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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kiss Him Not Me by Junko


Rating: WARTY!

In Japanese this manga was called Watashi Ga Motete Dōsunda or, What's the Point of Me Getting Popular?. Superficially it purports to tell the tale of a girl who loses weight and suddenly finds herself popular, but in reality it's just another Shōjo designed as teen female wish-fulfillment and as such it's actually harmful because of the 'fat-shaming' attitude employed in it. There's nothing wrong with having a healthy fantasy life as long as it's kept in check (or untethered in creative writing or other art forms!), but the author went about this entirely the wrong way. There are ways of addressing issues or over- or under-weight in characters and this one was a fail in my opinion.

In the story, Kae Serinuma is a fujoshi - essentially a geek - who is into gaming, and who is also obsessed with male homoeroticism, picturing selected boys she knows, as being in gay romances in her fantasies. Since all the boys look like girls in these drawings that makes for rather interesting pairings! There are four boys in her life: Igarashi, Mutsumoi, Nanshima, and Shinomya, and only one of them might have had any real interest in her when she was overweight. Now they all do for sure, This is pretty shallow and she needs to reject them all with the potential exception of the guy in her gaming club, but she does not, despite the protesting title. She seems not so much enamored of them as she is enamored of their attention.

Where I had the real problem with this though, was after an accident where she's dinged by one of the players in a sport she's watching. Serinuma is knocked to the floor, and goes home after a brief recuperation at school. The next morning (or perhaps some unspecified time later - it was hard to tell), when she wakes up she has lost all her excess weight and then some. Not only that, her eyes have grown to huge proportions, her chin (which though prominent) never was a 'double' chin, has shrunk almost to nothing, her hair has become rich, thick, healthy, long, and shining and healthy, her head has shrunk or her facial features have expended to fill the whole face instead of the tiny center portion, and and her wardrobe has fantastically changed from baggy sweats to short, pleated skirts and tight sweaters.

Moreover, her legs have grown long and slim, and her breasts have miraculously tripled in size. In short, instead of a oval shape, she now has an hourglass figure. These factors combined are not the usual outcome of weight-loss, so one has to wonder if this is an illusion or wishful thinking, but by the end of the novel her appearance had not changed and all four boys desperately wanted to date her.

This sounded far more like wish fulfillment than ever it did an honest attempt to write a realistic, thoughtful, and honestly engaging story. But is this type of manga ever intended to be realistic? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose?! Maybe that's so, but this was all wrong for a host of reasons.

First of all, this shallow 'they like me now I'm anorexic and infantilized' is an awful thing to do to a woman. I expect it form some male authors, especially far too many of those who draw graphic novels, but there are different levels of 'fat' and they have all kinds of 'cute' names with which to euphemize them (BBW, chubby, corpulent, full-figured, matronly, plus-sized, portly, robust, rotund, and so on), but the question is not whether a person is overweight so much as whether they're healthy.

Clearly carrying too much weight, and eating poorly and getting no - or too little - exercise is a recipe for medical disaster, but you can be unhealthy whether you are under-, over-, or even at optimal weight, and you can likewise be healthy even when you might appear overweight to some overly-critical eyes. So the real question is over your health, not your weight per se.

In this novel, neither was the issue. The issue we're presented in (literal) black and white - and without a shred of supportive evidence - is that not only does no one love a 'fat' or 'dumpy' girl, but no one even notices her. As it happens, Serinuma is fine with this because she lives largely in her fantasy world anyway, but when she magically (and that's the only term employable here) morphs into 'a total babe' - as a frat boy would (and evidently these schoolboys do) perceive her - she makes no analysis whatsoever of her situation, and never once (not in the parts I read) harks back to how she was or makes comparisons or even tries to understand what happened. This tells me she is so shallow that it doe snot matter whether she is overweight, or a superficial model agency's dream applicant, or anywhere in between she's not worth knowing because there's nothing worth knowing about her.

I had wondered if, by the end of this volume, she might wake up and find she has dreamed this whole thing, or much better yet, that her knock on the head caused her self-perception to change, and everything that happened afterwards was because of this, not because she had literally physically changed. In my opinion, that would have made for a far better, more intelligent, realistic story, and a worthy read but I guess I shall have to write that one.

Women have hard enough time being blasted perennially with commentary from all manner of sources, most of them not even remotely medical, and most of them ads, telling her that she's ugly, fat, her hair is nasty, her clothes suck, she needs more high-heeled shoes, and she is useless in bed. Every time she passes through a supermarket checkout aisle, she has this blasted at her on the one side from women's magazines written by women it shames us all to report, and on the opposite side of that selfsame aisle, she is blasted by fattening snack foods, candies, and sugar-laden sodas. is this a problem? You bet your ass it is. Literally.

It does not help at all to have a manga written by a woman telling women this same thing. It's Junko food, and women need to stop letting authors like this one feed it to them.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Two Will Come by Kang Kyeong Ok


Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Jennifer Park, this Korean graphic novel (and thus a manwha rather than a manga) was the first in a series. It consists of black and white line drawings, often veering towards the type of illustration I most thoroughly detest: the pointy nose, pointy chin, and giant eyes - in short, characters who look not even remotely Asian.

While we in the west bemoan the lack of diversity in our graphic novels (and other media) - particularly in the poor showing of women and people of color, I have to wonder why are so many comic books written by Asians who are apparently afraid to depict themselves in all their authentic beauty. That said, a lot of the art work was very pleasant, some of it truly captivating. But a lot of poses even on the same page were so similar that they could almost have been photocopied, shrunk and moved over a panel or two.

It was also odd though in that there were, interspersed with the main panels, miniatures which looked weird since they were in a small and very simplified style - rather reminiscent of how an old and very formal Asian form of writing might be compared with a more modern, casual, and simplified one. it made me wonder why this was a graphic novel rather than simply a novel. If you're not going to push yourself with the illustrations, and make it a magical journey as well as a story, then why not simply tell the tale in words and omit the pretentious pictures? In this case, I have to say that - with a few exceptions which might have merited inclusion in what would otherwise be a pure text book - they graphic part of this novel contributed very little beyond pretension, notwithstanding artistic merit.

The biggest problem with the book though, was that the blurb completely lied! The claim was that it's a story about a family curse, handed-down over generations because of the slaying of a large serpent that was awaiting going to heaven. Just the day before it was due to leave, Jina's ancestors killed it because they thought it was cursing their family. Don't you just hate it when this happens? You're waiting to go to heaven and someone sticks you with spears and chops off your head? If I had a Band-Aid for every time that happened to me....

Once the serpent saw it would was doomed to die it actually did curse the family, and the curse is that one family member in each generation will slay another family member. We get very little by way of explanation as to how this has played out over the centuries, but now in Seoul in 1999, Jina is the one upon whom the curse falls, but the predictors cannot say if she will be the perp or the victim, nor do they know who the other member of this generation's fated but not feted pair is.

The End.

I am not kidding. That's not the end of the volume, but it is the end of the curse story. There is barely a word spoken of it after the first third of the novel. The rest of this volume is nothing but a tediously slow-moving high-school romance between the girls and this guy from the USA - a Korean emigrant, who has returned for a visit. He looks more like a girl than the girls do, and so the girls naturally all fall for him.

Frankly I would rather watch a cowpat dry. Or even fry, as I first ham-fistedly typed it. So while some of the art was great, a lot of it felt xeroxed, and the miniatures were just plain weird. The story had little to do with the blurb's claim for the most part and the interaction between the two main characters was utterly tedious, blank, flat and uninventive.

Plus, as if all that wasn't bad enough, the story moved at a glacial pace. I optimistically borrowed volumes one and two from the library, but I quit reading volume one at about half way and I skimmed the rest, and I sure am not going to even start volume two. I cannot in good faith recommend this. It was bait and switch, and stunk like baited breath so rank you could cut it with a switch-blade.


