Showing posts with label WARTY!. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WARTY!. Show all posts

Friday, January 19, 2018

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose


Rating: WARTY!

Have you ever noticed how all the books which tell you how to write great novels ware written by people you've never heard of, and who've never had a best-seller? Even if they had, it doesn't mean they can show you how to emulate their success.

his was another Audiobook. This time it was non-fiction. It was read, a little stridently I thought, by Nanette Savard, whose voice I don't feel I can recommend, but that was less important to me on this occasion than the content, which was about how to read a book from a writer's perspective so you can learn how to write...like a reader? I'm kidding. I like this idea in theory because reading a lot is a good way to equip yourself with writerly tools, but the question is what kind of a writer do you want to be? Francine Prose (great name for an author of a book about writing, right?) repeatedly neglects to ask this question as she fails to ask many others, and for me that was why this book is a huge fail.

Francine Prose is (amusingly to me) a Visiting Professor of Literature at Bard College. I don't know how often she visits, but it would seem that she has all the tools: her name is Prose and she teaches at a college named Bard for goodness sakes! Her book progresses from words to sentences to paragraphs, which was about halfway through and where I gave up on it as a bad job. I wasn't learning anything useful to me, and most of what she said was painfully self-evident. You'd have to be an idiot not to know it already if you're a prospective a writer.

he teaching method is to constantly refer us, the listeners in this case, back to classic novels of yesteryear, as though no modern novel has anything to tell us. I found this peculiar, but I have to confess I'm not a huge fan, nor a big respecter of the so-called classics. I don't get why schools insist upon inflicting these on children. It seems to me to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: that they're classics because the schools teach them and the schools teach them because they're classics.

Obviously it's a mite more complex than that, but even so, that pretty much sums it up. Very few of these 'classic' authors were loved in their lifetime. Like many artists, many of them died in poverty or near obscurity. It's only with the sorry patina of age that the stories they told became 'classics', and I have to wonder whether that was because they were so brilliantly written or more likely, simply because they evoke a bygone age and perhaps do it a tad better than some of their contemporaries. Just because a person does something a little better than someone else doesn't mean they're a paragon! The title genius and hero are squandered far too cheaply in this age of superlatives and soundbites, to the point where they've become practically meaningless.

The author's apparent position is that these antique authors agonized over every word and were heroically genius in their brevity and communications abilities, but to me their work seemed ordinary and no different form what modern authors are doing. My main beef is that all of her prognostication is done in hindsight after these works have been pored over so much by scholars who apparently have nothing better to do with their time, that the very words have been leached (or even leeched!) of all color and meaning. Worse, no-one ever asked the authors of these obsolete opera how they wrote or why they wrote in that way.

It occurs to me that if we could go back and ask them, they'd simply tell us that they wrote what they wrote and didn't sweat it; although they probably wouldn't use that exact phrase! I know some authors did and do agonize over every word, but they're morons. This is where the author's lack of insight shone so brightly. She seems to be laboring under the misapprehension that every writer wannabe out there wants to create clones of these 'classic' works, but few do. If you take a look at Wikipedia's list of best selling novels, very few of the writers Prose mentions are in it, at least not near the top. The ones who are up there are the ones who explicitly did not clone the classics.

I know there are many pretentious writers who desire to transmogrify themselves into wan duplicates of their idolized forbears, but most writers simply want to make a living through writing, and in this era you're not going to do that via writing classic literature. The way to accomplish that goal these days is to get a best seller. Even one best seller will set you up for life. Very few people want to write literature and those who do are doomed to make a poor living at best. Prose doesn't seem to grasp that.

All that most modern writers are interested in is writing cheap romance, paranormal romance, thrillers, whodunnits and YA. They don't care about great writing and neither do their readers. For better or for worse that's the way it is, and Prose teaching her readers and students to clone earlier authors isn't going to cut it, because it's not the people who clone the work of others who have the big success, it's the people who are willing to step out from the crowd and plow their own furrow who get the attention: people like JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins for example.

For this reason I cannot recommend this book. I don't think it serves any purpose. The only way to succeed is to familiarize yourself with the genre(s) you wish to write in, and then write, write, write and never give up!



Monday, January 15, 2018

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook follow-up to my listening to this author's This Perfect Day which I heard recently and felt was worth the time. I did not like this one at all. I'd read it before, I think, but it was a long time ago that I did not remember it well. This listening began okay, but I soon started feeling that Rosemary Woodhouse, the main female character, was such a limp person, lacking in any sort of self-motivation, that I really began to dislike her. She was manipulated all the way and was far too stupid to see it or to take charge of her life. That;s not acceptable to me.

The story is so old and so obvious now that it's no spoiler to reveal that she's lured (with the contrivance of her duplicitous husband) into having sex with the Devil and giving birth to his baby. It's a complete farce to begin with, but a better writer would have made a better job of it. If you want to see how bad this is, take a look at the original trailer for the movie which was made from the novel. That trailer is one of the worse movie trailers ever made and it will give you a decent idea of how unexciting and unengaging this novel is! I cannot recommend it.

Ira Levin wrote seven novels: A Kiss Before Dying (1953), Rosemary's Baby (1967), This Perfect Day (1970), The Stepford Wives (1972), The Boys from Brazil (1976), Sliver (1991), Son of Rosemary (1997), Five of the first six of these have all been turned into movies which is quite a feat for a writer to achieve. It is, I imagine, what many writers would wish for a novel: for the publicity and associated dream of increased sales if nothing else, so it's remarkable to have so much of your oeuvre turned into movies, but that doesn't mean the novel which underlies each movie is any good. I've read his first four novels and liked three of them - at least when I originally read them, but I can't give this one a pass.


