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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters

Rating: WARTY!

Set at the time when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, this novel is number 18 in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Mertz, PhD in Egyptology, but not in writing exciting adventures or thrilling prose. I wasn't aware of this being another in a series I'd already dismissed, since I'd effectively wiped my memory of the previous read!

One of the biggest problems with it was yet another author's inability to grasp that first person voice is worst person voice and should not be used in any novel unless there was a damned good reason for it. Her mistake was revealed here repeatedly by her habit of switching from first person to third person by quoting from some document which was evidently one of the family's other member's record of events. It didn't work and was truly annoying. When will these idiot writers learn to ditch first person altogether unless they can actually justify it and make it work?

This one I stayed with longer than the previous one and found some parts of it interesting and amusing, but ultimately the plot turned out to be as dry as Egyptian sand, and the story went on and on way too long, destroying the warmer feelings I'd harbored for it earlier, and since I found this ultimately to be a tedious read (read; listen!), I shall not be pursuing any more novels by Elizabeth Peters aka Barbara Michaels!

I thought the story might have something to do with the truly amazing discovery of "king Tut's" tomb, but it really didn't. It was to do with some plot to overthrow a government and there were so many red herrings that it stunk of mummified fish, os the thing I was most interested in was merely set decoration. There really was nothing much about the tomb discovery. The rest of the novel was the retarded family rambling on and on about various matters which in part in the beginning was amusing but which became ever more boring the longer the novel went on.

One of the few things which actually made this listenable for me was the reading of Barbara Rosenblatt, who did an amazing job of voice characterization, and of the reading in general. I can see why she's won so many awards for it. Se had equal facility for both male and female voices and did a fine job overall. Sadly, the novel wasn't up to her high standards, and I cannot recommend it!

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook which was read really sweetly by Kenya Brome, but while I would listen to her read a different story, I don't think I would want to read another story by this author because I was so very disappointed in this one. I think it had such potential, but the real story, of this young boy Elias on the run from a potential lynch mob, was completely subsumed under this farcical fluff story of a community garden being sabotaged by these rampaging butterbeans, and how this guy named Bump Dawson, and African American, was being blamed for it.

Set in 1963 in Mississippi, the story tells of a racially-divided community with black folk living literally on the wrong side of the tracks, which I felt was a bit much. They are of course criminally subjugated in every way, but things get stirred-up for the worse when the old man of the "Big House" where Bump and Addy (the twelve year old narrator) work, dies of old age. He leaves some land to the community and specifies in his will that it should be shared by whites and "negroes" but of course the white powers that be - the sheriff and mayor - aren't about to let no "uppity" black folk have a share in anything if they can help it.

It's decided that a garden should be planted with vegetables, and the black folk can work it and the vegetables shared. It's not specified whether the non-white community would get anything out of this. What happens though is that someone plants butterbeans all over the garden. There are two kinds of butter beans (or lima beans as they're also known). One type grows as a bush. The type in this story are supposed to be grown on frames. Since these beans were scattered all over the plot and had nothing to climb on, they supposedly grew wild vines which strangled everything else, ruining all the other things that had been planted.

To me, this was a stretch at best, because it assumes that not one single person other than the villain of the piece ever went to look at how the crops were progressing, and no one went to water it or pull weeds. The villain was a white guy who owned a grocery store, and who sabotaged the community garden because he thought it would take business away from his store, but it was Bump Dawson who was put on trial for it. Had this been the whole story and nothing but the story, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't.

Prior to the butter bean fiasco, a pair of white kids, heroes of the local football team, had been bullying Addy, and her older brother had flown off the handle, beaning one of the bullies with a glass jar containing a preserve or something. I forget exactly. That could have killed this kid. Fortunately it didn't, but being as it was - a black kid assaulting a white kid in 1963 Mississippi, there would be a lynching more than likely, so Addy's brother Elias goes on the lam, and the author tries to pretend he drowned, but it's obvious he didn't.

To me, this was the focal point right here, but the author derailed that one completely, ruining what could have been a great story, with this overly melodramatic butter bean garbage. So for me the story failed. It cheapened and trivialized Elias's story which was much more interesting. Yes, he was provoked, but his reaction had been foolishly out of proportion. He could have been charged with attempted murder, and by the end of the story he escaped justice. Not that there was justice to be found for black folks back then, and precious little even today in far too many cases.

