Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audio book. Show all posts

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher


Rating: WARTY!

I should have followed my very first instinct which was to put this book back on the shelf. I just could not get into it at all. I got maybe twenty percent in before I gave it up as a bad job. Life's too short. The audiobook reader, Kim Mai Guest (a guest reader?!) was actually pretty good. Except for this one dumb voice she did, which I hope I'll never hear again, I'd listen to a different book read by her, but the story itself was bloated and confused, and the 'big reveal' was telegraphed from the beginning - the prisoner who has lost his memory is, I'm guessing, the prince who supposedly died. Boring!

You know I've often wondered how these readers of the books for the audio version feel about the books they read. Do they hate some of them, but can't say because it might jeopardize their prospects of being hired again? As readers only for our own personal entertainment, we can ditch a book that gets boring, but if you're hired to read a book, you have to stay with it until it's done satisfactorily. That, to me, would be torture!

So the story here is that Incarceron is a living prison. I don't know what that means - where it's actually some kind of living thing, or merely an advanced AI. It would seem to be the latter, and it appears to have taken pity on Finn, the flat and whiney male protagonist, by freeing him from his cell, but all this leads to his imprisonment in a larger and unprotected environment which is still a prison, so how is this doing him a favor? Finn initially wakes (we're told in an info-dump) to find his memory lost and himself incarcerated in a cell that appears to have no door. He gets food handed twice a day through a slot, and his 'waste products' are removed the same way.

One day a door which had been invisible in the wall opens and he gets out into a seemingly endless, straight, white tubular corridor. He follows it in one direction until he's too tired to walk. When he wakes, there is food right by him, so maybe Incarceron is helping him, but the description which started out quite interestingly, got lost in bad writing, as he whines (endlessly) about his wandering for days unsure if he was even moving

His evacuation of waste products seems to cease at this point, because he could tell if he was back-tracking by finding evidence where he'd previously urinated or defecated, yet none of this is covered, nor does the writer explain how he knew he was going in the same direction every day since he apparently left not even those markers. What if he got turned around in his sleep and went back the next day over the same ground he covered the day before? We'll never know because this author evidently never even considered this.

It was at this point that I quit reading, out of a complete lack of interest in any of the characters. There was the inevitable female counterpart to the male (because gays and transgenders never do end up in dystopian stories for some reason, I guess they're smarter than the cis population....). She was the warden's daughter and she was on some quest or other that I simply could not for the life of me make heads or tails of. There was some mysterious Lord (or course) who was evil evidently because he was overweight. There were robot rats which spied on people, even on the warden's daughter. Why rats? Why not drones? None of this made any sense at all and it feels like such a huge relief that I do not have to follow this story anymore!


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a full-cast audio production of a graphic novel I reviewed positively back in February. Noelle Stevenson is of Lumberjanes fame - a graphic novel I did not like at all. Nimona is altogether different, but I'm not going into any detail here since you can read that in my previous review. here's I'll just comment on the differences between it and the audio.

I wanted to listen to this because it struck me as odd that there should be an audio version of a novel written in a format that is known primarily for appealing to the visual! At first, I was annoyed. This audiobook succumbs to one of my pet peeves about audiobooks, which is that there is music. There are also sound effects. After a while I learned to tolerate all of this, but I was never completely happy with it. Full-cast is listed on the audio itself, but not on the cover, which mentions only three people: Rebecca Soler, Jonathan Davis, and Marc Thompson. They did do a good job, though, once I had got used to the voices.

Soler - who could actually play Nimona very effectively if the story ever got made into a movie - truly gets into her character and does a great job, and the other two, one of whom, I assume, does Ballister Blackheart, and the other Ambrosius Goldenloin, deliver beautifully. I recommend this version - it's very short, of course, but if you want some delicious villainy and intrigue delivered direct to your ear, then this is a great way to get it.


Monday, June 5, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


Rating: WARTY!

Here's is my vow never to pick up another book which has such a pretentious title: The Sun is Also a Star? Yeah, and your ass is also a black hole. Deal with it.

These books typically win awards for which I have absolutely zero respect because the books winning those awards almost universally suck like a black hole. See how I worked a pretentious cosmic perspective into my review? Anyone can do it. 'The Sun Also Causes Causes Cancer' will be the title of my next novel, and I hope it wins one of these 'literary' awards for no other reason that then I can flatly turn it down and tell these clueless dicks what I think of these pretentious awards for pretentious novels. or maybe I'll accept it so I can give the money to a writing program that teaches prospective novelists how to avoid-like-the-plague writing trash like this?

This book was awful. I made it through only about 15 percent, it was so bad, and that was only because I was a captive audience in a car at the time. I didn't even get to the instadore. You know what I'd really like to read: a book like this, but which highlights how wrong illegal immigration is instead of very effectively brushing it under the carpet of "a better life in America" and trying to present it as some sunny, polished, life-affirming, noble existence. No, it's a crime!

Hey, guess what?! Jamaica is already a part of the Americas! Yes! They were already there and too stupid to know it! Nowhere is the criminal element (yes, it's a crime to enter a nation without proper permissions) touched on here. If it had been, I would have taken a somewhat different view, but it was not.

I get that they're hoping for a better life, all of us are, but these people in this novel were not children from some African war-torn nation. They were not some oppressed minority from China. They were not women being abused in some unenlightened Middle East nation. They were from Jamaica, mon, which has been undergoing an economic surge for over a decade. This novel was published last year, meaning the author either hasn't done her research, or she simply doesn't care to.

This doesn't mean they were comfortably-off by any means, but to write books like this is not only an insult (in this case) to Jamaica, but also an insult those who are in a country legally, having gone through the tedious processes, and filled out the endless paperwork, and been through the interviews, and become solid and productive 'citizens' even if they're technically not citizens.

Where are the award winning books about those people? Let's get away from this ennobling glamorization and mythology of the 'honorable' illegal immigrant and deal with it realistically (and I don't mean the way a certain business president thinks it should be dealt with either!).