Ghoulish Song by William Alexander


Rating: WARTY!

This was another boring audiobook experiment. I didn't realize it at the time but it's number two in a series, and that pretty much describes it. There was nothing on the CD case to indicate this was a series - as usual. I think series should have a warning sign on them like cigarette packs do. I think this one was read by the author, but I don't recall for sure, because it's been a while since I listened to it. I'm a big advocate of authors reading their own books, but whoever it was reading this, it wasn't great. Neither was the story.

It started out well-enough, but seemed to become lost somewhere along the way, and I became bored with it. It's a very dark story for young kids to be reading or worse, listening to in a stranger's voice. It's set in Zombay - an invention of the author's. A girl named Kaile is forced to bribe some goblins after her parents insult them. She does such a good job of debasing herself that she's given a bone flute which initially pleases her since she's into music, but it causes Kaile to become detached from her shadow, which is widely taken as a sign that she's dead. This is the kind of material we're dealing with. Her dumb-ass family refuses to countenance her now that she's 'dead', and the story goes downhill from there.

Her conversations with her separated shadow are mildly amusing, but they were nowhere near enough to save the story for me, so I cannot recommend this.


The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer


Rating: WARTY!

You take Cremer with your coffee? Not me! Read decently by Leslie Bellair, this story still failed for me. Another audiobook experiment, it started out quite well, but soon started to sound tedious, and although I did not know at the time that this was a series, now that I know it is, I'm glad I didn't waste my time listening to this until the 'end' only to find it didn't actually have an end; instead, I'd have to go read the rest of this series to get the whole story. No thanks!

Essentially what this is, is the American revolutionary war transferred to the steam punk age, and there's little steam punk in it or at least here wasn't in the portion I listened to. The British Empire is once again the villain here, because it's a purported "global juggernaut propelled by marvelous and horrible machinery" according to the blurb. This could actually describe the present day USA!

In the story, Charlotte, who we're told is sixteen but who behaves more like an eleven year old, is living with a bunch of 0other refugees in a forest. Periodically, big brass collector machines which seem to have been modeled somewhat on the Martian machines from the 2005 War of the Worlds movie, come into the wilds to grab stray children. Charlotte helps one of these kids, escaping from the machine and hiding out in her secret layer with the rest of her crew

Now why do these impressive machines grab children? Surely it can't be for slave labor since they have these wonderful machines, now can it?! Oh wait, it is for slave labor! Fail! This made zero sense, but even that I was willing to let slide, until I started hearing about what Charlotte had to put up with in the camp. There was this utter jerk of a kid named (predictably) Jack who shamelessly harassed Charlotte, who was the sister of his best friend. Pathetic. I'm not going to read crap like that.

There was the occasional stroke of humor in it, but only when one of the youngsters cussed in British, such as "Bloody hell" or when Charlotte announced she was going to bed because she was "Knackered", but those moments were far too brief and scarce. Overall, this novel left me steamed and punk'd.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Siegfried's Smelly Socks by Len Foley


Rating: WARTY!

Gross out for kids descends to a new low in this disgusting outing. I picked this up thinking it might be amusing for kids, but it was horrible. It was perverse and warped and not at all suitable for any children except maybe for loutish adolescents.

The book starts out in fine fettle talking about smelly foods, but quickly degenerates into the scatological talking about an infant, named Piper no less, wiping her butt on the page. I am not kidding. This is a new low in depraved books for children. The kid's idea of getting clean at the end, is to wash his socks in the toilet and then hop in there himself to take a bath. Anyone who honestly thinks this is a good thing to set before an impressionable child (recommended age range is three to seven) is a moron, period.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was taken by surprise by this book because for a good portion of it, I was feeling quite positive about it. it was no in first person, which was wonderful, and I was able to skip the boldly-marked prologue, so that was fine, but the last section really went downhill fast and spoiled the whole novel for me. I can't reward a novel that just goes from A to B. For me it must go from A to Z, and this one fell short of that, but it's not the destination alone; it's also how we get there. In the end, I felt this one went nowhere good even though there were some pretty sights on the way downhill.

I was particularly disappointed because the novel engaged me from the start and it presented a world which, while familiar in many respects, in others it was pleasantly different. It raised hopes only to dash them at the finish line. Set in 1917 in the US, it's a world where magic is real, but everything else is very much the same as we remember it historically. except that women are the standouts and leaders in one field of endeavor: a magical one. This unfortunately was misleading, as I shall get to in a moment.

Before I start though, I find myself once again having to say a word for our poor trees. If this novel went to a large print run with its three-quarter-inch margins all around, it would kill a lot more trees than it would were the margins more conservative. I continue to find it astounding in this day and age how many authors and publishers seem to truly hate trees, but I seem to be in a minority position, which is depressing quite frankly.

Moving on. The magic is called sigilry, because it's done by writing sigils, which are magical signs that provide the user with some sort of an ability to overcome nature. The most common of the supernatural powers is that of flying, and rather fast, too. Some sigilrists have been clocked at over 500 mph. One thing the magic cannot do is tell you how the word is pronounced! I always say it with a hard G, but it's also pronounced with a soft G. Google translate doesn't help, because the English version is pronounced hard, but the Latin version from which it derives is pronounced soft! I guess it doesn't matter. The Latin is sigillum, meaning a seal - as in seal of office, not in the bewhiskered, flipper toting, dog-like mammal that lives in the ocean.

