Showing posts with label young-adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label young-adult. Show all posts

Monday, November 4, 2019

Being a Super Trans Ally by Phoenix Schneider, Sherry Paris


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 1, 2019

Lake Ephemeral by Victoria Strauss


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Robin's Lake Road by CL Avery


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Forced in Between by Alexandra Ispas


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, September 13, 2019

The Deep by Rivers Solomon


Rating: WARTY!

This novella is a fail on two counts, the main one being that whoever published it hates trees and the author apparently sees nothing wrong with this! In order to make a slim-to-nothing volume look worth the price, the publishers have made this disingenuous book have huge margins all around and widely-spaced lines such that the actual text doesn't even cover fifty percent of the page! I seriously doubt this is made even partially form recycled peper,, hence the publishers hate trees.

Naturally you don't want a page to be completely covered with text, but to allow this much white space is killing trees for vanity. Trees are one of the precious few entities on planet Earth which are actually combatting climate change. Not talking about it, but doing it! And these publishers want to slaughter trees for this book and not even respect that sacrifice by actually using the page? Screw them and screw author who allow this, and yes, screw people who buy these books.

And mermaids underwater having normal conversation in American English? Have you ever tried talking underwater? This author hasn't so let me save her the trouble: It. Doesn't. Work. Maybe they were communicating telepathically, but the author never says that. But it gets worse! This is an African slave who went overboard. She spoke no English, American or otherwise. I don't expect it to be written in some West African dialect, but neither did I expect it to be modern American English! The slaves didn't go overboard yesterday so even if they spoke English, it wouldn't be modern! I expected something to convey how alien these mermaids are even though they're purportedly descended from us. This book is ill-conceived and environmentally braindead. Warts all over. I'm done with this author. I tell you the more acclaim an author has, the more awards and honors, the less worth reading they are. Truly.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jem and The Holograms Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, M Victoria Robado


Rating: WARTY!

Back in mid-September of 2015, I favorably reviewed the debut graphic novel in this series by the same author, Kelly Thompson who also wrote a Marvel Jessica Jones graphic novel that I favorably reviewed this very month, but I can't do the same for this one which was confusingly written and told a really scrappy story. The artwork, drawn by Campbell and brilliantly colored by Robado was fine, but the story let it all down.

The story was what attracted me - how can you not want to read one titled 'Dark Jem'? really? The basis of this goes back to when Jerrica's father programmed Synergy - a device which could project animated holograms onto people to disguise their features, and this gave the confidence-lacking Jerrica the courage to appear on stage and brought her this great success. The problem is - we learn here - that there was a flaw in that programming which their dad could not get out, and now that issue has come back to bug them as it were, as the program itself projects a new version of the holograms - a goth metal band which can infect listeners with some sort of ear-worm turning them into mindless zombies.

Jerrica and the crew figure this out of course, but they also have to figure out how to beat it. Unfortunately, the story fell apart at around this same point and never got it back together, not even having a real ending. There was an interesting transgender character who came to audition for the band early in the story when lead (and only!) singer "Pizz" (that sounded too much like 'piss' for my taste!) partially lost her voice after an accident, but she disappeared without any fanfare about two-thirds the way through the story and Mz Pizz magically reappeared with the same lack of fanfare, and story just fizzled out at that point. It was nowhere near a patch on the original I read and was very unsatisfactory. I can't commend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short and fun graphic novel written by a seventeen year old who was born in Japan to a local woman and a US citizen father, so she has two passports. She migrated at a young age to the US, and this is a sweet and fun graphic documentary of her return trip a decade or so later.

It's quite idiosyncratic, obviously; she remarks upon and records the things which intrigue and amuse her, but much of it has a wider appeal than that. The author and I couldn't be more different than chalk and cheese in things like age and gender, but we do have the ex-pat thing in common, so I could see through her eyes quite well, and she expresses herself with smarts, erudition, and a nice eye for oddity and absurdity.

