Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves


Rating: WARTY!

Read by (I kid you not) someone named Ann Dover, and written by Anne Cleeves, this was another experimental audiobook and though it initially intrigued me, it quickly failed. In fact, it was quite simply one of the most tedious books I've ever had to listen to.

It took so long for quite literally nothing to happen, and it was so larded with endless, irrelevant, boring-as-watching-a-cowpat-dry, extraneous detail about everything and anything, that I couldn't stand to listen to it and returned it quickly to the library so someone else would have to deal with it instead of me!

It was all my fault! I had thought, when I first picked it out, that it was one of the books that had given rise to the TV show Shetland, which I've watched and enjoyed despite the high improbability of so many murders occurring in such a small and sleepy Scots village!

This wasn't any such thing! It's part of a different series, which also (and inexplicably in this case) made it to TV, and which is known as the Vera Stanhope series. Now I shall never get the book for the Shetland series because this was too poor of an experience of this author. I do not want to read any more of her work, especially since I have too much else to read to bother with her again.

For those who are interested, the story begins not with a murder, but with a suicide. Rachael is the team leader of a trio of women who are studying the potential environmental impact that a proposed quarry will have on a national park and a friend of hers hangs herself. Later, somewhere in the tedium there actually is a murder. It's the plot! Done to death by the author! No, I'm kidding. There is a murder and Vera is on the case. Yawn. That's it! I cannot recommend this based on the limited sample that was all I could stand to listen to.


The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding A Fiendish Arrangement by Alexandra Bracken


Rating: WARTY!

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

I wavered on this book from liking parts to disliking other parts, and back and forth, and in the end, it was the end which decided me, because it was there that the novel hit the sourest note, because there is no ending! In the final analysis, all this book is, is the prologue for a series. I can't abide that and I cannot support it. "Dreadful Tale" is an appropriate title for this, it turns out.

I know that series are lucrative for publishers and writers if they can lure a reading public into becoming OCD over one, but I do not play that game. It's one of the reasons I detest series as a general rule, and for an author to cynically say "Here's an entire book," and then to end it on a cliffhanger so you "have" to buy the next to find out what happens is inexcusable. Do not read this in the belief that you will get a complete and full story here. You will not.

This is book one of a "The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding" series, and if I'd known that, I would never have requested to review this one, but there was no hint whatsoever on net Galley that it was not a self-contained story. Shame on you Net Galley and on Disney Hyperion for not being honest and up front with readers and for demanding nigh on eleven dollars for an incomplete story. And what's with the ebook costing exactly the same as the print version?! What trees are worth nothing these days? That's a truly sad and sorry way to look at Earth.

For me series are too easy, unimaginative, derivative, and abusive of the reader. I'd rather follow a road less traveled than feel like I'm covering the same ground I already visited.

The other thing this author got away with is first person. I'm even less of a fan of first person than I am of series, if for no other reasons than that it's such a selfish, self-absorbed, self-obsessed voice, and it's so limiting in that nothing can happen in the story unless the narrator is present, which often results in absurdly artificial, unlikely, and clunky events occurring in order to get the narrator on the scene.

I don't know why authors are so obsessed with limiting themselves in this fashion. It was not such a nauseating voice here, so I appreciated the author for that, but even she admits she made the wrong choice of voice because she has to devote several chapters to third person voice to detail activities where Prosper is not the main actor, and they clunked down jarringly. They were so bad that I skimmed and skipped those. They contributed nothing to an overly long story and would have made for a more intelligent read had they been omitted altogether.

The story is of Prosperity Redding, your usual trope boy raised in ignorance of his true value to the story, and without parents (he has parents, they're just not on the scene), and raised by apparently cruel relatives, although I have to grant that those clichéd cruel relatives don't usually want to stab the main character with an iron knife as they do here!

"Uncle" Barnabas comes to the rescue, spiriting Prosper, as he prefers to be called, away just before that iron knife strikes, to hide out in a haunted house. Yes, it's haunted both for real, and as a funhouse - a scary one, for tourists - and it's here that Prosper learns the truth - or part of it at least.

It turns out that Prosper has a demon inside him and if it cannot be got out before his thirteenth birthday, two weeks hence, it will ruin his entire family. This demon is the price his family paid for the prosperity (yes!) it has enjoyed over the years - centuries even, and all would have been well had some great grandpa not reneged on the deal. Now Prosper's relatives (all except Barnabas, and "cousin" Nell who predictably happens to be Prosper's age and equally predictably doesn't like him), believe the only way to fix - or at least defer - the disaster, is to kill Prosper before he turns thirteen, so he believes. Meanwhile, Alastor the demon (not his real name, hint hint) is inside Prosper and growing stronger by the day.

There were one or two writing issues (other than cliffhangers and first person!) which took away some of the little joy of this I did have. These are very possibly things the intended age range might not notice (unless they're my kids, of course! I think they would notice these things, but then they grew up with me, and they're also edging out of middle-grade at this point).

"Told whom?" was the first clunker I read. Writers seem to think they have to inject correct English into their stories and 'whom' is such a big offender that it's become a pet peeve of mine. This is what Prosper says to correct Nell when she says, "For who?" Quite frankly I think this word is antiquated and pretentious, and needs to be dropped from the language altogether, but that's just me.

The truth is though, that no one actually uses it in conversation, especially not kids, so in the context of this story, this bit clanged like the liberty bell. It's highly unlikely any middle-grade kid, even one from a rich family, would correct someone on the use of 'whom', especially when that kid has not been set up a priori as an English language fanatic, so this was a fail: an example of an author lecturing her readers through her character instead of letting the character be themselves.

Here's another: "Her skin was a warm bronze, a shade or two lighter than her black hair." This made for an odd read. I think I see what the author is trying to say here, but strictly speaking, a shade or two lighter than black would mean that she has gray skin! Shade relates to how much black in is a color I think this could have been worded better - maybe describing the skin as a dark bronze or something like that, but I don't think you can describe hair in terms of skin color or vice-versa when one is black and the other is bronze, which is a distinctly brown color. If she'd had brown hair that would be a different thing.

Another one was: "Uncle Barnabas's face with pink around the edges at that." This sounds like it should read "...went pink around the edges." The last one I can recall noting was: "The spines were all shades of leather, brown, black, blue, and soft from being handled so much" this felt like it needed a colon after 'shades of leather'.

The demon is introduced as being evil and bent upon revenge, yet he behaves like a naughty friend to Prosper, chiding him on one hand and then rather benignly helping him to do something on the other. This was a complete contradiction given that the demon feeds on Prosper's discomfort and sadness. Why would he help prosper to do something that would make him feel better? It made no sense to me! It seemed obvious that eventually Alastor and Prosper would become friends, or at least partners, although given that this is merely a prologue, I can't say for sure if that's what will happen.

Neither did it make any sense as to why none of this family knew that to control a demon, you need its real name! That's so out there in folklore that everyone knows it, even in the real world where demons are pure fiction, so people who have been dealing with a demonic threat all their lives, and who have libraries of books about demons, had no excuse for not knowing it.

But Alastor was a fail. He was such a pompous and prolix punk that that he was far more of a joke than ever he was a demonic presence. To me, Alastor never came across as being anywhere near as evil and vengeful as he was supposed to be. This was a problem with the plotting. Maybe middle graders won't concern themselves with it, but I know my kids would find him as much of a joke as I did.

There was also the issue in any magic story which is: why are there any restrictions and rules? We're told that in order to get the demon out, certain materials need to be gathered, yet despite Nell being a quite accomplished witch she isn't able to magic up the ingredients?

Admittedly, one requirement is a bit out of the ordinary. She needs toes; real human toes, but it's never clear until the end if it's the actual toe, or just the toe bone. This apparently needed to be ordered abroad? That made no sense. Why not just magic them out of a grave - or go dig them up?