Robert Weekes is an eighteen year old who lives with his mom, Major Emmaline Weekes, who is a renowned sigilrist who acts like a medic: going to the aid of people - and animals - helping them out, but Boober's mom is getting old, Robert is known in his family as Boober, which is unfortunate, not only in how it sounds but in why the author chose such a name. It seemed pointless to me since it's barely used.

Anyway, Robert wants to join the US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service, which is also unfortunate because men are at best frowned upon in this world of magic. At worst, they're reviled. I found this gender reversal to be interesting because it mirrored the bias against women in the real world, which has eased somewhat of late, but which is still a big problem, and especially so in what have been traditionally regarded as male preserves.

Robert ends up being one of only three students at Radcliffe college - yes, that Radcliffe, the one of Jennifer Cavilleri. It's quite a change since he comes from a very rural part of Montana, but he has two sisters and his father died when he was young so he isn't unused to being surrounded by women. The interesting thing then, is not the fish-out-of-water you might expect, but the reaction to these men from the women, which mirrors what you might have expected from men towards women in the same circumstance.

It was here that I began to find weaknesses in the story. It was tempting to ponder how a female author might have written this, but given how many ham-fisted stories I've read, I'm not convinced they would have done better. Yes female YA authors, I'm looking at you. The girls here seemed far too hostile. That's not to say women cannot be feisty, hostile, and even violent, but it seemed a little out of character for these students to exhibit such flagrant disrespect and such a violent attitude. Women are not men in reverse and this story seemed to behave as though they were. I found that very sad.

Another weakness was that even though this is a story about a man trying to make it in a women's world as it were, the story is largely about the men, and the world at large is still very much a world of men: men in charge, men making decisions, men being called to fight in the 1914-18 war in Europe, men of violence opposed to the sigilrists. Having read through the early chapters, I quickly began to feel that it was a mistake to have it set up the way it was. The impact of the female sigilry was really undermined by the rest of the world being a male preserve. A female trying to make it in this world would have made a much more rational story, but I kept hoping something would happen that would make all this make sense. Unfortunately it did not; quite the opposite, in fact.

Robert gets a girlfriend, and a sterling one in my opinion (and not the one you might think he will become involved with), but despite her accomplishments she seems very much like a secondary character and that saddened me. Why make her such a great and nuanced character and then under-use her? The book is about Robert, admittedly, but it started to feel like even he was as bad as the rest of the men in excluding women, what with his little male clique. I as hoping he would grow and learn, but he did not, and nowhere was this more stark than in that last ten percent. And worse, why make him a man if he's not going to react as many men do when provoked? It made no sense.

I don't want to give away too many details, but the fact is that he quite simply turned his back on someone who had been a loyal and trustworthy friend, who had stood by him through thick and thin, encouraged him and had his back, and he callously betrayed all of that out of pure selfishness. This completely changed my opinion of him and made me dislike him immense. I don't know if the author thought he was creating some sort of Hemingway-eque figure in Robert's unflinching manliness; all it did for me was to convince me that Robert was a complete dick.

In addition to this rather unrealistic conflict between the men and women at Radcliffe, there's a larger, more deadly conflict out in the rest of the country and I'm not referring to World War One. Many people, men and women, but mostly men, are opposed to women having this kind of power. They conflate it with witchcraft and militate against it, in some cases violently, and sometimes the sigilrists fight back with the same deadly aim., although that part of the story went nowhere and just fizzled out. Even here, we hear only of the conflict in the US though and while in a sense, this does match the reality of the isolationist stance of the US prior to both world wars, it means also that we learn nothing of this world outside the US borders (aside from references to the war).

In the case of one sigilrist, we learn of her outstanding exploits in that war, but I think this is another weak spot. It's common to many novels written by US authors - no matter how wild and supernatural the story is. We never get a perspective on the world at large. It's like the author is boxed in and can see only the US. It's a very provincial view which cannot see consequences or reverberations that might pass beyond the US borders, nor can it detect any influences or feedback from outside. I find that to be a sad and blinkered position, but like I said, it tends to be all we get in too many novels written by US authors.

So for me the novel was uneven, but even so, I was prepared to follow it to the end. The ironical thing is that had I DNF'd it, I might have given it a positive rating just as I give negative ones to bad novels which I DNF, but no one DNFs a novel they're deriving some sort of entertainment value from (and a from many reviews I've read, a disturbingly large number of readers punish themselves by actually finishing novels they didn't like!). I kept reading because I was curious where the author was going to take this when he seemed to have no endgame in sight. Was this merely the first in a series? The ending brought the whole edifice crashing down, and it was this collapse which made it easier to see fault-lines that I might have chosen to overlook had the ending made sense.

I think this author is a good writer and has a few tales to tell, but in this one case, to see the 'hero' of the story turn his back on people who have helped him, break promises, and leave loved ones in grave danger to pursue his own selfish interests just turned me right off the entire story. Worse, for a novel so centered on a female art form, there really are no strong female characters in this story, We read of past exploits speaking of female strength and heroism, but nowhere is it really apparent during the course of the actual story. This was sad to begin with, but it was exacerbated criminally in the end, through seeing one of the strongest of these devolve into a simpering, wheedling jellyfish, creeping back to a man who had callously spurned her. She deserved a far better ending than she got. Because of these reasons, I cannot in good faith rate this positively.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino


Rating: WARTY!

