if a media circus surrounds Angela, which I thought was an awful omission, but When Angela awakens from what she thought was a few minutes of hypnosis, she learns from Grant that she was "out" for a half hour, and Grant was talking to another personality called Girl Scout, not to Angela at all, and Girl Scout is very worried about Angela.

Angela has to fight her parents a bit to get what she feels she needs. Her father is being completely dumb about this, not understanding Angela at all, and her mother wants her to get back to normal. Her mother accidentally reveals that she's pregnant, and what with that and reading her mother's scrapbook that she started after Angela's disappearance, Angela is now half under the impression that her folks gave up on her and moved on, and that she's shortly to be replaced with the new baby. In the end, bolstered by Grant's agreement, Angela determines that she should go back to school, but start in ninth grade because she knows she has catching up to do, but not that much.

On her first day at school in her first class, she's recognized by a girl called Maggie, who takes Angela under her wing and surrounds her with supportive classmates who vow to help her catch up on school-work. That part is hilarious, and delightfully written. The potential problem starts as she's leaving at the end of the day, and she runs into her old friends from when she was thirteen: her "boyfriend" Greg, and one of her two girlfriends, Livvie. She has refrained from calling them because she felt really weird about it, and so young compared with them, given that she feels paused at thirteen.

She goes back with them to Greg's house and apparently does not realize the importance of calling her folks, who seem remarkably lax about her exposure and vulnerability in traveling to and from school given that she's an abduction victim. There seems to be no concern for her at all that her abductor might want to "re-acquire" her, or that the media might make her life hell once they learn of her return. She's reassured to see that Greg and Livvie still view her as a close friend, but she's surprised that they no longer hang out with the third of their foursome who evidently became a school pariah when she ratted them out for having a kegger. No one speaks to her any more. The immediate feeling I got after reading this was that Angela is probably going to end up seeking her out.

She seems to still have the hots for Greg, which she did at thirteen, but it does seems a bit awkward to me. It’s definitely an exceptional and forgivable case of instadore! I get the feeling that maybe all will not turn out well between them. But something goes very bad elsewhere, and unexpectedly so. Her favorite uncle comes to visit her and they go for a walk. Suddenly it's night and Angela is home and cannot recall the last several hours. Eventually she figures this out as one of her personalities surfaces for the first time - the one that took over every time she was raped by her captor.

This same personality tells her that her uncle has been abusing her for years, every since he began babysitting her. She became so agitated by it that she zoned out and this new personality, which she knows as 'The Slut' takes over. This is the personality which has been buying the exotic underwear and which puts on make up much more boldly than Angela ever would. It's also the personality that came out in the back seat of Greg's car one morning when he was supposedly giving her a ride to school. He took her for a ride sure enough.

Angela's personalities have begun frothing to the top as her therapy sessions continue, and she finally volunteers for an experimental treatment using gene therapy which is aimed at blocking the ability of specific neurons to communicate, which the doctor in charge of the study thinks will effectively kill Angela's alter egos. In order to do this, they have to map her brain using a CAT scan, while Dr. Grant brings out each personality one by one. Unfortunately, she can only bring two out, one of which is the slut

This assault, of course, causes a rebellion in her alter egos, and they become much more active. She evidently has four of them in addition to "herself". The Slut is a street-wise and very sexual being; Tattletale is a very young personality who communicates with Angela using a really old tape recorder she had as a kid. She is the one who dealt with her uncle's advances. Girl Scout is still around, but she has chosen to make herself scarce at this point. The Little Wife is the one who cooked and cleaned during Angela's captivity, and i had thought she was another personality, but Coley confused the issue. The Slut and Little Wife are both the same personality. That took some grasping. The Angel is a male personality which may well be the one who killed her captor - assuming this is what happened, and it's starting to look like that.

Angela has told Dr. Grant about all of these except for Tattletale and her knowledge of her uncle's sexual assaults. She's kept this a secret because she fears it will break up her family if it comes out that her father's younger brother has been molesting her. Her mother has already told her that her father is being so distant because he's wracked with guilt about not keeping his daughter safe. I must confess, suspicious little tike that I am, that I'm seriously wondering if her father knows more about her uncle's activities than he's willing to admit. But what bothers me more is that none of the doctors have any worries about what Angela will get up to when The Slut puts in an appearance. They're failing to adequately protect Angela from herself, and that bothers me. I don't know if it's written this way because Coley wants it like that, or if it's because she simply hasn't thought this through properly. I guess we'll find out as we go!

One thing which bothers me now is that Angela makes arrangements to babysit for a neighbor so she can pick up some cash. This bothers me because I'm now concerned about which personality is going to actually be doing the babysitting and what the consequences of that will be! As it happens that first night seems to go well. It's only after Angela gets home that the problems start. Her personalities like to come out at night and do stuff: like make diary entries, clean her room, do her math homework, etc! This means that poor Angela 'wakes up' without having had any sleep! The baby had concerned me because of Angela's personality splits, but having read a little further, it concerns me for a different reason!

