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

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Goodnight Mind for Teens by Colleen E Carney


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum:
"Same’s alarm sounds at 6 a.m." - presumably this was intended to read 'Sam's alarm'
There were also some oddities such as bullet lists starting with a lower case 'y' instead of a bullet, and also an odd sequence of five screens with an alternating full screen line of text followed by half screen line. The last line of all this had ‘morphine’ by itself after a half screen line

There is a book by this author called "Goodnight Mind" and this one is evidently the teen version of it. I haven't read the first one, but this is a useful book which asks, "Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night?" I don't and I'm not a teen (I don't even play one on TV!), but I am the parent of two teens who seem, during this unprecedented home isolation, to be turning into, what was it Dracula called them in Bram Stoker's novel? "Children of the night. What music they make"! So I do understand this issue with sleeping problems even though I personally have very few nights where I have trouble sleeping.

This short book offers explanations for behavior, and suggestions, hints, and tips for working on getting one's head down and actually sleeping. It includes URLs for downloadable checklists to help focus on what exactly the problem is in each individual. The author is Dr. Colleen E. Carney, an Associate Professor and also the Director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. She packs the book full of ideas, techniques, and suggestions to identify what your problem is, because there is no solving it until you understand it, and then she goes after the problem on several levels with multiple techniques, and without getting all academic about it. I commend this as a worthy read.


Friday, April 17, 2020

The Self-Love Revolution by Virgie Tovar


Rating: WARTY!

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

Subtitled "Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color," I'm not sure this book was really radical except in the author's expression of the sentiments which have been expressed before, so this brings nothing new to the discussion other than the author's personal reminiscences. Virgie Tovar sounds like she might be a fun person to know and to hang with, but the book has the habit of coming off as strident and preachy at times. It was very outspoken and opinionated and while there's nothing wrong per se with that, and even though I sincerely support the book's larger aims, in the end I couldn't bring myself in good faith to commend this as a worthy read because it contains a little bit too much of anecdote as opposed to hard hitting facts, and I felt that this often undermined the author's arguments. It also has some misleading information.

The book assumes a specific audience, so it's like I wasn't invited to read it, and while I understand that it's important to target your readers, it felt weird to me to read: “I was a little older than you are—about twenty-five—when I did this.” No! She's nowhere near older than I am! That wasn't a big issue. It was amusing, though! The same kind of thing happened when I read: “‘No’ wasn’t a serious part of my vocabulary until I was, like, twentyone. It totally changed my life in the best way. I’m kind of jealous that you get to learn this before I did, but I’m glad I get to be the one who tells you about it.“ Nope! But fine for her intended audience even if it felt a bit exclusionary.

One of the real problems I had with this book was that it's all about being non-judgmental, and I support that aim fully, but even as it was saying this, the book itself sounded very judgmental at times. For example, in one part I read, “Some people talk about inheritances, like a piece of property or a really nice pair of earrings or your great grandmother’s silverware or your weird auntie’s salt and pepper shaker collection.“ Isn't describing your relative as ‘Weird auntie’ judgmental? I mean based on the fact that all we're presented with in evidence is her collection of salt and pepper shakers, that doesn't strike me as anywhere near sufficient to convict her! It felt like a case of "Pot, meet Kettle!"

On that same topic, I read, “I had a really big crush on my classmate (classmate's name redacted by me - Ian)...He only liked skinny girls and he was really mean to me.” The problem with this is that we have only the author’s story here! That's not to say the author is making this up, but there's another perspective that we never get to hear. Suppose she had this crush and was making herself obnoxious about it? I'm not saying this is true, but the way this anecdote is told, it leaves the person relating it open to the accusation that perhaps the recipient of this crush may have considered that for her, 'no' didn't mean 'no', and found that only rudeness could repel her unwanted attention.

Maybe that's the case, maybe it's exactly as the author reports; more likely, it's somewhere in between - six of one and half a dozen of the other, as they say. I don't know, and this is why this goes back to what I said about the evidence offered here being personal anecdote a lot of the time. Without a larger sample, it's really hard to exclude biased reporting and it makes it difficult for the author to defend herself against an accusation that she has a personal gripe - which still would be valid, but which would also serves to undermine her making a larger case.