I've encountered this problem repeatedly in books where magic is part of the world: there's either no explanation offered as to why something can't be 'magicked', or there's some arbitrary rule "explaining" why the magic won't work. At least in this story we got a cute explanation as to why the spells always rhymed: they were easier to remember that way! That was a bit of a cheat since they were so simple that you'd have to be a moron not to remember them, but it was a cute idea, and I liked the cheekiness of it even though it evoked the schlockiness of the Charmed TV series which I actually couldn't stand.

I really liked Nell as a character. I find I often do this: prefer the side-kick or the friend to the main character. Nell would be worth reading about, but I wasn't keen at all on Prosper or Alastor. maybe middle-graders will like this, but I can't rate it positively when there were so many problems with it.

Note that there were some formatting issues with the ebook, with the text not filling the whole screen in some parts - like there were hard carriage returns in it, but this was an ARC, co perhaps those issues have been resolved in the actual published version

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another audiobook experiment, and a successful one for a change. The weird thing is that I'm not sure exactly why I liked it. I think a part of it is the reading voice of Amy Landon who did the audiobook, which is really pleasant on the ear, but the story itself is engaging. It's well-written and has a charmingly innocent feel to it. I guess it just captured my mood. Not that I'm innocent by any stretch of the imagination, but it was truly easy listening, both the way the story was written, and the way it was told. The Perfect Calm.

It is described as 'Ghost Stories #1', and I am not a fan of series, so while I enjoyed this particular one, especially after I understood why it was written the way it was, I don't think this is a series I will follow because the way this was written has made it somewhat disjointed and repetitive, and there's very little in the way of narrative thrust in any particular direction, or indeed of any urgency at all! if the next book in the series (if there is to ever be one) is written as a whole coherent tale, rather than as a series of installments, then maybe!

The book was apparently originally published over a period of a year in monthly episodes, with each section being a self-contained story. When they were combined, no additional editing was done, so the story begins to sound rather repetitive after you've been through several segments. That didn't bother me as much as the fact that Rose, the ghost who is telling her story (and in first person too, although in this book it didn't feel totally nauseating), seems to have no direction in life...er, death. She's just ghosting along, relating events in her life, with lots of flashbacks. Normally these annoy me too, but in this case they were not bad, and understandable in context, since Rose died in 1952, and has been a ghost for about four times longer than she actually lived.

Her stated goal is to bring to justice the guy who ran her off the road, but we get no explanation as to why it's taking her so damned long to get there. In the meantime, we get some interesting stories of Rose escorting people to the other side - her self-appointed duty - or actually, in some cases, saving the lives of people who otherwise would have died in a traffic accident. She always tries, but mostly she fails. At one point she's able to lead a lost child back to her parents. On another occasion, Rose herself is hunted by a...should I say dispirited...girl who doesn't understand why her dead boyfriend never came back to say farewell.

The author seems to have borrowed heavily from the work of Jan Brunvand a collector of urban legend. Once a good friend (thanks Aimee!) had pointed me in his direction and I looked him up, I recognized many elements from this novel. The author also adds in other things, such as Rose's ability to take on physical form if she wears something from a living person. This enables her to touch people, to eat food, feel pain, and even have sex! How she manages to grasp the object to wear it in the first place is a bit of a mystery.

Overall, the story was well written and interesting, even amusing in places and intriguing in others, and I liked it, but I have to say some readers will find it a bit repetitive. It could have used some editing to remove the repetitive introductions, but I'm not sure what could be done about the increasingly common element wherein Rose Marshall, who is the ghost, keeps getting kidnapped by people! That happened a bit too often. Each time it was different, but it was beginning to feel a bit tedious, and she never seemed to learn from it.

One particularly amusing segment was where Rose somehow managed to get herself assigned to a team of ghost hunters who were actually hunting Rose herself. The team of college students met her in corporeal form, because she can become solid if she dons a jacket or something like that, so they had no idea who she really was. In real death, Rose was a legend - the prom date, the hitchhiking girl. She had several names and many more stories than she had names. All of them were different, and while some were close to the truth, others were wild fantasy. Rose accepts them with aplomb. It was her easy-going and accepting manner which made her a delight to read about. She was written beautifully, and created magically by the author.

You may think it's hard to kidnap a ghost, but it happens to Rose all the time! One time she was abducted to meet the queen of the route witches. She had no problem with this woman, so why there was a need to kidnap her rather than simply invite her to visit is an unexplained mystery. The route witch thing never really was explained to me. Ironically, I listened to this whilst commuting to work, so stories about route witches were highly appropriate, but when I'm diving, I'm primarily focused on driving with the story playing second fiddle, so I may have missed something. Of course, when you're driving, it's actually a good idea to miss things.... Maybe the explanation came during one of these time, but it meant that it remained a mystery to me. A route witch isn't an actual witch, but some sort of specialized ghost, and it appears that Rose was one, but it took forever for the story to reveal that.

Overall though I really enjoyed this, and I recommend it to anyone who likes to listen while driving - or at any other time for that matter.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teddy's Camp by Peter Liptak, Pascal


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun and entertaining, and brightly colored rhyming tale of Teddy's adventures in campland, with striking artwork by Pascal, the famous French inventor, mathematician, physicist, writer, and Catholic theologian. No I'm kidding, that was a different Pascal. I think.

Teddy heads off to camp where he meets a bunch of new friends and has endless days of fun riding horses, paddling canoes (and definitely no canoodling with paddles in case you're worried), swimming, exploring, arts, crafts, and sailing. I'm ready for my nap now! I recommend this as a fun read, and it looks just as good on a smart phone as it does on a tablet computer, so you're covered no matter what you have to hand, if your kid gets a hankering for some camp entertainment. Wait, that didn't come out right....


The Adventures of Juice Box and Shame by Liv Hadden


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
“At least it seemed I’d peaked Cassie’s interest.” should be piqued, not peaked!
“I was just wearing black skinny jeans, white converse” Converse is a registered trade-mark, and while I don't think an author needs to add the little symbol (®) I do think Converse needs to be capitalized!

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

This book is evidently part of a series, and generally speaking, I'm not a fan of series. I know they can be lucrative for both publishers and authors if they take off, but for me series are boring; they're derivative and un-challenging for both author and reader, so I have less respect for them. I’d rather read three different books than three variations on a theme! I didn’t realize this was a series when I took it on, but I am going to treat it as a standalone for the purpose of this review.

Liv Hadden is a fellow Austinite - kind of, since neither of us technically lives in Austin! - but I've never met her. I didn’t know she was a local when I was asked if I’d like to review this, so it's all above-board! I said yes, because it sounded interesting and fun, but I confess that initially I had the impression that this was maybe a graphic novel or a children's story because of the mention of Mo Malone as Illustrator, and it turned out not to be neither! Since there were absolutely no illustrating whatsoever going on in my copy of this book (excluding the cover), I can't speak to what Mo The Illustrator brought to the table! Maybe the print version has the illustrations. We amateur reviewers only get an ebook!

The book also turned out to be a bit of a confusing read for me to begin with, because it felt like I was reading a middle grade story, and then it got all serious, with blood and bullets. I also thought I was reading a story told by a young woman about her friendship with another young woman only to quickly realize that neither was a female!

So, it was quite a mind-trip going from the one perception to the other, times two! It took me a while to really get into the story because I had no idea what was going on. For many pages, I was wondering if it was a play these kids were in and suddenly we’d be back in the schoolroom, but no! Was it a bad dream? No! It took me a while to understand that this was for real and not a trick or some sort of illusion. I don’t know if that's what the author intended.

The lingo was distracting at first, because I was wondering if it was authentic, and if so, how the author knew it so well. I'm not one of these people who thinks authors should "write what they know" If we confined ourselves to that, it would be a very dull reading world, wouldn't it now?! No doubt John Grisham has been inside a courtroom, but I promise you Stephen King never was in a parallel world, and I guarantee you Suzanne Collins never fought for her life in a sudden death tournament. So I have no problem with authors writing what they don’t know as long as they make it believable. This author did.