I know this story was aimed at middle-grade kids, but it was a very one-dimensional story and racist in some ways in that white people were all lumped together under the banner 'white folk' who all supposedly had the same traits: all white folk do this or all white folk think that. That kind of bigotry was no better than what the African Americans had to deal with on a daily basis, so for these reasons, I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

There are better stories out there than this, and I wish authors wouldn't cheapen the tragedy of an appalling and shamefully racist past and a present that is in many ways still as bad, by churning out bland stories which bring nothing new to the table and worse, which turn people off even reading such stories because of this constant harping on the topic by writers who really need to tell stories that move and motivate instead of putting people to sleep or making their ears glaze over by regurgitating the same old stuff that's already been done to death, without even the courtesy of adding something new.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wandmaker by Ed Masessa

Rating: WARTY!

This is very much in the mold of Harry Potter. The main character is Henry Leach and I've decided not to read another young magician novel in which the main character has a first name beginning with H and ending with Y. The wands on the cover look suspiciously like props from the Harry Potter movies, but we can't blame the author for that - except to blame him for trusting Big Publishing™ instead of publishing it himself and making his own cover! This was an audiobook and I wasn't particularly impressed with the reader, but it was really the story which wasn't engaging me at all.

Henry is supposed to hail from a long line of wand-makers on both his parents' sides of the family, so he has special powers, we're led to believe, but he came across as being something of an idiot to me. His mother is not in the picture for reasons which were never gone into in the portion I listened to (which was less than half). The world-building wasn't great, so I felt lost much of the time, but part of this could well be because I became bored and irritated and skipped parts of the story; however, even when I was listening to it sequentially and with interest at the beginning, it still failed to give me a good feel for the world, and how Henry came to be where he was in it.

The secondary characters were singularly unimpressive. His kid sister Brianna was such a dedicated brat that she was entirely unlikeable, as was his father, who seemed to have an evil streak in him. Apparently he goes missing later in the story so this is a good thing. Henry's mentor, Coralis (which name sounds like some sort of software app) was simply tedious, although this may have had a lot to do with the reader of the audiobook.

In short I could not get into this and have absolutely no desire to follow a series about this character. I cannot recommend it based on what I listened to, but this is par for the course for many audiobooks since I tend to experiment more with them.

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. The blurb sounded wonderful, but the story, not so much. Read pretty decently by Kirsten Porter, the story was supposed to be a sequel to Hattie Big Sky about little orphan Hattie who inherits a homestead. I never read the original, but in this sequel, we learn of Hattie Inez Brooks that "Nothing can squash her desire to write for a big city newspaper." Except the author, who never lets her near a story. Hattie never reports on anything (at least not in the portions that I listened to). She claims she wants to report; she moves to San Francisco purportedly to pursue her desire; she reads newspapers, but nowhere did she ever pursue a story. It was pathetic.

This is one good reason why I rarely like series! The story falls apart! I can't speak for the first volume, but I understand it told the story of sixteen-year-old Hattie taking over a homestead that was bequeathed to her, and making a go of it. It sounds like a Mary Sue prequel, but given that opening story, how she changed from fighting for that, to completely abandoning both it and her love so easily is a complete mystery.

I didn't even realize this was a sequel at first, and if I had known there was a volume one and it had won a Newbery, I would have avoided it and this one like the plague. This second volume was pretty pathetic and exactly what I would expect from a Newbery author. Newbery is a stamp of approval for bland and tedious. I would feel insulted if I were ever offered one and I would turn it down.

So, I listened to two of the five disks, skimmed the third, and then listened to portions of the last one, so I think I got a pretty fair sampling of it, and nothing changed. The story should have been titled 'Flaccid Ever After', or 'Mary Sue Goes to San Francisco' since everything she dreams of seems to fall into her lap without her having to strive for a single thing. And this is after she callously ditches her love for her career. Kirby Larson is known for her children's books. I positively reviewed one of these, titled Dash in September of 2017, but listening to this, it was easy to see why she's known for writing for children and not for adults.

I got the impression that the author had done a lot of research, but instead of using that as background for her story, she was so thrilled with herself over how much she knew about the era that she wanted to lecture the reader about it, and so instead of actually telling Hattie's story, the author spent almost the entire time showing off her research. Instead of a story, we got a series of info dumps, and the whole thing was a sorry mess. I cannot recommend this based on my experience of it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Crack in the Sea by HM Bouwman

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook was a sorry mess. It seemed like it might be a fun children's fantasy, but it turned out to be a lecture about slavery. Slavery was horrible, period. It should never have happened, but Christian people perpetrated these crimes on innocent Africans (the Bible supports slavery - or at the very least doesn't condemn it), and these obnoxious criminals set in motion issues we're still dealing with today, particularly in the USA.

The problem with a book like this is that slavery has been so done that there's nowhere else to go with it unless you offer a viable new perspective as the Black Panther movie did for example, and this novel did not. Just to harp on it again as this story does is a serious mistake in my opinion because all it does is make people's ears glaze over. The story is lost on the audience. It becomes background noise and it fails to shock or motivate as it should. That's not acceptable, and I think it would have been more à propos if the novel had dealt with modern ongoing issues, which admittedly are rooted in the slave trade, but which have much more relevance and currency today.