As to misinformation? At one point the author writes: "I didn’t know about all the research that says that skipping meals is bad for people.” Yet nowhere is 'all the research' cited or referenced. Again, we have personal anecdote. I would have agreed with her if she'd said irregular habits (whether in regard to eating or to sleeping) are bad for you, but skipping over-indulgence is actually shown to be a good thing and is supported by research! The Harvard Health Blog is hardly a peer-reviewed science paper, but it discusses such papers and I'd take their word over anecdote. This article:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
supports reading I've done elsewhere which argues convincingly that intermittent - i.e. regular short fasting - is actually good for your health as long as you eat healthy meals along with it and don't go overboard with the fasting part of it. The author of this book rejects any kind of fasting out of hand, saying at one point, “‘Fasting’ is not a good idea." But we all fast when we're asleep! That's why the first meal of the day is called break-fast! It doesn't hurt to have a period of time - other than when you're sleeping! - during which you avoid food, and eat regular meals the rest of the time. It's not hard to do and it pays dividends (now that's a personal anecdote!). I'm not a Muslim, but I tend to eat very minimally if at all during the day whether it's Ramadan or not, and to eat whatever I like in the evening - but let me qualify that by saying I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and little junk food. All I can say is that it works for me.

While I completely agree with the author that most diets - especially commercial ones and fad diets - are completely worthless - most people put the weight back on and many even gain more weight after than they had before - not all attempts to lose weight are failures. What's a guaranteed fail is dieting like the author says she did: ”When I was eighteen, I attempted a more drastic version of my sixth-grade summer diet. I decided I was going to try to eat nothing— maybe a spoonful of food a day.“ Now honestly, that’s not a diet, that’s just rank stupidity, but because you make a truly dumb decision when you're eighteen doesn't mean that all attempts to diet are stupid. It's just as judgmental to abuse people who wish to diet as it is to judge people who choose to love their body as it is.

Another example of a personal opinion injected into this work is “Food is good, not bad.“ Seriously? It honestly depends on the food. If you chose to eat nothing but cheesecake all day, every day, then yes that 'food' is bad. Choosing to eat healthily isn't ever bad, but the author assumes all food, all cravings, anything you want to put in your mouth is equal and that's dangerously misleading.

The author rightly decries the fashion circus and the cosmetic mega-business, but she conveniently ignores the agribusiness-industrial complex as you might call it, which is dedicated to selling us calories and doesn't give a damn if those calories come as sugary, fatty or salty foods, all of which are unhealthy if not controlled. In a study of almost 6,000 Coronavirus patients, ones with poor outcomes nearly always had underlying conditions, and 41% of those fatalities were at least in part because the patient was obese. Body positivity is the only smart way to go, but that doesn't mean becoming willfully blind to health considerations.

Yes, the author gets it right in that your body does need sugar. It does need carbs. It does need fat. The issue she conveniently ignores is that your body doesn't need the massive quantities of these things that we can readily get from junk food today. Here's where a good science education comes in handily, specifically the science of evolution. During most of humankind's history, it was hard for us to get these things (sugar, fat, salt) in our diet, so our bodies craved them because getting enough back then was the problem and a craving helped to satisfy that important biological need by driving us to seek out such important parts of a naturally restricted diet.

Here and now, in 2020, we do not have any problem at all getting all the sugar, fat, and salt we could ever dream of. That doesn't make it healthy to continue to crave it and eat it every chance we get. Quite the opposite. It's dangerous and unhealthy to suggest all food is equal and we ought to feel free to eat as much as we want, of whatever we want, whenever we want. It's downright irresponsible and this was the main reason why I started turning against this book even thought I would dearly have liked to support it.

The author claims that there have always been fat people, and she's right in a limited sense. What she conveniently ignores though, is that there has been a fat epidemic over the last half century or so. Obesity rates among US adults, for example, have pretty much tripled since the sixties:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3228640/

This is something new and different. It's not business as usual as the author claims, but we're in danger of complacently letting it become so. What changed is still being argued over, but the easy access to cheap calories - and bad calories - i.e. those coming from junk food promoted by food manufacturers who spend millions lobbying Congress and the senate - is one leading candidate for bringing about this change.