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

I am very skeptical of self-help books which is why I do not read them. I have read one or two in the past, and this one seemed like it might offer something different, but in the end what it offered was no different form a hundred other such books: at best it was simple common sense and at worst, misleading distractions. You cannot be creative if you're spending your time reading books like this when you should be creating things yourself instead of frittering time away on things others have created.

There's an apocryphal story about a writer who was giving a lecture, and many would be writers were present. The story may have happened or it may not. The author in question may have been Sinclair Lewis or they may not. The lecturer may have been drunk or not, but the story I heard is that he came out onto the stage and the first thing he asked was for a show of hands from anyone present who wanted to be a writer. Everyone raised their hand of course. The guy responded with, "Then why the hell aren't you writing?" And he wandered off the stage.

Like I said, this may be a true event or it may not, but there is a truth here, and it's in the message: you can't be writing that best-seller if you're off attending lectures on how to write best sellers, or if you're reading self-help books all the time when you could be working on your own project. For example, reading novels of the kind you might be interested in writing will be of much more help, but if all you're doing is reading and not writing your own, then you're wasting your valuable time.

The common theme of books of this nature is that the author is typically someone you've never heard of or read about. You don't get best-selling authors like David Baldacci, and John Grisham, or Dan Brown writing books about how to write best sellers, and the reason why they don't is because while they may well be able to write best sellers, they don't know how to teach others to write them. Plus they're too busy turning their ideas into finished novels!

It's not a magical power that can be passed on. You can take courses to learn how to write well, but you cannot be taught how to write a best-seller. You can only write one or fail to write one, and you can't even fail if you never write one. The same with musicians and artists, actors and movie-makers, and technology innovators and engineers. They know how to do it, but they cannot pass on their talent, or industry, or inspiration to others and have it magically work the same way for them. It doesn't work that way, sorry to say!

The only way to find out if you have it, is to do it! I know it's a big-business purveying self-help books, but you know what? I've never read a single one which has helped me, and more damningly, I've never read of any of these people who've had big success stories praising a self-help book for their success! They don't read these books because they're too busy pursuing their dream! What they do consistently emphasize is how hard they worked to achieve their aim and how diligently they kept chasing it.

Granted, this book does urge that, but it really doesn't offer a lot in the way of helping other than, as I mentioned, simply passing-on common sense. The problem is that if you're so lacking in common sense that you need to get tips on it from a book, then you're already in serious trouble. In the end, the only help you can count on is your own industry. It may be a cliché, but it's inspiration and perspiration that will get you there if it's going to happen for you, and there are no guarantees.

We always hear about the success stories: the ones where people have worked for their dream and got it, but we so rarely hear about those who worked just as hard pursing their dream, but who failed for whatever reason. If this books motivates people to motivate themselves, then that's a good thing, but I think it's wise to ask who really benefits most from books like these? Is it the people who write them or the people who read them?

One piece of advice offered for writers was: "Keeping score of the amount of words written or the time you spend writing will create an internal contest with yourself." This may work for some, but not for all. It doesn't work for me because it impedes my work and makes it seem like work. I don't want that! I'd rather just enjoy writing than become bogged down in, or worse, become disheartened or disillusioned by a scoring system. Scoring is boring! Worse, demanding 'x' amount of words or pages per day is not only soul-destroying, it's actually counter-productive to the very creativity this author is supposedly promoting!

There are some odd observations in the book. The first of these I noticed was when I read, "...usually we have to wait for months if not years before seeing our work published" but this completely overlooks this era of self-publishing through outlets such as Barnes and Noble's Nook press, Kobo, Lulu, Google Play, iBooks and others which has been going on for years. How the author could overlook such a roaring industry is a mystery and speaks of poor preparation.

I read in this book a lot of observations by and on people I've never heard of, including assorted quotes from these people. I am not one to take hints and tips from people I have no reason to trust when it comes to advice, especially when it's in the form of bon mots and pithy phrases which are more designed to show-off their originator than to offer concrete help. One of these asides was: "Peter Shankman flies more than 250,000 miles a year and does most of his writing in transit." I've never heard of this author, but whoever he is, that travel rate is getting on for 700 miles per day, so he really has no choice but to write in transit! Duhh!

This was in a section devoted to choosing the location for your creativity. It seemed focused on whether your desk was cluttered or clear, but you know what? Who cares? If you're working as a writer, then your focus needs to be on your writing, most typically on a computer screen, not on whether your desk is cluttered or clear! This seemed to me to be adding a distraction rather than helping to remove it. Ignore your environment focus on your work. If your environment intrudes, then include it in your work! I'm all for getting out and doing and seeing new things and meeting new people. You never know where your next idea will come from, but in the end a writer is someone who writes, an artist someone who paints, and so on, and it really shouldn't matter where you are or what surrounds you! Get focused on your art because in the end, it's all that matters when it comes to creativity.

There were some really oddball references too. One which particularly struck me was: "Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald who worked from cafes at the turn of the 20th century." I have to wonder why these two are mentioned in this context, but not Jo Rowling. I have no idea where those two antique authors wrote, but it's legendary that Rowling, impoverished, wrote in a café in Edinburgh because it was warmer than her apartment. She did not let a cluttered table or a noisy street get in her way. Did this author not know that much about an author who is more successful and arguably better-known these days than either of the two she mentioned?