Superhero Comics by Christopher Gavaler


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to thank the author for his hard work because Ii think you would have to work really hard to make a book about comics as dry, dense and, in parts, as tedious as this one was. There were some bright spots in it, and while I admit I'm a proponent of inline references, when there are so many, and so densely-packed as to make a reader lose track of what he's reading, that, for me, is a problem. The book was the antithesis of a comic book - dry, verbose, and nary an image in it, but perhaps the worst problem with it was that it told us nothing we did not already know, at least in the general if not the particular. And most of the references were to works of others, so this has already been reported. Little if any of it was original research.

I appreciated that the book covered racism which is still rampant in comic books even today, misogyny which is even more rampant, and homophobia, which arguably is more prevalent than is superhero chauvinism, but I felt the work was very patchy. For example, the overview of World War Two comic books, which was quite well done, constantly referred the reader back to real world events, whereas the entire section covering gender issues by contrast made no almost references to real world events other than the comic book code.

There was one particularly interesting incident when we were referred to an excellent article by by Teresa Jusino, titled "Dear Marvel: Stop Sexualizing Female Teenage Characters Like Riri Williams" which appeared online in The Mary Sue. The article was great, and I realize that the writer of an article in a situation like this it has no control over what ads appear on the page where her article appears, but The Mary Sue sure does. Pot, meet kettle! One ad titillatingly invited people who had finished this article to "check out what Tiger Woods's ex looks like now." Another, which advised us to "do denim different" featured a guy facing the camera and a girl with her butt towards it, posing very much in emulation of the way comic book females are sexually depicted, butt sticking out to the voyeur, and deferring to the masculine guy. Who cares about her face, right, much less her mind!

Due to the flowing nature of ads online these days, the rotation means you may not see these ads when you look at that page, but I can pretty much guarantee you will see something equally hypocritical. When I went back just now, there was a different foot-of-page ad which suggested rather salaciously, "Nancy McKeon gave the crew more than expected." A refresh of the page gave an ad which had nothing to do with clothes or women's accessories or 'how good she looks now'. No, it was about a game you can play that allows you to follow your city through history. No problem, right? Wrong! The problem was that it showed a young girl playing the game wearing what was barely more than a long T-shirt, her thighs exposed.

In short, the problem isn't the comic books, it's society. Comic books are a mere reflection of that, Cure society and the comic book problem will go away, I guarantee it, but you will not exorcise the comic book problem while it's run by adolescent white males (regardless of their chronological age), who embody societal sentiments which are pressed on them from an early age, and the problem in the comics (and in the movies, and on TV, and in non-graphic literature, and in sports, and in the military, and in businesses, and in religion) will continue unabated as long as no one in power is seeking to change the way women and people of color are viewed and treated in society at large.

The problem was made quite clear by the response by the artist who drew the offending cover and who saw nothing wrong with hypersexualizing a fifteen year old girl: J Scott Campbell who I shall personally boycott from this day forward because he is proudly part of the problem. Also part of the problem is that this book reported his response, but made no condemnation of it. I honestly feel that a female author might have had more to say on the subject.

This lack of commentary was even more evident when I read, "Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s 2007 The Boys expands the critique to the genre as a whole, presenting all male superheroes, even a version of Superman, as endemic rapists." There was no comment from the author on this nor evidence presented in support or denial of the claim. It was like the author was simply reporting what others have said, yet was indifferent to what he was reporting. he offered no opinion of his own, not even analysis of others' claims. I don't buy the genderist claim that "all men are closet rapists" bullshit, and I resent the implication.

Whether comic book 'heroes' might be in such a category and what it says about the people who write their stories, is a different kettle of fiction, and an issue which could have been explored to some profit. Personally, I think James Bond as depicted by Ian Fleming was a shoo-in for membership of that club (and take 'club' to mean any variety). Even some of the movies, particularly Goldfinger, were traveling the same shameful path, but this author let it go without a word. This convinced me that he was simply and coldly reporting, and had no wish to get his hands dirty, which begs the obvious question: if he cares so little about what he's writing, then why should I care at all?

So there are abundant articles which complain about the hypersexualization of comic-book female characters, but nothing to suggest where this all comes from. An article by Laura Hudson in Comics Alliance online, makes the same mistake. It's a good article, but it once again misses the point. The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'. At least this page contained no suggestive ads (not when I read it!), but nearly all of the ads on that page, whether for comic books or other items, featured women. Yes! Woman sell, and this is part of the problem: a problem the size of which Laura Hudson and Comics Alliance have not yet begun to address I'm sorry to report.

The fact that this book did not raise these issues bothered me, but even this was not the biggest problem with it. I would like it to have been, but this was not the book's focus. The focus was on how the comic books have changed though, and been influenced by history, and how they're tied to society (at least during WW2!), and many comic book characters were mentioned, but for a book focused on comic books, there was curiously not one single instance of any one of these characters who were mentioned actually illustrated in the book! A book about graphic novels which contains no graphics?!

Nor was there any sequence showing how characters had been masculinized or sexualized over the history of the comic. There was one chapter of a comic book I had never heard of, depicted in black and white towards the end, and there was an ungodly long spread detailing how comic book panels are laid out - with illustrations! I failed to see the point of that since anyone who has read more than one comic is quite aware of it. There was nothing about the characters themselves in terms of how they looked or how they had changed. I felt this was a sorry omission. Yes, you can find most of them online, but it's a pain to have to stop reading and go look for characters you have never heard of so you call illustrate for yourself the point the author thinks he's making; and good luck finding the exact picture to which he's referring unless you're prepared to make a detailed and lengthy search in many cases.

I read at one point of a cover where a female character towered over two main male characters and I could not find that one, but I found many comic book covers where one cover character towers over others and so in this case, I failed to see the point the author was trying to make because there apparently was not one!

So overall, a disappointing read and not at all what I had hoped for, much less expected. I think I shall in future avoid pseudo-scholarly commentaries on comics and simply read the comics! As long as they're not illustrated by J Scott Campbell or others like him! I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this one.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James


Rating: WARTY!

Written as a rather presumptuous sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (which originally had the title "First Impressions"), this audiobook fell flat for me. I was not too keen on the reader, Rosalyn Landor's voice. Although it wasn't awful, it just never felt right, but much worse than this is that this novel felt nothing like an Austen novel.

Perhaps James never intended it to emulate Austen at all, but even so, it felt like she wasn't really trying. It felt like she had this idea for a crime set in nine-teeth century England and, realizing it wasn't very good, decided to usurp Austen's cachet to sell it. She certainly didn' usurp anything else of Austen's. Virtually the entire book was tedious exposition, There was none of Austen's wit and humor, none of her trenchant observation oe social commentary, and wher were her conversations? Nowhere! I don't believe Darcy and Darcy (nee Bennet) had more than half a dozen words to exchange with each other in any conversation. And what about sex? Austen's works were filled with naked, rampant, explicit, life-shattering, illicit passion, but here there was not a whit of it!

One of those assertions in that last paragraph might be a gross exaggeration. But then so was this entire novel.

I guess marriage really changed Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, because they were nothing like the characters Austen created. In 1803, they have two sons (of course - why would we ever want to see the kind of daughter Elizabeth's genes could produce and her nurturing raise?). The Darcy's are readying for their annual ball when Wickham and Lydia show up for no rational reason since they're never welcome at Pemberley although they do visit Jane and Charles who live next door (in an English country gentleman sense, that is). This seems to have changed from when Charles chose to live near to Meryton. If there was an explanation for this, I missed it.

James evidently thinks Austen fans are morons because she pads her novel hugely with infodumps taken bodily from Pride and Prejudice - and curiously form other Austen novels. She also seems to think her readers need a crash course in nineteenth century English law, because we get more of these dull and lifeless areas of knowledge than ever we do of interactions between Lizzie and Fitzie, which is what I assume most readers were looking for. No one cares about Wickham and only a moron would believe he is the guilty party in a story like this.

The plot has Lydia arriving in hysterics declaring her beloved Wickham, now a national war hero having excelled himself at shooting the Irish, but unable to hold down a job upon being demobbed, to be dead! It's a lie! A damnable lie, madam, and a slanderous one at that! George isn't dead, but his army buddy is, and George, in most un-George-like fashion, seems to have implicated himself in the crime. The rest of the book takes an unconscionably long time to actually deliberate over the crime, although perhaps deliberate is an appropriate word to describe the plodding tone.