The book is also educational. Because she was absent from Japan for so long and having left at such an early age, although a lot of what she saw on her return had a familiarity to it, there was also a lot that was - or at least seemed - new, so we get to look at Japan very much through a visitor's eye, but this eye is softened by her familiarity with the culture. There is also culture shock with regard to how clean and neat everything is, how proud and polite the people are who serve in both fast food places and restaurants, and how curious the toilets are - among many other things!

I've never been to Japan, but I certainly would like to visit. Reading books like this help me feel a little bit like I've already visited. I commend this one as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Desert Exile by Yoshiko Uchida


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a depressing read, but never was there a better time since this travesty took place than now to read this account of one woman's experiences in the concentration camps set up by the racist hypocrite Franklin "Detain them" Roosevelt to intern Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Most of the well over 100,000 people imprisoned behind barbed wire were American citizens.

The constitution meant nothing to a clueless and panicked government back then. These people were incarcerated in shoddy, ill-finished - if even finished - barracks and everything they owned which they could not carry with them and which they could not entrust to reliable friends, was gone when they were finally set free two or three years later. They were released into destitution and had to start over from scratch; then this same government had the nerve to ask the young men they'd detained to show their loyalty by signing-up for the same military which had pointed machine guns at them for the previous few years.

Yoshiko Uchida was merely one of these, but that doesn't make her personal story less important. She, her sister, and her mom and dad were given ten days notice that they had to leave for a camp taking only what they could carry. The camp was a racetrack and they were 'housed' in the horse stables - a family of four in a large horse stall stinking of manure with no privacy and barely any facilities. Later they were moved to a specially-constructed - well half-constructed - camp in the middle of the Utah desert.

It was a couple of months before they got sheetrock installed inside their 'apartment' to keep the desert wind and the chalky desert sand out of their 'home'. It took equally long to get their stove installed - which until then had been a hole in the roof where the desert sand and chill got in. The list of abuses continues not only back then, but also today. Like I said it's a depressing but necessary read at a time when this government is doing the same thing to illegal immigrants - using euphemisms to describe the concentration camps. You don't make America great again by treating humans beings like cattle, and apparently that's a lesson we have a really hard time intern-alizing.

I commend this book as an important and worthy read.


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!


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Genius by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, Afua Richardson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel that took a trip into a reverse perspective after a fashion. Instead of black people being shot by the police, it was the other way around when a neighborhood in Los Angeles sets itself up as a no-go area for police, and fights violently back at any attempted incursions. The police are trying to figure out who is running this show and consider that it has to be a guy with a military background, when in fact it's just a teenage girl named Destiny Ajaye, who happens to have read a lot, including Sun Tzu's The Art of War. I haven't read that book (it is on my ebook reading list!), but I somehow doubt it has much to say about urban guerilla warfare.

However, I let that go because the story itself has much to say and it unpeels like an onion. It was engaging and had some interesting perspectives, although none that have not been raised before. The initial cops who were killed, it turns out were corrupt and into all kinds of shady things, and the girl who leads the insurrection has a bad episode of negative police interaction in her past. As the violence escalates and ever more force is brought to bear by the police, including calling in the National Guard, the reader has to wonder where all this is going to end up. Destiny has, through violent means, united several gangs and turned them into her own personal army, but are they up to taking on what's thrown against then or is this Destiny's Last Stand?

This comic series garnered some praise for itself and some attention having been released coincidentally during the time of the Ferguson, Missouri riots over the shooting death of Michael Brown which was stirred up by a combination of inaccurate reports of how he died and bloody-minded people. I consider it a worthy if disturbing read, but I can't get with it all the way because there was too much convenient happenstance in it for it to be realistic, and too much omitted, such as taking out several Nation Guard tanks by using sticky bombs as depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan but without access to the anything like the comp B explosive they had.

The LAPD didn't use drones back in 2014, so I didn't expect that technology, but rooftop spotters? Taking out snipers from helicopters? None of this was explored and the police were made to look like complete idiots, which any police can do from time to time without any assistance, but they are not quite the reactive bunch of human 'drones' or ku klux klueless that they were depicted as here, which rather took away from Destiny's value as a master strategist.

