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

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Rating: WARTY!

Time to look at some more audiobooks!

Emezi was born in Nigeria which is wealthy in oil, yet despite this, over 50 per cent of young people cannot find work and many cannot find food. Out of this came this author, and this is her debut novel which fortunately for me was read in English, not in Igbo, and it's read by the author, something of which I approve for an author who can do it. No one can give better voice to their words than the one who wrote them. Unfortunately, while getting off to a strong start, the novel went into a downward spiral in the second half and I ended up not able to commend it as a worthy read despite it being a really pleasant experience listening to the author's voice.

This novel is about Ada (the author pronounces it almost like the word 'adder' but with very little of the R on the end, and she's referred to most often as The Ada, because the story is narrated by the spirits which occupy this girl and have done so since before she was born in pretty much the same region of Nigeria as the author herself was. The blurb claims that Ada "becomes a troubled child, prone to violent fits of anger and grief", but there really is very little of this. She seems perfectly ordinary for the most part, although far from normal.

The blurb does get it right when it says that "a traumatic event crystallizes the selves into something more powerful." Ada has long known that whatever is in her is satiated by a blood sacrifice, which is why she occasionally cuts herself, but after she experiences something which is all too common and which sees little justice in the coed world of American higher education - a topic I touched on in my own novel, Bass Metal - one of the spirits takes over Ada's body and the original Ada fades into the background much more, although she isn't lost altogether.

What I found poor about this story was how human the gods were. In some parts of it the author goes out of her way to point out how unimportant human life is to them and how trivial it seems, yet the parts narrated by the god reveal them to be very human and petty and to focus on human needs and wants. There is nothing godly about them, and in Ada's case their interest revolves almost entirely around sexual gratification which I found rather pathetic. So while this started out interestingly, it quickly became repetitive and boring for me.

A conflict arises when Ada - the real Ada - falls for this guy that the female god Asughara does not approve of. She's not the only one onboard, although the others are really non-entities as far as the story is concerned. The only other one to really appear is Saint Vincent, but he's a bit player and not worht the writing in the end. So there's a conflict, but the god is really uninterested in doing anything about it and when things go badly simply says "I told you so" and that's pretty much that. The story rather fizzles out after that and I gave up on it. I can't commend it, although I'd be willing to listen to another story by this same author as long as she reads it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Give Please a Chance by Bill O'Reilly, James Patterson

Rating: WARTY!

Not a fan of O'Reilly or Patterson, especially not now I see the two have colluded on writing a children's book! After all the news we've had about O'Reilly and harassment allegations and multi-million dollar hush money, I don't see where he gets the chutzpah to write a book advising kids to say please. Seriously?

Several artists illustrated this, but I don't know which one of them got a juvenile into her underwear for this book. Talk about bad taste. I'm not for banning books as a general rule, but this one ought to be, based on hypocrisy alone. I don't care if they're both donating proceeds to charity. It's still not right. The guy's last contract with Fox was for what - $25 mill per year? Let him give some of that to charity and stay away from writing children's books. And let's boycott Fox for continuing to employ people like this, and Henry Holt publishers for publishing books by people like this. Some people just have no shame.

The book doesn't even do a decent job of sending the message it claims to send. The message it does send seems to be that you can bribe people to do what you want - in this case by saying please. I guess it works with simpletons on the extreme right.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sadia by Colleen Nelson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

The story is about displaced and immigrant Middle-East young Muslim girls in Canada. Sadia Ahmadi is fifteen years old. She and her family left Syria when her father got a teaching post at a University in Winnipeg, which is the capital city of Manitoba, a Canadian province. Winnipeg sits some seventy miles north of the North Dakota-Minnesota state line. It's cold up there at this time of year! it's 5° Fahrenheit, or minus fifteen Celsius as I write this! The average low in January is minus twenty one! Even in August it doesn't breach eighty (25°C), and it's down to the fifties (12°C) at night. Call me a wuss, but that's way too cold for me! You have to be tough to live in Canada!

By moving when they did, Sadia's family missed the Syrian civil war. Sadia has some mixed feelings about the move and her new homeland, but she gets a real education as to how lucky she is when Amira Nasser, a refugee, ends up at Sadia's school having left everything behind in Syria to escape the not-so-civil war. Now she's in a strange land with different customs and language and she's expected to integrate and learn. Sadia is assigned by her school (Laura Secord High School) to help her get up to speed. Laura Secord is (or was) a real person - a Canadian hero of the 1812 war.

But the story isn't about Amira; neither is it about Sadia's best friend Nazreen Hussani who originally hailed from Egypt. Instead, these two are rather employed to represent the trope angel and the devil sitting on Sadia's shoulders. Amira is very much a traditional Muslim girl. Nazreen is a rebel who removes her hijab and conservative clothing as soon as she gets to school, replacing them only before she leaves to head home. Sadia has issues with this and while she tries to maintain their friendship, she also feels increasing tension, dissent, and distance between herself and Nazreen. She feels pulled between these two extremes, yet tries to find her own path.

The thing which seems to erode the rough edges, and bring all these girls together is basketball. It is Sadia's passion. She has the chance to be on a co-ed team which enters a small tournament. Everything seems to be going great until the finals, when one of the teams objects to Sadia wearing what is a suitable outfit for a strict Muslim girl to play a sport in public, but which the opposing team finds objectionable, and which we're told is contrary to the official rules of the game.

On a point of order, it really isn't. The problem is that there is a slow turn-around time for professional publishing houses - a lag between the author finishing a novel and it being published. I don't know when the author wrote this or how long it was between her signing-off on the finished copy and the publishing date (which is this month) but as it happens, the rules in basketball got changed early last year in Canada to allow religious headwear (with certain restrictions), so I chose to assume that events in this novel took place before that date! Full disclosure here: the publisher, Dundurn, is the largest Canadian-owned publisher, and I am on their auto approved list on Net Galley, for which I am grateful since I tend to like what they publish.

Just as importantly, a young girl named Amina Mohamed of the Dakota Collegiate in Winnipeg came up with a design for headwear that meets both Muslim restrictions and basketball regulations. In the novel, it's Nazreen who comes up with this idea. There's no acknowledgement to Amina, so I'm wondering if this book was locked-down before that item got into the news. Perhaps in future editions, the author can acknowledge Amina Mohamed's accomplishment.

The story itself, though, was well-told and moving. It did bring to the fore the issues Muslims have when trying to live in Western society and stay true to their faith: the restrictions, the difficulties, the prejudices and the outright racism in some cases. I'm not religious at all, so some of these issues struck me as trivial, but that's certainly not how they feel to people who are invested in faith, so I let that go, but what did bother me is that there are deeper issues which the author did not explore. The most outrageous of these is the appalling gender bias that seems to go hand-in-hand with far too many organized religions (and not a few disorganized ones as well, for that matter).

If the purpose of covering a woman's body is to prevent inciting passions, then it seems to me to be doomed from the off, because when a woman is completely covered, doesn't that in a way inflame an embarrassing number of the male half of the population with curiosity and desire to know what's under there? Of course you could argue that no matter how a woman dresses, but this is actually the other half of this problem: while all the pressure is placed upon women to tone down their dress (whether it's Muslim dress or even western dress as it happens), none is placed upon men to tone down their behavior and it was this which the Quran addressed first!

The whole idea of covering a woman up isn't only an insult to the woman, it's also an insult to the men in its implicit assertion that they're so lacking in self-control that women need to be hidden under blankets lest their very appearance cause the men to become serial rapists. That whole idea is absurdist and wrong-headed to me and says far more about the men who promote these ideas than ever it does about the women who have suffered and continue to suffer under this oppressive and cruel patriarchal hegemony.