While there were some amusing parts and some interesting parts, overall this novel in the end was just a jumble of disconnected and ill-fitting parts which really spoiled the story for me. I grew bored with it quickly and started skimming, then I simply jumped to the end and listened to it for a little while, but I became bored even with it, and gave up on it. The basic story is that there are two worlds, and some slaves who either jumped overboard or were tossed overboard because they were sick, are rescued by magical characters and who walk line-astern, holding hands, on the seabed until they arrive in the second world. I think slaves deserved a better memorial than this.

In this second world there are islanders and rafters, and the Raft King wants to take his people back to the original world and repatriate them. In order to do this he kidnaps Pip, and adoptee child, who can talk to fish and whom the king believes can open the portal to the first world. Why he'd ever want to go back to such a cruel, brutal, and racist world is a complete mystery that isn't unraveled in any of the parts I listened to.

So once Pip is gone, his adoptee sister, Kinchen, wants to go after him. She's aided in this by a girl the Raft King left behind in an "exchange" for Pip. This story might have been fine had the author not continually derailed it by having some old dude tell stories which were frankly boring, about two other kids, Swimmer and the "Water Drinker who will become Venus" (or words to that effect). If I heard that last name once I heard it a gazillion times. It was mind-numbing. Apparently there were also two other siblings, refugees from Vietnam, Thanh and his sister Sang, but I never got to that part and frankly I am glad I didn't because it seems to me the author had no faith in her original story and felt she had to lard it up with two other stories. Bad idea, especially in a children's story.

I cannot recommend this mess.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

Rating: WARTY!

I don't think Ive ever had a month quite as bad as this for finding one read after another to be disappointing. Only one out of sixteen reads so far?! To be fair a lot of those were audiobooks in which I take a lot more risk than I do with other formats, so I tend to see more failures there than anywhere. This one was no better. I'm expecting things to pick up int eh next few reviews, however, so hang in there!

I've long given up on Stephen King, but a friend recommended this one and I decided to try it since it was so short (at least as compared with King's standard overblown, massively-bloated tomes), but once again he failed to move me. This was an audiobook read quite delightfully by Anne Heche as it happens. I'm a fan of hers, but even she could not overcome the improbable material. The main character is nine years old, but she's written as a far more mature character than that and it simply didn't ring true, so I lost suspension of disbelief right from the off. Worse: the story was rambling and uninteresting, and overcooked with artificial ingredients that will make you sick. It did me anyway.

The story is that Trisha gets lost on the Appalachian trail when she wanders off the track to take a leak. Her lousy mom is so busy childishly arguing with her petulant older brother that neither of them notices that she's gone. Trisha inevitably gets lost, and instead of working logically (as her far too mature brain ought to have) she makes things ever worse for herself by wandering further and further from the track, never once considering backtracking, until she blunders accidentally back onto a main road where a hunter fortunately doesn't shoot her but gets her to safety. And in one of the most sickly endings ever, estranged mom and dad magically get back together again. Barf.

This could have been a decent story in better hands, but it's all been done before. King could have chosen to write it a little differently, but you know he can't write a story that doesn't involve bogey men, so there is one chasing Trisha that's entirely a product of her own mind, which admittedly isn't absurdly mature, but it is tiresomely childish. We're expected to believe that her vast passion for baseball (not actually hers as it happens, but King's - yawn) is what saves her and keeps her going. Ho hum.

It's a tedious, tedious, asinine, and thoroughly unrealistic story that you know is coming from the brain of a man in his fifties which isn;t remotely like the brain of a nine-year-old girl. I'd expect a story like this from a first time amateur who was out of good ideas for a novel, but not from a seasoned writer. I'd even go so far as to say if this had been submitted as a first novel by an unknown, it would, rightly or wrongly, never have been published.

After the first sixth of the novel I began skimming and it didn't improve. This one had these utterly pointless and asinine drum and cymbal riffs at the start of each chapter for no evident reason. Why audiobook publishers feel an utterly braindead need to inject music into a story I have no idea, but it pisses me off. The author never wrote this music! What is it doing here? I hate it when they add music to novels which the author never had anything to do with. If an author of King's power and influence cannot keep it out of one of his novels, then what hope is there for any of us except to avoid Big Publishing™ like the plague?