That wasn't my biggest beef though. The biggest problem with it was once again the sexualization of female characters by comic book artists. Usually this lands at the feet of male artists, but in this case, we have another female artist who is selling her gender down this flood-stage river and I have no idea why. There was no sex in this story at all, so why is Destiny depicted as a this unnaturally posing, semi-topless Barbie-doll shaped bimbo? I would have complained - maybe even equally - had she been depicted as this bookish eyeglass-wearing nerd cliché too, or even as a Ian Fleming style 'flawed babe' with a scar or a limp or something, but surely there is a happy medium that could have been struck here? Why not simply depict her as a regular person?

Giving her an improbably narrow waist and pneumatic boobs does nothing to aid the story you're telling and in fact detracts from it badly. I live for the day when graphic novel illustrators don't have to be lectured about this and where male writers such as Bernardin and Freeman, and publishers such as Top Cow and Image automatically say no to such illustrations unless there's a really valid reason for using them.

That said, this is an interesting story so I decided to let that slide this time since it was only Destiny who was inexplicably depicted in this way. What this does mean however, is that I don't rate Afua Richardson as a valid comic book artist and I won't be inclined to read any graphic novel that she's had a hand in from this point onward, so no, I won't read the sequel to this: Genius: Cartel, not least of which is that I'm not a fan of retreading stories and selling them on as something new just to make a fast buck. It's bad enough that a $26 billion-earnings conglomerate like Disney is showing these days that all it can do is regurgitate without the rest of us jumping on its sadly derivative bandwagon.


Ironheart by Allan Boroughs


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a dystopian story which I normally avoid like the plague, but his one seemed like it might offer something different, and it did, so I was glad I gave it a chance.

India Bentley lives in what used to be London, on the north bank of the Thames, seeking a sad existence for her family by foraging and trying to avoid the evil people who live on the south bank, and who like to boat across there on occasion and kidnap people. Naturally for this kind of a story, her father went missing and her mother died, leaving her in the clutches of her evil stepmother who seems to be in process of being courted by a sleazy new guy in town who, it turns out, is angling to make young India his bride. So it's a bit of Indiana Jones meets Cinderella meets steampunk (kinda).

It turns out, as India learns during a visit from a female version of Indiana Jones named Verity Brown, who is a tech hunter like her father and who becomes a figure of inspiration fro India, that her dad wasn't prospecting for oil, but for old technology from the time before the fall of civilization. He was seeking the almost mythical Ironheart, a rumored stash of well-preserved old tech which would be worth a fortunate to anyone who found it and which could potentially revolutionize what this society had devolved into.

Verity is escorted by an old tech military android which has the absurd name of Calculus and which serves as her bodyguard. This led to the first example of poor writing I saw in this novel. India meets the android and hears it speak and shortly after she asks, "Can it talk?" What? Yes, you just heard it talk, moron! This evidently came about because the author didn't read back through what he'd written - or more likely added the earlier speech and never read on through to catch the continuity error.

Worse is: "He tensed a thin bicep and invited India to squeeze it." I read this before I decided in a later story that I was very likely going to quit reading novels where the author quite obviously has no clue as to the difference between biceps and bicep. They're not the same thing and while biceps is the plural of bicep, it's not the plural in the way these authors seem to think. I've started to expect this ignorance in YA novels, though, so it wasn't a complete surprise. Just annoying and depressing to think what we're doing to our mother tongue. Another example is: "It is possible," he said eventually, "that you are experiencing some sort of psychic phenomena." Well, it was just the one, so 'phenomenon' was the word required here.

This aside, the story, despite it becoming a bit trope-y and boring in parts, was overall a worthy read with some interesting adventure and action in it, and I enjoyed it, but it was not enjoyable enough to make me want to read any more about any of these characters. As it stands though I commend this one as a worthy read.