The Quran is quite explicit in terms of modesty, but this requirement did not so much address clothing as partition between the genders, and it does not apply solely to women! It applies to men, too, yet in this story, we find no issues raised over the boys, only over the girls. I thought this ought to have been delved into a little. What;s good for the goose is worth taking a gander!

Why must girls wear a head covering (which technically is a khimar, 'hijab' having a more general meaning) and not the boys? I think there is some mileage to be had there, especially when telling a story of this nature. On a related, but slightly different topic, one of the things Nazreen did in her little rebellion against conformity was to wear (when she did wear them!) very colorful Khumur (the plural of khimar).

Personally, I have no problem with what women wear (or don't wear!), it's their choice, but I can't help wonder how making a Khimar more attractive meets the stated purpose of the garment in the first place, which as I understand it, is to promote a modest appearance. Isn't it less modest to make yourself stand out? Indeed, in western society, wearing a Khimar in the first place is rare enough that it makes a woman stand out more than if she went bare-headed, so this seems to me to be in conflict with the whole purpose of a head covering if it's to detract from attention! That's all I'm going to say on that topic, although I certainly reserve the right to go into it in some future novel of mine!

On a minor technical issue, and prefacing this by saying that I'm not a basketball fan and I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on rules: as far as I know in regular play, once a basket is sunk, the ball goes to the other team! There's no rebound to be had and you certainly can't try to score again. So when we read that Jillian scored a trhee-pointer and then "Allan grabbed the rebound to shoot again" I had to ask: what rebound? There's no rebound from a sunk basket! And even if there were, you can't just grab the ball and shoot again! The possession devolves to the defending team. I'm thinking that the author was conflating regular play here with taking a free throw during which - if the ball rebounds - a player can grab it and take a shot. But like I said, it's a minor issue and we all manage to let a few of those get by if we're honest!

So in conclusion, the novel felt maybe a little young for high school, but then the students were only on the cusp of the high school experience, so perhaps I'm being too judgmental there. Or maybe just mental! I felt there were some issues with this as I've mentioned, more in the omission than the commission, but overall, the novel was a worthy read and I recommend it, especially for the intended age range.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Solomon's Ring by Mary Jennifer Payne

Rating: WARTY!

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

"Smith flexes a well-toned bicep" Once again YA authors, it's biceps! Unless you do happen to be speaking about only one of the two upper attachments of this muscle: the long head or the short head. I favor the long head myself....

The twin motif in novels, especially young adult novels, has been way overdone, so if you want to venture into it as a writer, you need to offer something truly different or inventive and unfortunately, this novel offered neither. To be perfectly fair, this was volume two in a series, and I have not read volume one, but this seemed like it stood alone fairly well if you were willing to accept that there was baggage from the past that you were not directly party to. But every new relationship is like that, right?!

My problem with it was the writing which felt very amateur. There was nothing technically wrong with it in terms of spelling errors or poor grammar and so on, but it just did not tell the tale well at all, and some of the story seemed so poorly thought-out that it felt like reading indifferent fan fiction.

If you're going to call-up children to do a job that would normally be done by adults, you'd better have a more solid reason for it than simply "Oh she's a special snowflake" and then get all coy about why it's so, and in book two no less. It's just an insult to your reader's intellect, or did you plan on writing only for dumb readers? It's a good question to ask yourself as and author: who are you talking to? And do you really want to talk down to them?

The stakes are higher when the story is a fantasy, especially a religious one, because if you're calling on humans to do a job that a god cannot do and angels cannot handle, then you'd better have a good reason for that too! I know the Bible has countless instances of humans being called on to do a job which God can't handle, but that's a sign of really poor fiction, not of a well-written classic. Just to put it out there - that these kids are needed to fight demons - and offer nothing to support that contention is either empty plotting or the cowardice of hiding behind scores of other poor writers who've employed precisely the same blinkered plot.

The twins had been separated (in volume one) one of them being thought dead, but she was just in Hades evidently, although it's not called that here. Here it has a cutesy hipster term that I prefer to forget. Anyway, her sister discovered where she was and rescued her and now they're back together, but demons are walking the Earth! Or at least the town where they live.

There is a curfew and there are power outages, and these two sixteen-year-olds are so dumb that they let themselves get talked into staying out until dark, which is apparently (and for reasons unexplained at least in the part I read) when demons are loose. Why the demons can't walk during the day is unexplained of course because this novel cowers behind trope. You're expected to swallow all these dumb 'rules', like not crossing running water and being allergic to iron, and so on because it's always done that way! Why would an author strive for originality and to up their game when they can take the road most traveled like everyone else does?

The demons are hunting one of the twins because she's your predictable YA special snowflake although no-one, predictably, will tell her why, not even her angelic best friend, predictably named Raphael. This is one of those tedious stories with all kinds of unnecessary secrecy and poor plotting. If a city was in that bad of a shape, the national guard would have been called out, but no! Everything is going along 'normally' despite the dire crisis, the curfew, and the murders in the streets. This made no sense whatsoever.

It made no sense that one of the twins would be armed with a bamboo pole to fight demons. We're told that bullets cannot kill these demons, but this made no sense either given that the demons were occupying frail human bodies. Why would decapitation work? How do you decapitate with a blunt bamboo pole anyway?

Even were I willing to grant all of that, especially given that I'd not read book one, I can't overlook that it made no sense that the police would not find something highly suspicious in a young, rather frail-looking girl magically decapitating an attacker with a bamboo pole! It made less sense that they would simply nod their heads and say "Oh, okay!" when told the bamboo pole had disappeared. Police are not dumb. They know a lot more than you do, yet far too many authors treat them like they're clueless clowns. For all the faults that police do have, I can't respect an author who depicts all of them as idiots.

It was at the point where Raphael was being all mysterious and for absolutely no reason whatsoever that I could not stand to read another world of this book. There are people no doubt who will whine that you cannot gauge a book after reading only ten percent of it, but that is an outright lie. A book either does it for you from the off, or it doesn't; it's either smartly-written or it isn't. A novel is with worth reading or it's not, and this one simply was not. Life is far too short to waste it on a book that does not launch for you right from the beginning.

This one seemed dedicated to employing great leaps of faith as a substitute for thoughtful writing and solid plotting, and it relied on so much hand-waving to cover plot holes that I could feel a chill from it. To me, that's a sign that you should whack it with a bamboo pole. Intelligent readers deserves a lot better than this. Other readers deserve what they get.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cloudia & Rex by Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Daniel Irizarri

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great story which I really enjoyed, although I have to say it was a bit confusing at times. The art was lovely and the story was different from the usual fare. I always appreciate that! For one thing, it presented African American females as protagonists. It was nice to see strong female characters of color, who are far too few in comic books, and strong, independent females who are equally rare. I would not recommend a graphic novel if that was all it had to offer, but I would sure be tempted! Fortunately this offered much more.

In the story, two young girls, the eponymous Cloudia and Rex, and their mother run into ancient gods who are seeking safety which can only be found in the mortal world. An antagonist named Tohil wishes to destroy those same gods and is hot on their heels.

Somehow the gods end-up being downloaded into Cloudia's phone, and some of their power transfers over to the girls. Rex is somewhat bratty, but she finds she can change into an assortment of animals. It's amusing and interesting to see what she does with that. Cloudia is a bit strident, but maybe she has reason when her life is screwed-up so badly and unexpectedly.

Daniel Irizarri's coloring is bold and pervasive, and it really stands out from the comic. It's almost overwhelming, actually, but overall the story was entertaining and the characters were fun, I recommend this one.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Rating: WARTY!

This was a bloated audiobook which I came to by way of the excellent TV show. I find it disheartening that authors like Gaiman (who is evidently channeling Stephen King here), so routinely get away with padding novels with extraneous material that's not even relevant to the plot, let alone moves it along. If this had been submitted, as is, by an unknown author it would have been slashed and burned by the editor or publisher, assuming they even deemed it publishable.