That wasn't the only such item. I read, "The times when an artist worked in solitude on his creations," His creations? Seriously?! She continued: "revealing them for the first time during a launch, have passed. Now the audience wants to be co-creators, co-actively giving input throughout the process." This could not be more wrong or more misleading. Unless you really are looking to share your work - and the credit and rewards, this is appallingly bad advice. Yes, there are people who put materials out there and work collaboratively, but this isn't the norm. Perhaps it will be in some distant future, but we are not there yet and personally I doubt we ever will be. I can't see a bunch of stage actors welcoming advice and interruptions for the audience! Steve Jobs certainly did not want people telling him how to do what he did!

I also read: ""Experiencing the creative process live, while it’s happening, is now the norm." I'm sorry but this is bullshit. Maybe in the narrow, blinkered world in which this author operates it is, but seriously, I doubt even that. You don't find fashion designers posting their work online! They're more secretive than ever the Soviet Union was during the cold war!

Writers I know, are not given to doing this although some do this experimentally. For most, writing is a solitary profession and for good reason. You start posting your ideas online and someone is going to steal them and race you to publication, so they can accuse you of stealing their idea when you finally publish! Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), ideas for stories are not copyright, only the finished work.

I'm not a fan of Stephen King, but he is one of the few really successful authors who have actually written a book about writing books (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)! I never read that, but when he experimentally started publishing his novel The Plant online that same year, in installments downloaded on the honor system (you voluntarily paid a dollar per chapter downloaded), the story quickly folded. Sales fell-off and he lost interest in it. He never did ask for fan input!

There's a difference between seeking crowd-sourced funding for a project say, or in getting some feedback on some generalized ideas on the one hand, and on the other, in quite literally sharing your work before it's ever properly established as your own, and thereby risking losing ownership and a chance at copyright. I think talk like this is dangerously misleading and risky, and if misunderstood or misapplied, is going to lead only to loss and misery as your stock of creativity is frittered and dissipated without you getting any reward: not even so much as recognition for it.

It was at this point that I gave up reading this as a bad job The title is Your Creative Career, but it felt to me like there was precious little emphasis on the creative (a trilogy of chapters at the start), and far too much on avarice and maximizing profits. There's nothing wrong with making money and being financially rewarded for your creativity, but first you have to have that creative resource up and running. You have to be credited with it before you can look for credit from backers. You can't make money on vaporware, empty promises and unfulfilled dreams.

I cannot recommend this book, because for me it failed to accomplish what it promised in its title, replacing an offer of creativity advice with nothing more than simple common-sense observations that anyone worth their salt already knows, and worse: wrong-headed advice and flashy, but ultimately empty quotes and catch-phrases from obscure people who may have been successful in their sphere or not, but even if they were, this doesn't mean their advice is worth the paper it's printed on.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

The 53rd Card by Virginia Weiss

Headers.txt
Rating: WARTY!

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

I hate to end the year on a down note, but while this novel of good and evil, and of the supernatural, had some things to recommend it, after reading more than 400 pages I expected a much bigger reward than ever was delivered. At the end I felt relief that I was finally through it, but also resentment that the author had taken a portion of my life that I would never get back; I felt I'd wasted it reading this when I could have been enjoying something else in my reading list.

The novel was way too long. It needed some serious editing. I usually avoid books this long for precisely this reason: that it's not such a chunk of your valuable time to give up if the novel is short and it's bad, but when it's both bad and long, it's really irritating. It's even worse when it keeps teasing the reader with the promise of better things to come and never delivers. There was a phrase used in the novel which with some irony I think applied to the book as whole: ponderously clanking links! That's how it felt: like a series of short stories loosely connected rather than a coherent novel.

If the book feels like it's awful right from the off, I DNF it without even a pang of conscience because life is too short to waste on bad literature. The problem with this book was that it kept on promising something good was coming, yet in the end, nothing arrived. The ending itself was a horrible disappointment. It simply fizzled, like even the author herself had tired of this story and wanted over with just as much as I did. Some anally-retentive people will doubtlessly try to argue that it’s disingenuous to dump a book as unworthy without giving it a fair chance, but whenever I do give an “iffy” novel a fair chance, as I did here, I’m inevitably disappointed, so yes, I think you can ditch a novel guilt-free if it is not thrilling you. What’s the point of reading it otherwise? I think its a reader’s duty to DNF a bad read.

Some parts of the book were a joy, but as soon as I started to think maybe I would read a little more, it drifted back into tedium, and then I'd start to think about ditching it, but it would offer a promise of improvement. That's how the whole book went! I found myself skimming parts and thinking it was time to ditch the book; then I would find another interesting piece to read and it brought my hopes up again only to find them dashed again as the story dragged on without - quite literally - going anywhere except in circles. It was as bad as that book where you read through it only to find out at the end, that it was all a dream. And if you found the foregoing tedious to read through, then I achieved my aim and made you feel like I felt while I was reading this novel!

The story is of Emma Susanne Addison. She's close to being a shut-in, but not quite. This itself made little sense, because when she wanted to go somewhere, she had no real problem going there even if it was quite a way from her home, yet she was constantly whining about being scared of big open spaces, even as she lived right in the middle of the city.

This pseudo-phobia went back to a tragic incident with an unsavory uncle which took place not in the city, but in the woods by a river in winter. It would have made sense to me if she were afraid of older men, or afraid of the woods, or afraid of the winter, or afraid of the river, or afraid of ice, but she wasn't. She was inexplicably afraid of open spaces. In her case, this phobia made no sense. People's knee-jerk reaction when you say that is that phobias almost by definition don't make sense precisely because they are irrational, but even the most irrational phobia has rational roots. In this case it did not, and so I could never take it seriously.