Unenchanted by Chanda Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

Rooted in the Grimm fairy tales, this story borrows a bit from the TV series named Grimm where this cop turns out to be a Grimm - that is not someone who is named Grimm, but someone who is hereditarily required to fight supernatural evil as it arises. Mina Grime is in a similar position. She's the rather nerdy unpopular girl at school, but of course in the way of YA trashy novels, she's gorgeous, yet only attracts the attention of the studLy trope school jock after she saves his life.

Mina has supposedly inherited the unfinished Grimm fairy tales whatever those are. This is so obviously the start of a series, which pretty much lets me out on the ground floor, not being much of a fan of series, in particular not of YA series which are far too often derivative and tedious. Predictably I grew tired of this very quickly, especially when I came across some clunkers in the writing, such as "just not one hypnotized Brody. His movements became slower, and he was transfixed by Claire's every movement" I think the 'one' should be 'on'. That was a relatively minor infraction.

Worse by far was "Mina watched as Claire's hand stroked Brody's bicep" - it's fricking biceps moron! I'm now dedicated to ditching dumb-ass books like this at the first mention of the singular bicep. That's probably what happened here although I really don't recall why exactly I quit this. It was probably because it was too dumb for words and the female supposed hero is really nothing without a guy to validate her as per usual in this kind of tripe.

So no - not a worthy read - a very warty one in fact.


Once Upon a Kiss by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

This was billed as seventeen romantic 'Faerie' tales. I detest those words: 'Fae' and 'Faerie', and I ought to take my own advice and refuse to read any more books that use it, since this one was rather less than satisfactory. Even 'Fairy Tales' doesn't technically cover these stories although some of them are.

My first problem with it was the content list. It was colored magenta. On a white background, this isn't a problem, but on a black background which I typically use to save power in my phone, which is where I read ebooks more often than not, it rendered the content list illegible. You could click from the list to go to the story but you could not click back to the content from a story, and if you're not careful, merely swiping to go to the second page of content would take you to a story instead of taking you to the next page, necessitating your having to pull up the slide bar at the bottom of the screen and slide all the way back if you accidentally hit the wrong story (something which is very easily done on a small screen where the list is very compact). So, too dark of a color and far too close together to tap accurately with a finger.

Clearly publishers still have a lot to learn about formatting ebooks. Some of these stories had a prologue, an epilogue, and chapter markers and all of these sub-headings were listed on the content page meaning it ran over three screens! This kind of crap is why I never put a content page in my own novels, but then those typically do not contain a variety of stories from an assortment of authors so I could see the point of one in this case. I just wish it had been better thought through; just a list of the author's names would have been quite sufficient and occupied much less space, meaning each name could have been bigger so it was easier to tap the name and go to the story on a small screen.

Anyway, here's the list below with my comments on each story:

  • The Glass Mountain by Alethea Kontis
  • I didn't like this. It seemed pointless and went on far too long. It was a story of a woman being trapped in a glass mountain and working with a guy who was also trapped there to get out. It was supposed to be a love story but the guy was highly antagonistic and verbally abusive from the start, and the author failed to convince me that this relationship could possibly turn around, so a big no on this story. I have no better idea what it was based on than I do how a female author can write a story like this. Does she think she's Becca Fitzpatrick or something?! (No, that's not a compliment).
  • The Bakers Grimm by Hailey Edwards
  • This was a story about two competing bakeries and the children of the bakers getting together, and it failed to move me at all. I barely even remember it.
  • Galatea and Pygmalion by Kate Danley
  • This was about a sculptor named Galatea, who sculpted a guy named Pygmalion - in short, just the opposite of the myth. That really was the only twist and the story wasn't that good.
  • Red by Sarra Cannon
  • This was about a witch, part of a coven, looking for a cure for her sister and meeting a guy held prisoner in a cottage in the woods, who in turn helps her. The coven isn't everything she thought it was. Again, it failed to move me. At one point I read, "The Order had expressly forbid me to go looking for any kind of cure for my sister." The author evidently doesn't understand the distinction between forbid and forbade.
  • Princess Charming by Yasmine Galenorn
  • An epistolary story with the twist being that the 'Charming' is female. I have no time for tedious epistolary novels, and in my amateur opinion, I already wrote the definitive Princess Charming when I wrote Femarine, so this one fell on deaf ears. I read, "I think they were getting used to being in human form. I have no clue what, now that their gig is over." I have no idea whatsoever what that piece meant!
  • Mad About You by Jennifer Blackstream
  • Based on Alice in Wonderland, this one was about Alice trying to repel the Mad Hatter (who was paying suit to her) by getting a charm from a witch, but then changing her mind (If I recall - which I may not). I wasn't interested in the story.
  • The Sea King's Daughter by Anthea Sharp
  • Based on The Little Mermaid. I have a severe allergy to stories which are titled in this format - making the main female character an appendage of a guy instead of her own person: The So-And-So's Daughter, The So-and-So's Wife. You shouldn't have to tell female writers that words carry heft and weight, and remind them that diminishing women like this only prolongs a detestable historical precedent. I read "They would not provide cover any long, which meant she must seize her opportunity now." It should have read 'Any longer'. It's sad when you can't even grammer- and spell-check a short story properly, but I guess most of us have been there!
  • Romeo and Juliet: The Afterlife by Julia Crane
  • This story carried Shakespeare's original over into the afterlife to see what happened there which is similar to an idea I had myself, but did nothing with. I wasn't impressed by this effort to explore that, os I guess the opportunity is still there if I wanted to pursue it!
  • Soot and Stone: A Fae Tale of the Otherworld by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
  • Any novel that uses 'fae' and 'faerie' instead of fairy is chickenshit as far as I'm concerned, and I have no time for that kind of cowardice and posy-footing around That's all I have to say about his one.
  • The Huntsman's Snow by Mandy M Roth
  • This was a shifter story and I typically have no time for those, so no.
  • RumpelIMPskin by Debra Dunbar
  • Based on Rumpelstiltskin of course, this was mildly entertaining, but nothing special. I read, "His smug looked changed to one of utter shock when he saw us" and it should have read, 'smug look'.
  • The Glass Sky by Alexia Purdy
  • This was a short story and still it had a prologue and chapters - all of which were listed in the content page! Yuk! As soon as I saw it was first person and the main character's name was Star Rickton, I skipped it. No. Just no.
  • Rush by C Gockel
  • This is a story about someone named Rush who, due to a transgression, is required to find true love in two weeks which is nonsensical, so no. I read, "...several octaves too loud" which is plain dumb. An octave isn't a measure of sonic volume!
  • Perchance To Dream by Phaedra Weldon
  • This was about your usual female underdog in a magical world and it failed to leave an impression. I read, "The two waved as they approached and an matrons woman yelled at them from Rose's left." An matrons woman? Any grammar checker will find that, so this was a truly sloppy error in an unmemorable story. I can't even guess what she was trying to say with that nonsensical phrase.
  • The Toad Prince by Nikki Jefford
  • So, I am tiring of going through each of these, especially when I really don't recall them. I think at some point I not only stopped reading each story before it was over, but I stopped even reading the next story because I honestly don't remember a thing about some of these. In this I read, "Isabel's best features were hidden beneath her bulky wool gown." So here we have a female writer, writing about a female character, and clearly stating that all she's worth is her body. Forget about her mind - forget about any qualities such as smarts, loyalty, integrity, grit, honesty, capability, or whatever. Her body is the only thing of utility. I'm sorry but writers who write like this are assholes, period. There's a difference between a character thinking something like that, and the author stating it in the narrative, and this one is a jerk for for doing so.
  • Crafted With a Kiss by Shawntelle Madison
  • This one wasn't bad, and I do remember it, Pynnelope is a wooden warrior who seems invincible until in her last battle she's taken down by a guy who is more powerful. She's taken prisoner, but there is more to the story. I quite liked it. There was one mistake in it. At one point I read, "Either way, I had until dawn to force Pynnelope to do the unthinkable" and this came just two paragraphs before we're told he has only until midnight. Someone's not reading for continuity!
  • A Small magic by Devon Monk
  • I've read at least one novel by Devon Monk and liked it, so I guess it wasn't surprising that I liked this one, based on Hans Andersen's The Princess and the Pea. It was an amusing and quirky story, but it's sad that there was only one really likable one in this whole collection.