Gaiman needs to take a few editing hints from the writers of the TV show, because for me, this bloating is what ruined what could have been a fine novel. I made it about a third of the way through, and hit one section after another that was padded with material that seemed to come out of deep left field - which is saying something for a story that is entirely out of left field! - and I gave up on it. I'll stick with the TV version. It's better done.

For example, an entire half-hour drive to work listening to this audiobook (nineteen disks!) was ironically occupied in the novel by a drive which Shadow, the main character in the book, undertook simply to get from point A to point B. It did nothing to advance the story. Gaiman could have simply said "and he arrived somewhat worse for wear from the long drive, but he got there" or words to that effect and that would have been it, but instead, we got thirty minutes of prose and dialog occupied with his buying a crappy old car to make the trip, driving the car, sleeping in the car, taking a leak in the morning (yes, Gaiman described this!), having this random woman show up to beg a ride from him, driving the car, stopping for a meal, driving the car, and then dropping her off at her destination. What exactly, was the point? Just so's he could hook up with her at the end of the story?

The next disk after that became bogged down with the minutiae of running a funeral home. I pretty much skimmed every track on that disk, and quickly decided that this novel, which had started out so well, was not for me. None of this padding was necessary, giving how fat the book was. Frankly, I was annoyed and resentful that a writer felt he could so casually waste my time like this. This is why I don't typically like to take on long novels because they're almost inevitably larded with this kind of thing, and it's boring and irritating to me.

The story in outline is that the old gods - those which are familiar to anyone who knows anything about mythology or comparative religion (although some reviewers seemed sadly ignorant of the mythology which begs the question as to why they even started reading this book in the first place!) are at war with the new ones.

Gods such as such as Odin, Kali, and so on, are being forced out in a take-over by the new gods of television, videogames, technology and so forth. Odin resents this and decides to embark upon a fruitless war against them. He endeavors to recruit the other old gods to help him. This means we meet a lot of characters (if there is one thing humanity truly excels at, it's inventing gods). I notice that in his recruitment of gods obscure and common, Gaiman carefully avoids names like Yahweh, Allah, and Brahma so as not to piss off any fanatics. Other than that, he has no rules and no boundaries.

Some of the story was good, well-written, sacrilegious, and fascinating, but it was nowhere near good enough, well-written enough, or fascinating enough to make up for the dreck. I cannot recommend this. Go watch the TV show instead. be warned that both novel and TV show are explicit and violent.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Same Love by Tony Correia

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Set in Canada, this was a short but sweet story that I fell in love with just from the blurb. The idea is that a young Christian guy, Adam Lethbridge, with religiously strict parents, is suspected of being homosexual - it's true, but the condemnation is based on the flimsiest of evidence - he was seen shopping in the mall with a "known gay"! Clearly this 'raving pooftah' needs to be saved from Hell, so he's promptly dispatched to a Christian summer camp to be 'deprogrammed', aka saved by Baby Jesu, but there he meets another guy, a Korean-Canadian named Paul, who is questioning his own sexuality, and the two fall for each other!

I thought that was hilarious, but the story isn't a romantic comedy by any means. There is humor in it, but it's a story which is told seriously and thoughtfully. I really enjoyed it.

There's nothing explicit in it - nothing more than a kiss and holding hands - so it's a safe read for anyone who is bothered by a lot of overt physical affection. The funniest thing about it was highlighted by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce many years ago: how do you punish homosexuals for breaking the law? Lock 'em up with a bunch of guys! The same thing happens here, and the lack of straight-thinking behind that kind of philosophy boggles the mind.

Of course this seems like it was always worse for men because the white male authorities behind this asinine approach to relationships were not only horrified by, but scared of homosexual men, while they never took homosexual women seriously. As queen Victoria was supposed to have said, "women simply don't do that sport of thing!" That doesn't mean women had it so much easier, by any means. In some ways they had it worse.

I confess I had a bit of a time getting into this at first because the story seemed so full of conversational prose and very little descriptive prose, but after Adam arrived at camp, the reading became very easy and comfortable. He's bunking with three other guys including Paul: a depressed guy named Martin, and a weirdo named Randall. The dynamic between these four was fascinating. Adam also meets Rhonda on the bus up to the mountain retreat. She's being sent to the camp to be have the 'slu't removed from her - and she and Adam bond quickly.

I loved that the author pointed out the hypocrisy and cluelessness in these approaches, although I would have loved it more had there been a complete deconstruction of Biblical teachings, but the thrust of this novel was not in that direction, so that was fine. The point was clearly made that there's a difference - and sometimes a huge one - between what's in the Bible and what people claim is in the Bible. I loved that bit!

Speaking of which, as is often the case in novel for me, one of the more minor characters was the most interesting. Rhonda intrigued me and was the outstanding character. I loved how feisty, confident, and outspoken she was, and would have liked to have read more about her, especially taking the camp religious teachers to task over their poor understanding of the bible, but of course the focus was on Adam and Paul, and his other roommates.

If there was a weak spot, for me it was Randall, who didn't quite ring true at times, but other than that, the story was great, well-written, instructive, and it had a beautiful ending. I recommend this one.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amish Country Treasure by Ruth Price

Rating: WARTY!

You can't put a price on good Amish stories - not when the price is this author. Chapter one begins with these words: "If you are reading this without having read the others in the series, please be aware that this series is complete and there is a boxed collection HERE. This will help keep a few more Sheckles in your pocket..."

Stop right there!

The author starts chapter one by advertising her 'boxed' collection? And she doesn't know how to spell Shekels? This is hilarious given that the author's name is Price! Well I got this for free just out of curiosity, and I'm not about to go shelling out for a series where the story begins with an author's pitch for me to buy a whole series when I haven't even been allowed the chance to read this first one before she gets in my face with her 'series'?

I dislike the term 'boxed set' which is meaningless drivel in the first place when it comes to ebooks. The only boxing required is that to the ears of the idiot who decided this was a good term to use in the electronic book world! This is one more reason to detest series and authors who are so addicted to them, so congratulations, you just talked me right out of even reading your 61 page episode. I'm not interested.

Could you not even let me read sixty pages before you start your pitch? I'm sorry, and I know it's a competitive world out there, but this is unacceptable. If your only interest is money and you're so obsessed with it that you're right up there in my face with it on page one, then you are definitely not the author for me. I will not recommend this book - and yes it's based solely on this, and I am done with this author, and that's entirely based on this attitude she flaunts. Amish? Pish.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Relic of Perilous Falls by Raymond Arroyo

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook I experimented with. It's read by the author, who sounds a bit like Phil Hartman, the American comedy actor who was shot by his mentally-ill girlfriend in 1998 while he was sleeping, and I can't say that the author does an absolutely disastrous job, but after listening to about an hour of this I soon found myself being irritated by his voice, particularly when he was doing this young female character, and making her sound like she was mentally deficient rather than just young. In principle, it's nice to have an author read their own work. That's the only way you can really tell how they meant it to sound, but in this case it was eventually annoying and not pleasant.

Will Wilder is a 12-year-old boy who deserves his last name. He's irresponsible and has way too much energy. In his defense, he's gifted, or plagued, with the ability to see otherworldly 'shade' creatures, and his stupidity ends up unleashing them. No wonder the town is called Perilous Falls. Now it's Will's job to fix things. So far so good, but this novel carried a quite heavy religious agenda - so it seemed to me, and I disliked the preachy tone. It's tied to the remains of the Saint Thomas, who supposedly had so little faith that he didn't believe Jesus had risen.