The ridiculous book blurb on Goodreads (and such are one reason I no-longer post reviews there) claims: "Conjuring the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mark Darcy." Who the frack is Mark Darcy?! The librarians (so-called) on Goodreads are utterly useless and should be summarily fired. Wickham would do a better job, believe me. The blurb also claims that it is "combining the trappings of Regency British society" Hello? The Regency period was when the Prince Regent (who would become George 4th) took over from his addled dad, which was from about 1811 until 1820 when Geo 3.0 died. 1803 was squarely in the Georgian period, morons. Fire those libelousarians!

I am done with this warty novel. It SUCKED, and will never read anything else by PD James. As one review of the TV series put it, the only crime here was one against decent literature! Oh, and Will Bidwell did it. If James had had the courage to have Lydia commit the crime, then I might have rated this a worthy story despite its flaws, but James is quite clearly not a good enough writer to attempt something like that. Do yourself a favor and watch the TV show instead. It will not, I guarantee, be as good as the classic Ehle-Firth masterpiece, but it might give you the fix you crave. I haven't seen it but I've heard better things about it than I have about the novel which inspired it.


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan


Rating: WARTY!

This fiftieth anniversary edition was not impressive to me. It was larded with prologue and afterword and introduction, all of which I ignored as usual. I had heard of Anna Quindlen, but not of Gail Collins. They're both journalists just like Friedan, so this was hardly a broad spectrum we got on it anyway.

I prefer to focus on the actual body of the text, and that was rather too verbose. I had to keep reminding myself that this was fifty years out of date and things have changed dramatically, but even with that in mind, it was hard to find very many diamonds in the slag. Friedan seemed not content to raise an issue and cite a few examples and let it go; she had to keep slamming the reader with stories which sounded, after the first couple, to be very much the same thing over and over again - which in itself validates what she was saying, but quickly became tedious with all those repetitive details!

I readily admit that my frustration with much of this book may well be that we are, at least theoretically, much more enlightened now than we were then, and so it felt like flogging a dead horse, but that horse is still a nightmare for far too many women, so this is about the only remaining reason I can think of for reading this - that we do not forget how bad things were, and in not forgetting, we ensure they never happen again. That and its historical value. These beefs with the text are not to say that Friedan did not have a point. She did, but I found her text dense and obscure - more like a litany of complaint (if valid complaint) than anything which offered hope of a real solution, but that said, a solution can only arise after the problem has been identified.

The worst part about this book for me though, was that it was so appallingly elitist. Friedan seems only to care about middle and upper class women like herself, and the 'great unwashed' be damned. Their experience - poor people who no doubt had both spouses working perforce - were largely ignored. Although I cannot pretend to speak for them (or I could but it would be fraudulent!), I rather suspect that spouses of color back in the fifties and sixties had little or nothing in their experience which they could employ to relate to the women on whom Friedan was so tightly focused, and this was despite Friedan frequently mentioning civil rights!

The book blurb, with laughable hyperbole, describes it as "Landmark, groundbreaking, classic" and no, it wasn't. It goes on to add, "these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of 'the problem that has no name'." I was surprised it did not mention the name Friedan gave it, but it's probably better that it didn't, since Friedan's title makes absolutely no sense. I remain unconvinced that she even knows what 'mystique' means (and no, it's not an X-Men character!). Her sobriquet made no sense to me and she never actually defined it, leaving it to the reader to distill some meaning from reading this five hundred page tome. Good luck with that.

Another group that Friedan ostracizes are those women who can both afford to and choose to stay home. This is a perfectly valid option, yet Friedan would rob women of it, becoming part of the problem by trying to dictate women's choices in the same way she was complaining men and society were doing! What a hypocrite. I read about half of this book and gave up on it. I can't recommend it because there are better books out there than this one, which in my opinion does not deserve the street cred it seems to have garnered for itself, and which I think it has accreted only because it was an early one and a high profile one, and not because it honestly left the home, got a job, an earned its status!



Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin


Rating: WARTY!

Read by the author in an average manner, this was another dead audiobook added to my list. This is the first time I've read anything by this author, and I have mixed feelings about Martin as a performer. I loved him in The Jerk, and I also loved his LA story, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Housesitter (although he did not write those last two), but I've found him to be rather unappealing in other things I've seen him in. The impression I got from this novel was that Martin was telling something of his own life story, but augmented with exaggerations, which really makes it rather insulting to people who genuinely have OCD or similar issues with which to contend in their daily life.

The story is about an OCD guy who is almost but not quite a shut-in since he has so many issues in venturing outside the home, such as curbs, which effectively curb his ability to cross streets unless there is a convenient and matching pair of driveways to hand (or foot). As if the OCD is not enough of a barrier to personal interaction, the guy is a compulsive liar, but somehow this all works out from other reviews I've read. None of this made any sense to me and was simply boring. Martin's reading voice is not appealing and was very flat and monotone. If he employs this same voice inside his head as he writes, then this might account for why this story was so bad. It held no appeal for me and I quickly ditched it before even 25% of it was up. I may give Shopgirl a try, but I don't plan on it in the immediate future.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cat Chaser by Elmore Leonard


Rating: WARTY!

Elmore John Leonard Jr (which was misspelled on the CDs!) has been hailed, at least in his later years, as a great writer by several other writers I don't have a lot of respect for, and now I guess I have to add him to that same list, based on this outing. I did like the 1972 movie Joe Kidd for which he wrote the screenplay, so maybe I will try him again later, but not any time soon.

As the novel begins, Ex-paratrooper George Moran, who last saw action as one of the Cat Chaser platoon in Santo Domingo is running a small motel in Miami named Coconut Palms (but which lacks any palms!). Moran (call him moron) starts becoming obsessed, for no good reason we're given, with the couple staying in one of his rooms. He starts having an affair with Mary DeBoya who is unhappily married to a former Dominican general. Moran becomes involved in a plot, with another ex vet named Nolen Tyner and an ex-cop from NYC named Jiggs Scully, to defraud the general.

Since Moran is doing fine, it makes no sense for him to get involved with the general or his wife, and the dialog of this 1980's novel sounds like it was written in the fifties, so this was a DNF for me, mostly because it was boring! I cannot recommend it based on the twenty percent or so I heard of it. The reader, Frank Muller, doesn't contribute a thing to the enjoyment.


Girl In Snow by Danya Kukafka


Rating: WARTY!

"A girl was dead, a beautiful girl and there was tragedy in that" was the phrase in this novel which first turned me off it. I have read this same wrong-headed phrasing, written by so many female writers, so often that it makes me sick. Even in this day and age I can see it coming from some insensitive male writers, but for a woman to write this of another woman is a disgrace. Is this all the value a girl has: the shallow depth of her subjective beauty? Is that her only worth? Is there nothing more that can be said about her?

Apparently this author with an amazing name and in her debut novel doesn't think so, because while she could have written, " A girl was dead, a strong girl, but that didn't save her..." or " A girl was dead, a smart girl, who evidently wasn't smart enough.." or "A girl was dead, a sensitive girl and there was tragedy in that..." she didn't. She wrote only that the tragedy was that this was a beautiful girl. Meaning what? That if it had been an "ugly" girl, then it wouldn't have been a tragedy? If she had been plain and homely, it would not have been so awful that she died?

I can't rate a novel positively when the author abuses and cheapens women like this, callously reducing them to their looks, as if they have no other worth. I expect it from those trashy magazines that line the checkout shelves at the supermarket, where fattening junk food populates one side of the aisle while the other is replete with magazines telling women that they are ugly, sexually incompetent, and overweight. For a female author to willingly side with that kind of chronic abuse is shameful.

That alone was bad enough, but it was not the only problem with this novel which superficially purports to be about the death of a young girl, but which seemed more like the author was going for a pretentious piece of art than ever she was interested in telling an engaging and sensitive story about the kind of death we see all-too-often in real life.