I warmed to this as I read on, though! It’s a very short sixty-nine pages, but a lot happens. Li Nguyen, the guy who narrates the story, is known as Juice Box. His best friend is known as Shame. Juice narrates the story in first person which is not my favorite voice or anywhere near. It's far too limiting a voice to write in for one thing, and it gives only one perspective, and one which means that he narrator has got to be present no matter in what kind of a contrived manner, in order to tell the story! I think the voice contributed to my being slow to get into this, because I did not warm to Juice for the longest time, but eventually he got my interest.

I felt the story was a bit too short to explain some of the things in it: such as why Juice felt he was so tight with Shame, and why Shame was in so much trouble, and why Juice stood by him so sterlingly! There was a lot of conversation (and Converse Asians! LOL!), but very little world-building, although I did learn it was set in Baltimore!

On the other hand, it was really refreshing in many ways, which is one of the reasons I liked it. it was new and fresh and it was really nice to read about a Vietnamese crew instead of the usual African Americans we get stuck with in stories like these - like African Americans universally do nothing with their lives other than run in gangs!

So overall I recommend this for a different kind of a read and for a fresh voice. It's nice to know there are still writers out there who take the path less trodden! And especially that they're from the Austin area! Yes, now it can be told! We're going to outdo the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and become a major group in the Creative Writer's and Author's Paradise of the South! Or a bunch of CWAP for short....

Links for author an illustrator:
Liv Hadden:
Official Website: http://livhadden.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/livhadden
Twitter: https://twitter.com/livhadden
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livhadden/
Virtual Tour Page: http://www.rogercharlie.com/juiceboxvbt

Mo Malone:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mo__malone/


Nasty Women by Various Authors


Rating: WORTHY!

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

It was a feast. Not quite everything I'd hoped for, but most of it, and even from the articles I was not keen on, there was always something to learn.

It's by an assortment of authors, only one of whom I'd heard of before, and every one a women. It's about women and women's issues, and it ought to be required reading regardless of your race, gender, or orientation. The women are of different backgrounds and circumstances and with different perspectives, which in a way is what makes it powerful since they do tend to speak with a common voice. That's not to say that once you've read one of these essays, you've read them all. Far from it.

Since it was written by a variety though, it's a bit patchy and uneven, and there were a few issues I had with it, so while I enjoyed it, I felt it did not make for the strongest voice it could have had. One issue is that it's quite insular in some respects - it's very much a Scots thing. Fortunately, I love Scotland, and have been there more than once.

That said, the voices came from women of a variety of backgrounds and even a variety of nationalities, but it made it seem quite provincial for so many voices to hail from Edinburgh and very few other places. Additionally, the cross-section of society they represented was rather narrow at least in the regard that these women were all writers, so we got only that perspective (although one was a writer interviewing a musician).

They were mostly white, and mostly young, and giving only their own personal opinion of their own experience, which is fine, but we need to keep that in mind as we read their words. The ones who wrote about the musical world - which were well-worth reading, please note - were seemingly all from the punk segment of what is a vast musical world, so even there it must be noted (pun intended!) we got a slim cross-section.

So overall it bears keeping in mind that this did not come off as a representative sample, but one facet rooted in intense personal experience. That doesn't invalidate it. Far from it. It makes it very personal and for me it was enough. Here are my thoughts on the articles.

  • Independence Day by Katie Muriel is a perfectly understandable opining as to why the US elected a misogynist president. For me as a US resident, it made perfect, if nauseating, sense that he was elected. I was not at all surprised by it, but with regard to this essay, I felt it lacked a vital component, especially for a feminist perspective. Muriel's essay completely ignored Trump's opponent, who was a woman! Why Muriel didn't feel any need to explore this is a mystery to me.

    I know this essay was focused largely on her own personal perspective vis-à-vis her family, all of whom supported Trump (who won not on a popular majority vote but upon an electoral majority vote, let it be noted). I have to ask why Muriel didn't want to explore the fact that Trump's opponent was Hilary Clinton or why four million voters, who could have kept Trump out of office, failed to "man" up on the day.

    Was the country so afraid of Hilary Clinton that they would rather have a misogynist than her? If so, why? Are they merely afraid of any Clinton? Or any "liberal"? While I appreciate that this was an up-close-and-personal story for the author, there is so much more to be said here, and so many more questions to ask. I enjoyed the essay, but felt it lacked some teeth.

  • Why I'm No Longer a Punk Rock 'Cool Girl' by Kristy Diaz was an exploration of musical addiction and pigeonholes, and how women are treated in the punk world. It felt a bit juvenile to me because it is such a juvenile thing to try to classify a person by musical genre. It can't be honestly done, but music is such a huge part of young people that this fact tends to be overlooked. There is nothing more shallow than introducing yourself to another person by asking them what kind of music they're into, as though that's all they are or can be, and nothing else matters!

    I think the essay might have benefited from the perspective of the US, where everything is micro-labeled and rigidly pigeon-holed, most probably, in the final analysis, for purely commercial purposes. I haven't lived in the UK for a long time, so this author's perspective was interesting to me, but when I did live there, it was one chart, and that was it. All music failed or succeeded in competition with all other music, and the variety was magnificent.

    The essay was also interesting for me because as a teen and a young man I never was - nor felt- categorized by my musical taste, probably because I didn't have one specific kind of music I was interested in. Music was music - not some genre or other, and I liked it or I didn't like it not because it was 'my genre' or 'my band', but because it appealed or it didn't on its own merit.

    It was engaging to read about Diaz's experience, though. In some ways I felt bad not that she was labeled for her clothing and appearance, which is an awful thing to do to anyone, but because in some ways she seemed to be limiting herself when there is so much more to be had. but it takes all kinds and I enjoyed her story and learned from it. That's never a bad thing.

  • Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space by Claire L. Heuchan really reached me. It was a light touch which carried a heavy weight, and it was a joy to read. You can't properly understand what these events in a person's life are like unless you've lived them, but you can get an inkling from reading a well-written essay like this one. The only sour note for me was when I read this: "Samantha Asumadu, a Black woman, is the founding editor of Media Diversified - a news site with content written entirely by people of colour."

    In an essay about racism, that appalled me. It really struck sour note that a business named Media Diversified employs only people of color. How racist is that? Racism isn't something that's just done to black people by white folk. It's any skin color lording it over any other skin color, and for the author to write something like that uncritically, and apparently not see the hypocrisy in it was quite shocking.

    You can't fix a pendulum in society that's swung too far in one direction by ramming it just as far in the other. You have to halt it in the middle and never let it move again. That said, the rest of the essay spoke volumes to me - and in a much better way than that one sentence did.

  • Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception by Jen McGregor was a heart-breaking history of one woman's ill-fated exploration of contraception. This is one more thing that guys expend little time upon, but which in all its ramifications, occupies a large part of every woman's life, if only through problems with the monthly red tide.

    In this case, Jen McGregor's co-dependent relationship (as it seems she's describing it!) with Depo-Provera is told in an informative and very engaging way, and it makes for a sad, sad reading experience not because it's written badly, but because it's written only too well. This author is a very creative writer.

  • These Shadows, These Ghosts by Laura Lam was an oddity because I didn't see how this was specifically about women's issues. Yes, the story she told was about a female relative of yesteryear, but the things which happened to her grandmother are not things which are specific to women. They can affect men, too, and spousal abuse isn't solely something that's done to a woman by a man, so I'm not sure what this contributed except in that it was written by a woman about women.

    I guess you can slap the label 'Nasty Woman' on a woman who purposefully shoots her husband (and this author had two relatives, both of whom did this: one merely shot him in the leg, but the other woman shot her husband to death and ended up in a psychiatric institution (She got better!). The story was interesting, but it's hardly something you can generalize to all women! I guess you can in a vague way, but this seemed not of the same hue as the previous essays I'd read to this point.