Emma's life is beset by tragedy, but in the end you cannot help but feel she brings a lot of things on herself. I did not like her as a character. We're told in the blurb that Emma summons the devil one Christmas, but that portion was written so poorly that I missed it. I went on to the next section of the novel and started reading it like it was an entirely new story. I was thinking, “Wait, when did this happen?" and the truth was that it did not happen - not in the way the author thinks she told us it did. I went back and checked! It was like a whole section of the book was missing.

It was written so hazily that what the author thought she was telling us happened didn't actually feel like it happened at all from the reader's perspective; at least not to this reader. But the offshoot from this is that Emma is now somehow in some sort of preliminary bargaining with the devil - not actually a contract but at least a verbal agreement, yet this goes nowhere. And when I say the devil, I mean the big guy himself. We're constantly told that Emma is a special snowflake which is why he comes personally, but nowhere in the rest of the novel is there anything to explain why she is special or even to suggest that she is! She felt more like a spacial snowflake, and the personal attention made no sense.

What made even less sense is that there was another supernatural being involved - and this one was from Chinese mythology. I never did figure out what her purpose was because it was never explained, and this lack of clarity became even further muddied at the end especially when we had characters from other mythologies appear and disappear without rhyme or reason. It was like the author had some great ideas, but could never settle on a good set to include, and worse, tried to include them all, but could never quite figure out how to successfully integrate them.

The offshoot is that Emma develops super powers (yep, and there was a kitchen sink tossed in there, too)! Emma doesn’t go flying around with a cape, but she can choose outcomes and see them appear in the real world. Or can she? Maybe she was dreaming that too! I can’t tell you, because the author never told me! I kept reading on hoping it would l make sense, but it never did. I do not read prologues and epilogues. They’re antiquated affectations. Put the first in chapter one, the last in the last chapter, and be done with it for goodness sake! Quit with the self-importance and pretension. I skipped the prologue here as I always do, and I did not miss it as I never do. Thinking I had missed something at the end of the story I actually did skim the epilogue, but it contributed nothing. Hence my resentment.

There were other oddities such as the public library being open the day after Christmas. This seemed highly unlikely to me. I don't know. I don’t live in same city as Emma did, so maybe it is, but it sounded unlikely to me and it struck me more like the the author wasn’t properly thinking through what she was writing. This feeling was further enhanced when I read, ”Her hair is glorious, so black it’s almost blue….” That phrase has always struck me as utterly nonsensical. I expect it of typically clueless YA authors, but not of one who can actually write. I can see what an author is trying to say when they write an asinine phrase like this, but tripping yourself up in writing bad prose isn’t a good idea. Black with a sheen of blue or a hint of blue or a blue highlight works, but when something is really black? It’s black, period.

So, in short, I was truly disappointed in a book that initially sounded so promising. I wish the author all the best; she can write if she can learn to curb the meandering, and I think she has some great novels inside her, but this was not one of them, and I cannot in good faith recommend it.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Single Girl Problems by Andrea Bain


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Solomon's Ring by Mary Jennifer Payne


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Science for Sale by Daniel S Greenberg


Rating: WARTY!

I got this book from the library thinking it might be interesting, but it was as dry as week-old bread that has been overly-toasted and then freeze-dried. That's how dry it was. I expect academic-style tomes to be dry, but I don't usually have the issues with them that I had with this, with its uninspired cover and its academic margins. What's with that?

By academic margins I mean they are unnecessarily wide. I know this is traditional, but do not these bozos in colleges and universities care about trees? It's still possible to format it decently and have it look good, while using more of the page and saving a few trees, but none of them seem to get that. I think from this point on I'm going to automatically rate a book negatively if it looks like they're wantonly slaughtering trees, regardless of the quality of the book.

The margins in this book were an inch at the outside and on the bottom, and three-quarters of an inch at the top and in the gutter. The page was six by nine. That means the print area, even as admirably dense (yet readable) as it was, was occupying only roughly 60% of the paper. With less generous overly-margins, it could have occupied more, and thereby used fewer pages.

There were indented quotes, too, which were identified not only by a slightly smaller font, but also by huge indentations. These could have been adjusted too, so that instead of being a three-quarter inch shift further into the page than even the text was, they could have been a half or even a quarter inch. Whoever designed this book would appear to be either a moron or a tree-hater.

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I cannot recommend this at all unless you're in dire (and I do mean dire) need of something to put you to sleep. If you're an insomniac, this will likely cure you, but in terms of helping a reader to understand what's going on with college finance, it's of no help at all.


POS: Piece of Sh*t by Pierre Paquet, Jesús Alonso


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have a tendency to like graphic novels from Europe, but in this case I did not because the main character was completely unlikable. He was such a complete jerk that you desperately wanted to see the light to come on in his brain, and to see him change, but after I'd read 230 of 256 pages and discovered there wasn't even evidence of a glimmer of this, I asked myself, why am I continuing to read about this piece of shit - because that's exactly what he was, and determinedly and perennially so.

I did not care a whit about him and felt whatever he got, assuming it was bad, he thoroughly deserved. I quit reading on page 230 because I realized I had wasted a small part of my life reading this that I would never get back.

The artwork is so-so, very much like an old Tintin comic in some regards. The coloring was pretty good, but whoever did the lettering needs to get a clue. It was really hard to read (full disclosure: I am not a fan of letters at all!). The art would have been fine if the writing had had something to recommend it, but it was tedious. It kept teasing the reader with the potential to go somewhere but it never actually did. Not unless you class going around in repetitive circles as 'going somewhere'. All this story ever did was go around until you found yourself back where you started, with the same things happening over and over again.