If you ask me he was the smartest of the twelve! The burial place is supposedly one of only three of the apostles: the Basilica in Rome, of Peter, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, of James, and the National Shrine of Thomas in Chennai, India, yet not a one of these can offer evidence that what they contain really is what they claim to contain. Will Wilder's village, though, supposedly has the very finger (among other body parts) that was plunged into the wound! This is what keeps the evil away. The skeleton came from Italy in World War Two. How it got there as opposed to being in India remains a mystery.

Not only does Will screw up and break his kid brother's arm, he also screws up further and steals the relic from the church, thereby removing the town's protection, and unleashing evil. Why all the evil is there, waiting to be loosed is yet another unanswered question. I never did get this demon thingy. And what's the deal with demons? There are none in the Bible - just angels, of which Lucifer is one.

Given that Thomas is supposedly buried in India, how this GI brought the relic home from Italy is a mystery which goes unexplained, but then I DNF'd this so maybe I missed something. Obviously the book isn't aimed at me, but I've enjoyed many such books which were not. I have no interest in pursuing a series like this, though, and I can't recommend it based on what I heard of it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dante's Divine Comedy by Seymour Chwast

Rating: WARTY!

In which I play the back nine with Dante Alighieri!

I almost picked up a copy of the Divine comedy in audio book form, but I declined it in favor of this graphic novel, Wise decision! The book seemed like too much to take for me, and the graphic novel confirmed it. Much simplified - indeed to a degree greater than I would have liked - the book depicts pretty much the Cliff's Notes version of the story, with lots of low grade illustration (in the form of monochrome line drawings and very little text. There's a mild sense of humor running through it, but overall I was neither impressed by the graphic novel version, nor by the primitive and idiotic original story, steeped as it was in the most asinine superstition and bullshit imaginable. I was so glad I didn't plump for the audio book which would have been a nightmare to listen to if it was as tedious as this version.

This is where the nine circles of hell originated, at least in popular consciousness, and which in turn evidently owes a lot to the seven deadly sins. It's also very confusing. The first seven circles are each dismissed with barely a page of illustration and text, and having been through that, I have to question the mental health of Dante, although having said that, I do fully realize that this was how people in general and the church in particular really viewed life and death back then. Or at least tried to sell it, in the case of the church.

The first circle of hell is Limbo, which is apparently simply hanging out solely with, it would appear, celebrities. It left me not knowing quite what to do, because for me that would be hell. I imagine it wouldn't seem remotely like hell for all-too-many people, and especially for those who live in a celebrity culture like the population of the USA seems to do!

The second circle of hell is the naked truth. We're told that it's inhabited by "Lustful creatures who committed sins of the flesh who are tossed about carelessly in the dark by the most furious winds." Now they spend eternity locked in carnal embrace. I can't imagine all that many people actually going beyond this level. They would be happy here - probably most guys, and more women than you might initially imagine. It would be like going back to the sixties. For eternity. How is this hell? LOL!

The third circle (or the turd circle as it happens) is to punish the gluttons, and this one is the first level which actually does punish. Evidently the fate of gluttons is to float around in the very excrement which has resulted from their own gluttony. Ick! You gluttons better get your shit together or you're actually going to get your shit - together!

I really wanted to get my hands on the fourth circle, which is devoted to avarice. It's also where apparently Rolling Rock beer got its name, because rolling rocks is what these people do - around a circle until they crash into the other team coming the other way, then they turn and roll the rocks back in the opposite direction. This sounds like a rip-off of the Sisyphus myth, but not really much of a hell as compared with the previous level, at least!

The fifth Circle is a joke, apparently. It's naked mud wrestling! It's not exactly my cup of mud - although I guess that would depend upon who it is I was scheduled to wrestle! LOL! There's a kind of a break here, where we see out traveler and his guide traveling the River Acheron (take that, Percy Jackson and your river Styx lowest common denominator!) Evidently these three rivers, The Acheron, the Phlegethon, and the Styx, flow from the mouth of a statue. I never knew that! Nor can I figure out how Greek mythology took over this story about Christian punishment! Rip-Off!

As the two travel (Virgil and Dante) with Phlegyas across the Styx now, they pass sinner Filippo, who is killed by other sinners. Wait, what? Wasn't he dead already?! We are in the afterlife (written as two words in this version!) are we not? It's no wonder that three furies appear and call upon Medusa. I felt like doing the same at this point. The sixth circle consists of heretics and Epicureans, sitting in coffins surrounded by fire. They look bored, but I would imagine they would have some great debates and discussions going if this weren't fiction.

The seventh circle is devoted to violence to begin with, but this is where the neat nine circles goes to hell - as it were, because there are now sub-divisions, and anyone who has lived in a badly-designed subdivision will know exactly what kind of hell it is. On level two, a minotaur guards a ravine of broken rocks across which Dante rides on a centaur, because those broken rocks are hellish, don't you know? Dante seems to have a particular obsession with naked bodies and broken rocks. You have to wonder what state his own rocks were in when he was naked. Possibly New Jersey, but more likely Arizona. Oh, and centaurs prevent the violent folk from escaping the boiling blood river! I imagine they would become trapped when the blood congealed from being boiled. Have I ever boiled blood, you ask? Well this ridiculous theology makes my blood boil. Does that count?

On level three of the seventh circle, you can catch the direct line to Buckingham palace. Oh, wait, wrong hell! No, here, harpies feed on the suicide trees, which are like the ones in the Wizard of Oz movie - living beings. They have it better than those who were violent against god, though! Those villains have to lie on hot sand and have ashes rain upon them. Seriously? Dante's god is so petty that he punishes people for eternity with abusive and nasty pettiness because they were violent against him? I know some parents are harsh on their children, but for the most part, a truly loving parent forgives their kids and loves them unconditionally, continually striving to help them all they can. God evidently gives up after four score and ten. For all our faults, when it comes to looking after our loved ones, for the most part, we humans put all gods to shame.

In the second zone the sodomites are punished under fiery rain! The thing is that flames evidently burn-off the features of the sodomites, so not a one of them is ugly! Yeay! Next up, eighth circle, which is yet another sub-divided mess: the fraudulent, the pimps and seducers, oh, and astrologers, magicians and diviners! Hypocrites. Serpents attack thieves and the two merge. Sowers of discord have to walk in a circle where they're repeatedly stabbed, heal, and are stabbed again. Falsifiers of metals get scabs. Now scabs merely cross picket lines. The ninth circle is pretty much more of the same. It's all about betrayal and usury - which is a sin! Bankers of the Earth beware! You have nothing to lose but your bottom line....

Curiously, Dante has an out. Giants lower him to the bottom of hell where he can use the devil's own tunnel to climb out and escape! He makes his way to purgatory where he's required to wash his hands of hell, because he's not a spirit. He notices that he casts a shadow, but Virgil, his companion does not. Spirits, we're told, cannot cast a shadow but can feel pain. How does that work?

The dead are begging Dante to tell their loved ones to pray for them. Why is this? Are we to understand from this that two spirits, both equally stained with sin, will have different outcomes if one has people begging for him whereas the other does not? This is the same thing as saying that it's not your own sin which condemns you, but the level of groveling you can command from your followers! Honestly? Why would the prayers of the living matter? Why not the prayers of those already dead, who have gone on to heaven? Wouldn't their evaluation be more accurate? And why would a perfect god need to be told anything? Or asked for anything? Doesn't he already know? So the purpose of this is for people to debase themselves with no guarantee of an outcome, evidently. It has nothing to do with actually affecting, much less effecting, an outcome. Indeed, how can a perfect god's mind be changed by prayer? To suggest it can be changed indicates the divine mind is in an imperfect state!