  • The Nastiness of Survival by Mel Reeve was a hard one to read, but it has to be read and understood. And probably more than once. Horrors like this one (although they're all individual) are the reason I wrote Bass Metal. You can't put a label on this and neatly file it away in an appropriate category. It doesn't work like that and anyone who thinks it does or that it should isn't getting the message. I can't speak for anyone but me, but as I see it, the message is that unless you have a clear, positive, unambiguous, willing, sober, mentally competent, age legal, un-coerced, un-bribed, unforced consent, the answer is a resounding "NO!" It's that simple, and everyone needs to fully internalize this.

  • Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls and Working Class Art by Laura Waddell was a great article with some interesting and observant things to say. I've never been big into paintings or sculptures, but this author has a way of writing that engages the reader and brings her point home. I liked and appreciated this.
  • Go Home by Sim Bajwa

    Errata: I had probably wouldn't have had access to the opportunities that I've taken for granted." One too many words here! I suspect it's the second one in that sentence.

    This sentence caught my eye: "I'm scared and grieving for anyone in the US who isn't white, straight, cis, male, and able-bodied. The terror is bone deep." While I probably live in an area which is more liberal (even if in a more conservative state), I have to say that there isn't any terror here, despite this state being home to the third highest number of hate groups in the nation. That doesn't mean it isn't happening at all, just that Bajwa's sentece is a bit panicked. Hateful crime - mostly graffiti, but including threats - has increased since Trump's election, but to make a wild blanket statement like this is inflammatory and scaremongering.

    Here's another sentence I take issue with: "He said very clearly that he would ban Muslims and refugees from entering the United States. With the Executive Order he signed in January 2017, he did just that. People's lives, security, and families snatched away, for no other crime than being an immigrant."

    This is a blanket statement which unfortunately mixes crackdowns on illegal immigrants with legal immigrants and residents, thereby muddying the water, with ridiculous suggestions that all people of color are being turfed out! This kind of wild accusation helps nothing, least of all the case this author is trying to make. Is the author arguing that that illegal immigrants should not be deported? I've noticed this 'reverse' viewpoint often in this kind of rhetoric - where the illegality of what's been going on is never addressed. You cannot trust an author who writes so indiscriminately, so the power which this article might have had was lost for me.

  • Love in a Time of Melancholia by Becca Inglis

    This is the name of a song by Prolyphic, but here it's a paean to Courtney Love, who has never been a love of mine, so this fell completely flat for me! If a person wants to write about someone who helped them, that's fine, but it;s also a very personal thing. As for me, I'm frankly tired of reading stories about people who somehow fell off one wagon or another, and later reformed (whether permanently or not) and then having praise heaped upon them. Where are the stories about people who never fell off the wagon and helped someone? I think those people show greater heroism, and for that they are sadly under-served, so this story really just rubbed me the wrong way. But it's not my story and maybe others will see things in it I did not, so I have nothing else to say about it. You either like ti or you don't - or worse, you're indifferent to it!

  • Choices by Rowan C. Clarke is a great story about her unhappy childhood, her constant 'at odds' status with regard to the utterly absurd and downright evil 'standard' of beauty we as a society forcibly impose upon women almost right from birth. This is another reason I wrote Bass Metal. It's also the reason I wrote Femarine.

    You cannot go into supermarket without being paradoxically bombarded on the one side of the checkout aisle with fattening candy, and on the other side of that same aisle with magazines aimed at women, every one of which obsessively-compulsive tells women they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed and they'd better get with the program or they never will get a man (the LGBTIAQ-crew don't count for squat in any of these magazines, please note).

    I'm not a woman, I don't even play one on TV, but half my genes are female, so I think that gives me some sort of a voice, and that voice has to say that those magazines - the ones available in open public sale, and visible to children, are far more pernicious and abusive to woman than any amount of porn if only because they are out there, insidious and so very "innocent" aren't they?

    So I was with this author all the way from "You can distill a life..." to "...my story was just one of them."

  • 'Touch Me Again and I Will Fucking Kill You' by Ren Aldridge

    This author argues that "...we're not brought up to feel that we're entitled to other people's bodies.", but this is exactly what advertising does - to make people feel that the body you see in the ad, and by extension, the body you see on the modelling runway, on TV, and in the movies, is that one you ought to have instead of the one you're stuck with, and if you only spend enough money on our products, you can have it. Really.

    This pressure, from birth very nearly, forces far too many women to chase after a dream which may or may not, in any individual case, be attainable, and people chase this without questioning whether it's realistic, or even a sensible thing to do. This plays into the culture where unless a woman is thin and pale and dressed like she's ready to get it on, she's not worth shit.

    This is pounded into our heads, men and women alike, and even into children's malleable minds on a daily basis. This in turn plays into the idea of male privilege - that these are the women who need to be available to men, and if they fall short of the standard, there's something wrong not with the men, but with the women who fall short of what men think they should be.

    If you want to take the wider perspective - and several of these writers have argued that - then you need to really take in the bigger picture, not just focus on a few tiny jigsaw pieces, mistakenly thinking that in this microcosm, you have it all. You don't. I'm not sure I agree that there's a rape culture out there, but there's most assuredly a male privilege ethos, and perhaps a part of this can be described as rape culture.

    I'm a male who has never been raped, never been ogled or fondled. Well once I was fondled, in Israel, and by a man! And when I was a lot younger! Does that give me any idea of what it's like to live with this day in, day out? No, it doesn't, which is why I need to read articles like this one, even if I don't get it all or don't always agree with viewpoints. We don't need to read these until we agree with all viewpoints. It would be a sad world if we all always agreed on everything, but we do need to read these articles until we get some real understanding of what it's like, and put our asses in gear to end this evil ethos which is all around us.

    The author argues that, "What needs to be fought for, is survivors' rights to define and position our own experiences on this continuum." I don't think anyone in their right mind is seeking to deny that, but this statement confuses two different needs: the absolute right of a person who has suffered to define it in their own terms, and the need to define it in legal terms for the sake of not only prosecuting the law but of identifying and reporting the problem. It's a mistake to conflate these two things in my opinion.

    I get where this is coming from: "They don't try to prescribe what sexual harassment, assault or any other form of gendered violence is, but leave it open to the survivor to define their own experience," but that doesn't help to make this a thing that's illegal and/or unacceptable, nor does it make it something that can be taught to others to be on guard against, and to cease perpetrating. It has to be objectively defined for those purposes, but that doesn't mean a person upon whom this violence was perpetrated cannot define it in their own terms as well! But this was a great personal testimony.

  • On Naming by Nadine Aisha Jassat was one of the few essays in the collection which fell a bit flat for me. On the one hand I can see where the writer is coming from, but on the other, it felt like a baseless rant in many respects.

    The author writes, "I look at my signature and sigh, enjoy the full sight of it next to the name of my organisation making clear who I am, what I do, and what I stand for. I feel a certainty that I will not accept anything less going ahead. People need to know who they are dealing with." Having read this, I have to say that I do fully empathize with the author. I'm one of the white males who are railed at so often in these articles, that the writing itself comes off as racist at times, but I get Ian (ee-an) pronounced as "eye-an" often, and I also get 'Wood' with an extra 's' added on the end, like there's more than one of me, and I live with it. You know why? It's because I am not defined by my name. My name isn't all that I am. Realistically speaking, it's an insignificant part of me when you get right down to it.

    It's not even my name. I didn't choose it. I didn't have any say in it, and that last name came from my father, not my mother. I had no say in that either, and if I had been a girl, I would have lost my mom's name! But wait, it wasn't her name, it was her father's! That's why I find it so hilarious that so many women chose to keep their "maiden" name given that it's far from a maiden name - it's a male patriarch's name! This is why I read this article with a certain amount of wonderment at this author's rather strident protestations.