The author claims that “We actually all know how to eat right.” but we manifestly do not. No one is born with the inbuilt instinct of how to eat right. That's something we learn - or do not - from our parents or guardians, our family, our peers, and from movies and TV, from advertising, and increasingly from social media these days where there are paid influencers for everything, and they don't always make it clear who is paying them to promote whatever it is they're pushing. Without having a solid foundation in healthy eating from the off, we're doomed to fail at whatever it is we think we're succeeding at or embracing.

At one point the author mentions “the white standard was the one I felt more pressure to meet” But nowhere is this explicitly defined. We can divine from reading elsewhere that it's intended to be a slim pretty female, but slim pretty females come in all races. They're not just white. This is a racist comment that seems to have roots in the author's own personal history. Again it's a personal anecdote, not the result of an impartial study.

She was on more solid ground when she was talking about how much of what people of color have traditionally been subjected to has been white: the movies, TV, and so on, but that depends on what you choose to watch - and it is a choice. A person who listens to a particular type of music - say country - might conclude there's a white standard whereas someone who watches rap is forced to conclude that there's a black standard. The same goes for watching many sports, such as football or basketball in particular. The encouraging thing is that there's a bigger diversity of media now than there's ever been so it's not quite as bad as it was, and we can personally choose what to accept from it and what to reject. Anyone who truly loves their body will realize this, and take all this promotion with a pinch of whatever.

That said, there is still a long way to go. An article on Huffpost:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.huffpost.com/entry/why-do-young-girls-hate-their-bodies_b_57f4cf08e4b0ab1116a54ca9/amp)
titled "Why Do Young Girls Hate Their Bodies?“ has (or had when I copied this URL) ads showing rail-thin women modeling clothes! That’s how hypocritical we are. A better and more positive article is this one:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2018-07-30/what-do-women-with-positive-body-images-have-that-others-dont

In terms of the general appearance of this book, the publisher once again seems to have allowed an author's book to be put directly into Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion mangle, and out came a noticeably garbled text. Fortunately it was legible for the most part if one ignores the random colorization of the text here and there, but there were issues with headers being interspersed with the text so that I read, for example, the following: “...but when she wasn’t in bed she’d be running around with uncorrected proof...” Now that's amusing, but the 'uncorrected proof' part is the page header which ought to have been removed well-before this book was ever allowed to become Kindling, which is what Amazon typically does to text.

In another section I read, “I never got more compliments from others than when I was Healthy and thin are not the same thing. starving myself.” I think 'Healthy and thin are not the same thing.' was intended as a heading, and Amazon managed to interleave it with the body of the text. That same heading was repeated right after this as well. Way to go, Amazon, you clowns! Not that Jeff Bezos, who has profited from COVID-19 to the tune of $24 billion so I read yesterday - while millions of Americans are now out of work - actually cares.

I personally have zero time for Amazon and I refuse to do business with them. I don't care that it likely costs me book sales. Someone has to take a stand and put quality over profit. Just remember that unless your text is pretty much plan vanilla, Amazon will dice and julienne it in very inventive ways, and especially if it contains images! Hopefully if this particular book is ever issued as an ebook, these problems will be fixed. This was an ARC after all.

So in conclusion, I support many of the sentiments expressed in this book. I dream of the day when perceptions, attitudes, and opinions change. I just don't feel this book will help as much as I wish it would. I felt the sentiments could have been expressed better and with a less blinkered perspective. We do need to be less judgmental and more supportive of people who are, in the author's word, 'fat', but we need to be wise in how we convey this information to people to help them wisely choose their course ahead, rather than brow-beatign them to accept 'my way' or offering them the highway as the only alternative. BTW, fatphobia isn't really a good word, although it's obviously gaining currency. The actual term is Cacomorphobia, even if it probably sounds worse! I wish the author all the best in her career but I can't support this expression of it for the reasons I've cited.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Scullion by Jarad Greene


Rating: WARTY!

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

I guess me and writers named Greene with first initial J, are not destined to get along. I quit reading this about four fifths the way through because it wasn't entertaining me at all. I kept hoping something would happen or that it would get better, but it never did, and I felt resentful of the time I'd spent reading it when I could have been doing something more fulfilling. When I picked the thing to review I'd thought the two characters on the cover were women who worked in the scullery of a castle, but only one of them is.