Instead of that, what we have here is a badly-written story about immigrants who are not only illegal, but who are also living on stolen identities. And this author has them not in a holding cell, but living at home, and running around freely! The voices the story was told in were multiple, all of them badly-done by the multiple readers of the audiobook, and not a one of them sounding remotely interesting or realistic. I did not like, nor did I care for any of these characters, and like I said, that's after only fifteen percent. This book was garbage, period. I'm done with this author.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Zero Day by Jan Gangsei


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with any of the Zero Day's from Bobby Adair, David Baldacci, Mark Russinovich, or A Meredith Walters, all of which are series, this uninventively-named book one of yet another unwelcome YA series was a waste of my time. That said, I'd listen to a different book - by a different author - which is read by the same audiobook reader, because Andi Arndt actually did a decent job. It's a pity she didn't have better material to work with.

I realized how much of a complete retread of every other YA s0-called "thriller" it was as soon as I read the description of the main character's love interest: he has rippling muscles, soft curls in his nape, and gold flecks in his eyes. I had to apologize the local library for barfing all over the audiobook. Why are there so lamentably few YA writers with the intelligence and inventiveness to go off the beaten track instead of beating us over the head with the same worn-out track every other YA writer has worn down into blandness?

Adele Webster was kidnapped at the age of eight, right out of the house where the governor, her father, was meeting with his chief of staff, and no one seems to think this is an inside job? Now, eight years later, she comes back as the daughter of a president.

The obvious question is why now, when the president is dealing with home-grown terrorism in the form of a group of potentially violent hackers calling themselves Cerberus, which everyone pronounces Sir Berrus. The original Greek is Kerberos, and it struck me that hackers of this sophistication would have been much more likely to have adopted the original name rather than the modern one. I'm guessing the author has no idea of the original Greek, mainly because she seems to have so little idea of anything else.

Addie, as she's consistently known, is accepted into the president's inner domain unbelievably quickly. She gives the Secret service a story and they pretty much swallow it, but why is she telling them when the search for her would be the FBI's domain? On the other hand, who would kidnap a governor's daughter in the blind belief that this same governor would inevitably become president just four years later, and his daughter would inevitably become a shill for the terrorists when they release her four years later still? The author clearly believes this isn't too far into fantasy land....

Addie describes the family which kidnapped her (she says!) as living 'off the grid'. This phrase has been in use since the mid-nineties or so, but this struck me as a phrase an eight-year-old girl would not use, and so as a sixteen-year-old who has not been exposed to any popular culture, is this a phrase Addie would have known? It's not even remarked upon, but I think the FBI would have caught this, and at least considered the unlikelihood of her use of it if the story she's telling is supposed to be true. But the author is blinkered to this as she is to too many things. Addie's rapid reinstatement and unsupervised and unmonitored entry into the White House is simply not credible.

Addie's childhood friend - the boy who was the last to see her before she was snatched - is Darrow Fergusson, the now grown son of the woman who is still chief of staff. He's asked by the National Security Advisor to spy on Addie. I'm sorry but no. The last person the NSA would ask to spy, much less tip-off that there is spying in the offing, is this girl's best friend from childhood, and whether they did or not, Darrow would have to be a complete moron not to report Addie's unexplained departure from her White House bedroom, via a window, down into the grounds on the first night he gets to meet her after her return. His character simply isn't credible.

The story was so poorly written and badly plotted that I DNF'd it right at those asinine gold flecks. I did listen tot he last disk on the way home though,m and it;s as poorly written as the rest of the novel. The entire last ten percent is utterly unbelievable, with a cliff-hanger ending, which I abhor, because it means that what I just wasted my time on something that was nothing more than a 368-page prologue, and I don't even read 368 word prologues. This book is objectionable, nasty, and detestable and I actively disrecommend it.


A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi


This is another audiobook experiment which started out strongly, winning me with its improbable events, Indian mythology, and dry humor, but which in the second half of the book, particularly the finale, became so lost and bogged-down in endless exposition and irrelevant descriptive prose that it spoiled the entire story for me. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the initials of the title, which spell out 'A Cow'!

The author's name is Roshani Chokshi which sounds wonderful, but when the audiobook opened, I discovered that the author's name has been so Americanized that it's lost all of its charm, being pronounced Row-shnee Choke-she, which doesn't sound exotic at all, and even sounds abusive: choke she?!

While I can't judge a book on the author's name any more than I can on the cover, I have to confess to disappointment that so rich a heritage has been so badly diluted. Indian names tend to be pronounced as consonant/vowel pairs, so Roshani would be Rho Sha Ni. The 'a' is long and the 'i' is pronounced as 'e', so in Indian, the name would be like Row Shaa Nee. Obviously it's a matter of personal taste (and it's her name to do with what she will, after all!), but to me that sounds so much sweeter than Row-shnee. Schnee is the German word for snow!

Let's move along! In the novel, Gauri is a warrior princess of Bharata, who is imprisoned for reasons which were never clear to me. I listen to audiobooks while commuting, which means I miss things on occasion, as I'm more focused on traffic, as necessary, than I am on listening, so I readily admit this may well have been explained, yet never made it to my conscious mind. It's not really important. Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is from a neighboring, but hardly friendly nation. Each sees a chance though, of recovery of their inheritance in the other, and so they form an alliance.

If they are to form a team and enter the Tournament of Wishes, then he will need her fighting skills, and she needs his deviousness. The victor gets a wish, although how this works if the victor is two people was not clear to me either! Do they each get a wish or is it shared? The fact that neither of them ask this question to begin with makes me doubt the smarts of either of them, but the story was initially interesting as they navigated the world of mythical creatures and entered the competition.

Unfortunately, while it was fun in parts and interesting in others, the author rambled on far too much about things which seemed to me to be irrelevant and which id nothing to move the story along. I was looking forward to an interesting and eventful contest, yet the contest itself fell flat for me. Either that or, through driving, I missed the best bits! But when I was about eighty percent into the book I became tired of the endlessly rambling tone, and I DNF'd it. I decided that overall it isn't a worthy read, despite some really good bits, because it was slow, tedious, and boring in far too many parts.