Even on merit as a work of literature, there were issues, such as awkward phrasing and purple prose. I read on one occasion: "He hated to imagine his sadness inside her" which struck me as a peculiar thing to say or think. His sadness inside her? It sounds almost sexual, like he's considering penetrating her with something. It just felt wrong. Certainly it could have been phrased better. Another one which sounded peculiar was this: "When Cameron first heard about Andrea Yates, he ran a bath."

On the other hand, maybe this was perfect, because the character who entertained these thoughts was an out-and-out creep: a peeping tom and a stalker. I did not like him, and I sure-as-hell had no sympathy for him. It was so plainly obvious that he was not the perp that it was no more than an exercise in masturbation to pursue his story, which was boring, but this was true of all three characters this novel followed. Not a one of them had anything of interest in them to engage the reader.

If you're going to have characters that have unpleasant qualities, then you need to give them something to balance it unless you really don't want us to like them, and the ability to sketch portraits of the girl being stalked is not an endearing quality. It's just not.

Aside from the shallowness of the 'beauty' comment, the problem with this novel was that the layout was a confused mess. Instead of starting with the crime - the finding of the body, the novel opened with Cameron the Stalker in third person voice, then switched to Jade the Obnoxious in first person, like it was a nondescript YA novel (and like I cared about her story). It seemed like an afterthought when we once again switched to third person and met Russ, the cop who realistically should have had no involvement with the investigation, but who did anyway! So here we had our priorities laid out and none of them were the victim of a brutal assault. She was tacked on as an afterthought; a prop whose life was immaterial to the anguished and utterly self-centered existential chatter of the three main characters.

Jade gave me the impression that she was only in the novel so it could have the rebel female trope requisite in YA stories. Russ had even less reason to be in the cast. Why he was involved at all is the only real mystery here. They woke him early in the morning after the body had been found. He was not a detective, and he was not the first on the scene, nor was he instrumental in any matters regarding the victim, so I was at a complete loss as to why they called him out there. It made no sense at all.

The body was apparently discovered by the school "night janitor." I am far from an expert in school administration, but it seemed like an odd if not a rare occupation, especially given than this was not a massive urban high-school, but a small school in a small town, so I didn't get his reason for existence in this story at all unless he was the perp. Not that I'm saying he was. I never found out who the perp was and I really didn't care.

The story was laid out peculiarly, too: it was told backwards, with two characters being introduced who were at opposite ends of a stark black and white spectrum of feeling towards the victim. The victim trotted along after them a poor third, like an unloved dog, which resentfully has to be walked, and even then she didn't take center stage because her section was instead about the selfsame police officer who should never have been involved in the first place!

If he had been on night patrol and had found the victim, then it would have made sense for him to be involved, but it never did. Calling him out of bed to see the corpse represented nothing if not sick voyeurism, os this was really poor writing. Even during questioning, this officer was uninvolved, his mind constantly and tediously going back to his own past instead of focusing on the questioning of the suspect or the pursuit of the investigation! he was a lousy cop. I felt like he needed to have Yoda come along and give him his speech about "Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing," and whack him over the head with his little knobby walking stick.

The chapters were named after the person from whose perspective the story was told. This is typically a portent of imminent tedium to me. I've rarely (if ever!) enjoyed a novel written in this way, and the chronic voice-switching was jarring, making for a disjointed work which did nothing save remind me I was reading a YA story.

It felt like the author could not make up her mind about which voice she wanted to tell this story in and the hesitation showed uncomfortably. First person is almost never a good choice and mixing it with third is a no-no. The only effect that method has on me is to remind me repeatedly, with each change of voice, that I'm reading a story that's more interested in being artsy and pretentious than ever it is in actually telling an engaging story.

Despite all of this, I might have enjoyed it if it had been written well, but it was not. The author seemed far too in love with turning a phrase than ever she was addressing the very real problems children in school face when a death occurs. It's like the author had no respect not only for the victim, but also for the grieving process. It felt more like a sensationalist piece of writing than an exploration of death and grief, or even a detective story, and this approach cheapened the death of a young girl. But hey, she died beautiful, so what's to worry about, right?

I think at this point I am ready to quit reading not only novels which have a woman's name in the title, but also those which actually use the world "Girl" in the title, such as "Girl, interrupted" and "Girl on a Train" because they are inevitably poor efforts at telling an engrossing story.

This was an advance review copy and I have to apologize for making it only a third the way through this one before I had to quit reading, but life is short and reading list long, and frankly it's a waste to expend any of it on something like this when there are far more appealing and fulfilling efforts out there begging for attention.

I did not care about any of the characters, not even the victim because I was never given reason to, and I sure didn't care who the perp was because the author evidently didn't either! I do wish the author all the best. I think she has stories to tell, especially if she can get an editor who is on the ball, but this particular novel is not one I can recommend.


Tuesday, August 1, 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.


Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire


Rating: WARTY!

I liked the previous novel I read by this author, but this was another failed audiobook which went on too long and was far too rambling to hold my interest. The title was curious. It sounds like one David Weber would have chosen for his Honor Harrington series. Maybe I missed it but I never did figure out how the hell the title fit the story.

There are parts I liked and parts which amused me, but the author got off-topic way too many times and overall, the novel was a drag which I gave up on about two-thirds the way through. She seems to keep forgetting that her detective is supposed to be hunting down a missing teenager.

The novel is also brimming with tired trope and klutzy cliché. I've mentioned oddball names for fictional detectives before, no doubt, but the one in this story almost takes it to another level. She's called October Daye and goes by Toby for short. On the other hand, this isn't your usual detective, since it's a fantasy novel, with fairy characters. Toby herself is half fairy.

But the annoying first person voice is here, which I typically detest, although some writers can make it far less nauseating than others. Here, it wasn't too bad, but I think the reason for that is that it was seriously helped along by Mary Robinette Kowal, who read this book (and who is also an author in her own right), and whose voice I could certainly listen to for a long time without growing tired of it.

That doesn't mean the story didn't drag, and I feel that if I'd been reading a print or ebook, I would have quit it a lot sooner than I did, so this author owes this reader! But Seanan McGuire definitely seems to have a knack for attracting sweet readers to her books. Amy Landon's voice in the previous novel I listened to by this author (a stand-alone titled Sparrow Hill Road, which I rated positively despite the fact that it also dragged here and there) was really easy on the ear, too.

The problem, I felt, was that the author is so enamored of this little world she's created here that she goes off on tangents talking about aspects of it, and she forgets that she's actually supposed to be telling a story and not just describing scenery and character quirks.

I am definitely not one for those kinds of stories, and this is part of a whole series of such stories. In fact, it's number six in a series of thirteen as of this writing, but there was nothing in the blurb to indicate any such thing, which is how I came to read this one first. I'm not a big fan of series, either, and this novel is a great example of why not.

It's technically not necessary to have read the other five before reading this one, since it's a self-contained story, but there's also a history that's referred to often, and there are ongoing story arcs that cover more than one volume, and which meant nothing to me since I was got in on this in the middle.

There were more issues in that Toby was a coffee addict. Barf! Can we not find some new trait to give our first person voice detective? Please? She also had an old car that got damaged, so there really was nothing new here except that it was set in a fairy world rather than the real world, and that simply was not enough to save this poorly-told tale.


Soldier, Sister Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood


Rating: WARTY!

This book, I have to say up front, was a fail for me. Superficially it pretends to be a tribute to Lori Piestewa, who was a member of the Hopi tribe and was also, at the age of 23, the first woman in the US military to be killed in combat in the Iraq War in March 2003, but there is very little in this novel about the military.

Teshina ("Tess") isn't Hopi, she's a 14-year-old American Indian/White woman who lives on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. Her sister joins the National Guard and is subsequently called up for service in Iraq. That's pretty much the last we hear of her, and then the story is nothing more than a young girl dealing with young girl issues with a Native American twist. And a horse.