He gets kidnapped by trolls who mistake him for the other person on the cover who is actually a female warrior. Apparently trolls are really stupid mistaking an accidental headscarf for real purple hair, but the trolls are not consistent in their stupidity which made the device rather flimsy.

There were half-hearted attempts at humor. Despite this being set in medieval times, they have modern amenities and outlooks - but these fell flat on me. The story felt confused, with far too many characters coming in like Keystone Cops and filling up the panels without much of an introduction to set the stage. I lost track repeatedly as to what was supposed to be happening or why people were doing certain things (and not doing other things that seemed far more logical in the circumstances), and I decided this was not for me. I can't commend it at all.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Elemental Thief by Rachel Morgan


Rating: WORTHY!

Read wonderfully by Arielle Delisle, this audiobook was delightfully not a first person voice book. The story was entertaining, original, and engrossing. It fell apart rather at the end with main character Ridley Kayne doing some dumb stuff, but overall I enjoyed the book despite it being part of a 'chronicles' series. I'm allergic to books that have 'chronicles' or 'saga', or 'epic' on the cover, and I typically avoid them like the plague, but this one was a very rare exception. It was not sufficiently exceptional though, to make me want to pursue this series. This one volume was quite sufficient.

Ridley and her father live in a world where elemental magic is all around, and it used to be employed by experts to make the world a profitable and enjoyable place, but a decade or so before the story begins, there was a foolish experiment done with the magic, and it caused the system to go haywire - rather like Earth is going haywire right now with climate change, caused by thoughtless, stupid, and selfish human activity. Yes gas guzzling SUV and pickup truck drivers: I'm looking at you. Although you're all amateurs compared with Big Business Republican Complex.

Since Ridley's father was a magical jewelry maker, his family has been leading a semi-impoverished life and though Ridley attends a high class academy, she's shunned by the children of the rich and elite families. Why her father can't continue making jewelry and just not using magic to do it, goes unexplained. Apparently he's retreated from that into selling antiques. That part of the story could have happily done without the trope shunning and bullying. It's so over-traveled in YA stories, and in this case it contributed nothing to the story at all, so why do it? It was just thoughtless and bad writing.

Of course since this is a standard YA story, you know Ridley is a special snowflake. Her magic comes not from nature, but from within herself because she's an elemental. People are supposed to wear a small metal device in their skin which prevents them from employing magic. People without such a device can be identified by drones, and they can be caught and punished, but Ridley cannot wear the amulet. Since the magic is within her, it's like she's allergic to the special metal in the device. She carries it instead, on chain around her neck - illegally so, but it prevents the drones from classifying her as an illegal magic practitioner. Why having this sitting on her skin rather than just under it works for her goes unexplained.

Ridley witnesses a murder but doesn't go to the authorities. She and her father are trying to keep a low profile and Ridley is also a thief - stealing from the rich to help the poor, and using her magic to break into the apartment homes of the rich and famous. But when her friend Shen is implicated in the murder in a doctored drone video, Ridley has to take action. Her situation is complicated by the fact that Archer (yeah, seriously, these characters were named Ridley and Archer), the trope antagonistic rich kid discovers that she stole a figurine from his family home, and now demands she get it back because it's involved in a life or death issue.

So while on the one hand I did like this and commend it as a worthy read, I had multiple writing issues with it, all of them rooted in the fact that it relies far too much on idiotic YA trope garbage instead of stepping away from that. It could have been a much better story, and this is why I'm not interested in pursuing this series. There were several things to dislike even while enjoying the overall story.

One of them was that Ridley really isn't a strong character. She ought to be, given what she does, but she's far too subservient to Archer and you just know there's going to be a romance there, which makes little sense given the reasons behind why she dislikes him so much. I don't like weak female characters - not when they're the main character. I don't mind if they start out weak and find strength as they go, but it seemed like just the opposite was happening here!

On top of that there's the ridiculous trope of having her father call his seventeen year old daughter by a pet name (Riddles - barf!). That happens way too much in these stories. Maybe some readers like it. I don't. If Ridley were two or four years old, then yeah, go with it, but when she's seventeen? It just makes her father look like an idiot and it demeans and belittles your main female character.