Of course, the value of Dante's insights is rather lessened when we learn of his cosmology, which has Earth at the center and the sun out in a "sphere" between Venus and Mars.... Comedy is definitely the word for this. It's a joke. Not only is the original story complete trash, as well as being both juvenile and vindictive, this graphic rendition of it felt to me like it was tossed together on the cheap. It was lackluster and minimalist to an extreme degree, and I can't recommend it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Superyogi Scenario by James Conner

Title: The Superyogi Scenario
Author: James Conner
Publisher: Sky Grove
Rating: WARTY!

"...Captain Davis' wiry main mechanic..." should be "...Captain Davis's wiry main mechanic..." (similarly used on pps 52, 53, & 94). Davis is singular, so adding the letter 's' after the apostrophe is appropriate.
"That pulled more g forces of the most aggressive roller coaster" (p118) makes no sense as it's written. Try 'than' instead of 'of', and 'g force' (singular)?
"...entitled Dangerous Yogis..." should be "...titled Dangerous Yogis..." (p13) but so many authors conflate these two words that this point it's pretty much a waste of time objecting with a language as dynamical as English.
"I'm not saying there is any eminent danger of this mountain collapsing..." (p239) should be "I'm not saying there is any imminent danger of this mountain collapsing..." The author uses it correctly on p275.
"...I put the dresses in your closest personally" (p245) should be "...I put the dresses in your closet personally"

So, this was yet another Adobe Digital Editions book that started on page minus five. Way to give a negative impression! I don't know what does this. It isn't the author's fault. Something evidently got lost in translation between the typescript and the ADE. It's not an insurmountable problem - just annoying, but I never saw this problem until recently, and now I've seen it three times in three different books. Authors and publishers beware!

There were too many flaws in this story. On the one hand, this made it very little worse than your average super hero story, all of which are flawed in some way - notably how the hero got their powers and how those powers work. The biggest flaw was that there were pictures - in a book that's supposed to be about denying self - demonstrating how good-looking and hot these cool super-heroes were. In the ADE edition, the very first picture, of Physique, the villain, was cut off. Only the top portion of the image was visible (in the iPad edition it was all visible), so we didn't even see her face (see image on my blog). I was sorry it wasn't showing only the bottom, with the top cut off. At least then I could have maybe garnered some hits for my blog by telling everyone she appeared topless! LOL!

This story at least had the advantage of taking the road less traveled and for the most part, it's well-written apart from some rather glaring gaffs listed on my blog. I liked the way we're told that it's "A novel" on the cover - like we might mistake it for fact! In the end though, for me, it collapsed under its own weight. At times it read far more like a yoga training manual than an exciting novel, which was tedious at best, but this wasn't even the worst problem. I go into detail on my blog.

The grotesque sexual objectification of the female characters was what killed it for me. There are no everyday real females here and it was - even for a super hero story - completely unrealistic. I had initially thought that going with the yoga scenario would either be a joke or refreshingly different. The latter possibility was what made me look forward to reading it, but in the end it was just another trope super-hero story with nothing essentially different at all except for the yoga lectures.

I didn't like the genderism one bit, and adding brainy after beautiful, and mentioning (as opposed to showing) it just the once, does nothing to redress what is clearly and blatantly objectification. When we meet Agent Rollins, a guy, all we get is that he's tall, wiry, skin as black as midnight (which actually isn't very black when you're in times Square). No mention of handsome - or ugly for that matter, but this author cannot introduce a single female character (and they're all single) without larding her up with buxom, beautiful, voluptuous, or otherwise waxing gratuitously as to how thoroughly all-around hawt she is.

First we meet Physique, aka Tina Hinsdale - the villain. She seems to be the only one who doesn't come swaddled in a super-costume of sexist superlatives, although even she is described as "athletic". After that, though, all restraint fails:

  • "...Surat Banal, the beautiful and brainy assistant..." (pc)
  • "...instantly found her attractive..." (pc)
  • " woman so attractive had ever..." (pc)
  • "To Detective Brennan - an attractive but hardened woman..." (pc)
  • "...blonde and buxom..." (p78)
  • " attractive woman in an olive green flight suit..." (p83)
  • "Samantha simply enjoyed being the beautiful translator..." (p137)
  • "...accenting her voluptuous chest..." (p137)
  • "...if she's going to become a beautiful slugger..." (p186)
  • "Samantha looked at her beautiful, glowing body..." (p189)
  • "...on the dramatic cover, a buxom brunette..." (p198)
  • "...she was glowing and attractive..." - attractive to moths maybe? (201)
  • "...her voluptuous figure..." (p204)
  • "...a beautiful blonde woman..." (p235)
  • "...their sponsor's attractive niece seemed..." (p239)
  • "...spirits looked like beautiful angels..." (p261)
  • And my personal favorite:
  • Arial Davis, "...a beautiful woman who smelled like roses..." (p112)
  • Seriously, roses? Roses don't actually smell of much any more - not like they did in Shakespeare's time. These days, they're all about looks, just like these descriptions.

So for example, when we meet female Surat Banal, the very first thing after her name is "the beautiful" with a side order of "and brainy" as a sop to try and weaken the fact that the most important thing about her is her looks. We get no indication of what Rollins is wearing, but a complete description of Banal's attire down to her pearl necklace, lustrous hair, and Bollywood smile. I am so tired of this, and was pretty much ready to ditch this novel at that point, only five pages in. I had hoped for better, but reading on and on, I quickly learned it wasn't coming. This novel doesn't take the less traveled path after all.

I know this is traditional in super-hero stories, but does that mean it's required? Does that mean we can never try a different kind of super-hero story and break this mold? The truly, truly hypocritical thing here is that Diamond Mind, aka Eric the super yogi, is constantly banging on about how important it is to shed the 'me' and broaden our 'self' to become selfless, and yet every single page, near enough, is larded with how firmly attached to the me and to the material these people truly are.

The 'enlightened one' himself tosses his hair out of his eyes with metronomic regularity. Can he not get it cut so it isn't a constant distraction to him? Do his super yogic powers not extend to holding his hair in place? This endless parade of references to physical appearance completely betrayed and obliterated everything the author was saying about higher consciousness, detachment, and all that drivel!

But on to the story. The idea here is that there are super-powered yogis. They have such control over their bodies that they can overcome the laws of physics (yeah, good luck with that!) and as we learn in the very first chapter, change their body density and crash an airplane, this we need good super yogis to beat them at their own game.

One major problem for me is that the novel had almost no humor except that which was supplied unintentionally, such as when Physique observes at one point, "One side of a mountain moved six feet, sixty years ago...this isn't earth-shattering stuff". Actually, it is! Here's another: the author describes Physique and Agnite clinging to the rail of a boat out on the ocean, fearful that if they fell into the water, no one would ever find them out there, but Physique can float and in the air, too! Why would she be scared? It makes no sense. The only intentionally amusing highlight I noticed was the use of the term "un-dynamic duo" to describe agents Rollins and Kirby investigating this truck that physique damaged. That was it for humor.

While I think it's great that an author has come up with something new to bring to the super hero story genre, taking this particular tack also brings problems along with it. The most obvious one is of course, why set it in the USA? There are shamefully obvious reasons for that of course, but it would have made a lot more sense if this had been set in a place where yoga has been practiced for centuries. The USA is hardly known for its spiritual enlightenment! But if it's super-hero, it has to be USA, right?! And USDA - certified pure beef, too!

Whole chapters of the novel are devoted to teaching yoga, which I routinely skipped because they were boring new age woo. Other readers may find this appealing, but I have no interest at all in reading a bunch of unsubstantiated religious claptrap, especially in a work of fiction. If I did, I'd get a book about the topic and read that. And no, I'm not interested in hearing arguments to the effect that the brain waves of meditating people have been measured and the brain structure of these people has been studied, and I'll tell you why.