In terms of the reading, it was very pleasant, I have to say, to listen to reader Priya Ayyar's voice, which was charming and told the story, such as it was, well. I would listen to her again, hopefully reading better material. Her only misstep that I noticed was when she read "Boughs of an impossible tree" and pronounced it 'bows' of an impossible tree! Language matters. So does pronunciation! Authors - and readers - neglect this at their peril! Overall, I can't recommend this one.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook checked out for the library on spec and which didn't work out for me, but it's worth listening to so many to find the handful of gems amongst them. You never know where the next captivating book will come from, or for that matter, the next inspiration for a new story of your own.

The problem with this novel is that there is a huge difference between someone being on the autistic spectrum (Caitlin has Asperger’s) and some person being simply a blithering idiot, and for me this author went the wrong way. Caitlin is telling this from her own perspective which rarely woks for me and it failed here. The author tries to get is on her side by removing her mom and her older brother Devon from the picture, Devon having died in a school shooting, but for me this was nothing but an arbitrary choice, made for no other reason than to stick Caitlin in it, and it delivered nothing to the story, which far from being engrossing and drawing me in, felt tediously amateur, overly simplistic, and boring.

I think it would have made for a much better story had Devon not been a dead angel, but a living demon, who is emotionally abusive to Caitlin. There would be a story that had meat on its bones, but this one was all bones, and the bones were dry as dust, as well as being pedagogic and preachy. I cannot recommend it.


Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure by Georgia Byng


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third in the Molly Moon series and also - due to some confusion about titles, the first I read - or rather listened to since I go the audio book read very charmingly by Clare Higgins (who you may remember as Ma Costa in The Golden Compass movie). I was not very impressed with the story, unfortunately. The plot is that Molly Moon is kidnapped several times at different stages of her timeline, by a villainous Indian whose purpose was never clear to me, although I did DNF this, so I may well have missed it.

The Indian employed a lackey who was the one who actually kidnapped Molly. The lackey wanted to get back to the fountain of time or whatever it was, which he thought would restore his youth and looks (time travel apparently turns people into lizards, if they overdo it). The problem was that the entire story was one long repetitive slew of time jumps, which was interesting at first, because it was quite engagingly described, and one example of hypnotism was really quite beautifully done, but after the story kept repeating endless time jumps, and with Molly's dog being kidnapped to forced Molly's compliance, and then she getting it back and then it begin kidnapped again, it was tedious, to say nothing of confusing. I may have missed this, too, but I never did understand why they needed Molly.

On top of this, the story sounded faintly racist to me, as the Indian bad guy was given this absurd affliction of spoonerism, which rapidly became annoying to me. Obviously the story isn't aimed at me, it's aimed at middle-grade readers, so they may have a different take on it to what I did, but I can't recommend this one.


Molly Moon Stops the World by Georgia Byng


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second in the Molly Moon series and also - due to some confusion about titles, the one I read after I read the third one. I haven’t read the first, and I decided I really don’t want to, not after reading the second and in particular, the third. Technically I listened to these rather than read them, charmed by the hypnotic voice of Clare Higgins who does a better job reading than the author did writing.

In the first volume, Molly learns how to hypnotize people and turns it to her advantage before “retiring” from her successful, if fraught, career on stage, and taking over control of the orphanage where she was raised, making it a decent place for kids to live. In this volume, Molly inexplicably decides she ought to try hypnotizing inanimate objects and by doing do, discovers that she can atop time, freezing everything – living and inanimate alike – except herself, who can then moves through this frozen world with impunity. Of course this attracts attention from someone else who also has this power, and thus the adventure begins.

The problem with these books is that they're so repetitive, and this turned me off them. I did skip to the last disk in the set and was quite charmed by the writing during a part of the ending, but overall, I can't recommend this. Less discriminating readers of the appropriate age range might have better luck.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur


Rating: WARTY!

I honestly have no idea what this story was about - I mean, what was the aim here? What did the author hope to achieve? The author's name is hilarious because Suzanne means Lily, so her name is Lily The Flower! I loved that. It was the best thing about his whole book. Normally I don't talk about covers, but I have to say this is yet another example of Big Publishing™ getting its hands on your work and ruining it. The cover artist clearly had no clue what was going on in the book because the front cover represents nothing between it and the back cover.

The best thing I can say about it is that it was short, otherwise I would have ditched it as a DNF. It was aimed at middle-graders, so perhaps I'm not in the best position to judge it, but I honestly cannot see what they would get out of it that I did not. One of my kids is middle-grade, though, and the other is just out, and I can promise you that neither of them would have the slightest interest in this book, not even as short as it was.

Yes, it was another audiobook experiment, and it failed, but this is why I go out on a limb with audiobooks - for the one in a handful that really impresses me, and one which I might never have experienced had I not got the audio version of it. The one that makes it worth listening to poor ones like this. The reader didn't do an awful job exactly, but there were two issues I had with Christy Carlson Romano. The first is that she sounded way to old to be reading a first person story by a twelve-year old since she's in her mid-twenties. At the risk of being pounded for suggesting a return to child labor, is it such a bad idea to get a real twelve- (13-? 14-? 15-?) year-old to read these and let the kids earn some cash?

The second thing is that despite her her age, Romano sounded like a Disney princess and this really put me off the story. The sad thing is though, that even had I adored the reader and her treatment of it, I still would not have liked the story, because nothing happened. There was no drama, not even close, nor where there thrills, spills, chills, or excitement.

The whole plot, that we have this twelve-year-old Mathilde Joss going to war sounded interesting to me, but it was completely misleading because she joins military intelligence in one of those absolutely pointless and unsupported non-plots that far too many middle-grade novels employ - it just is. accept it we don't have to justify it. Well, guess what? You do! And Lily the Flower didn't. She didn't even try, so we had absolutely no reason whatsoever for the military hiring these kids except that this is a book aimed at middle-graders and the author says "This is the way it is!".

Mathilde lives in a fictional parallel universe in the land of Sofarende, which is under attack from Tyssia, but this world is exactly the same as ours, except that they don't have radar for reasons unexplained, so they have to use kids to magically predict where the bombers (asininely called "aerials" here for no good reason other than to make them seem alien) will come and bomb next. I kid you not.

Mathilde is yanked into this world, leaving her friend Megs behind, because megs failed the admission test and Mathilde did not, yet later, Megs shows up anyway without any explanation! None of these kids are allowed any further contact with their parents - again without any explanation or rationale.