On top of that, Ridley didn't seem like she was very smart or inventive. She has this huge magical power on tap, but she never even considers using it to solve her mysteries: to retrieve the figurine, for example, or to destroy evidence that could expose her and many other magic users, or to prevent herself and her father from being kidnapped at one point.

If this had not been a series, experimenting with her magic might have been brought forward and made her a much more interesting character, but precisely because it's a series, this kind of thing - assuming it enters the story at all - is going to be farmed out over far too many volumes, and it will be weakened, and diluted into meaninglessness, undermining the while story and devaluing her character. This is one huge problem with series. I mean, what child wouldn't have experimented with her magic? Yet we're expected to believe that Ridley never did. That makes her dumb. The very antithesis of a special snowflake and an inherent contradiction which devalues the story.

There's one incident where she reflexively saves Archer's life by employing am impressive magical feat, but when she and her father are confronted by these kidnappers, she can't do a damned thing. Why not? It wasn't consistent. Does she love Archer, whom she professes to hate, more than her own father? Is that why she could help the one but not the other? It was little things like that which turned me off the story enough, that I don't want to read any more of this series.

One amusing thing is that with the audiobook, you can speed up the reader's voice and get through it faster. I didn't crank it up to the point where it sounded like a chipmunk is reading it, but my adjustment did, in this case, make the narrator's voice sound a touch waspish and snippy when conveying Ridley's behavior and speech and it was hilarious.

She sounded so frenetic and it amused the hell out of me. Maybe it's just me and my warped sense of humor, but there was this one point where Ridley was explaining about getting an extension to a school project and she said, "I asked for a week's extension, so he gave me a week's extension." I honestly don't know what it was about that, but it made me laugh out loud.

There were other, similar instances that amused or made me LOL, too, so that helped get through this novel and it was something I could not have done were this an ebook or a print book. Maybe I would have ended up not liking the book in a different format, and I sure as hell couldn't have read it in the car while driving! One takes ones little joys where one can, right? Especially in this tragic era of viral plagues. Anyway, I commend this as a worthy read.


Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Dragon Choker by Stephanie Alexander


Rating: WARTY!

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

Errata:
"...the more likely her husband would give up and returned to his own chamber." Returned need the -ed suffix removed.
"He must think thusly at times" - 'thusly' isn't really a word. The 'ly' needs to be omitted.
"...and since they both knew the way they let themselves in." - this needed a comma after 'way'.
"She lit on the muddy ground..." - unless she shone a flashlight on it or set fire to it, lit is the wrong word. It needed to be alit or alighted. Either is acceptable.

This is volume two of a series based on the Cinderella fairy-tale. There are several quite varying "Cinderella" stories though history, originating from as far and wide as Greece and China, but most people tend to think of Cinderella as the version written by Charles Perrault in 1697, titled Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre ("Cinderella or the little glass slipper"), which is where the Disney Fairytale Mining Corporation™ lifted the premise for the animated version it put out in 1950. That's the version that introduced the two evil stepsisters, the glass slipper, the pumpkin and all that, and upon which this novel is loosely-based.

I haven't read volume one of this series, and I'm far from convinced I'd like it if I did, so I wasn't about to try reading that before I started on this one. Since I'm not very much into series, whether I'd end up liking this one was the question. I started out quite happy that it wasn't written in first-person voice - which I despise, and which would have decidedly turned me off it, so I commend the author for that wise choice.

It was decently-written for the most part (subject to occasional grammatical and word-choice errors, some examples of which I'll list below. It did keep me engaged for a while, but as time passed I started losing faith in the author and consequently my interest in the story waned considerably. I also had problems with some of the plot choices and with the portrayal of Eleanor, which I think belied the book description - or more accurately the book description misrepresented the novel.

It was from that description though, that I had become intrigued by this story, being led to believe that the novel was something bit different from the usual premise. The not-so-happily-ever-after induced me to request it for review. The description began, "Eleanor Brice Desmarais, she of the cracked glass slipper and unladylike intellectual propensities" and that caught my attention. 'Desmarais' is French for 'of the swamp' so maybe there's some history related to that in volume one. Or maybe not! I can't speak to that. Character names are important to me so I tend to have them mean something which may not always be apparent to the reader, but maybe I read more into other authors' choices than I ought.