    While I do believe anyone is entitled to be called whatever they want to be called, and certainly they're perfectly within their rights to protect that name from mispronunciation, I'd advise keeping in mind this fact: it's a serious mistake to confine yourself in a box where your name is all you are.

    Now that may well be the wrong impression, but it is a distinct impression I kept getting from this essay, and I think that's a bigger insult to yourself than any mispronunciation of a name could offer you. You are more than your name and while you're obsessing over that, you're missing so much else in life. So yes, please do make a point of correcting people who get it wrong, but remember there's more to life than it, and you make yourself seem very small when you focus so tightly on that one thing.

    I found it curious that this author wrote: "Even now as I write at my computer, a red line zigzags under Uzoamaka, whilst Tchaikovsky goes unchecked. A subtle reminder, programmed in, of who the system works for and who is out of place."

    I'm sorry, but I found this to be entirely wrong-headed! If Uzoamaka had been a famous composer (or artist, or sports personality or movie star), then you can bet it would be in the spell-checker, but no word processor can possibly accommodate every variation of every spelling of every person's name out of seven or eight billion on Earth! I'm sorry, but that's quite simply an idiotic expectation! It truly rendered this into a juvenile rant rather than a reasonable argument, and for me it didn't help her cause one bit.

    I invite this author try a few more names before she counts her sampling complete. How about Sacajawea? That get red-lined? I thought not. What about Basquiat? Nope? Aung San Suu Kyi? No red-line there, either (not in Word, but Google can;t handle it as I write this! How about Uhuru? None there! Malala Yousafzai? Not an inkling of red ink. Imran Khan? Nope! Whoopi Goldberg gets in even under her original name: Caryn Johnson! Even Li Nguyen made it past the red-line and that's a fictional character in another review I wrote.

    So no, I think the issue here is whether the name is one likely to be used - just like it is with every other word in your word processor dictionary! Try English spellings of words in Microsoft Word when it's set for American usage, and see how many red-lines you get! It's not racism. It's not bias. It's not misogyny. It's not an attempt by da man (that didn't get red-lined!) to keep you down. It's just a matter of what's practical and what isn't.

    As I write this, neither Nadine nor Aisha is underlined, only 'Jassat', but that gets no praise from this author that two out of three ain't bad! Seriously, The final joke of this essay was that never once in this entire rant does Nadine Aisha Jassat actually tell us how her name is pronounced, so for me this essay was one of the very few complete fails in this whole collection.


  • Laura Jane Grace in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco

    This was an interview with a mtf transgendered musician. I found it curious that the author had nothing to say about a couple of articles I read in the British newspaper The Guardian which indicate on the one hand cluelessness on the part of the subject of the interview, and on the other, cluelessness on the part of the guardian writer!

    Here's the first:

    ...[Laura Jane Grace's] fear that she wouldn't be able to cope with raising a son ("knowing I wouldn't be able to be the proper male role model he would need")"
    - because no child can possibly grow up healthily without a male role model? That's an appalling thing to say!

    Here's the other:

    Grace doesn't look like a woman, but then she only began taking hormones a month ago. There's a subtle feminity [sic] in her posture, though, and in the way her features soften as she talks.
    Excuse me? She doesn't look like a woman? What does "a woman" look like, exactly, Decca Aitkenhead? In my expert opinion (as a man!), Laura Jane Grace looks just as much woman as Aitkenhead does, so does she consider herself not looking much like a woman? That aside, what a lousy thing for a journalist to write. Tell it like it is my ass. You have to have a decidedly warped sense of what a woman is to write something like that, and from a woman writer too?

    That rant aside, I have nothing to add to this. I have never heard of this band (which is quite a successful one), and there really was nothing new here except in how public Laura Jane's 'coming out' was, so the article really didn't deliver much to me.




  • Adventures of a Half-Black Yank in America by Elise Hines was less of a woman's issue than it was of a race issue: of finding oneself in a very insular, and lets call it what it is, downright racist culture after having grown up in a much more accepting community. It was another one that will make you (hopefully) uncomfortable (if you're white), or sadly make you nod your head familiarly (if you're not). It needs to be read. And we need to ask why people are forced to consider themselves half-black instead of half-white. Aren't both terms equally applicable? If not, why not?




  • Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-witchcraft in the 21st Century by Alice Tarbuck

    This is the only author I've heard of out of this collection, which is sad because this article fell flat for me. I've never been interested in foraging, and it can be downright dangerous unless you know what exactly what you're doing. While I do love nature, I've never been a fan of immersing myself in it, especially not in the USA where there is so much that can sting, bite, poison, or eat you. Finding a scorpion in the bathtub one night was closer than I ever honestly want to be, and personally, I think it needs to be left alone as much as possible. Enjoy it, but please don't mess with it! We have no entitlement to rape and pillage no matter how great we think we are.




  • Fat in Every Language by Jonatha Kottler is in some ways tied-in with Ren Aldridge's essay which touches on appearance and judgment. This author writes, "I have weighed between 140 pounds to 267 pounds" which tells us little without knowing the author's height! Maybe that was intentional! That is a wide range, but really it's not helpful without any reference to the author's lifestyle because for me, it's less about appearance than health, which is the only sensible way to look at it, and this author tells us nothing about her eating habits or exercise or general well-being, so she deliberately makes it all about skin-depth, which I think was a mistake.

    Out of curiosity, I looked up this author to see how she looks and she doesn't look fat to me - or any of the euphemisms we employ to avoid the three-letter word: corpulent, plump, curvy, rounded, or whatever. She looks fine. It's a pity that we live in a society which calculatedly makes people see themselves in the worst light for the sake of our advertisers unloading some product on them.




  • Afterbirth by Chitra Ramaswamy is about pregnancy and birth. Every man should read this or something like it if they haven't already - and even if they have, let's face it, it's worth going through again since it's nowhere near the journey every pregnant woman takes. Don't be a baby! I think I can say without fear of contraception that this is definitely a women's issue, and it was nice to read something educational and real - and entertaining - about pregnancy and childbirth when all Americans seem to be fed is the ridiculous caricature that seems to pervade every American sitcom - usually written by men - that I've ever seen where a woman is giving birth. This was so refreshingly different and welcome.




  • Hard Dumplings for Visitorsby Christina Neuwirth was a very personal story about an assortment of incidents from her life. While I found it interesting, it didn't really have a huge impact on me in the way some of the other stories here did. I'm not a fan of memoirs and this felt rather like one. Perhaps that's why it didn't really resonate with me.



  • Resisting by Existing: Carving Out Accessible Spaces by Belle Owen was great. It was about accessible space for people who are not your 'standard' human being which is all society seems interested in catering to. naturally they can't cater to everyone, but in this day and age of technology, there is no reason extraordinary lengths cannot be gone to. Her story of her being bodily ejected from a concert because they couldn't cope with a woman in a wheelchair has to be read to be believed. While, on the one hand coming from a company which has a tight focus on safety, it also has a tight focus on security, so while I can (if I squint) see their point of view, there was no excuse whatsoever for their behavior and attitude. This is why this essay is so important to read. Put yourself in someone else's wheels for once.



  • The Difficulty in Being Good by Zeba Talkhani


  • he thought it would be funny to joke about how I will no longer be allowed to enter America (while it was already quite disturbing then, it hurt even more following the January 2017 order to temporarily ban citizens from predominantly Muslim countries from entering America).
    This is another case of misleading writing and why this essay didn't impress me. Trump's executive order, while execrable and ridiculous, banned individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and for 90 days following the signing of the order on Friday 27 January. This is seven countries out of almost fifty which are predominantly Muslim, so the statement made by this author is simplistic at best and downright dishonest at worst. It took away from a much more important message that she touched on only tangentially. I think that was a sad waste of an opportunity.
  • The Rest is Drag by Kaite Welsh while ostensibly about butch and femme lesbians felt to me more like an article about fashion, which has never been an interest of mine. I liked her message and found her writing interesting, but I wanted more that she seemed prepared to give on this topic. I would have liked her to get into it over why fashion is such a hassle for women - what is it about society that dumps this trip on us all, male or female, and why so few of us realize what's been done to us? One thing she didn't get into, which seemed like an obvious route to explore was how easy it was for her to be free to adopt a variety of clothes - or costumes, or disguises, however you might classify it, and so hard for men to do the same. A woman wearing trousers isn't anything these days, especially if those trousers are jeans, but a man wearing a dress? There was so much more to be said here and I missed not having it.
  • The Dark Girl's Enlightenment by the amazingly-named Joelle A. Owusu was a sad way to end this fascinating display of essays, but it was a necessary one in many ways because again it went into how being not only black, but female, gives a woman a whole different perspective on life. This was a strong way to end this collection because it was so sad and so anger-inducing.