    So very little to engage me here, and overall I cannot recommend this as a worthy read, but at least it informed me of over a dozen authors I don't need to bother reading ever again from this point onward!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Yay! You're Gay! Now What? by Riyadh Khalaf


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Errata:
“...you’re going more than you’re sexuality“ that second one should be ‘your’.
“If you ignore the bully, and removing yourself from the situation...” 'Removing' should be 'Remove'.
“If you’ve already come out to friends at school, as if they have any LGBT+ pals” Ask if they have!
This isn't so much an error as a point of order, and it wasn't the author who said this, but Simon Anthony-Roden in his advice to his younger self, but there’s no evidence that it was Oscar Wilde who said “Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.“ People are misquoted or misattributed all the time, so no big deal.

This book is a complete guide to how to handle your discovery that you're gay - or at some other place on what's commonly referred to as 'the spectrum' but which I prefer to think of as a slide since a spectrum implies something that's fixed, and I think very few people are solidly fixed in whatever position they're in. Your orientation and preferences can change over your life and no, thats not the same as saying 'gayness can be cured' because there's nothing to cure.

There were times when it felt a little bit over the top for me, but you can't blame a guy for reveling in who he is, so that's no big deal. There were also times when I felt he went a little in the wrong direction - like seemingly implying right up front that gay guys don't play soccer (Justin Fashanu, Robbie Rogers, and and the entire amateur team of Paris Foot Gay would disagree, as would Eudy Simelane, had she not been raped and murdered in 2008), but usually when he seemed to be veering, it was for a reason.

The book covers pretty much anything a young person may want to know if they have perhaps been wrestling with identity and how to face what's becoming obvious to them, and deal with accepting it, and whether to come out and who to come out to. It doesn't matter what your question is, you will find valuable advice in this book, and not just from the author, but also from an assortment of others who have walked this same path.

it begins with asking if you think you might be gay, and moves on to coming out, finding friends and finding love, then appropriately gets to "all about bodies" and "Let's talk about sex," both of which contain excellent guidance and advice. Be warned, there are no punches pulled here. For a gay guy, the author tells it straight! Each of these sections is filled with personal anecdote, good advice and comments on their own sexuality and advice they would have given to their younger selves by some celebrities, the only two I'd heard of, I have to confess, were Stephen Fry, of whom I'm a fan, and Jin Yong, who I heard of only recently. Others are Clark Moore, Simon Anthony-Roden, Rory O'Neill, James Kavanagh, Matthew Todd, Shane Jenek, and Ranj Singh. That said, I'm not a big TV watcher. There is only a few shows that I tend to watch, and I've never been a fan of RuPaul Andre Charles, so I've never seen his Drag Race, but I have heard of Cortney Act, Jenek's alter-ego, a stage name I've long thought was choice!

The bottom of page 171 (page 86 on the iPad I was using) ended with “You don’t need an” but page 172 (87 on the tablet) was the start of a new chapter! I guess we’ll never know how that sentence ends!

This is yet another case of a print book farmed-out to reviewers as an ebook for convenience, but I often wonder if publishers ever consider what a poor impression one of these 'afterthought ebooks' leaves. As it happens, and apart from a very negative experience on my iPhone before I switched to a tablet, this book wasn’t so bad. There was an occasionally 'sticky page' (and no, not that kind of sticky - but sticky in the sense it wouldn't swipe easily tot he next or previous page, and took two or three times to move it. On the iPhone there were also times when pages came up on the wrong oder, so I wouldn't recommend reading it on a device that small.

This book wasn't so bad, but I’m honestly at the point now where I will negatively review a poorly conceived ebook regardless of its literary merit. Here’s why: the modern concept of an ebook was initiated almost half a century ago by Michael Hart who founded Project Gutenberg and even ePub books have been around for some two decades. There really is no excuse for substandard ebooks these days, and if authors/publishers are going to issue one to reviewers, they need to look at the thing in the e-version on one or two different devices to make sure it's worthy of issuing!