At one point there was a court case and it went on for several pages There was never any resolution offered to it, and all the time I was reading that section, I had no good idea why this guy was in court! here were flashbacks appearing out of nowhere and sometimes it was easy tot ell they were flashbacks. other times it was not clear if it was a flashback or the next scene in his current life. He was an alcoholic, too, and this did not help, because he sometimes had alcoholic delusions, so in short it was a mess, and I cannot recommend it


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle


Rating: WARTY!

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

I did not like this graphic novel. It was basically a rehash of The X-Men, or The Inhumans, or The Gifted, or New Mutants, or whichever simplistic, derivative Marvel Comic series about mutants you wish to name. This novel brought literally nothing new to the genre unless you count that in this case, the only people with the mutation are black! To me, it was racist.

All the "good guys" were black. All the "bad guys" were white. Neither side was anything more than a caricature. It felt like I was watching a so-called 'blaxploitation' movie from the early seventies. Since this was a graphic novel, and given that a potentially interesting premise failed to be effectively exploited, I found it hilarious that the color scheme was gray-scale! It felt ironically appropriate, but not in the way the creators intended, I'm sure.

While on the one hand I can understand this - and work like it - constitutes a backlash against the inexcusable racism inherent in comic books, movies, and TV shows where - unless you're prepared to be the token person of color - please don't show for the audition, the way to fix a problem where the pendulum has swing way-the-hell too far in one direction is not to swing it equally far to the opposite side, it's to stop it dead in the middle and weld that sucker down so it can never move again. Period.

I think the comic would have carried a much more powerful message had it been less comprehensively biased. As it is, it runs a dire risk of being viewed by too many people - and those are the very ones who most need to get an education - as being nothing more than sour grapes. It didn't help the cause that one of the freedom fighter leaders was named Caesar, the same name given to the chimpanzee in the Planet of the Apes saga. That sounded insulting to me.

Even that aside, it was not well-thought out. Rather than go with Marvel's asinine "x-gene" ploy, the creators (and I admire them for this) tried something different. Unfortunately, it wasn't something new! They made the mistake of taking the easy way out by simply making the quantum leap. It didn't work. The idea here is that some people (all black!) have unusual arrangements of quarks in their body. Quarks are the foundations of hadrons, which most people unknowingly know as protons and neutrons, and which form the nucleus of every atom.

There are six known quarks, divided into three up-types, named (with characteristic physicist quirkiness) up, charm, and top, and three down-types, named down, strange, and bottom. We're told that gifted black people (who may not necessarily be young!) have a hexaquark, like this is something rare, but it really isn't. Their expert is very confused and talks bayrons rather than baryons. But that, with its unintended allusion to Bay Watch, works given how some of the women are portrayed in this story. Which is another problem.

There's precisely one female super hero, and one transgendered one. The only other females are background or ancillary personnel. There is one professional assistant, one cop, and one lab technician. Two of these unaccountably wear eyeglasses whereas not one other person in the entire book does, and one of them - the so-called quantum particle expert - wears a lab coat. Barf.

The comic is hypocritical in this regard. On the one hand it's admirably, if ineffectively in my opinion, championing black characters in graphic novels, but on the other hand it's keeping "bitches" down. That's inexcusable, especially given that the women's liberation and black civil rights movements have historically often worked hand-in hand, because both sectors of society have been oppressed and in disturbingly similar way in some regards (such as having no vote, for example).

Why are there so few important black characters in graphic novels? Because most of those novels have traditionally been written by white folks and it never occurs to them to include non-whites. It's not that they hate black folks and what to keep them down or actively exclude them; it's just that (and this is no excuse) they just don't think of it. Why are there so few women of note in graphic novels? Because most of them are written by men - who don't hate women and don't wish to keep them down; it simply never occurs to them to include women. They just don't think of it. That's what happened here.

The main character is named Kareem Jenkins. He's shot for two reasons. The first of these is that it's a case of mistaken identity because all black folks evidently look alike to New Jack City cops, as a sorry history of shooting deaths in New York has shown and continues to show. The second is that when he's told to freeze, by armed cops, he's too stupid to do exactly that. Instead, he rabbits and is shot and ostensibly killed. A dozen or more black men have been fatally shot by NYPD in the last twenty-five years, and very few cases have even gone to trial, let alone ended in a conviction, but this novel repeatedly refers to NYPD as New York's finest. I don't know if that's meant to be ironic.

Kareem is unique because he rises again, and then is kidnapped by a character who far from being Straight Outta Compton, is straight outta The Matrix movie. He's Morpheus by another name, and he even sits with legs crossed in an armchair when we meet him, and effectively invites the kid to take the black pill. Yawn.

This leads to him discovering a hitherto totally unknown world of back mutants, all of whom have powers of some sort, but there are then so many of these characters so quickly introduced that they become lost and meaningless in the crowd. The irony of course is that here, all black people do look the same, not because they're all drawn the same (the artwork was pretty decent), but for no other reason than that this comic book has failed to differentiate them by giving them distinctive personalities and back-stories.

Having some of them speak in what in some circles, and for better or for worse, has been dubbed 'ebonics' is not giving them a personality. It's not giving them character. It's not making them individual. It's just cynically pigeon-holing them. There should have been fewer of them initially, and they should have been properly introduced instead of being treated like so many nameless, interchangeable slaves. This was a serious fail.