Worse than this, however, is that Angela makes out (in 'The Slut' personality) again with Greg and he tells her that he's going to break up with Livvie, and start dating her again - but he never does break up with Livvie. As each day passes, he still sits with her at lunchtime at school. Angela goes shopping with Kate to get a nice dress for the upcoming formal. They run into Livvie and there's this serious bitch-fest which comes up between her and Angela out of nowhere! Livvie is obviously still planning on going to the formal with Greg. which causes Angela to pursue Greg about it and it becomes quite obvious (to us, but not to Angela, evidently) that Greg isn't going to leave Livvie. He makes out with Angela again and the next thing she knows, he's dropping her off at home with everything agreed, except that Angela can't remember the last hour. All she knows is that she has no one to go to the formal with.

I have to wonder where Livvie is during these times. If she and Greg are so close, how come he has all this time before and after school to get it on with Angela? How come neither he nor she have any concerns about STDs or pregnancy? Yes, I'm overly protective of Angela, because unlike some of the better female protagonists I've read about of late, Angela actually does need protection, and she's not getting it, not from her family, not from Greg, who supposedly is very fond of her at least, and not from her doctors! This can only end badly!

Angela has the procedure to eliminate the personalities, but they can apparently do only one at a time, and the first to go, at Angela's insistence, is The Slut/Little Wife. Before she goes, she puts in a quick appearance to tell Angela she left her a diary entry hidden in a drawer at home. When Angela reads it, she discovers that she was apparently impregnated by her "husband" during those three years. It isn't expressly stated, and Angela does not appear to read it that way, but the Little Wife's tale of growing fat and thin again?! But that's not the weirdest part - more on this in a few! Also Little Wife reveals that she conjured up The Angel to 'take care of' the husband.

Hey, for once I was right in my prediction! Yeay! Things ended way badly with Greg. But let's not jump too far ahead! So Katie has a boyfriend called Ali who has a brother called Abraim, both of whom I really like. The whole friendship with Katie is turning into something wonderful, and her interaction with Angela is precious. She isn't at all fazed by Angela's slow revelation to her (doled out carefully over their reacquaintance) that she has dissociative disorder. Katie thinks it's cool and embraces it whole-heartedly, casually bringing it into conversation without any hesitation or fear. The four of them go to the formal and have a good time, but Coley doesn't share any details. Instead, she jumps straight to where they drive up the mountain, and watch the sun come up.

WHAT? This is a sixteen year old, going on thirteen, who was abducted for three years, has some serious issues (understandably!), and her parents have no problem whatsoever with her quite literally staying out all night with a boy they've never met? (Her parents miraculously disappear from the story during that evening - nowhere in sight, which is distinctly weird!) This, I'm sorry, but this is bad writing, Coley's first real slip-up IMO. Greg chases down Angela (having been made suitably jealous at the formal!), and tells her he's dumped Livvie, and now they can be together, but Angela no longer has Little Wife the Slut on board, and she turns Greg down, so this monumental prick teams up again with Livvie and the two of them start a not-so-subtle hate-campaign at school, which no one in authority seems to have any interest in stopping! I find that a bit much. Angela is reduced to carrying around a small spray-paint can to spray over the absurdist and libelous graffiti they leave about her.

Worse than that, the evil Greg and Livvie call the press and reveal the story of the abducted girl returning home, so now the press is all over the school and all over her home. This I find unbelievable. Not that the press would behave like jerks, but that they would not have found out about Angela already. Everyone in the school knew. The students would have told all their friends and their parents. It's simply not credible that this story wouldn't have broken much sooner than this.

But let's roll with this one, because we have bigger poissons à faire frire (see how wonderful it looks in pretentious French? lol! Or should I say, Français prétentieux ?)! Anyway, Angela gets home to find not the press, but the police and the press, although why there are so many police is a mystery since they don't seem to be doing anything about the press. Detective Brogan is there, and he tells Angela that they've found the cabin where she was held, and while there was ample evidence of her being there, there was no trace of her captor anywhere to be found; the cabin looks abandoned. Did the avenging Angel kill off the criminal? It may be more complicated than that. Recall that apparent baby that seems to have disappeared? Was the baby killed? Or is the baby the selfsame one which Angela babysat?

Angela now has the opportunity to go with the police to the cabin to see if it triggers any memories, but she's not too fond of that idea. And why didn't the police, who are aware of her sessions with doctor Grant, have one of her personalities describe her captor to a police sketch artist? Angela takes this news badly and throws up. Later, sitting in the shower trying to get her other selves to reveal something Angela is convinced they're hiding from her, The Angel shows up and his hands are bloody and he begs Angela to get rid of him next so neither she nor anyone else can discover what he did. Angela doesn't want to let him go, because he protected her from Greg. She now regrets even "killing off" Little Wife/The Slut.