That said I commend this ebook for being a worthy read and a useful contribution to helping those in need of advice and a leg up here and there.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Replacement by Brenna Yanoff


Rating: WARTY!

This was my first and last Brenna Yanoff. The story started out sounding like it was heading somewhere, but it never did! At least it had not by halfway through which is where I abandoned it out of boredom. Main character Mackie Doyle is some sort of elf or fairy who was left in the crib of the real Mackie years before. Mackie knows he isn't human. He suffers daily and reacts badly to iron, so the entire first half of the novel is him whining about how bad his life is.

I kept thinking that something was going to happen - something had to happen - to change or bring change, but it never did. The closest it came is when someone in the know told him that he was dying, but even that didn't seem to be the kick in the pants this story needed badly, and that was where I quit it. At that point I would have been happy had he died, since I have better things to do with my time than listen to a main character whine almost non-stop about his life. Maybe if he had died, a more interesting person would have stepped up and told their story, but I didn't care by then. This book sucked. Period.


Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an autobiographical comic following the author's long, and evidently ongoing, trek into gender identity. At one point, the author choses to use what are referred to as 'Spivak' pronouns (E, Em, Eir) after Michael Spivak, for reasons which are never made clear. These particular ones were first used in 1975 by Christine Elverson, so I didn't get why they weren't referred to as 'Elverson pronouns', but there it is.

For me, one big problem with these sort of options is that there is maybe half-dozen or more sets of them, all unagreed upon. For me, the worst problem with them is that they're superfluous when we already have they, them, and their which are all-inclusive gender-neutral words. Personally, I find this to be a fatuous and pointless attempt to create a new word group set when a perfectly functional one already exists. I'm for simplicity and clarity, for ease and comfort, so I will use existing, established pronouns in this review.

The journey they undertook in trying to feel comfortable with themselves is a remarkable and moving one, told here unvarnished and raw as it must have felt in making that journey. To feel constantly uncomfortable with your body in a world which has a two-million-year tradition of humans supposedly (if often delusionally) being definitely either male or female has to be traumatizing, and we get the whole feeling of that conveyed in this book. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and brings you along on this journey, then author is doing a fine job. It worked for me.

A person who starts out biologically female, and if the zygote is destined to be a male, certain things need to kick in, and often they do, but quite often they do not, or they kick in part way, and this is how we get a sliding scale, all too often holding people hostage, who feel somewhere adrift, but not exactly sure where.

In this case the author ended-up feeling extremely uncomfortable with breasts, and a vagina that bleeds periodically(!), but not feeling like a male either (even while harboring fantasies about male physiology), they became someone who is interested in friendship and companionship but not in marriage, children, or even sex. "What am I?" is a question they asked themselves frequently - as frequently, probably, as "Where am I going and what will I find when I get there?" which is a scary question for anyone in this position.

The blurb says this book is "a useful and touching guide on gender identity" but I disagree. I think it's more of a guide in lack of identity, and how to cope with that, how to work with it, how to address it and pursue your own path even while surrounded by uncertainty.

This was a long journey, and I traveled every step of the way, and I think this book is an amazing and informative volume, very personal, but universal, very uncomfortable, but comforting, readable, amusing, disturbing and unnerving. I think everyone needs to read this and try to understand it, especially in the political climate we've made for ourselves in the USA right now. I commend this as a worthy read and salute the author and wish them an easier journey in the coming years than it has been at times over the last few.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!


The Speed of Light by Amber Kizer


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third volume in the 'Meridian' trilogy which began with Meridian in 2009, and was followed by Wildcat Fireflies in 2011, and this one a year later. Despite liking the first, and not so much the second, both of which I read before I started blogging books, I could not get into this third volume at all. Maybe I left it too long before moving on to read this one? But that said it didn't ought to have affected my perception of it to this extent.