Such claims are meaningless without controls. We don't know if those brain changes were there long before the path to meditation began. Neither have there been control studies testing other people doing other things for comparison, such as measuring the brain waves of an athlete when they're in the zone, or of a concert pianist or violinist performing, for example, or of a video-gamer, or of a fighter-jet pilot doing maneuvers.

Without a real honest-to-goodness scientific study, claims are meaningless and out of place in a work of fiction which certainly doesn't require minutiae to be highlighted, and detailed explanations provided for every little thing! Besides, even if all of this were proven, it still provides no evidence for other claims, such as yogis having super powers, or that there is any such thing as reincarnation. These things are fine for fiction. They're fun to play with, and can make for a really good story if handled well, but I can do without the lectures and training manuals in a novel.

A belief in past lives and migrating souls is nonsensical. Consider this: at a point in the not-so-distant past, there were only maybe 2,000 humans living on Earth. We almost became extinct. Now there are billions. Where did all those extra souls come from? If they already existed, what were they doing in the literal billions upon billions of years before Earth formed and life began, and finally, within the last few million years, humans appeared on the stage? Reincarnation ignores the facts of life and this is why it's nonsensical.

The author seems to know that it's the Medal of Honor and not the Congressional Medal of honor (perhaps people confuse it with the Congressional Gold Medal) on one page, but later he refers to it as Congressional Medal of Honor. He's wrong in claiming it was issued to one civilian. It's not issued to civilians per se, but it has been issued to at least seven civilians who were in the employ of the US military at the time it was earned.

"He's gonna have to learn how to lighten up. Having a sense of humor is a big part in making any spiritual progress" - this from Eric the yogi who has been telling these two women that they need to let go of the "me" and focus on others, and now they're being kitted out for super hero costumes by comic book artists - who evidently don't use pencil, ink, or paint any more but all use $2,000 Wacom graphics tablets! Neither Arial (now "Airspeed") nor Samantha (now "Samsa") raise a single objection to their being objectified. This is the point I quit feeling positive about this novel. After that I just completed it for the sake of it since I was so close to the end and hadn't yet finished counting the incidence of "beautiful," but I knew i could not rate it positively.

In a humorous book, calling in comic book artists to design the superheroes' wardrobes would have been a hilarious touch, but this was not that kind of story and it sounded completely ridiculous here. Why not get he movie costume designers? They're the real exerts, and they have been there and done that!

The genderism worked negatively in two ways with the costuming, too. The guys get full-body covering. In fact, the one who actually is impervious to bullets gets a full body suit of Kevlar. The two "girls" (as they're now referred to), are not only forced into the ignominy of wearing what is, let's face it, skimpy swim suits and thoroughly ridiculous mini-skirts, they're also the ones who have no protection against bullets, being forced to expose acres of vulnerable skin. Where is their protection?

The worst part is that neither of these women has sufficient integrity, professionalism or self-respect to raise any objections. Instead they're portrayed as lapping it up, and this wasn't the only dumb in play here. I was especially disappointed in Arial Davis, as a military officer, going along with this. It seemed completely out of character for her, but then the military isn't portrayed in a very positive light here.

At one point, after discussing a new threat from Physique, the commander of the Marine Corps supposedly says, "Then madam, it's time to deploy the Marines with some heavy weapons to defend the Capital," but the Posse Comitatus Act prevents just this kind of deployment, as a Marine commander ought to know. That's what the police forces and the National Guard are for.

So no, I cannot in good faith recommend this novel. All of this leaves only one unanswered question: If there was a naked Yogi living in Yosemite National Park - would that be a Yogi Bare? I'll let you know when I visit.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

Title: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Canongate
Rating: WARTY!

Having read of the religiously-motivated controversy surrounding Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, when I came across this audio book, I was curious to find out what he had to say. Pullman reads it himself, and it makes for entertaining listening, although I confess I'm not sure what his motivation was in writing it or what he hoped to achieve in doing so.

I'm not religious and I do not believe there ever was a Messianic son of god roaming around what is now Israel some 2,000 years ago. Certainly there never was a "Jesus Christ" - which is all Greek to me! Yes, there were people named Yeshu, or Yeshua or Yehoshua - it was a common name as was Miri (Mary) and Yusef (Joseph). There may even have been one or more rabbis going by the name of Yeshu, one or more of whom may have been crucified. That doesn’t make the contradictory stories in the New Testament true. There's no evidence that any of those poor victims of Roman barbarity ever rose from the dead.

Pullman tells it like it's true, but he puts a spin on it which is unique to my knowledge: that Jesus Christ wasn't one man, but two: Jesus, and Christ, brothers, both of whom could perform miracles, but only one of whom, Jesus, took on the mantle of Messiah. Directed by a creepy anonymous benefactor, Christ remained in the shadows recording and documenting Jesus's words and activities.

Pullman tells the story very much like it’s told in the NT, including some little known tales from New Testament era apocrypha, but on some occasions he puts a slightly different spin on the stories, heightening the interest and drama, while all the time, Jesus is becoming more well-known and popular, and the authorities increasingly taking an interest in his activities.

And so it goes, but in the end I can't recommend this as a worthy read because it really didn't offer anything new or startling - apart from the aforementioned and rather schizophrenic aspect of it. Kudos to Pullman for reading his own stories in the audio versions, but this isn't something I really enjoyed or would want to read again, unlike the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which I adore.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Adventures of Basil and Moebius by Ryan Schifrin and Larry Hama

Title: The Adventures of Basil and Moebius
Author: Ryan Schifrin
Author: Larry Hama
Publisher: Magnetic Press
Rating: WARTY!

Illustrated by Rey Villegas, Lizzy John, Novo Malgapo, and Adam Archer.
Lettered Dave Sharpe and Ed Dukeshire

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. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Alaric Moebius and Basil Fox (a take on Basil Brush maybe?!) are two adventurers. Moebius is, by his own admission, a cat burglar (no, he doesn't steal cats, he climbs around buildings like a cat and steals valuables). Fox is supposedly a British soldier from the Special Air Services (SAS), although in the second of the three stories combined in this volume he's shown as a Grenadier Guard, guarding Buckingham palace. This seems highly unlikely. He's either one or the other, not both. Either one of which isn't going to give him laissez faire to sneak out at night and gallivant around London. This was one of a number of errors in authenticity in this fiction.

No one in Britain calls cops 'Peelers'. And they don't routinely carry guns (now if this had been set in Northern Ireland that might have been a different matter, but Scotland? No!). 'Peelers' is really an Irish name coined after Sir Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan Police Force in London in 1829. The more common name in use (again from Peel's name) was 'Bobbies', but they're more likely called simply 'cops' these days.

The cops are drawn authentically, but the cars they use are not. Metro cars are highly colorful, not plain white. This kind of thing tends to be a problem when Americans try to write a Brit story. We get odd conjugations of slang, way-the-hell too much supposedly 'Cockney rhyming slang', and oddball mash-up phrases joining Americanisms with Brit-isms. In this particular case, we got interesting statements like: "So what's the heist, Guv?" and "...beat the ever-lovin' shite...". Maybe non-Brit readers will love this, but Brits will likely be irritated by it at best.

There was a notable number of these things, including some really weird ones. For example, at one point, one of the characters, in process of shutting-up Alaric before he can expose this guy, says, "...I know just the place to keep him until the gendarmerie arrives." I have no idea whatsoever where that out-of-left-field comment came from! The guy is supposedly Israeli, not French, so why an Israeli would talk about French police in Scotland is a complete mystery - unless, of course he actually was French and this is a ham-fisted way to out him to the reader, but he'd have to be pretty stupid to make a gaff like that - and this wasn't the case anyway.