The weird thing is that it takes twenty-five percent of the novel before Mathilde even gets to this secret base where the non-action takes place. Her task is to talk with a prisoner, but none of their conversations have any value, or bearing on the story, and none of them are remotely interesting or help advance the war effort. In short, it's a completely pointless exercise. So she learns that war is horrible and it's better not to start them, like there's a middle-grader anywhere on the planet who doesn't already know this? If this book was supposed to teach about the horrors of war, it was a major fail.

Then the novel weirdly fizzles out at the end with the kids being taken from the base, and sent abroad for no apparent reason (except maybe the area they were in, which they'd been repeatedly assured was well away from the fighting, was being invaded? How was that even possible, when areas nearer the front, where Mathilde had come from, were safe? None of this made any sense at all, and not a single one of these kids seemed at all home-sick or traumatized by what they were going through! It wasn't remotely realistic.

The story just fades away at the end, with Mathilde on a boat, alone, since she got lost (that's how intelligent she is!) and that's it. Is this the start of a series? If so the intro sucked and I don't want to follow it. Is it a stand alone? If so, it sucked, and I wasted several hours listening to it when I could have been hearing something worth listening to. That's four hours of my valuable and limited time of which this author has robbed me! But then I may well have robbed people too, with my books, so it all balances out in the end.

So the effect this book had on me was to make me laugh at how pathetic it was, not to make me consider war and suffering. It fails in everything it might be trying to do, but maybe I'm being a bit presumptuous there, because it was so wishy-washy in whatever it was trying to do was being done so badly that I can't honestly be sure it was trying to do anything.

It actually felt more like I was reading excerpts from a longer and better book, and these were the parts the author had torn out in disgust because they were so bland and uninteresting, and because they actually held up the plot of the real book, which is still out there somewhere, going unread. So no, I can't recommend it! My standards won't let me!


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How Oliver Olson Changed the World, by Claudia Mills


Rating: WORTHY!

Following up on The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills, which I liked, I found this short and sweet audiobook at the library. Oliver Olson's parents need some therapy because what they're doing borders on child abuse. They're so over-protective as parents that they barely let Oliver do a thing for himself. He has to eat boring "healthy" snacks, and they won't let him watch cartoons (presumably because they're too violent or silly.

The thing is though, that they're inconsistent. They help him so much with his homework that it really doesn't benefit him because he's not allowed to think for himself, and they give no consideration whatsoever, in this healthy lifestyle they're promoting, to how much they are damaging him with stress by placing all these restrictions on him, denying him a pet, and not letting him cut loose once in a while.

Healthy food is fine. I have no problem with that, but if it's so unappetizing that kids are turned off it, rather than setting them up for a healthy life, you're turning them from it. You need to cut them some slack once in a while and try to make sure the healthy part of the diet is as attractive (if not more so!) than the junk food they inevitably get their hands on. Fortunately, events conspire to rescue Oliver from this strait-jacket of a life in which he's confined, before he grows up to become a serial killer or a sociopath.

The biggest complaint I would have about the book is that Oliver is inexplicably well-balanced despite all he endures, and he's rather too mature for his age. As for the audiobook, the biggest complaint about that is Johnny Heller. I am not a fan of this guy's book-reading at all, but he's the go-to guy for countless stories, which means he keeps getting stories offered to him without the audio book people giving any consideration to letting new voices in, or even to whether this guy's voice is really the best for the story.

Frankly his voice just annoys me, and it did particularly in this story because, while it is told from the PoV of Oliver, there are four main female characters who feature prominently in it, and it just seemed genderist to me to have a guy read it when four-fifths of it revolves around females and female influences.

That said, it was entertaining and amusing. Oliver's class in school is studying the solar system (and the author does a fine job in supplying information about it without seeming like she's lecturing). The school is having a sleepover so they can study the planets through a telescope and also watch a space adventure movie (which shall remain nameless since I've grown to detest it lately!), but of course Oliver's parents refuse to let him sleep over because they can't be there to watch him and make sure he brushes his teeth, like a single night without brushing will necessitate dentures first thing in the morning!

Oliver's parents pretty much take over his course assignment: to create a diorama of the solar system, but a girl comes to his rescue. Crystal Harding, known best to Oliver for talking too much in school, somehow manages to set the two of them up as diorama team, working together, and Oliver is then stuck with the task of weaning his parents off the project.

He achieves this with a studiousness, patience, and calm which is as commendable as it is rather unbelievable, given how he's been raised. This, in turn, sets him on the path to freedom form his "shut-in" world and improves his overall outlook on life. It's a great ending, a well-written and amusing story, and very short, but just the right length for this story. I recommend this one, and this writer as someone worth keeping an eye on for any new output.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Someone Was Watching by David Patneaude


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook that almost made it under the wire, but the more of this review I wrote the worse it seemed to me! Jeff Woodman's reading was very good, but the material lacked credibility or seemed like it was being artificially manipulated for the scare-effect. Consequently, the scares felt very much like they were tacked on...well, tackily, instead of being organically and intelligently incorporated into the story. The novel redeemed itself somewhat with the ending, but overall while initially thinking it's a worthy read for middle-graders, I found myself changing my mind, and I'll explain why.

The story begins three months after the young daughter, Molly, of this Wisconsin family has disappeared while they were picnicking in a park by a river. Everyone blames themselves for it, although the parents were shamefully lacking in attention. Chris, the thirteen-year-old son had gone off by himself, deliberately avoiding taking Molly with him, hence his guilt. Molly disappeared, of course, and the assumption by everyone is that she drowned, even though three months on, no body has been found.

This was my first beef: that a possible abduction had not once been considered. It felt completely unrealistic and makes the police look stupid. If it had been considered and dismissed for some reason, that would be one thing, but it never was, so for me, this was poor writing. This bad writing continues as the family therapist advises a trip to the same park where Molly went missing - for closure. The absurdism here comes from the abrupt turn-around in everyone's attitude: things miraculously - and unbelievably - change. They changed far too much, far too quickly, in fact, to have any credibility, and this is further highlighted by events that same evening.