The plot doesn't work because we're expected to believe that a handful of white folks have pulled the wool over people's eyes for literally centuries, working in concert with the black community! I'm sure this isn't what the creators intended to convey, but it's very effectively what they achieved, because as the white community has, we're told, systematically sought to wipe out this 'black threat', the black community has been trying to hide the mutants, and neither side has ever let anything get out to the public! It's simply not credible.

Even if we allow that it worked before, it sure as hell would not work now! Have the creators of this series not seen the black community? Everyone is a showman or woman. There are pop divas and DJs with monumental egos. There are sports personalities with attitude, there are movie stars all about showmanship and conspicuous consumption, and there are so-called 'reality' shows and talk shows which are all about self-promotion.

None of this is confined to the black community, but we're not talking about how white folk might behave here. There is no way in hell, if any of this community had these powers, that they would all consistently keep them secret! It's simply not credible and this unarguable fact brought the whole story down and gave the lie to this farcical 'secrecy' claim. Besides, it made no sense to begin with - not in this day and age. If the white folks are trying to wipe-out the gifted peeps, then the best way to stop it is to go public, not go private. "Morpheus" is a moron!

Neither is it credible that the white folks would be able to continue their pogrom of extermination into modern times when much of the world is now ruled by non-white leaders. Are we supposed to believe that black leaders in African nations were in on it with the white folks? Bullsh! (More on that shortly). This is a classic case of failure to think outside the box, the box being the United Whites of America. Far too many of these kind of dystopian or secret society stories are far too hide-bound by 'American' thinking, or constrained by 'The American Way'.

What far too many authors fail to grasp is that there's an entire planet outside the USA that doesn't think about the USA from one week to the next because they have more important things to think about! They do not conform to US norms or patterns of thinking! They do not live the way US citizens live! They do no view the world like US people view it. Any story like this, which has global implications, yet which tries to pretend the entire globe is just like the USA is doomed to failure, and this one fell right into that trap.

There was almost cussing in this story! It's not credible. Almost all the time, when a cuss was about to be issued here, it was cut off. Instead of "Fuck!" we got "Fu-". Instead of "Shit" we got "Sh-" hence my "Bullsh" comment above. It's not realistic. It maybe be practical for some readerships, but people don't talk that way in real life, and everyone, even kids and churchgoers, knows it. You either have to include it to make it real, or you have to skip it for the sake of the readership. You can't have it both ways without it sounding truly dumb, and suspending suspension of disbelief. In short, either sh or get of the po.... Yeah! That's dumb it sounds.

A brief lesson in genetics: Not all mixed race couples have exclusively black children. Even a black couple can legitimately have a white child. Nature is color-blind! The reason for all this is that there is no difference, at the genetic level, between black people and white people and Asian people and whatever people.

Just like in real life there is no X gene, there is no B-for-black-gene either. There are gene networks wherein many genes acting in concert can achieve remarkable ends, but there is no 'negro network' than can make a person black or pigeon-hole one as such and more than there is a 'honky network' that can make a person white. This begs my last question: why did this affect only black people? There was no rationale given for this. We were expected to take it on trust.

Maybe the authors had some plan to work this out later, but forgive me for having little appetite for swallowing that when I'd already been asked to swallow much that was unpalatable in this graphic novel. I got the impression that they were winging it; tossing in some quantum nonsense and hoping to get by, but as we've seen, there is nothing in our genes to confer powers on one race and not another, so how much less credibility is there in ascribing this same effect to something even more fundamental: sub-atomic particles?

Quarks do have a property referred to as 'color', but it has nothing whatsoever to do with actual color as we perceive color day-to-day at the macro level. It's just a word; not a meaningless word because it has meaning to physicists, but it doesn't convey the same thing to them when they talk about quarks as it does to the rest of us when we talk about LED TVs. There is quite literally no color at the sub-atomic level as any electronic microscope image you can find online will show. Some of them have artificial-color added for clarification purposes, just as those glorious space images do, but in reality the sub-atomic world, just like the outer space world, is a very colorless one indeed.

Oddball congregations of quarks, which are the components of all matter, living or not, cannot grant powers to one race without granting them to all. It's another case of failure to think through. I mean, do Asians have powers? They're not white, but they ain't black either! How about the Latinx community? Deal or no deal?! What bothers me about this is that the authors seem to be saying that black people are somehow fundamentally different from all others, which is patently not true, but by saying it, they're risking undoing what decent, good-faith people of all races have been trying to accomplish for decades: true color-blindness wherein all are equal, all are one family, and all are brothers and sisters. The plot for this novel seemed like a very negative step to me unless it was handled better than it was here.

Black folks do have something rare and it is a real superpower: they have greater genetic diversity, especially those resident in Africa, than do any other humans. The reason for this is that all humans started life in Africa, not in Eden. We're all black. Unfortunately, the pale skin minority has forgotten this, and instead of seeing it as something unifying and something to be proud of, too many people see one color or another as a fault or a defect, something to be despised and rejected. Americans are often proud of their Irish, or German, or English, or native American, or whatever ancestry. What a pity they arbitrarily stop it at some point before it ever gets all the way back to eastern Africa where it all began.

So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this story as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it including endless excessive violence, but at least it was gray-scale so there was very little red ink to deal with. The one positive sign I saw was that in the end, Kareem took off on his own, rejecting all the bullsh- he;d witnessed. I commend him for that, but for me, it was too little, too late.