There's also some gun-play going on here, which is not unknown even in Britain, but which is also relatively rare there. The point here isn't that it was depicted, but that no one was at all shocked by it when one character shot another - and in the back, too. No one batted an eyelid. I found that beyond belief. Even in the US, something like this would have been remarked upon, or there would have been expressions of shock or dismay, yet in Scotland - nothing! It didn't feel authentic to me. On the positive side, the writers/artists did know what a portcullis and an oubliette were, so it's not all negative (just to be fair!).

I have to say at one point that I enlarged the image in Adobe Digital Editions to verify the spelling of a mis-used word (the writers apparently used "blimmin' " when it actually should have been 'blooming' or that rendered as "blummin' ". That wasn't the real problem. When I returned the page to normal 1:1 size, it lost all page integrity, so that when I clicked the down bar or pressed 'page down', instead of moving down one entire page, it moved only partial pages, making for a really annoying reading experience. Closing the ebook and re-opening didn't fix it; neither did opening the app to full-screen and then returning it to regular size, and neither did closing the entire application before re-opening it and then re-opening the book. The only way to work it from that point on was to sequentially type in the novel's page numbers to move to the next whole page, which was annoying! I think this is an issue with ADE though, not with this particular graphic novel.

The most off-putting thing about the novel, and the real reason why I'm not rating it as a worthy read, is that neither Alaric nor Basil were at all appealing. I didn't even like, much less admire or envy either of them. I didn't appreciate their attitude or their behavior, and they did nothing to endear me to them. They were essentially a pair of louts who had no interests in life other than thievery and blowing their ill-gotten gains on drink and partying. To some people that might represent entertainment, but it doesn't to me. Why would I want to read about a pair of thugs like these guys? I gave up after the second of the three stories in this volume. I have no interest in following these low-lifes any more. Your mileage may differ.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Pentecost by JF Penn

Title: Pentecost
Author: JF Penn
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

You'd think a novel with 'Pen' in the title penned by a writer whose last name is Penn would be a novel made in heaven, especially if it's about religious nut-jobs, but it wasn't to be. More like 4F.

This novel is about Morgan Sierra who is a psychologist resident in Oxford, England. She was, at one time, a soldier in the IDF - the Israeli Defence Force. When a stone is stolen from a nun who is murdered in Varanasi (aka Benares or Kashi) in India (I am not making this up!), this somehow connects to Morgan, and she becomes the target of Thanatos - a cult of the deludedly religious (OTOH, what religion isn't?!) who are evidently chasing after the 'stones of power'. Her involvement also brings in her sister and niece, who are kidnapped. Fortunately, this weak woman is saved by a trope macho military guy who happens to be a member of a secret society named 'ARKANE', especially not when his name is, absurdly, Jake Timber! Really?

I can't even remember how I got hold of this novel and it sat there for ages without me feeling any great urge to pick it up. I started it more than once, but I absolutely could not get into it. I don't like stories where the main female character is presented as tough and independent, but immediately needs a guy to rescue and validate her. I didn't read all of this by any means, so I can't speak for how it all panned out. Maybe things turned around, but I simply could not get into the novel at all, so I can't offer any sort of recommendation.

I don't see how a huge secret of 'power stones' (seriously?) would lay dormant for 2,000 years, so the underlying plot was farcical to me to begin with. Worse than that, there seemed to me to be nothing here but trope - the tough female, but motivated solely by 'female motivations' - her sister, her niece - her mothering instincts.

Not that there's anything wrong with that per se, but why is it that when a male hero is in play, his motivation is typically patriotism, duty, military loyalty, training, and bromance, but when a female becomes the main character, the criteria change completely? Can a woman not be patriotic? Can she not feel comradeship with her fellow men/women? Can she not be motivated by duty? Does it always have to be rescuing her mom/sister/niece/nephew/child? And vice-versa for the guy.

I think this is one of the strongest reasons why this was so tedious to me, and why it didn't pull me in or invest me with any interest in these people. They were, essentially, non-entities. It seems like the plot had a life of its own, and any random characters could have been plugged in to fill the character slots, so there was nothing special about the characters who happened to be attached. There really was nothing really new or notably original in the part that I read, and since the characters were unappealing, I found no point in continuing to read this and certainly no need to pursue an entire series about such pointless and uninteresting people.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Unilateral by Chris Katsaropoulos

Title: Unilateral
Author: Chris Katsaropoulos
Publisher: Waterside Productions
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. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

This is an odd little story, only some ninety pages and written in a quite large and double-spaced font, so it’s more like 45 pages. The front cover describes it as "a novel" but it's actually closer to a novelette.

The story features two main characters: Amel, a young Palestinian girl who lives in the beleaguered Gaza strip, and Ra'anan Cohen, a fighter-bomber pilot who lives in Israel and who is filled with disgust with - and hatred for - the Arabs.

Amel's only dream is getting out of her tiny wreck of a village where's she's perennially hidden under a burqa, and is a victim of the lustful gazes of men wherever she goes. She wants to be her own "master" and free to live a better life.

Ra'anan dreams of the cease-fire being over so he can get back to bombing terrorists. Finally it is, but as he slows his speed and levels off his jet for his smart bomb run, targeting a tunnel system which Amel's brother is secretively helping to build, something changes dramatically.

It's not what I was considering might happen: that Amel and Ra'anan would somehow end up together wondering at how they could have been such 'enemies'. It’s more of a rationalization - some might argue a spiritual awakening - that brings about a change in Ra'anan's thinking.

I wasn't a huge fan of the ending. It seemed too much to arise from what little had come before, but it’s really not that significantly different from the kind of ending I wrote for an entirely different short story I published in Poem y Granite, so it would be hypocritical of me to down-grade it for that! Hah! Hoist by my own petard!/p>

Seriously, what impressed me in this story wasn't the ending, but the writing. It was really well done, very evocative, with really excellent world-building from so few words. The writing takes you right to the location, and has you walking by the side of the characters, hearing what they heard, seeing what they saw, feeling what they felt. It was all of that which made me consider this to be a worthy read.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bond & Benevolence: Good Samaritan by JC Johnston

Title: Bond & Benevolence: Good Samaritan
Author/Editor: JC Johnstonn
Publisher: Delegate Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

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. The chance to read a new book is reward aplenty!

This is an utterly bizarre story that's like a weird fairytale. It’s also told in first person omniscient, which is totally out there. It’s even more off-the-wall in that the story is all about Sam, not about the 1PoV narrator, who is telling Sam's story and relating events in detail for which she was never present! It’s actually not a novel at all in any meaningful sense, but a Bible tract telling you how to live your life, with no attempt made to even try to disguise its nature, but it's far more out in left field than that because it has some extreme violence and some bad language in it, too.

The tale is almost all conversation. There's no descriptive writing, no setting of place or atmosphere, except in the briefest and sketchiest of manners. The story is seemingly aimed at relatively mature young-adult readers, but it’s written in a voice that seems more appropriately aimed at very young children. This makes the violent themes more inexplicable. It begins with the story of Sam Raider's dad, who likes to give away a lot of stuff, and some of this stuff is Sam's: things she had when younger but now no longer uses.

At first she doesn't want to part with her things, but slowly she adopts her dad's attitude. One of these things is a violin, and Sam decides to give it away for free, and then volunteers to give lessons to the impoverished young girl of color who gets it. This entails traveling to a really bad neighborhood, with her dad, who is rightly nervous for her safety, and won't let her go alone. Why he doesn't insist that they simply pick up the girl for tutoring is left unaddressed.

Next Samantha visits the somewhat oddball Mrs Doyle. This is the Mrs Doyle of whom Sam later decides she going to un-clutter her house and get her mind right, because clearly Sam is the only person on the planet who knows what’s good for anyone and everyone. After she leaves Mrs Doyle's house, a boy she knows runs out of a nearby house to marvel that she visited the weird Mrs Doyle.