As part of this therapy, they watch the video Chris shot that day (this was a 1993 novel, so no smart phones were to hand, nor was there any of today's digital technology typically available). Something bothers Chris about the video and keeps him awake. When he watches it again, he notices the arrival of the local ice cream van, but instead of sitting in the park with the music playing, selling ice cream, the van quickly goes quiet, stays only for a minute, and then leaves. This makes Chris suspicious, but for me, again, it was a a bit of a stretch. Maybe middle-graders won't care, but for me there should have been a bit more. just a bit.

Chris brings his suspicions to the attention of his parents, who summarily dismiss them all! This is the same family which, quite literally the day before, were dysfunctional to a painful degree, unable to come to terms with Molly being lost, yet now, they summarily dismiss what Chris says, and all but forbid him to talk about it.

Chris and his school friend Patrick decided to investigate further, back in the small village near the park where the ice cream folk, Buddy and his wife Clover, have a shop. They discover that the ice-cream vendors have left long before the season is over, with the excuse that Clover's mom is ill. Conveniently, there's an envelope in the mailbox, revealing where they went, so rather than take all of this to the police, Chris and Pat decide to fly down to Florida to pursue them, and see if they really have Molly.

Once they arrive in the Florida location, they have some poorly tacked-on encounters which stand out rather sore-thumb-like, such as the police officer showing an unnatural interest in them in a restaurant, and three young thugs trying to shake them down in the street. Maybe middle-graders won't be so picky about the tacky, but for me it did not work. The rescue was better, but even there the boys were shown as idiots rather than heroes.

They do rescue Molly of course - that much was a given -but instead of going to the nearest house and asking for help (it would be very easy to tell a story about a man chasing them - since it was true!), they keep running and almost get caught before they - finally - make it to the police station, where the story pretty much ends. There was an epilogue but I'm no more interested in reading those than I am prologues.

So while the reading was good and parts of the story were engaging, for me, overall, it was a fail. I'm more picky than middle-graders, so maybe they won;t care, but I think this was a wasted opportunity to educate middle-graders about how to behave - and survive - (given the unlikely premise that they fly to Florida in the first place), and I think the author blew a great opportunity for the sake of cheap and gaudy thrills. I can't recommend this one.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr


Rating: WARTY!

This audio book was a full-cast production, although it's more aptly described as a full body-cast production since if I'd bought it, I would have felt stiffed. It's based on the novel which itself is rooted in a true story. The true story which occurred in 1914, was not done justice at all, which is a sad thing to say about a novel set in a prison!

None of this made me feel this was worth listening to. At times it was positively obnoxious, and the musical interludes rather spoiled it, than added to it for me. This is a problem for me - when they put music into audio books. I can see, in this case, some motivation for it, but the author's original novel - unless it came issued with a CD or something! - had no music in it, so this goes beyond whatever the author had imagined - assuming she didn't originally imagine it being produced in this form when she wrote it.

Far too many audiobooks have music included and it ruins it for me, particularly when the book isn't about music at all, and therefore the music is completely random and totally inappropriate since it has, I'm guessing, little or nothing to do with any authorial input. This is why I never want to go with Big Publishing&Trade, because you lose all rights to your work even as, legally speaking, they remain with you. You don't get to say who publishes the audio book, or whether or not it has music and what that music is like. You don't get to choose the cover, which is why this book has a cover which is totally inappropriate to the content, making it look like the novel was about a risqué fifties jazz singer! That's not for me; I'd rather sell none than sell out.

Sooo, onto the story! Libby Dodge is 16, and in Sherborn women's prison for reasons I never did find out since I DNF'd this. Maybe we never did learn, or maybe I just missed it. Sherbourn was a real prison and they did put on a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Other than that, the work is fiction, although one or two real names are used for the people involved. The novel tells of the arrival of Mrs. Wilkinson, the new cleric on site, who starts in with this progressive treatment of prisoners, much to the chagrin of the warden. In real life, this warden later did become more benign and progressive in her own outlook.

There is a truly uplifting story (the real one) to which this book is an insult. I can't define it any better than that. It just never resonated - never clicked - with me and I couldn't get into it. I didn't like it, so I can't recommend it. The singing was obnoxious at times, so this was one issue.

Some of the characterizations were so amateur and pathetic that they really distracted from the book itself. I think a story about the warden would have made for a better read, but it's not what we got, and what we did get wasn't good enough. It seemed to be a problem with allowing other people to take charge of your creation and run with it. Instead of running, they fell flat on their faces in their shabby shorts, and not only because they had such poor material in which to run in the first place.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Time in Between by María Dueñas


Rating: WARTY!

This was a rather long and long-winded audiobook, set prior to and during World War Two. Zilah Mondoza's too youthful and rather pedantic reading certainly did not help matters. It was written by a Spanish author, and translated into English so I realize I'm getting this second-hand - even third-hand given that I'm listening to a Spanish language novel, translated into English, and then read by a Spanish speaker in English! LOL! In parts it was too tedious and I found myself wondering if the tedious parts were actually more interesting in the original Spanish, but I somehow doubted it!

The author can be way too wordy in her descriptions, going on too long and into far too much detail for some things, while completely glossing over others. I saw no method to this madness. It had enough quite interesting parts to keep me going to begin with, but even this soon felt like it was nowhere near enough. After a third of it, I gave up because I saw no sign of improvement. Even though I would have liked to have read the story which intrigued me, but it was way too flowery and too verbose for me to maintain interest.

This is one reason I tend to steer clear of really long audiobooks. For me this format is experimental - I will listen to something in audio that I probably would not touch were it in print or electronic form, so I don't want to get invested and then find out a quarter the way in that it's not to my taste. Shorter books tend to get to the point faster, so it's easier to see if it's going to appeal to me, whereas with a longer audiobook, a quarter the way through can be the full length of a shorter book! In print, this particular novel would be some 600 pages long, which is twice as long as I normally feel happy with. It probably could have been 200 pages shorter had the author not been quite so prolix.