This is why I typically despise trilogies because far more often than not, the author takes a great idea and ruins it by dragging it out way past its natural life cycle. This is what happened here. Each volume was less than the previous, and this particular one was a bloated tome. One of the reasons for that was the appalling waste of trees involved in its production. There were massive margins, and the widely-spaced text did not start until halfway down the page on new chapters. How many trees could you have saved, Ms Kizer if you had formatted your book a little more wisely? Maybe she doesn't care. Maybe she hates trees. No one wants to see a book that's all text and no white space not even me(!), but come on! I think I'm going to start negatively-reviewing any print book that's so disrespectful of our environment.

Anyway I think I am done with this author after this experience. But briefly, the book is about Meridian Sozu, who is known as a Fenestra, that is, a human who has been, dare I say it, touched by an angel, and who is supposed to help transition souls into the next world. Why such a person would ever be needed goes unexplained. It implies that the resident god is incompetent and needs help shoring-up the defective system he created!

The author pairs her up with a guy, of course, who is naturally her soul-mate and protector. Why the author couldn't have changed this up a bit instead of taking the road most traveled, I do not know. She could have made the two antagonists, or made the protector a lesbian who wants Meridian, but whose love is not requited, or something else, but no, let's stick with traditional weak women who desperately needs a guy to validate her, young adult crap.

In volume one, this wasn't so bad as it happened, but it got worse. In this volume there's a battle to save this girl Julia who will do almost anything to find her parents, and who is siding with the idiotically named 'nocti' - the forces of dark who try to steal souls from people like Meridian. Plus there's a disaster awaiting at the Indianapolis 500, which some would argue is already a disaster, but still. Sorry, but no - not interested! The author has done insufficient work to create this world, and consequently it doesn't hang together at all well.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Unbalanced by Courtney Shepard


Rating: WARTY!

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

I gave up on this Net Galley novel called "Unbalanced," because frankly, it was. On the face of it, the plot was actually appealing: it was about these four women who are evidently sisters who were separated at birth, but I don't know why. They each have one of the four elemental powers: air, earth, fire, and water. Not that any of those are actual elements, but I was willing to let that slide for a fun, or entertaining story, even though the names of these characters are a bit improbable if not laughable.

The blurb tells us that each generation brings out four sisters to fight against a fanatical, secret faith, but all this really tells me is that the sisters are useless in that they've obviously - and repeatedly - shown they're incapable of truly defeating this faith! The blurb says the sisters are born to fight this battle, but are unaware of what awaits them? Maybe that's why they fail? LOL! Or maybe the blurb-writer is just clueless. It's been said that when you do the same thing over and over with the same result you should try something else - or just check yourself into an institution. Evidently these girls are too dumb to own that.

The main character is fire, and her name is Asha. The earth character is named Ivy. The water one is named Mere. I forget the fourth. These are names from a parody, not a serious novel, but I was even willing to let that go for a good story. The problem is that Asha is initially portrayed as this fierce warrior woman, yet when she was captured by this guy who was originally sent to kill her, this supposedly tough young woman became immediate putty in his hands.

I started having serious problems with it at that point, but the next chapter introduced Ivy, who was kick-ass - in this case literally - but just as I was starting to like the novel again, back comes Asha, who despite her power being fire, leaves me cold, and she was even more putty-er in this chapter than the previous one. No. Just no. That was just less than 25% in, but I couldn't stand to read any more of this.

Asha hadn't been this guy's captive anywhere near long enough to be suffering Helsinki syndrome, nor had she been in his company long enough, and even had she been, she's supposed to be this bad-ass girl, yet the story began reading like a cheap BDSM "romance." I could not both keep reading this and keep my stomach contents. I chose my stomach.

I am so, so tired of YA female authors who have quite obviously never heard of the #MeToo movement, creating these supposedly strong female characters and then turning them into wilting violets and objects of gratification at the first whiff of testosterone. I cannot support a novel with this dedicated level of disrespect for women. It's unacceptable and honestly? The author needs to get a clue - and a more original title.