While some bits were less than thrilling for me, and the whole was a bit uneven, Overall this was an awesome collection and worth reading - even the patchy bits. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an awesome graphic novel about a princess whose father is the biggest slacker in the kingdom, laying around in bed all day feigning illness, leaving his daughter to do all the work, which she handles with aplomb, and industriousness and she takes charge of the various castle staff of mummies, and ghosts, ghouls and zombies, and receives werewolf guests, and so on.

When the cook quits and she hires Count Spatula, who is an awesome cook and a very supportive friend to her, there's trouble in the castle. The king's spy reports back to him and he insists Dee fire the guy, but it all works out in the end, when Dee puts her foot down, and the king learns he must reform.

I though this was slyly hilarious and I recommend it. I will be on the lookout for other work by this author.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Burnhill


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a truly great fairy-tale which did precisely what I always advocate - take the road less traveled. There's nothing worse than a cookie-cutter novel which tells you the same story and in the same way you already heard it a thousand times before. Kelly Burnhill gets this.

In a mirror world, which was a bit annoying because it wasn't explained until the end of the story, lives Princess Violet, who is not beautiful - not at a shallow skin depth anyway, but who is gorgeous inside, with her mom and dad. She's a tomboy and a tear-away, and feels not quite like a 'real' princess because she's been shamed by all those fairy-tales which have a princess who is typically defined to skin-depth and has nothing else to offer but her heart to whichever wandering jackass claims it. Yes, Disney, I'm looking at you! Although even Disney seems to be getting the message of late.

When Violet and her buddy Demetrius discover a sinister painting hidden in the depths of the castle, and her mom dies shortly after yet another stillborn baby, while her dad is off hunting dragons, things start going south badly. The kingdom is suddenly at war, and The Nybbas in the painting promises Violet she can be beautiful and have everything she wants if only she will listen to him. Dad returns with the dragon he captured for studying, but everything seems to be falling irreparably apart!

The story did start dragging a bit in the last third. At over four hundred pages, it was about 25% too long, and should have been edited better, but that aside, this was an awesome story and I fully recommend it. The only real problem I had was with Iacopo Bruno's illustrations, which once again bore little relationship to the text of the story.

How an artist can be so blind and disrespectful to an author, or how an author can be so uncritical is a mystery. Maybe she had no choice and was saddled with this by the publisher. I don't know, but if that was the case then the question becomes that of how a publisher can be so utterly clueless! This kind of complete disconnect is why I flatly refuse to go with Big Publishing™.

Let me detail a few of the problems with the illustrations. We're quite clearly told that Violet has mismatched eyes, not just in that one is a different color to the other, but that her eyes are literally different sizes. She also has wiry hair and bad skin. None of this is visible in any of the illustrations. She looks ultra cute in all of them with fine hair, great skin and tediously ordinary eyes!

After Violet is transformed, she's essentially exactly thew same as she was before the transformation! So where is the contrast? There was none. Yes, her hair is longer, but the artist even screwed that up. The author makes it quite clear in the text that Violet's feet have shrunk and her hair grown to Rapunzel proportions. Not a single one of the illustrations shows these changes. To me, this means the artist is quite simply stupid or incompetent. I'm sorry, but what other conclusion is there? That he's a lousy coward maybe, and doesn't have the courage to illustrate this the way the author wrote it, thereby undermining the very message the author is trying to send? Or did the author chicken out? There really is no excuse for sabotaging the writing like this and whoever is responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

On a related topic, there was one part of the text where Violet and Demetrius crawled through a small gap in a wall. The text makes it quite clear that they're reduced to crawling, yet the illustration shows them walking through the gap like it's a regular doorway! In another instance, the text says a door handle made a mark in the plaster when it was thrown open angrily, but illustration shows the door with rope handles! Rope is hardly likely to make a mark in the plaster! So I score a zero for the illustrations.

Even the map which is included inside the front and back covers makes little sense, not only in relation to the story, but also with regard to the map itself. I mean why does a trade route not visit any cities, for example?! Given this, why even mark it when it has nothing to do with the story?

There were writing issues, too. I mean, did this castle really have plaster for the door handle not to make a mark in? Such a thing is highly doubtful given the context of the story and the state of the castle in general, but it's a relatively minor issue. More problematic is a description of a horse being "So black he was nearly blue." Excuse me? So dark blue he was nearly black makes sense, but it's idiotic to put it this way.

Also problematic is that at one point we're told that the king has only two days to get ready for a war, and then nothing happens, but later, there is a bustle of activity aimed at this very readiness, none of which had a remote chance of being completed in two days! And yeah, all the "my loves" and "darlings', especially those from the story-teller, were frankly creepy.

So yes, there were some writing issues that the author really needed to have nailed down. These are somewhat less important in children's stories since they tend to be less exacting, but some children might notice things like that. Do such children deserve less because they're children? Not in my books!

That said, I really liked this novel and consider it a very worthy read, so I recommend it to adults and children alike, and particularly to writers who want to break the mold, as this author has done so definitively here.


Broken Mirror by Cody Sisco


Rating: WARTY!

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

I didn't know this was "the first novel in a sci-fi detective saga"! If I had, the very word 'saga' would have resulted in me avoiding it like the plague, and I would have been right to do so, because I simply could not get into this novel and I discontinued reading it at the end of part one, which was about one third the way through it. keep tha tin mind for this review. I don't read anything with 'saga' or 'chronicle', or 'cycle' associated with it! I'm not a series fan in general, with very few exceptions, but I did not know that when I requested this, so here we are!

This is an alternate universe world set slightly into our future (but dated earlier), and one where the United States is a fractious union of a handful of regions. How this came about as a result of Mrs Lincoln being shot instead of Abraham Lincoln is a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe if I'd read more, or felt more engaged, it would have all become clear, but the way the country was divided-up made no sense to me.

In this world, there's a problem with some citizens. Mirror neurons are thought to enable empathy, allowing us to feel what another person is feeling, and understand it from the inside, but in this world, in people like Victor, this normal brain function is amplified almost out of control. Indeed, some people do get out of control, and are confined in institutions for the well-being of themselves and others. Victor himself constantly lives on the edge of that confinement, although he is free and managing his condition through medication.

His grandfather dies unexpectedly and Victor discovers that the man was contaminated with polonium: the same radioactive metal which was used to assassinate Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in our world. Victor relied heavily on his grandfather, who was working to find a cure for the extreme version of what is, in us, not only a normal, but a required brain function if we're to get along with others. A mirror neuron fires when we perform an action or experience a feeling, and this same neuron also fires when we observe that same thing in others. At least that's the working theory, but there is still much research to be done to understand these brain cells properly.

Again if I'd read more, maybe I would have understood the world better, but after reading some thirty percent I still felt completely lost and had no interest in events in this novel. The story seemed to have no real direction other than flapping in the wind around Victor's wild speculations and erratic behaviors. Wherever it was going, it seemed to be taking forever to get there, and this is just one volume. The idea of reading a whole series, or even just a trilogy of this stuff really turns me off!