This promise of 'unladylike intellectual propensities' however, failed to materialize unless all that the person writing that description meant was that Eleanor had a sexual appetite. Oh how scandalous - a woman enjoys sex! Who knew?! Seriously? But if that's the case, then the writer of the description needs to get an education regarding the difference between intellectual and sexual.

The really sad thing about Eleanor though, and the tragic paradox of this story is that she's purported to be the people's princess, and yet she was risking bringing down shame on herself and the royal family by her uncontrolled behavior. This is hardly how a great princess behaves. She seems to have been modeled on Princess Diana, but unlike in that real life case, Eleanor starts her affair long before she's ever built-up any credibility by demonstrating a generosity of spirit, a warmth, and a caring attitude that the real life Diana did before she embarked on her affair. There's a huge difference between the two.

I think intellectual is sexy, but if it was merely used as a euphemism for sexual propensities, then it was a cheap shot. If it actually meant intellectual, then it missed the mark because Eleanor did not come across as any such thing. Quite the opposite. She spent all her time pining for Dorian, the best friend of her husband, Prince Gregory. At one point Eleanor mentions Dorian's "girth" and from that I could conclude only that her 'intellect' seemed decidedly low and her interest in him had nothing to do with love since they never seemed to have any conversation that didn't revolve around their physical trysting.

The story was boring because this was all she ever did. There was one brief interlude where she was visiting the poor and talking about opening school for girls, but that was a bump in an otherwise featureless romp, or unending talk of romping, or unending wishful thinking of romping, with Dorian. She didn't even spend any significant time with her child - not according to how this was written up to the point where I quit reading it, about a quarter the way through. Maybe things changed later, but I had zero faith, given what I'd read thus far, that it would improve. Eleanor was a one-trick pony (interpret 'trick' however you like), and she wasn't remotely interesting to read about.

I can understand that a woman who is unhappy in her marriage may seek solace elsewhere. I don't have a problem with that, and missing the first volume may well skew my perception, but did Eleanor even try to resolve things with Gregory or did she just leap right onto Dorian's girth? I know Gregory could be a bit of a jerk at times, but overall he did not seem to be a bad person, yet Eleanor was willing to spend all kinds of time on sexual technique with Dorian. Could she not spend any time at all working on her marriage with Gregory?

This perception diminished her in my eyes, and led me to the conviction that she's not much deserving of sympathy or support. Like I said, without having the first volume under my belt, maybe I'm misjudging her, but frankly she seems like a bit of a sleaze here. It's not a good look on her! If once in a while she'd expressed some regret or harked back to earlier times when she'd tried to work with her husband to make their marriage a good one and been rejected by him, that would have changed my perception of her, but in this story she's all Dorian all the time and it's tedious.

This book seriously failed to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test (after a fashion) because all Eleanor could think of was how to get with her lover. She had a one-track mind. Talking of Disney, it's like she had no life that wasn't animated by Dorian. After I'd read that book description, what I'd been hoping for was someone like the princess in my own novel, Femarine which really did have a different mindset from your usual princess story.

The very reason I wrote that was to offer readers some sort of an antidote to the disturbing plethora of stories about simpering, compliant princesses and their wilting addiction to princes charming, and it seemed I was not wrong because there is a readership for the road less taken. I just wish publishers and other authors would embrace that more, but it seems all they want to do it retread this old story, and even when a slightly different direction is taken - like this one attempted, the original prince is merely replaced by a new 'prince' and off we go, stuck on the same old rutted road - or rutting road in this case!

This is why I tend not to believe book descriptions much, because I've seen so many misleading ones, and it bothers me that they often seem to have been written by people who haven't read the novel, or in the case of YA stories, by people who seem to have completely missed the point of the #MeToo movement. But moving on: Eleanor is the Cinders of this story, having the slipper and the requisite two stepsisters, although as in the Drew Barrymore Ever After movie which I enjoyed, one of the sisters is friendly toward Eleanor. The other, Sylvia, is very much antagonistic and deceitful. Fortunately, she does not know that Eleanor has the hots for her husband's best friend Dorian, for that would be a disaster she'd dearly love to exploit.