This felt like a bait-and-switch from the start, and to me it represented more of a disservice to Specialist Piestewa - who though not in a combat unit as such, distinguished herself in action, and subsequently died as a result of a head injury - than ever it was a tribute. Piestewa and the other woman of color in that action, Shoshana Johnson, got the short end of the stick as compared with the fictional farce the military made out of the other female survivor, the white Jessica Lynch.

I had to keep asking myself what this book was about because it went in so many directions that it never really arrived anywhere. Was it about native Americans in the US military? No. Was it about American Indian culture? Well, a little bit. Was it about the relationship between Tess and Gaby, her sister? Somewhat, but not so much. Tess was manic about her sister, bouncing around unrealistically between so many emotions that it was a joke. At one point she'd be angry, at another accepting, and then unaccountably angry again. I get that people do have mixed emotions, but this honestly felt poorly written and inauthentic.

Tess was left to take care of her sister's persnickety horse, and we're bitch-slapped silly with so much crap about understanding the animal that it left the bounds of the real and entered the realm of the supernatural. Yes, you can understand animals, and approach them the right way or the wrong way, and yes of course they're sensitive and have feelings, but this narrative went way overboard for no apparent reason other than that it was an American Indian story.

This same issue arose over Tess's experiences with her grandmother who was patronizingly portrayed as having almost shaman-like qualities, and Zen Buddhist composure. It felt so overdone that it was insulting, and her advice to Tess about handling inappropriate comments was hardly brilliant. The only real way to deal with bullying is to stamp it out. Ignoring it and laughing it off will not do that.

Tess's biggest issue seemed to be the fact that her parents evidently did a lousy job of raising her, so that she's stuck with this question of "who am I?" given her mixed heritage - a question they obviously had not helped her with, but here's a better question: why does it matter? Why was this story not about a young woman accepting that she is who she is and the hell with anyone who won't accept her on her own terms? This business of trying to pigeon-hole her seemed ill-advised to me, and was one in a long list of tropes and clichés, including bullying, that we had here, but with nothing new added to the mix.

The blurb on Goodreads says that "Lori Piestewa...is the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat" and I call horseshit on that one. Try Running Eagle of the Piegan Blackfeet, or Kaúxuma Núpika of the Kootenai, and there were undoubtedly many others whose names we will never know. Don't mess with American Indian women! The writer of that blurb needs an education. I know the author didn't write it, so I am not including that in my review of her novel, but that already had quite sufficient problems for me to rate it negatively. I cannot recommend this story at all.


Fated by Alyson Noël


Rating: WARTY!

This YA novel should have been titled Ill-fated. It was at least different in that it's about a young female who is on a film shoot in Morocco instead of your usual bratty, or ditzy or sappy high school student and her ridiculous love triangle with the sweet best friend and the new bad boy. Barf. I appreciated that, but the problem is that it soon deteriorated into a clone of every other young adult first person female character novel. Are there no female authors out there writing YA female characters that can actually think for themselves and come up with something original?

I know there are a few - people who are not mindlessly copying very other YA writer and coming out with vomit-inducing bullshit like this:

I shove through the crowd, knocking into girls and bouncing off boys, until one in particular catches me, steadies me.
I feel so secure, so at home in his arms.
I melt against his chest-lift my gaze to meet his. Gasping when I stare into a pair of icy blue eyes banded by brilliant flecks of gold

Yes, it was first person. That's a negative for me ninety nine times out of ten.

But there it is! The inevitable gold flecks in the eyes. If I've read this description of the main male character in a YA novel once, I've read it ten billion, trillion, quadrillion times. That, right there, that alone should be sufficient reason these days to negatively rate a YA novel, and I think from now on I shall make it an automatic negative review for any book I read that contains this asinine cliché of a trope.

And I haven't even started yet on the appallingly abusive habit of these female writers have of rendering their female characters as mere appendages of some manly male lead.

What is wrong with these authors? Do they not have a brain, or do they have one and simply chose to turn it off when they write? Or are they so desperate to sell a book and so lacking in standards that even though they know perfectly well how pathetic it is, they compulsively write a clone of every other YA writer's book - and make series and trilogies out of them because this is what Big Publishing™ demands these days? Just how spineless and incompetent are these YA cloning authors?

Maybe the problem isn't the writers except in that the writers are pandering to a sad readership whose standards are so low they'll read anything from the YA landfill? I read in another reviewer's assessment that at one point, "...despite Daire's protests, Dace is kissing her and has his hands up her shirt. Is this really okay?" I have to tell you that no, it is not okay. It is NEVER okay. Believe it or not, Dace is supposed to be the good guy, and it's an awful abuse of young women to write trash like this.

Alyson Noël and her publisher need to publicly apologize for putting this crap out on the market unless they can demonstrate some important and overriding purpose for it. Again, this alone is sufficient reason to rate this book as garbage - like I needed another one! What's that, four strikes against it already? Reading comments like that one in other reviews makes me glad I ditched both this book and also this author DNF. I'm done reading her inexcusable, sloppily-written, stereotypical, trope-laden, clichéd crap.

I know there are a few good YA writers because I've read the work of some of them. My question is: why are they so very hard to find? Why are so many YA writers such pathetic plagiarists that such a limited number of them can come up with original ideas and original characters and the rest have to essentially steal - or perhaps more charitably, share - their characters in a bland pool with every other female YA writer in a trashy, first-person voice, limp, clingy, female desperately in need of salvation and validation by the gold-flecked male in novels which are indistinguishable from one another because they all tell the same story with barely a twist here and there to differentiate them?

This story begins with Daire Santos. Yes, 'dare' - could it be any more pathetic? She seems to be of Latinx roots, yet exhibits little of them not only in her name but in her entire personality. She experiences a horrible vision of bad things happening. She evidently passes out from this and wakes up to find herself restrained in a bed, with mother there and a doctor on the way because they all think she's had some sort of a psychotic episode. She's quickly bundled-off to stay with her grandmother, Paloma, since Daire-to-be-the-same finds that the least objectionable alternative to being sent to a psychiatric institution, which is her mother Jennika's only other offer. Yes, Jennika - no Latin influence there either.

Here's a third reason: the idea of a modern female character - especially one who has the confidence of hanging around with actors (I had thought Daire herself was an actor originally, but apparently she was only there because her mother is a make-up artist in the movie business) - revisiting the historical but obsolete "traditional female role" of screaming and hysteria, is growing old fast, which is ironic, because the story didn't move fast at all. It's lethargic.

Almost literally nothing happens in this entire volume from what I've seen myself, and from what I've read of others' reviews. And why should it? This isn't a novel. At best it's a prologue; at worst, a preface or an author's note. I don't do prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions or any of that time-wasting (and tree-slaughtering) 'front-matter' crap.

If it's worth reading, then it's worth including in chapter one or later. No, this is a series, so what incentive can the author possibly have to deliver you a decent story in volume one? She can't afford to give you anything, because she has pad this to the max, and to drag it out for god only knows how many volumes before she'll quit taking your money several times over for something that she should have had the common decency to take only once.

The novel became bogged down in several ways and for many non-reasons. One was in the 'traditional native medicine' rip-off: dream catchers, native folklore, herbal remedies and so on. The reason 'alternative medicine' isn't just 'medicine' is because it doesn't work! If it's found to work, then it becomes 'medicine' and you can get it prescribed at any hospital or doctor's office if you're deemed to need it!

No, there is no conspiracy to keep these 'secret' folk remedies out of the hands of the public. The pharmaceutical corporations are far too avaricious and profit-oriented to ignore anything they can make money on, so I'm not a fan of that kind of woo, unless it really makes for a good story, and this one wasn't going anywhere on that insulting, cultural-stereotype-hobbled, tacky tack.

There seemed to be a curious obsession with naming all young male characters with four letter names (and I can see the value in that in some stories!), but here the names seemed to all have a letter 'A' as the second letter, and an 'E' as the final letter, so we met Vane, Cade, and Dace, and so on (Cade and Dace are the good-evil twins, while Vane - and to be honest, I can't speak to the spelling since this was a audiobook - was Daire's actor 'friend'). It was weird, although I do admit to finding some amusement in the fact that Vane was the star in this movie they were making. For all I know, maybe his name was actually spelled as 'Vain'!