The worst part was that I did not like Victor at all. I don't know what it was about him, but he just did not interest me in the slightest. I think part of the problem was that his behavior was too erratic, and his plan to get off his medication and try herbal supplements was just stupid and had no support - not only in our world for real, but even within the framework of his own world, where nothing was offered to justify this medication realignment, save for his own vague feeling of being a bit 'fuzzy'.

I'd have liked it better had he had some real justification, but he didn't (and in real life you'd be a moron to abandon your doctor's prescriptions and go haring-off after herbal cures, be warned!). The problem here though, was that even when the fuzziness vanished, he was still a complete clown, and really seemed no different to me than he was before.

The bottom line is that I had absolutely no interest in him or his problems, and I really didn't care what became of him. After I'd decided I could not recommend this book, I read some other reviews to see if I'd missed something, and I read one which said that the novel "started bogging down about 3/4 of the way through" - well it started way before that for me, and so i was pleased that I'd abandoned it before it got worse.

The characters were not the only problem for me, though. The story dragged awfully, larded with so much extraneous detail that it was boring to wade through it. Nothing seemed to happen except at a glacial pace (it's a series after all, so what possible incentive can the author have to actually move things along?).

There was also too much fluff in it for my taste. All kinds of word substitutions were put in play to try and make the novel seem different and alternate, and these didn't work. 'Mesh' instead of Internet? 'Sono-whatever' instead of audio? They just seemed pretentious, and felt like a lazy way to try and make the story sound cool without actually doing the work to make it cool. All they did was remind me that I was reading a story instead of actually immersing me in the story.

Why were there 'parts' to this novel - especially since it's evidently part of a series? Parts of a part? When I finished part one, I expected there to be a shift of some kind between it and part two, otherwise why set up a divider? But there wasn't! The novel was set in the early 1990's in that world timeline, but part two continued just two days later! There was no jump or shift of any kind, and it was this which constituted the final straw and made me decide that here was a good point to quit reading.

It just seemed so pretentious to have these parts (at least they were identified as 'Part' and not 'Book' which I would have found laughable), but it wasn't quite as pretentious as having each chapter labeled with a dateline such as "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991." Several chapters in a row had this same dateline. Why? It made no sense. I felt like it was a silly conceit of unwarranted self-importance, and this became especially true in chapter 6, where the dateline "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991" was used (as it had been for the preceding three chapters), yet most of that chapter was a flashback, which was given neither date nor a location! It made zero sense!

Here's another example of how silly this was:

Semiautonomous California 24 February 1991

The morning after the funeral...
Well duh! Of course it's the day after! The dateline already told us! So what was the point of the dateline again?! Or conversely, what's the point of specifying it was the day after if the dateline already told us? I got the impression that the author had seen this dateline nonsense done in someone else's novel, and was anxious to copy it without having any real justification for it. Of course I could be completely wrong about that, but I see no justification for this kind of thing in any novel, unless the novel is written as a diary, in which case I wouldn't read it anyway.

So given a novel with a main character I really could not stand, and a story which seemed to be going nowhere slowly, and the pretension in the way it was laid out, this novel was not a good fit for me! It offered nothing to appeal, and while I wish the author all the best, I cannot recommend it for these reasons.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Red Hill by Jamie McGuire

Once again, the blurb lied!

Recognizing they can’t outrun the danger, Scarlet, Nathan, and Miranda desperately seek shelter at the same secluded ranch, Red Hill. Emotions run high while old and new relationships are tested in the face of a terrifying enemy—an enemy who no longer remembers what it’s like to be human.

I thought this might be an interesting story about a triangle of an altogether more realistic hue than the florid overblown ones that idiot sheep-like YA authors can't seem to keep themselves from dragging the wizened, rotten corpse of into eve3ry frigging book they write. But no, it was neither! If the blurb had simply said ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE in a massive black and fluorescent yellow warning. That would have said it far more accurately and wouldn't have annoyed me by wasting my time when I could have been listening to an audiobook that, unlike this one, wasn't total and vacuous crap.

The reading voices - yes, this was yet another novel where there are multiple first person voices which in this case served only to render the story three times as annoying as a single first person voice typically does - done by Emma Galvin, January Lavoy, and Zachary Webber, were totally unappealing and made me want to quit before I'd hardly started.

As if this wasn't disastrous enough, there was music - music - at the start of disk one. Why the hell do these imbeciles in the audiobook industry feel such an irresistible urge to add music?

Was there music in the original book? HELL NO!

Was the story about a musician, a band, an orchestra or a composer? HELL NO!

Did the story have anything - anything at all - in any way - any way at all - to do with music? HELL NO!

So why the fuck do these assholes have this OCD vis-à-vis putting music on an audiobook disk? Is it because their empty heads are stuck so far up their rigid asses that they simply can't envision what is to them a music CD without inscribing music on it? They're morons.

One thing I saw no other negative reviewer mention so I have to say something about it, especially since this is a female author, is that this novel failed the Bechdel–Wallace test (which perhaps ought to be renamed the Virginia Woolf test) disastrously starting on page one. The main character could quite literally not talk to any other female character without her love life - or lack of one - being front and center. It was truly sickening and a disgrace. Jamie McGuire should be thoroughly ashamed of herself for depicting female characters especially in this case, ones working in a professional medical setting, as having not a goddamned thing on their brains but men.

And also, it's book one of a series. I do not do series unless they're very special, and I sure as hell do not want to even read one book about a zombie apocalypse, let alone a whole series about one. Did the volume in any way convey that it was book one in a series? HELL NO! Why would the publisher do that? That would show respect for the reader, so I ask you once again, why in hell would Big Publishing&trade ever do that? It would let a reader make an informed choice without having to waste their life fully-researching every book they consider reading, so clearly the Publisher who is interested in your money and nothing else has no incentive whatsoever to consider you as anything other than a mark. I think I am not only done with this author, I'm also done with this dumbass audiobook publisher.


Founding Father's Funnies by Peter Bagge, Joanne Bagge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a day late in celebration of Independence Day. I was otherwise occupied yesterday, and no, that does not mean I was laid-out drunk somewhere! I can't remember the last time I was drunk, but then probably, neither can you!

Why this was titled using the word 'funnies' is a mystery to me because it wasn't even remotely funny. I think it's meant to hark after the Sunday papers "funnies" but I find those tedious, so maybe I should have left this one on the library shelf? Too late! I read it. Or some of it. It wasn't appealing enough to read it all.

It was a series of riffs off of supposed historical, but purely fictional events, describing how the founding fathers did this, that, and the other thing - mostly the other thing in fact. I'm surprised they didn't have George Washingtooth busting his cherry. Actually that might have been funny. You could make jokes about his teeth having a woodie while he wasn't even able to get his pinnace across the Poontang!

I'm equally surprised that idiot Ben Franklin wasn't flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Folks, that doesn't mean he's a genius, it means he's a moron - an idle tinkerer with far too much time on his hands. These days he'd be called a slacker, but because he lived two hundred and fifty years ago, he's labeled a genius? Go figure. But thankfully he was absent - at least in that scenario.

The graphic novel was supposed to illustrate how amusing these things were, but the things were simply not amusing, and while the illustration was competent the emphasis was more on ill than patent, so it wasn't that great. This meant that there was neither the written word nor the fine art to entertain, and this book definitely needed one or the other. In the absence of both, I sure can't recommend it.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer


Rating: WARTY!

This novel sounded from the blurb a lot better than it turned out to be in the oratory, and John Bedford Lloyd's reading of the audiobook did not help one bit. His voice was just wrong. I feel bad for writers who get stuck with the wrong reader for their audiobook. I think more writers need to read their own work, or the audiobook publishers need to get in some new talent instead of obsessively-compulsively resorting to old school readers. Just because someone is an actor, for example, does not mean they can read an audiobook worth a damn.