The main character is Sira Quiroga. She grows up learning to sew alongside her mother and other women, as such women traditionally did back then. Sira is good at it, which comes in useful later. Immediately before the Spanish Civil War, she becomes engaged to a man named Ignacio who has a secure job as a civil servant. Secure, that is, until the war begins, no doubt. When she meets the more dashing Ramiro Arribas, she foolishly ditches Ignacio. This made me dislike her, but she pays the price for this inconstancy.

She and Arribas move to Spanish Morocco. Why wasn't exactly clear to me: perhaps they left simply to avoid the civil war, but why go to Morocco? Who knows? Her beau is a con-man, who robs her of her entire dowry, which her estranged father had unexpectedly bestowed upon her not long before.

Sira is left with a debt of 3,000 pesetas for hotel accommodations, and is arrested, but a kindly police officer sets her up with cheap lodgings so she can pay back what she owes. She has a year to do this, but is struggling to make ends meet by taking in a few sewing jobs. Her landlady, with the exotic name of Candelaria (it means Candlemas), has in the meantime discovered a cache of guns left by a previous tenant who never returned to retrieve them. Her plan is to turn the cache into cash; then she and Sira will go fifty-fifty in a dressmaking shop, Candelaria fronting the money and Sira doing the work.

One big problem came in the telling of her night-time journey to deliver the guns. That hsould have been exciting, right? it wasn't! It was boringly full of extraneous detail. It's not that the story overall was uninteresting, it's just that the interesting parts were so diluted with over-done prose, that it took far too long for anything to happen. This gun delivery should be a fraught and exciting event, but it's made to sound mundane and monontonous because the author so long to tell it. There are many other such instances - situations not quite as potentially dangerous as this one was, but this only means the descriptive prose is that much less acceptable elsehwere.

After a third of the book I gave up on it and I cannot recommend this.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay by Emily Janice Card, the problem with this 'Da Vinci Code' wannabe audiobook was that it was, once again, first person, which made for a tedious listen, since it's all about the main character all the time - hey look at me! Hey, see what I'm doing now! Hey check out my obsession with cute guys! With first person voice you are trapped inside this character and nothing at all can happen in your story unless she's present to witness it. Or unless we get an even more tedious info-dump from someone else about what happened when our narrator wasn't present. Frankly I would have preferred it if this story had not had her present at all.

The problem with doing this is that if you're going to write a mystery or a thriller about some ancient cipher, then you really need to focus on that and stop taking frequent detours through this girl's obsession with guys and endless whining about her broken family. It sucked and that's why I ditched this novel. It was a tedious story to have to wade through, even when all I was doing was listening. The "Lumen Dei" society was straight out of Dan Brown, and just as dumb. This book could have been half the size and told the same story. Pages went by with nothing of interest taking place. Where was the editor?! This just goes to prove that going the Big Publishing™ route doesn't guarantee you a readable book.

The Voynich manuscript is a real document dating to the early fifteenth century. It's a 240-some page volume written in a code which no-one has been able to decipher. This suggests, of course, that it's really a hoax, like the Turin Shroud, but it's a document ripe for having fiction worked around it.

In this fiction, the main character is drafted in to help translate Latin letters written by a young woman who is connected, somehow, with the manuscript. The fact that it was highly unlikely many young women would be able to even speak Latin, much less write it back then doesn't get in the way of the story. I can readily accept that there were special and talented women back then as there are in any age, but in this case you really need to make me feel there's a reason why this particular juvenile was so exceptional, and this story did not. Having said that, I did DNF it, so maybe this was addressed later and I missed it.

So the translation begins, but at one point the main character whose name I've blessedly forgotten, purloins one of the letters which is particularly intriguing to her. That same night, her professor is found unconscious, the safe open, and all of the papers they were working on stolen! How convenient. There's no explanation as to why the villains - who had easy access to the documents - did not steal them earlier.

Obviously the one the MC stole herself is the key to everything, but rather than ponder that, or anything else, she takes us away from the intrigue to once again focus on the boys in her life. La-di-dah, fiddle-di-dee. Her voice was so boring and off-track that I could not bring myself to pursue this story any further. I can't recommend this, based on the part I could stand to listen to.


The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a steampunk wannabe with far more punk than steam. It was read fairly decently by Katie MacNichol, but this is another audiobook experiment of mine that failed. I made it about a third the way through it, but when it became clear there was a tediously trope triangle forming. The main character, Aoife (it's pronounced Efa which sounds too much like heifer which didn't help in this context) is a girl linked to two guys: her faithful friend Cal and bad boy Dean. I felt so nauseated that I could not continue. The embarrassing lack of imagination exhibited by YA authors in creating relationships is truly stunning. It's the only real viral threat in this novel!

Almost worse than that, this is book one of a series. There's nothing on the cover to indicate that. Personally I think there should be a large warning on the front - like on cigarette packs. This one looked like a stand-alone, and this is irritating. If I'd known it was a series I would more than likely have skipped it. As it was, I wasted time listening to this when I could have been listening to other things!

Nor was it steampunk. It was like the author couldn't decide what the hell she wanted to write and threw everything in. It could as easily have been set in regular Victorian age and been exactly the same story, so the steampunk contributed nothing at all. I felt like it was added in a rather desperate attempt to attract more readers. But there is very little steampunk here.

I've read some good steampunk books, but in the end they all fail if examined too closely because their world doesn't work. Clockwork can only continue for so long without being rewound. Who is going around doing all the winding? LOL! No one ever addresses this. In my experience most steampunk writers are enamored of the genre but have no idea how to write a compelling or engaging story in it. This is why we do not actually live in a steampunk world, because steam and clockwork shrunk into the shadows thrown by the brilliant light of electricity.

In the unintentional humor department, more than once, the author wrote "Cal sighed" evidently in ignorance of the fact that there's an educational institution, the California Institute of Science, which is routinely referred to as Cal-Sci. This is very likely just me, but this made me laugh out loud every time I heard it, given that this was supposed to be a novel about Aoife and her dedication to science.

This novel is set in a city, unimaginatively named Lovecraft, where we have your usual trope dystopian ridiculous societal rules that would never have arisen naturally. There are people named Proctors who are in charge and who are absurdly and inexplicably draconian in their rule. They use clockwork ravens to spy on people, which to me was so laughable, I could never take it seriously. I know how an electric eye works. How does a clockwork one work? How does a steam one work? How do the ravens navigate and find their way back to their owners?