The audiobook I listened to was read by Brittany Pressley, who was perfect for this title, but the opposite of the kind of voice I want to hear reading stories. The contrast between her nasal whine and the charmingly listenable voices of other readers I've heard lately, such as Mary Robinette Kowal, and Amy Landon is dramatic. You have to hear those voices to fully appreciate how bad this one was, and my guess is that precious few of the people who enjoy this crap would ever sully themselves with a quality reading to even grasp that there even is a difference in the first place, let alone appreciate it.

So in short? No! Just no!


Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment that went south with the honking geese! It sounded good from the blurb, but then doesn't everything? Maybe not! One thing I didn't notice was small print notifying me that this debut novel is the first in a series, otherwise I probably would have skipped it altogether and I would have been right to do so.

Edie is the newest nurse on ward Y4, a secret location hidden under County Hospital, and set aside for paranormal patients. I've worked in hospitals, not as a care-giver like this author is, but as support staff, and so this environment isn't alien to me. It's one I often enjoy reading about in stories, and the idea of a nurse taking care of a sick vampire amused me, but the story itself wasn't amusing or otherwise entertaining at all.

I kept finding myself thinking idle thoughts rather than listening to this as I commuted to and from work, and while I expect my attention to be divided, with the most focus naturally on traffic when I'm driving, that doesn't prevent me for enjoying an audiobook, so this inability of the author to grab my attention was not a good sign, nor did it portend a worthy read. In the end I ditched this somewhere shortly after the forty percent mark, right around the point where the dragon - yes, dragon - showed up. That was too much silly for me.

I read some other negative reviews of this, and at least one of them mentioned unprotected sex on the first date, which is a huge no-no, so either I missed that, which speaks volumes as it is, or I didn't quite reach it, in which case I promise you I won't miss it, but in either case it's a negative on that kind of dumb, even in a supernatural story.

The reading by Tai Sammons was also flat and uninspired so this didn't help things along at all. I cannot recommend this book.


Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein


Rating: WARTY!

In this, the last Robert Heinlein novel I shall probably ever read, Podkayne Fries, an eight-year-old Martian girl (15 in Earth years), fantasizes about visiting Earth even though she doesn't see how it can sustain life. She battles with her younger, trouble-making brother who smuggles a nuclear bomb onto their transport, she gets kidnapped and escapes. In the original she was killed saving a child from a bomb blast, but Heinlein caved to Big Publishing™ despite being an established author by then, and changed the ending so she was injured, but lived.

Spineless is the term for that, and yet one more reason to never go with Big Publishing™ because I don't believe for a minute they would not put this same kind of pressure on an author today, especially if that author wasn't as well established as Heinlein was. Well, not me. Screw that. I'd rather never sell a novel than let a publishing conglomerate tell me how to write my novels.

If the novel had been brilliant, I might have had some nice things to say about it, but it frankly sucked. It was mire din antiquity. Yes, the novel was written in the early sixties, a decade which doesn't remotely deserve the proud boasts it has garnered for itself, but it sounded far more like the early fifties, and there was zero in this novel to make it sci-fi.

The exact-same story could have been written as Podkayne of America, with the US replacing Mars and Europe or Africa replacing Earth, and ships or airplanes replacing spacecraft, and everything else remaining the same, and it would not have needed to be told any differently. Sci-fi? Bullshit! There was nothing remotely science-y or futuristic in it and it was so condescending and fatherly as to be embarrassing.

The best thing about it was the girl who was reading it, Emily Janice Card, who did a really good job with antiquated material. I'd listen to her read something different, but I cannot recommend this musty, moth-eaten fabrication.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Artsy Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll


Rating: WARTY!

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

The review copy had some major issues, but I worked around these and this does not factor into my negative review of this book. Yes, negative. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in this series, but it wasn't quite there for me, even when I viewed it through middle-grade lenses. While I'm not a series fan, I think this one has potential, but this volume (the middle of three in the series s far as I know) just didn't get it done for me.

This book is told from the perspective of Stephen Noble, who walks dogs to help out his father's business. If we were to categorize his parents by traditional 'roles', then Stephen's father was more like a mom and his mom more like a dad given his dad's interest in knitting and other traditionally female pursuits, and his mom's traveling for her job, but this felt to me to be more like a novelty add-in for effect than a serious attempt at depicting equality or parents outside of traditional roles, but they were relatively minor characters, so this really wasn't a big deal.

Stephen's best friend is Renée Kobai. As is usual in these stories, I found the side-kick - Renée - to be far more interesting than ever Stephen was. The problem with Stephen (apart from his foolish willingness to do highly risky if not downright dangerous things, such as trying to follow suspected criminals at midnight) was his obsession with these two dogs, Ping and Pong. It was honestly really irritating, and the number of times the dogs are mentioned was nauseating. I kept asking, "Is this about these two dogs or about art theft?!" because it honestly felt like the plot was taking a back seat to the minutiae of the dogs walking, and sniffing, and barking, and whatever.

The story was supposed to be about the inexplicable disappearance of various items of 'outdoor art' such as the mailbox of Stephen's next-door-neighbor, which was designed to look like a house, and the vanishing decorative fish from the fence around Stephen and Renée's school. The problem was that there never really was any plot!

The story sort of meandered around without any real detective work being done, and it was so obsessed with these two dogs, which Stephen seemed to be walking full time non-stop, that I rapidly lost interest - and I actually like dogs! After about the fifty percent mark I began skimming the story, reading bits here and there, and it was not improving. By seventy-five percent I'd lost even a pretense of interest in it and wanted to move onto something which would actually keep my attention, and not annoy me! I'm sorry, but life is too short for this kind of a novel to occupy any significant amount of it.

There were instances of children lying to adults and getting away with it, and for no good reason. I know children do lie, but to promote this as a real option in life is a mistake in a children's novel, especially when there are no consequences for it.

Worse than this though, at one point Stephen tells us, "I think I've seen enough rescue videos that I can use CPR to bring him back to life if I have to." This is a serious no-no. You cannot do CPR unless you are properly trained, and to suggest to children that you can see it in a video and then just leap in and do it, is excusable, especially in a children's book! You can do serious harm to someone if you try CPR without knowing properly what you are supposed to do, and this alone should disqualify this book from a positive rating. I found it dispiriting that no other reviewers seemed to find a problem with this.

The writing aside, there were serious technical problems with the crappy Kindle app version of this novel and the problems were the same whether I looked at this on my phone or on a tablet computer. Almost every instance of the letters 'T' and 'H' like in 'they' and 'this' and so on, were missing. Also every instance of two 'F's together, like in the word 'off', were missing, so the word was just the letter 'O'. Also missing were combinations of 'F' and 'L', and 'F' and 'I'!. It was weird.

I encountered something like this in another book which I read in Kindle's crappy app a long time ago. Why it happens, I do not know. There must be some glitch when converting to Kindle, I guess, but Kindle's app is substandard anyway in my opinion. I'd much rather read in Bluefire reader, Adobe Digital Editions, or the Nook app, all of which put Kindle to shame. Here are some examples of the missing letters:

  • "the moment her older brother, Attila, takes o for class" (takes off for class)
  • "It'll be the rst one I make" (first one I make)
  • "ey scramble ahead of me like mismatched horses pulling a carriage: Ping, a scruy pony;" (they scramble...scruffy pony)
  • "make the dogs walk to the le of me" (left of me)
  • "He is out walking his ve Yorkie" (No idea what that's supposed to be!)
  • "is junk slows us down" (this junk)
  • "with some kind of ller." (filler)
  • "e sunlight glints o the diamond stud in her nose as she pulls the ugliest wall plaque I've ever seen from someone's pile of junk. It's a large grey sh, mouth open, pointy teeth drawn, mounted on a at slab of glossy wood. Maybe Ping is growling at the sh, not the girl."
  • "e sh is bent as though it's wriggling in a stream." (the fish)
  • She looks from the sh to me. "Oh, not for me. e plaque is for my prof. ey're redecorating the sta lounge."