The story is about a surgeon named Nick Garrity, who is of course a vet who suffers PTSD, and who heroically devotes his life to offering medical treatment to the homeless form his camper-van clinic in Washington DC. As if that's not heroic enough, he's searching for his best friend from his military days (which begs the question how they're ever fell out of touch if they were best friends).

Nick is about to be rescued and validated by the hot Jillian, whose kid sister Beth appears to have committed suicide, but Jillian doesn't swallow that, and I didn't swallow this. Of course there's an inevitable government conspiracy, and the villain is so utterly absurd that I was surprised to find he didn't wear a long black cloak and twirl the ends of a waxed his mustache. Instead he just waxed people. The whole story was too much and took far too long to get going, and Nick was absurdly heroic. I can't recommend this.


The Mystery at Lilac Inn by Midred Wirt aka Carolyn Keene


Rating: WARTY!

Having read about the women who fostered Nancy Drew's birth and healthy upbringing (Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak), I decided I wanted to read one or two of the novels. I grew up never having heard of her, and I'd had no desire to read them before. Now I know why: they're really not very good!

Or to put it more kindly, I listened to volume number two as an audiobook, and I found it so bland and dated that I could not listen to all of it, nor did I even try to listen to the second one I borrowed from the library. It was sad, but it was a different world back then, and it's not one I feel a part of. Had I been a juvenile (or lived in the fifties or earlier!) I might have enjoyed it more. This of course takes nothing away from Mildred Wirt's admirable work-ethic or her sterling ability to multi-task and turn in a novel on a deadline while caring for two different ailing husbands (not at the same time!) and a baby! She was much more heroic than ever Nancy was and she deserves a lot more credit than she's had.

The story is about ghostly happenings at an inn, which are quite obviously being staged by villains intent upon some scheme or other. It's also about identity theft long before that became an issue. And of course, it's about Nancy Drew, spoiled-rotten heroine, without a care in the world, who saves the day.

I didn't listen to enough of it to find out what the bad guys wanted. The writing was too bland for my taste and did not engage me, so I cannot recommend it. It's from a different age and I think it belongs there, although very young readers might find it entertaining. Laura Linney read this and did a decent job for what that's worth, but for me the problem with it, in addition to its blandness, is that Nancy Drew is such an institution in the US that people tend to give her a bye when they really should be more critical, and I mean critical in an analytical sense, not necessarily in a pejorative one.


Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak


Rating: WORTHY!

I read some of the reviews for this and I think a lot of the negative reviewers got the wrong idea about what this book intended to do. The title clearly says it's about the women who created Nancy Drew and that's exactly what the author delivered. It's not a biography of a fictional character, because that would be just stupid!

I never read any Nancy Drew stories. I'd never heard of her until I moved to the USA, but my blog is primarily about writing, not about fancy book covers or how hot a particular author is in terms of 'moving units', so this book, about the people behind a successful novel series, appealed to me, particularly because it was about two powerful women who were cutting edge for their time. The book focuses largely on them, and in particular on Harriet Stratemeyer, a Wellesley-educated girl who found herself having to deal with her father's business when he died prematurely, although he was in his sixties.

Yes, it doesn't go into the writing process as much as I would have liked, but it does go into it, so I wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed the book. In fact, it gave me an idea for a novel of my own! I confess I would have liked to have read much more about Mildred Wirt, though. To me, as a writer, she's more interesting than Harriet. The latter did do some of the writing, but Mildred was the real writer of Nancy Drew for me, and she's become something of a hero and a figure of fascination. Her work ethic was astounding and she was a little dynamo.

I'd like to know how she did it, and it seemed the only way I might have a hope of finding out is to read some of the books myself. I got the audiobook for two of those early stories, numbers two and four, and listened to the first of those, and found it so bland and dated that I could not listen to it! It was sad, but it was a different world back then, and it's not one I feel a part of. Had I been a juvenile (or lived in the fifties!) I might have enjoyed it more. This of course takes nothing away from what I said about Mildred Wirt's work-ethic or ability to multi-task and turn in a novel on a deadline!

I already watched a couple of the movies, which is not the same thing by any means, especially not for my purposes, but they were fun and interesting. One was the Emma Roberts movie from 2007. I've been a fan of Roberts since her recent Scream Queens TV show, although I am by no means convinced I'd like her in person. The other movie was one of the originals dating from 1939: Nancy Drew reporter, starring Bonita Granville who was a bit of a fireball herself. I liked them both.

After their father's death, Edna and Harriet's plan was to sell his business, which was what would now be called a writing mill. He would send out orders to ghost writers for various book series and plot-lines, and they would send back the finished work written to his specifications, for which they would be paid a flat fee. They would also surrender all rights to the novel to the Stratemeyer syndicate, which would then arrange for publication, and reap the benefits. Those days are long gone (except in some sad, lingering cases), but Edward Stratemeyer made a good living from this scheme. When he died, attempts to sell the business floundered because this was right around the depression, and while many might have wanted to buy a business that was one of the most successful in its field, they simply couldn't afford it!

Stratemeyer's daughters, Harriet and her younger sister Edna, took over 'temporarily', and ended-up running the business for the rest of their lives. At first it was a collaborative effort, but before long, Edna dropped out of actively participating, and from that point on, the two sisters drew apart, and eventually found themselves reduced to fighting (such as it was in the restrained and private age of the thirties and forties) over the direction the business was going, despite the fact that Harriet was doing all the work and making a go of it, and Edna was sitting at home enjoying her cut and contributing nothing but carping - a situation which evidently drove her into preceding her older sister to an early grave.

Stratemeyer's last big instruction to his syndicate before he died, gave birth to Nancy Drew, and the writer who stepped-up and made a go of it was a powerhouse by the name of Mildred Wirt, who is the true mother of Nancy Drew to a far greater extent than ever Edward Stratemeyer was the father. She actually was, in some ways, Nancy Drew in her athleticism and her adventurous spirit, so perhaps she was the best writer of all at the time to take on this project.

She wrote dozens of Drew novels, and she wrote them rapidly and successfully, even as she went through her first husband's fatal illness, a second marriage, and the birth of a child, yet she got no credit for them until relatively recently, since they were all published under the syndicate ghost name of Carolyn Keene, no matter who wrote them.

Later in life, there was a falling out between Harriet and Mildred, who had a complex and interesting relationship and collaboration, and Harriet began writing the novels herself, becoming ever more protective and obsessive over what she saw as her character if not her daughter, to the point where she routinely talked as though she was the only writer of the Nancy Drew novels.

All in all, this was an excellent history of Nancy Drew's origins and development, and of the two women who were most responsible for it, and I recommend it as a very worthy read.


Searching for Bobby Fischer by Fred Waitzkin


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this audiobook out of sheer frustration because I couldn't figure out where (or even if) it started! Unlike the movie, which I really liked despite the pretentious title, the story seemed to start in the middle, so I thought maybe this was a prologue - which I don't do. I started skipping tracks to find the first one which started "chapter one" or something to indicate a start, and I reached the end of the disk before I reached that. I tried the last disk to see how that sounded and it was just as confused. I concluded that Fred Waitzkin doesn't know how to tell a story, which is sad, because this could have been a good one had it been well-written instead of the rambling mess it was.

You can say what you like about how superficial Hollywood is (and I often do!), but those guys usually know how to self-edit and how to cut to the chase, even though they don't exactly tell the true story in this case, so I'd recommend the movie over the book any time. The reading by Lloyd James was so-so: nothing great, but nothing awful either, yet even had they the world's most brilliant orator at their disposal, they could not have saved this poor story-telling. Plus, you have to wonder what the point of the book really was. As of this writing, Josh Waitzkin is in his forties and he pretty much abandoned chess, at least as a player, and had already moved on to other things when he was still a young man.

I notice that the idiot blurb on Amazon-owned Goodreads reads (at least of this writing): "The compelling sage of three years in the life of a real American chess prodigy". I think they mean saga, not sage! LOL! I can't recommend this.


American Gods by Neil Gaiman


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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