Then Angela comes back into herself to find the bathtub bloody. She just had her period. So this complicates things! I love this story! If this is her first period, it explains why there was no issue with pregnancy in her trysts with Greg (although STDs still remain a problem - and note that Coley makes no mention of Angela being tested for any such thing after her return, which is one thing I'm sure they would have done). However, if this is her first period, there is no way she could have become pregnant during her stay at the cabin, But I think this is a red herring on Coley's part! Shame on her trying to mislead me like that. I thought we were friends!

When Angela gets back downstairs after her shower, something truly weird happens. Her mother refers to detective Brogan by his first name. Coley has made me so suspicious now that the first thing I thought when I read that was to ask myself: "Did Angela's mom have an affair with Brogan? Is the baby she's carrying actually his? Am I evil or what? Hey, Coley did this to me, making me second-guess everything she's writing! It's not my fault!

Angela discovers that Doctor Grant cannot get her in to erase The Angel until after Thanksgiving, so she's stuck with him until then, but there's no word on whether Angela talked to her and told her anything about what has happened recently, so I'm forced to assume they didn't talk. This isn't good, because Angela is already irrationally tarring herself as a murderer, and now she has all Thanksgiving to let it eat her up. But it gets worse: Coming over for turkey is that turkey Uncle Bill who raped her repeatedly when he was supposed to be babysitting her.

He starts feeling her up in the kitchen every time they're alone until The Angel surfaces, breaks his fingers, and stabs him with a large fork. But it gets worse. Her father comes running in at this ruckus and tackles Angela to the ground claiming she's finally had the psychotic break he was expecting all along! I want to kick that son of a bitch squarely in his juvenile balls before I cut them off and feed them to the neighbor's dog. I hope Coley has some deep, penetrating revenge coming down on both these scum.

Her mother is no better - she calls for an ambulance! Now the picture is complete: Angela's abuse started long before she was abducted, long before rapist Bill started on her. It started with Angela being unfortunately born to parents who are complete dickheads. As the siren approaches (seriously - they got here that fast?) Bill the pond scum punches her in the stomach and pins her arms behind her back and the medics, brain-dead robot puppets that they are, immediately inject her with a sedative, and she blacks out.

Some one needs to fire those medics. Angela wakes up in a room, restrained on a bed, with her mom sitting by. When she reacts negatively, not violently, but merely negatively to her mother's mention that Bill (or is it Bull?) is fine and forgives Angela, her mother threatens her with another sedative! Angela (and I cheered when I read this!_) asks her mother to leave and requests doctor Grant to come in. Coley slips a bit here, too, because when Grant comes in, Angela asks her to remove the restraints (which remind her horribly of her abduction and imprisonment) and Grant acts shocked that she's even in them. This is a trained psychologist who came back from vacation to see to Angela, and who has already spend some considerable time there that day, yet she apparently didn't observe that Angela was in restraints, nor did she note it from her chart - a chart which is she was any kind of decent doctor, she would have thoroughly taken in the first chance she got!

This novel is divided into four sections, starting with You, then We, followed by Us (I think - I went thru the book several times trying to find section 3 and couldn't!), and ending with I. The end of section 3 is a bit too pat for my taste. Angela, who has discovered the The Angel was eliminated while she was sedated, miraculously integrates the other two by herself. I don't like this part because it sends a misleading message that anyone can overcome the most appalling mental trauma with barely any effort at all. But the story isn't over yet and I'm excited to read the last section to find out what's hidden behind the firmly closed door that The Angel wouldn't even let Angela's other personalities through. I think Coley wants us to believe it's the secret of Angela killing her captor, but I'm convinced, rightly or wrongly, that it has to do with babies.

Coley betrays Angela here because rapist Bill evidently gets off with a restraining order and no jail time. Now Angela's grandmother is pissed off with Angela for forcing her to choose which of her two sons she will favor. She chooses to favor the rapist. Angela makes a date with Abraim - the first upon which they will have gone without Katie and Ali along for the date, but before that, she has to babysit. There is it again. Coley has to be telegraphing this baby stuff for a reason!

Or maybe not! Angela has an uneventful babysitting, that is until she touches the baby blanket when she's checking on him, and suddenly the Harrises are back home and it's one o'clock. Now where did the two hours go? It looks like Angela actually isn't quite as integrated as she thinks she is. Did we get a trip behind that locked door which The Angel wouldn't let anyone past? Angela sleeps very late the next day and when she finally gets up, she realizes that her rocking chair has been moved. This was a regular occurrence during her split days, but it should no longer happen. Angela arrives at the disturbing conclusion that there's yet another personality which has never even surfaced, let alone become integrated with the rest of her!

I so love this novel, and that's where I'm going to leave this review. This novel made me excited, angry, emotional and anxious to read the next page. Despite some issues and flaws (which Coley commendably addresses in an afterword where she reveals that 'J' was indeed an Angela but in real life), this novel is possibly the best I've read since i started blogging this year. The ending is awesome and so well written it makes me depressed that I didn't think of it! I am definitely going to be stalking Coley's name on bookshelves in future!