Clearly the author realized that steampunk wasn't going to cut it by itself, since we also have witchcraft and sorcery, and as well, there is a virus loose named necrovirus, which people believe is responsible for a pandemic of insanity which inexplicably and nonsensically attacks people at age sixteen and turns them into some sort of a flesh-eating animal. There is evidently neither police force nor military in Lovecraft to fight off these beasts, hwih makes zero sense. Aoife, of course comes from a family with a history of insanity and she is, of course about to turn sixteen. Yawn.

There is nothing about the age of sixteen which makes any significant changes in a person's body - not like puberty makes changes, for example, and puberty isn't tied to a specific birthday. This made the virus a joke to me, too. Even if I offer my immediate conviction: that this 'virus' didn't actually exist and that this was witchcraft at play here, sending a message to people to get them to rebel against the Proctors (but failing for some reason), it still didn't explain why sixteen was the chosen age. My guess was that Aoife would be the first to understand this message, but it's only a guess, and I really didn't care enough about her or anyone else in this novel to bother reading on to find out. I can't recommend this based on what I listened to.


Monday, April 10, 2017

The Prankster by James Polster


Rating: WARTY!

This is a sci-fi novella on three disks (I think it's about ninety pages long). I found I wasn't as impressed with it as I thought I would be when I read the blurb!

There's supposed to be this galactic TV show, and the aliens' idea of entertainment is to watch this one celebrity named Pom Trager messing with things on our side of the universe. The guy claims he's tinkered with every president since Nixon, bringing hassles into their life, although why he's so obsessed with US presidents goes unexplained other than that the author is American, which is pretty pathetic and thoroughly uninventive. Why the universe is so interested in Earth is another unexplained mystery (other than that the author is from Earth). I find these conceits to be provincial and annoying.

This idea in particular is problematic, because it's like the author wants to criticize the US but doesn't have the guts to do it directly, so he puts the observations into the mouths of aliens, like he knows what aliens are thinking, but it turns out that the aliens' minds work exactly like human minds, so it's not only unimaginative, it's also boring and it makes the aliens look like morons. It's really no different than what Star Trek did with Commander Spock in the original series, Commander Data in the Next Generation, Neelix (whom I couldn't stand) in Voyager, and full circle back to the resident Vulcan, in the form of Commander T'Pol in Enterprise. Yawn. And Yuk. Star Trek Discovery will no doubt be exactly the same.

In this take on it, Trager falls through the divider between his world and ours, and ends up in the Rio Grande about a half hour out of Santa Fe. There's a reason things go wrong and it's so trite as to be worthy of a high-school story writer. Trager has to make it to San Francisco to catch a portal back to his own world otherwise he'll be trapped here in our world and that's your story. The handling of it was amateur and painful, and in the final analysis, it's not even remotely about aliens, it's about us - again. It just felt like a poor idea for a story. The length of it is just right for a movie, and given Polster's professional history, this is probably what was intended. So it failed as a screenplay, and now the author is trying to unload it on us as a novella? No thanks!


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill


Rating: WARTY!

Here's yet another in a long line of experimental audiobooks - experimental for me that is since I tend to spread my wings (such as they are) more with audio than with other media, and once in a while it works and I find a gem, but more often, sorry to report, I'm disappointed. This falls into that latter category. It sounded good on paper (LOL), and started out quite strongly, but the middle third fell to pieces and I DNF'd it. Life's too short.

This one is set in Laos, refreshingly, yet it began by being annoying not because of the writing, but because the guy who reads it, with the appropriate name of Clive Chafer, ends every clause and every sentence by putting emphasis on the last word. It was really, really, really irritating and was the first and last nail in the coffin. The middle nails were all the author's fault, but I have to say that I can't for the life of me understand why any sane author would voluntarily give up control of their novel like this and allow some random person with a duff reading voice to have at it for the audio book.

You have to wonder how authors feel when they learn that their novel is going to be read by someone else. They have little control over this - I'm guessing - when they go with Big Publishing™ because it's really out of their hands. Of course, if you try and do it yourself, you get oddball noise in the background: traffic passing, someone coming in, your kids banging around the house, music from next door! LOL! You can't win!

But Chafer's voice chafed. Honestly. Listening to a metronome would actually have offered more variety and been more entertaining than this Chinese (or Laotian) voice torture. When he was doing the spoken word, he far less pedantic, but there he found a different way to foul out. Why the hell he thought it appropriate, when reading of people in Laos, to do some of them with a Scots accent or with a south-west England accent is a complete mystery to me, but he did. And his portrayal of the guy with Down's Syndrome was positively abusive. The audiobook should be rejected for that alone.

As for the story itself it has some great moments of humor. Some of the names were entertaining, intentionally or not. There was a Madame Ho and a Major Ly, for example, but the humor was too thin on the ground to make a difference. The novel was supposed to be about ghosts and missing army majors and psychics, and I cannot explain how an author can make such a story boring, but this one achieved it. It fell into a rut in the middle third, and it never looked like it was interested in getting out. It was tedious and I have much better things to do with my time.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

This volume concludes the trilogy and is set a year after the previous one, when Gemma is about to come out to society. She's still at the Spence Academy, but finds she has lost her power to enter the realms at will. When she finally does get in she discovers the Pippa has been building a little queendom for herself and has changed significantly, now bordering on megalomaniacal evil. Pippa is unable to cross to the afterlife because she has become so embedded in the realms by this time.

Feeling like her life is slipping out of her control, Gemma decides she has no choice but to follow every clue and discover what is really going on here since her mother was so utterly useless in helping her. After rambling around London following rather tedious clues, Gemma enters the realms again and visits the Winterlands in hopes of finding the so-called Tree of All Souls. When they touch the tree they get visions, and Gemma's is of Eugenia Spence telling her about this mysterious girl in lavender she keeps seeing. Evidently, the girl has a dagger which is somehow a threat to the Winterlands.