One of these was unintentionally hilarious, and might well be deemed so by middle grade boys at least: "I don't want to be caught with sh in my pants." It was meant to be (I'm assuming!) "I don't want to be caught with fish in my pants." All this talk of fish, by the way, was from a set of carved wooden sharks that like the dogs, frankly featured too largely in the story.

Had the novel been better, these problems were ignorable (it's surprising how much sense you can make of a sentence which is missing letters!), but as it was, they simply added to the negative overall impression I was already getting from the story itself, so I cannot recommend it.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Brittania We Who Are About to Die by Peter Milligan, Juan José Ryp


Rating: WARTY!

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

I got this because the blurb promised an interesting story about a gladiatrix named Achillia. As is often the case, the blurb lied! The story unfortunately featured very little of her, and instead focused far more on the activities of Antonius Axia who is repeatedly described as a 'detectioner' when in fact that isn't how Romans would have described what we know today as a detective. The actual word would have been one we know well: inquisitor. This failure to get simple names right (Achillia is never described as a gladiatrix either) was annoying, but it wasn't the worst problem with this graphic novel.

The worst problem was that there was scarcely a page went by without bared teeth and blood. It was obnoxious and laughable. The blurb describes Juan José Ryp as an "incendiary artist." I never knew that a definition of 'incendiary' was someone obsessed drawing endless mouths full of teeth and graphic depictions of gratuitous blood-letting and violent death. I think Nero the emperor was not once depicted without his teeth bared. It was asinine.

There really were gladiatrices in ancient Roman times, but they were not common. We know of one apparently described as Achillia from a carving found at Halicarnassus, which was the home of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - the only remaining one of which is the Great Pyramid at Giza. Halicarnassus is in modern day Turkey, and the small carving featured two female gladiatrice. It was labeled Achillia and Amazon, but whether these were intended to be understood as their names is not certain.

This story actually follows Antonius as he tries to figure out why there is so much wanton slaughter going on, of the young men of certain noble families in Rome. His interest in Achillia is really incidental to his investigation, btu she does show up eventually. Unfortunately we never get to know her except in relation to his investigation, so she really isn't the leading female character the blurb led me to believe.

When she does appear, the same illustrator who has zero compunction about depicting endless violent slaughter and blood spatter galore, was evidently squeamish to a fault about illustrating bared female breasts, because Achillia was fully-clothed throughout, which flew in the face of the fact that gladiatrices fought topless, just as gladiators did.

I'm not a fan of splatter-punk in comics or text novels, so this turned me off, but the lack of any real story concerning Achillia was the major downer here. And I have no idea why it was titled 'Brittannia' since all of it took place in Rome. The final insult was that volume four, the last volume of this collection, was completely devoid of text in my ebook copy! It was a picture book only, and as such was utterly useless.

Once I'd ascertained that it was indeed totally bereft of text, I quit reading right there and have to rate this as a thumbs down, not because of the missing text but because of the overall story - or lack of an interesting story to be more precise. When in Rome, all I can do is as the Romans do and offer a Roman warning: legit cave! This has the added advantage of also applying when the words are read as English words! Reader beware as this novel is a legit cave!


Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat


Rating: WARTY!

This one was in my local library and I thought it looked interesting - a graphic novel diary of a senior year in college. I never did a senior year in college so this sounded interesting to me, but in the end it wasn't very interesting at all. It was quite literally a day-to-day dear diary in graphic form, telling of student parties, getting drunk, rather manically feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders and not long after that, feeling life was great.

The problem was that there was nothing in this diary that was unusual. There were some things which were mildly amusing, but mostly not. Overall it was rather boring, like someone you don't know sits next to you on a long train ride and suddenly starts recounting the last year of her life. Yeah, like that.

I think as an artist Natalie Nourigat has real talent, Her black and white line drawings had power and expressiveness, so I'd be interested in reading something else by her (as long as it's not another dear diary!), but this just wasn't to my taste at all.


Stay After Class by AC Rose


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
At one point I read, "I tried to not to sound whinny." I think the author meant whiny. This isn't the kind of mistake a spell-checker will catch! Other than that the book was pretty decently-edited and formatted of the crappy Kindle app in which I read it.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm not a big fan of so-called 'V-card' stories because I've read several and they have been almost universally dumb. This one sounded like it might be a cut above the rest, and I am sorry to have to report that it was not.

AC Rose has been described as "an author of steamy erotic fiction for women." Well they got the fiction part right, but steamy and erotic? Not based on this sample which seemed to me to be languishing far more in the 'pedantic' and 'juvenile' categories than anywhere else.

It should have been titled 'Fifty Shades of Bland' because it really had nothing new to offer, least of all erotica. Far too many authors conflate 'erotic' with 'sexual' and while the two are connected, one might say intimately, they are not the same thing by any means. I'm sorry this author doesn't seem to realize that, because if she had, I think that the the story would have played out differently, and been better for it.

The plot is that senior college student Amanda Slade is a virgin who has decided, for reasons which are never really explained, that she must disrobe herself of this mantle by her twenty-second birthday which is a scant few weeks away. The man she's chosen for this task is her art professor, Jem Nichols. There is no reason whatsoever given for her choice other than the most shallow: he looks studly.

Character naming is important to me, and I had to wonder about the author's choice of name for her main female character: Amanda. It carries within it the word 'man' which is associated with things masculine, but also with other words such as 'mandate' itself a fun word. The name is from the Latin and means 'worthy of love', but Amanda wasn't about love at all, she was solely about sex. This is all she had on her mind all day every day. In short, she came across as mentally ill to me, not as an erotic, sexy, or even interesting character. The professor was effectively no more than a personified penis, so he offered nothing either. There really were no other characters worth mentioning.

I don't doubt there are women as well as men who are as shallow, one-trick, and ultimately boring as Amanda, but I really have zero interest in reading about them. I like a story with my sex! If it's just sex, then it's uninteresting to me, and that was my mistake for thinking this had something else to offer other than rather adolescent ideas about sex, which in the right literary context can be interesting, but which here were flat, monotonous, and uninventive.

The characters never were people, merely placeholders in a sexual game of checkers, wherein the pieces were nudged in a formulaic manner from one fixed square to the next, following a rigid set of moves. This is how the erotic became banished from this story. There was no fluidity and nothing unexpected. The author was simply shoving pieces around a board, employing entirely the wrong kid of rigidity for a something wishing to be a good story about a real sexual relationship!

The lack of realism was rife. The art class where Amanda most commonly encountered her target was an elective, and why she was doing it was unexplained, since she's a business major. If she was serious about her career, there were lots of other classes she could have taken. If something had been written about her wanting to go into advertising, and so was studying art because of that, then that would have been something, but the only conclusion the author left us to draw in this art class was that there was no reason for Amanda to be there other than that it offered talk about bodies and the opportunity to see a nude male, which Amanda has apparently never seen before! This is where the story began to really come apart for me.

Amanda was not remotely a credible character. She came across as juvenile and shallow, which are credible character traits in the right context, but here, she had nothing else to offer. While I don't doubt that there are twenty-one and twenty-two year old virgins, for the author to expect us to believe that Amanda, who was nothing but sexual thoughts, had never even so much as French-kissed a guy (or even a girl) or had any physical experience of men whatsoever is completely absurd. It simply did not fit in with her thought processes.

If she was that obsessed with sex, she would have at least experimented long before she turned twenty-one! Yes, if she'd been raised in some fundamentalist Christian sect or led a truly sheltered life, then maybe I might have bought into her complete lack of experience, but there was no indication whatsoever that she'd had an unusual childhood, and for her to be having constant sexual fantasies, yet to have never done anything to explore even one of them was just the opposite of erotic and not remotely credible!

The author expects us to swallow that Amanda has never even touched herself! If this had been set in the fifties, then I could have bought that assertion, but it was not. It's a thoroughly contemporary story and to suggest that a woman who is so obsessed with sex has never even masturbated is utter bullshit. That was the point I quit reading this story. It was the last straw in a whole bale of such straw.