He thinks Mrs Doyle poisoned his dog because it was known to soil her lawn, but Sam's view is that Justin's girlfriend poisoned his dog after he arranged to go to the prom with her and then turned up with a different girl. Sam's vicious and nasty retort is that she, too, would have poisoned his dog if he had done that to her.


Is this supposed to endear me to Sam? Make me think what a wonderful, generous person she is? It doesn't. It makes me think she's a psycho and a jerk. The narrator goes on about how having his dog poisoned had made Justin a better person (but it didn’t). She says nothing whatsoever about how evil someone would have to be to poison a dog because she was jilted for another girl by its owner. That just slides right on by! How sick is that? These people are sick and warped.

When she's not sitting in front of the mirror reflecting upon how truly beautiful she is, Sam's full-time job is messing in the affairs of her acquaintances, and lecturing them on how to live their lives. For example, when Justin dropped out of school, Sam, interfering busy-body that she is, felt compelled to visit him and read him the riot-act about not living off his parents! She says nothing about how much she enjoys living off the largess of her own very wealthy father. Sam is a hypocrite. When Justin reveals to her that his girlfriend, Molly, is pregnant, Sam starts interfering in her life, too, declaring what a huge sin it is to even think about an abortion! She starts ordering Molly around and telling her what she must do.

I find it odd that Sam, supposedly so religious, never ever goes to church or prays. Weird. Perhaps it’s because Sam is the biggest jerk, know-it-all, and interfering busy-body I've ever encountered in a story. I have no idea what color, race or ethnicity Sam is, but all of her advice seems to be doled out to persons of color, like she's the big white empress coming to tell the "colored folks" how to live their lives better! What arrogance!

One particularly striking example of interference, and strutting around over the less fortunate, occurs when they visit Ophelia again to teach her some more violin. Mr Raider suggests they all go out to eat, but Ophelia's mom demurs, saying that her family has nothing decent to wear (yep, that's how impoverished they are!), so Mr Raider takes them all to the store to buy clothes for them! Is this what Jesus would do?! Subsequently he lavishes them with presents and starts hitting on Ophelia's mom.

The next time they visit Mrs Doyle, Sam orders her to go take a shower! Lol! What a rude, interfering little jack-ass Sam truly is. Sam then went to work exfoliating Mrs Doyle! I am not making this up. Sam clearly has learned nothing from the Bible - assuming she ever read it. Under any other circumstances, I’d say was a positive thing, but this girl is supposed to be religious. She's all about pretty, about skin-deep, not about being who you are.

By chapter nine, "Sam felt she could do no wrong". Isn't that how all religious fanatics feel? It’s hilarious that all these things for which they're thanking a god are actually coming not from any gods, but directly from Mr Raider's fat wallet. There would be nothing were it not for that, including the $30,000 he wires to Ophelia's grandmother for the wedding. It’s easy to be grateful to a god when you have boundless wealth, isn’t it?

The story takes an utterly bizarre Kill Bill turn at the wedding of Sam's dad and Ophelia's mom. Evidently her father had a secret past which catches violently up with him, and Sam ends up showing her true colors: refusing to forgive him, refusing to help him, and instead, burning down his house in retribution! That's what a fine Christian she is. What a charmer. I'm sorry, but this novel is total trash and it sucked beyond anything I've read in a long, long time.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Rating: WARTY!

Audio book sadly read by Betty Harris.

This is, according to Atwood, speculative fiction, but I don't think she knows the difference between dystopian, speculative, and sci-fi. Either that or I don't! It's about a future USA where life has changed dramatically after a terrorist attack which kills the president and congress. The attack is carried out by a group of religious nut-jobs which then allows another group of religious nut-jobs, calling themselves 'the Sons of Jacob' to take over. This of course would never happen, not even in the USA, but that's the premise we're dealing with here.

The SoJ quickly takes over, suspending the constitution, and removing all women's rights by confiscating their financial records. This is the part that couldn't happen. Most women would never let this happen, and neither would most men.

The biggest problem I had was with how very quickly this occurs. The narrator, the main character, is a woman in her early thirties, and she remembers very well what things were like before, which means she must have been in high school (or older), which in turn means that this all not only took place, but became solidly cemented in place, in twenty years or less, which isn't feasible.

Yes, Atwood does represent life as an ongoing war between the Republic of Gilead (how did that name change ever come about and why?) and 'the rebels', but we're never really told anything about the rebels, nor is the complete absence of Islamic forces addressed. If the Islamic terrorists conducted this hugely successful attack in the first place, then why are there not insurgents flocking to the USA as they did to Iraq? Why aren't they flocking there anyway? The secret is that this novel was written and published thirty years ago, so a lot gets lost in the translation of the years.

So the premise of the story is weak, but if you're willing to let that go, it becomes a bit more interesting, and some of the things she writes are prescient. She doesn't include anything that isn't happening, or that hasn't happened as a result of ridiculous religion.

That said, I felt that Atwood rambled far too much about unimportant details at the beginning, larding the novel with a rather amateurish info-dump, which keeps on giving. There is far too much tedious detail. I read this some time back and decided to give it another try for a review, but I simply could not stay with it the second time around, and the mediocre reading of Betty Harris didn't help at all.

On top of that, I've never been a fan of first-person PoV novels, as this one is. Some are enjoyable, but most of them, for me, kick me right out of suspension of disbelief because it's far too absurd to me to credit that a narrator can tell a story in such detail, especially if they're supposedly telling it as it happens. It's ridiculous and unnatural. It's also extraordinarily limiting on the writer, but that's not even the worst problem here.

The conceit of this novel is that this story was recovered from audio tape after the Republic of Gilead had been overturned. What better opportunity could there have been than to make this dramatic as though it was really and truly the actual audio tape we were listening to? But no - it was wasted, which I think is a crying shame and a huge black mark against this audio version for me.

The main character is Offred (Of Fred - meaning owned by Fred). While I thought this was a cool name, I did wonder, if the commander had two such handmaidens, what the second one would be called. Perhaps they're permitted only one at a time. She's kept only for two years, and solely for reproductive purposes, and as such is in some ways privileged, but in other ways is disparaged as little more than a prostitute.

Offred is in the unenviable position of wishing that she will become impregnated by her rapist quickly because this will in effect maintain her 'market price' by demonstrating that she's fertile. If she fails, she could lose her 'privileged' position. I mean: what use could a woman possibly be, if she cannot have children, we're asked to accept here, and indeed, this has been a fundamental motivation of fundamentalism ever since religion began. This is one of those cases where humanity is supposedly largely sterile - in this case due to pollution and STDs, which is not really credible either, but that's what we have.

This is Offred's third such two-year 'assignment'. If she fails to become pregnant this time, then she will be classed as an 'unwoman' and be forced to the colonies to clean up nuclear pollution and die an early death. This time, her experience is different in that while The Commander is supposed only to have sex with her during The Ceremony (with his own wife present as a witness (lying underneath the handmaiden as the commander labors over her to try and bring on labor nine months hence), he wants Offred much more than this, and bribes her with illicit materials such as magazines, cosmetics, and the chance to read.

The bizarre thing is that The Commander's wife, Serena Joy, is also plying Offred with inducements to get pregnant by encouraging her to have sex with The Commander's driver, Nick - so yes, it's quite literally a cluster-fuck, especially when The Commander's wife discovers Offred's extended relationship with The Commander, and Nick tells Offred that he can facilitate her escape - if she trusts him.

So it could have been a really great novel, but it failed because there was too much tedium between the interesting bits (and limited bits they were). Atwood is a great fan of telling; not so much with the showing. I can't recommend this. Go read Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman if you want a truly feminist PoV.