Felicity and Ann are becoming increasingly frustrated with Gemma's refusal to allow them back into the realms, and they discover that they don't need her because there's an alternate way to get there. When Felicity encounters the very dangerous Pippa, the latter tries to talk her into eating the realm berries which will maker her visit to the realms permanent so she can always be with Pippa - who's true love was evidently Felicity all along.

In a big showdown at the end, Kartik sacrifices himself to save Gemma who then does what we all thought she'd done in volume two which was to give her power back to the realms, robbing herself of power and sealing the two worlds from each other. She then retreats to the Americas which is what all young girls do when they have no power, of course!

Some issues with this last volume, but overall, I recommend it as a fitting finale to the trilogy. It's a worthy read, despite a few problems here and there (mostly there).


Rebel Angels by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Now we're two months along from the end of the first novel, and we learn that Kartik has been ordered by the anti-Order known as the Rakshana, to induce Gemma to perform a certain piece of magic and to then kill her. Gemma must go into the realms, and "bind" the magic therein, in the name of the "Eastern Star".

Unfortunately for Kartik's plan, it's Xmas and Gemma goes to London to finally meet her family. Her brother Tom is supposed to pick her up, but Gemma cannot find him and she believes she's being stalked by someone from the Rakshana. Rather brazenly, she accosts a nearby young man (of course), Simon Middleton, and feigns acquaintanceship with him. Middleton is from a wealthy family and is quite taken with Gemma, so he invites her family to dine with him.

It turns out that Middleton was very conveniently at Eton, a very manly college, with her brother. Moving around London, Gemma also runs into Hester Moore, who is known to Gemma because she used to teach art at Spence, and who now conveniently lives in London. Hester's replacement at Spence, Miss McCleethy, is the one who Gemma believes is really Circe.

While on the topic of complete, utter, and highly suspicious convenience, Gemma's brother works at Bethlem Royal Hospital a psychiatric institution (although that's not how it was known back then) from which we derive the word bedlam. Conveniently, one of Tom's patients is Nell Hawkins. When Gemma is conveniently with her one day, she conveniently rambles on about "The Temple" which is the very thing Kartik had requested that Gemma seek out in the realms! it turns out that Nell was once also conveniently a student at a school at which McCleethy once taught.

We learn here why Felicity requested power as her wish from the realms - when a girl called Polly comes to stay with them, Felicity warns her severely to lock her doors and not let Felicity's uncle into her room. Gemma's father is a drug addict and is not well, eventually winding up in a health facility.

In the finale to this volume, Gemma determines the real identity of Circe, and defeats her in open battle. She discovers the true meaning of the temple, which is quite messianic, and in discovering this, she finds she can distribute the magic democratically across the realms so it resides in no one person's hands.

Eminently readable and listenable, this novel was a bit too convenient in many places, but despite that, made for a worthy read. I recommend this as part of this complete series!


A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Gemma Doyle is a girl in her mid-teens who is rather less than thrilled with her lot with life with her mother in India. She dreams of going back to her native England where her father resides, and taking up the society life to which she believes she's entitled.

Gemma should be careful what she wishes for, because when her wish comes true, it’s at the cost of the tragic death of her mother. One day, out in the hot and dusty market place in Mumbai, Gemma's mother is approached by a man accompanied by a boy who is conveniently Gemma's age. The man relates a cryptic message to Gemma's mother, and her mum then demands that Gemma return home immediately. Gemma becomes so frustrated with her mother's secrecy that she runs away, and gets herself lost. She's visited by a horrible vision of her mother committing suicide, and when she finally makes her way to where her mother is, she discovers that her vision was true: her mother is dead, and subsequently Gemma is being hastily packed off to England, to be sequestered at the elite Spence Academy.

Gemma starts out by being the lonely newbie because of her derided Indian background, but when she discovers the snottiest girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation, Gemma finds herself elevated to the top notch of clique-dom. Finally, she's where she wanted to be. She begins to form a close relationship with Felicity and her two friends, Pippa and Ann. Gemma also learns that Kartik, the boy she saw with the man in Mumbai, is now in England! He warns her that she is in danger, and must close herself off to what happened to her mother if she wishes to remain safe.

Gemma increasingly has visions and one of these leads her to a cave in the school grounds, where she finds a 25-year-old diary written by Mary Dowd, a girl of Gemma's age, who also was a student at Spence. Gemma identifies with Mary because May also had visions which she shared with her friend Sarah Rees-Toome.

Gemma reads the diary and discovers that Mary was associated with a society known as the Order, initiates of which were able to open a portal to other realms. They could use this power to ease the passage of souls, and the power gave them prophetic insight and the power to create illusions. The four new friends create their own "Order", meeting in the cave.

As they read more of the diary and investigate the history of Spence, they discover that the two girls from a quarter century ago died in a fire at Spence along with the principal of the school.

Finally Gemma & Co travel to the realms which are weird, beautiful and wonderful. They do not travel there bodily but spiritually, leaving their bodies behind in the real world. Gemma is able to meet with her mother there, but predictably her mother is unnecessarily mysterious. She does, however, warn Gemma not to take magic from the realms into the everyday world because it would let them fall foul of Circe, who seeks this power and wishes to take over the realms. The magic of the realms allows them to have a wish granted. Ann, who is plain, requests beauty. Felicity, who feels abused, asks for power. Gemma wants insights into her self, and finally, Pippa seeks true love.

The girls begin a routine of secret night-time meetings in the cave when they visit the realms. Gemma discovers that her mother was Mary Dowd, who obviously she did not die in the fire but escaped and changed her name. She also learns that Sarah is Circe.

Gemma is the only one who can control the portal, and during one visit, Pippa is separated from them and is left behind as the others flee an evil power seeking them in the realms. Back in the real world, Pippa is now having a seizure. Gemma returns to the realms to retrieve Pippa, but Pippa has met her true Love there and refuses to return to real life and the arranged marriage which awaits her there. When Gemma returns to her own world, Pippa is dead.

I've also listened to the audio book version of this, narrated by Jo Wyatt, and I recommend that version, too. She does a thoroughly amazing job of narration and voices. I've had good success with Libba Bray, and although this is a series (a trilogy specifically) which I usually detest, this one turned out to be eminently engaging. I recommend it.