It's tempting to give the author some kudos for at least touching upon how thoroughly inappropriate it is for a professor to become involved with one of his students. That doesn't even seem to cross the mind of most authors of works like this, but in the context of this story, I got the impression it had only been put in there as a cynical nod to propriety, because it's clear that it never was even a blip on the moral radar of either character. Also, there never was any portion of this story that I read which ever touched upon STDs, which is always a fail for me.

I know that talk of those in a novel claiming to be erotic is rather counter-productive, but I think it should at least get a mention in this day and age, so I tend to automatically fail authors who do not at least mention it, unless there's a very good reason to let it slide.

I labeled this 'Fifty Shades of Bland' for good reason. Not only was there was nothing about it to distinguish it from a sperm-load of other novels in a way-overcrowded genre, there was also the absurdity of the professor's character. He pompously set himself up as the sex-god teacher of this desperate house-virgin, and it was laughable. He's the only one who can masterfully control her own body and bring her to fruition? How insulting to her is that? I can see a guy writing this stuff, but for a female author to write about a woman like this in 2017 is inexcusable.

The professor's idea of teaching Amanda seemed to be rooted in the dom world of Fifty Shades, where he pedantically makes her wait, and teases and taunts her, but not in any sort of erotic or rational way. It read to me like he was intent upon making her suffer - either that or the author had given little thought to her plot other than artificially and amateurishly delaying dénouement.

If what he'd been doing had been interesting or unusual, that might have been something, but it was amateur and ridiculous and she, sad little submissive that she was, trotted along on his leash like a good little bitch. It was pathetic to read, poorly executed, and insulting to women. I like female characters to have a lot more get up and go than Amanda will ever have, and that's precisely what she should have done: got up and gone. The fact that she didn't made her uninteresting to me.

So in the end this was a fail, and I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. I quit reading it at forty-nine percent because it was quite honestly a tedious read. This is not something you want in a novel that's purported to be 'steamy'! Cold water, not steam, was the order of the day here, and I have better things to do with my time. Frankly I've read far more erotic novels where the author wasn't even trying for erotic, but was simply telling a realistic story. This one was far too focused on sex and not at all on telling a story, which is one reason why it was so bland and such a failure.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Dinosaur Kisses by David Ezra Stein


Rating: WARTY!

Didn't like this one at all! It felt way too violent for such a sweet title, depicting a young dinosaur, fresh out of the egg, running around looking to kiss someone...or something? I have no idea where the author cooked up this bizarre idea, but it was a fail for me mostly because it featured this hefty dino barging around invading personal space and assaulting creatures and objects, including squashing one small critter to death? It's entirely the wrong message to send to young children, inviting inappropriate behaviors, and I can't recommend it.


Quantum by Dean De Servienti


Rating: WARTY!

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

The first problem I encountered with this was that it's the first of a trilogy, which means it's really not a novel, but a prologue. The funny thing about that was that there is an author's note, an introduction, AND a prologue in this volume. Now that is serious and hilarious overkill. I do not read introductions, prefaces, prologues, author's notes, or any of that stuff. If you want me to read it, put it in the main text. Anything else is as antique as it is pretentious.

Despite this being a trilogy overture, I decided to take a chance on it anyway because it sounded interesting, but in keeping with its tripartite roots, it moved too slowly for me and didn't offer me much reward no matter how much I let slide. This is why I so rarely find series of any value. The first volume was boring - at least the fifty percent of it that I read - and it should not have been. I can't see myself being remotely interested in reading three volumes if they're anything like the portion I read of this one.

The second problem is that there are far too many characters introduced far too quickly. All this means is that we never get to know a single one of them in any depth, and so we have no one with whom to identify or for whom to root. This is another problem for me. I am not a fan of novels which jump around like this, especially when it's after as little as a single paragraph as often happens here. It moves so rapidly from one person to another, and one locale to another that it's likely to induce whiplash in many readers! It also pretentiously announces each paragraph with a dateline, like this is somehow crucial information. It's not, so why the pretension? Who reads datelines anyway?

This is translated from the Italian (as far as I know), so I readily admit something may have been lost in translation, but I doubt so much could have been lost that a brilliant novel in the native language would have been rendered so uninteresting in English. What bugged me most about this though, is that it was set in the USA. Italy has so much to offer - why betray that and set your novel in the US? Was it to avariciously pander to an insular US audience which evidently can't stand to read a novel unless it's native? And I don't mean Native American! I felt it would have been more interesting had it been set elsewhere, and Italy would have been a fine place to set this.

The most amusing thing was that Kindle's crappy app on my phone, which is the medium I read most of this in (and the formatting was, for once, fine) told me on page one that there were six minutes left in the book! Right, Amazon! Seriously, you still need to do some work on your crappy Kindle app. You're pulling down enough profit from your massive global conglomerate, so I know it's not that you can't afford to hire top line programmers; is it just that you're too cheap to hire them? Or are you purposefully trying to force people to buy a Kindle device?

The story opened amusingly: "Rome was beautiful in spite of the annoying wind that had been buffeting the city for the past couple of days." How might wind make it unattractive? Was Rome farting?! I liked Rome when I visited, but felt it was rather dirty - more-so than London is typically asserted to be, but that was a while ago. I don't know what it's like now, but I promise you the wind cannot make it ugly, so this struck me as a truly odd way of expressing a sentiment. Another translation problem? I can't say.

There were other such issues. One of them was that the artifact they found was six inches in diameter, yet it's referred to as a cane and a walking stick?! Again, this might have been a problem with translation, but with that repetition, it didn't seem so. I think it's funny that the artifact is described as sparkling, yet one guy assumes it's made from gold. Again, a problem with the translation? I don't know.

The truly bizarre thing is that I read, "Whatever metal it's made of isn't known to us." I'm sorry, but this is bullshit. We know all the metals in the universe. They're in the periodic table, and scientists can reliably project what others may be found. There are almost none beyond Uranium that are remotely stable. They can be created in the lab, but are so loosely wrapped that they exist for only minuscule fractions of a second, so this 'unknown metal' which often appears in sci-fi, is nonsensical.

The author would have made more sense and impressed me more if he'd talked about an unknown alloy instead of an unknown metal. I would have been more impressed still if he'd gone for one of the unstable metals and reported that it had somehow been rendered stable in this artifact (but then it might still have been radioactive), or if he had gone with one of the projected stable metals which are way off the end of the current periodic table. There's supposed to be one somewhere in the vicinity of Unbinilium. It hasn't been found yet and may not exist, but something like that would have been sweet to read about instead of this amateurish 'unknown metal'.

The story itself made no sense. The idea is that medical volunteers in the Sudan find a metallic cylinder, which was evidently embedded in rocks a quarter billion years old. Instead of asking permission from the powers-that-be in the country, they simply assert white man's privilege and steal the thing, transporting it to the west like the Sudanese have no business with it at all, and no say in the matter. They're black and African so why would any white scientists care at all? That can and has happened, but the fact that there isn't one single voice of dissension recording how utterly wrong that is bothered me intensely, and spoiled this right from the beginning.

The next absurdity is that the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) cease all disputes and come together as one, Israel sending the Mossad after this object. why? There is no reason whatsoever given for this intense religious interest, and for why it is only those three, like there are no other important religions on the planet! Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Falun Gong, and Sikhism are all larger than Judaism, so this seemed like an utterly arbitrary choice.

Anyway, all of the scientists contact their families and tell them not to try to contact them (!), and then they disappear. They're accompanied by and protected by a guy named Yoshi, who has a really interesting and overly intimate (but not sexual) relationship with his sister. Those two intrigued me more than anything else in this story, though they 'skeeved out' at least one reviewer I read, but they were switched-out with other characters almost interchangeably, so we never even got to learn why those two were like they were, although this may have been revealed in the second half of this first volume which I did not read. Life is too short!

So overall, based on the half of the volume I read, I cannot recommend this. It's too dissipated: all over the place and completely unrealistic, and it offered nothing to hold my interest.