I have to say a word about poor Sylvia. I was not a fan of hers, but she's after Prince Gregory. In her pursuit, she's doing nothing worse than Eleanor is doing, and arguably better since, unlike Eleanor, Sylvia isn't married! The problem is that she's portrayed as some sort of marriage wrecker or trouble-maker! When Dorian sees what she's up to he makes a mental note to tell Eleanor. The thing is that Gregory is known for quite literally whoring around, and Eleanor is already getting down to it with Dorian, so why slut-shame Sylvia? It was inappropriate at best, and it wasn't the only case where a woman is demeaned in this book.

On another occasion I read, "Pandra was twelve years his senior, but she was amazingly well preserved for all her years of use." What? That means she was only 38, not old by any means. Saying she was amazingly well preserved is ageism without a doubt. It's one thing to have a character say something like that about another person; it's an entirely different thing to have the author say it - and that comment wasn't in a character's speech - it was in the narrative! Now you can argue that it was intended as the thought of either Prince Gregory or Dorian, but that wasn't indicated as such, and if it was indeed Dorian's thinking, what does that say about his attitude toward women?

At a ball, Eleanor is recommending Dorian ask this one girl who'd shown an interest in him, to dance with him. This was not because she wanted Dorian to, but because it would be a diversion from their mutual horniness. After that I read, again not as speech, but as narration, "In truth, Patience had been an obvious dingbat." It's like if you're not part of the small specific set of people of whom Eleanor approves, then all you merit is insult. It really turned me off her. This was not the 'intellectual propensity' girl I'd been promised - someone deep and interesting, strong and motivated, fun to read about. She was just the opposite and I didn't like her.

And 'dingbat'? The term has been around for a century, but it's hardly terminology from the Cinderella era! I know you can't write a novel in ancient English - it would be tedious to read, if not impossible! - but you can write it with a bit of an atmosphere, ans a nod and a wink to the period in which it's supposedly set. This one was written with such a modern outlook that for me, it kept tripping up the narrative, making it seem like it couldn't decide if it wanted to be ancient or modern.

In this world, it is, of course, a capital offense for the princess bride to have an affair, even with the prince's best friend, so one has to wonder about Dorian's love for Eleanor when he willingly puts her life at risk by continuing to see her for sex. She's obviously so weak-willed that she can't help herself, but you'd think he'd be strong for her, if he cared. On the other hand, he's reported as someone who's been lucky to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases since he cannot for the life of him keep his junk in his pantaloons. He's had sex with so many women, he's lost count, so maybe his integrity is as poor as hers and his backbone just as flimsy. At any rate Eleanor has no reason to believe she's not just another conquest. Not from what I read anyway.

I began reading this with interest and quickly encountered an unintentionally amusing scene which brought the novel some credit by putting me in a good mood. That was sadly dissipated with disturbing velocity by further reading, and in truth it was another writing issue. An exasperated Eleanor is mucking-out the stable where her unicorn is housed. She's not doing this because she has to, but because she needs something to take her mind off her frustrations. While she's thus engaged, her husband and Dorian come down to take out the prince's horse, Vigor, for a ride.

In what I consider to be an amusingly unfortunate juxtaposition of ideas, I read, "Gregory kissed her again. This time she felt the flick of his tongue. He mounted and she held Vigor's bridle." Now, who or what exactly is he mounting - his horse or his bride? LOL! I assume it's his horse, but it just goes to show that one needs to be careful when writing narrative! There really needed to be something between "his tongue" and "He mounted" to distance the two actions. On a more adolescent note, it also struck me that the very title of this novel is rather unfortunate. To be clear: the Dragon Choker isn't a teenage boy's slang term for masturbation. It refers to a beautiful necklace that Prince Gregory buys for Eleanor and for which she shows little gratitude. Again, unlike the necklace, she came off in a bad light.

So, in short, I did not finish this novel. I gave up on it because the more I read the more I disliked Eleanor and the more I disliked the story. It felt like there were problems with the plot that could have been avoided with more sensitive writing, and with a better portrayal of Eleanor (and maybe a somewhat worse portrayal of Gregory). Eleanor comes across not only as having no character, she doesn't even have any depth - and certainly no intellect, let alone any sort of propensity at all to growing one. She wasn't interesting and I did not want to read any more about her. I wish the author all the best in her writing career, but I can't commend this one as a worthy read.


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.