If the sound disaffects had been baseball calls and cheers or something like that, I could have at least understood it even as I detested it, but drum riffs? cowbells? Cymbal zings? It made zero sense to me. Please, audiobook publishers, get a clue! It's about the writer and what they've written, not about your dumbass audiobook producer's frustration with his or her complete lack of musical talent. It's an insult to try to tart up a good story with irritating bells and whistles, and it makes a tiresome story like this one so much more obnoxious. In the end it was one more Big Fail by Big Publishing™ and I flatly refuse to recommend this disaster.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

Rating: WARTY!

Read beautifully by Jane Collingwood, this audiobook still failed to impress me. It began well enough, but it's one of those books which tells parallel stories, one in the present, the other in the past. Normally I do not go for this type of story but this one sounded like it might be interesting and after my first exposure to this author, I was eager for more and requested two more of her books on audio from the library. I was not excited by either one as it happened.

The story was interesting to begin with, but quickly moved from the main character's childhood to her adulthood, where it became significantly less interesting. There were one or two times when the historical portion was most interesting, and an occasion or two when it paled in comparison with the present, but in the end, both two stories became tedious and predictable, and were quite literally going nowhere.

I was also turned off by the amount of drinking and smoking going on in this book. It was disgusting and turned me off the characters. I sincerely hope that Britain isn't the chimney fire depicted here. It was gross. In the end my distaste applies to the whole book it was not entertaining, and it could have been. I felt it was a waste of my time and worse, a waste of a novel. It's a pity we can't bill the authors for the time we waste reading novels that don't truly transport us, isn't it? It would lead to a much better quality of novel than we all too often get, I assure you!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Rating: WARTY!

Another experimental audiobook, but this time slightly less experimental (at least that's what I hoped!), since I really liked the first novel I encountered from this author, The Girls in the Garden, which actually had been an experiment. While that novel was fresh and entertaining, with interesting characters and a plot that moved, this novel just bored the pants off me from the very start from its very tone. Part of the blame for that has to be laid at the door of Karina Fernandez, the reader, whose voice was rather annoying to listen to, but she couldn't have managed that without the author's contribution! I could have managed to cope with her voice had what she been reading been more interesting.

The book isn't even like a novel, it's like being trapped on a bus or on the subway by someone choosing you to sit next to, and who then insists upon you hearing their entire life story and doesn't care that you were trying to read something infinitely more interesting than anything they had to say to you!

Sometimes a character like that can be interesting, especially for a writer to listen to, but that wasn't the case here. It was an endless tedious rant about family and kids and who had how many and who was born first and who did what and thought what and none of it was remotely entertaining or intriguing. I cannot recommend this. Lisa Jewell has one more chance with me. I'll let you know how that goes; hopefully it will be later rather than sooner.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club by Francine Prose

Rating: WARTY!

This is the last thing by Francine Prose I will ever read. I think three audiobooks was enough to give her more than a fair shot at proving she knew what she was talking about in her Reading for Writers book of advice about how to write novels by combing the so-called classics for clues. I wasn't impressed with that, but I decided to try out some of her own fiction to see how well she follows her own advice. She actually doesn't. At all! She writes caricatures and stereotypes; she writes flat uninteresting characters in dreary prose; she writes boring, and tedious and depressing. The book - the parts I could stand to read - felt more like fluff than a story.

As usual the hyperbolic book blurb completely misrepresents the novel. It's actually not a story. Instead it's related through news items, diary entries, letters, and so on, which really turns me off a book. I detest the dear diary parts in particular because they're never, ever, ever written like a real person would write a diary entry. If you're not going to do it that way, then write the damned thing as a story because that's what you're doing anyway, moron, so why the pretentious pretense? This book was racist, celebrates white privilege, and favored the Nazi PoV, which is never a good thing. I have no idea what the writer thought she was doing, but whatever it is, it isn't anything I'm interested in reading, and I am now completely done with this author, permanently

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

Rating: WARTY!

This was one of the most tedious and clueless books I've ever not read - by that I mean I listened to as much of the audiobook as I could stomach and ditched it pretty quickly. I got into this after reading a book written by this author and titled "Reading for Writers" which purported to teach a writer how to write by paying attention to the so-called classics as though all those authors literally agonized over every word they typed, so I decided to try out her own novels and see how well she does. I wasn't impressed. Not at all.

I'm sure some of those writers did agonize, and perhaps some modern writers still do, but agony doth not a great writer make. My gut feeling is that most of those antique writers simply wrote, correcting now and then of course, but otherwise never giving the writing process very much thought. The reason they did this is that they had a real story to tell about real (if fictional) people who genuinely moved these authors to write, so it required little agony to put it down on paper and little soul-searching. They were all about the story, not about analyzing it to death as we do today, and thereby destroying it in the process. And more than likely they did not dwell on it anally in hindsight like so-called professors of literature do. We could learn a lot from them, but it's not the education that this author thinks we should be getting in my opinion.

I'm not a huge fan of the classics. Do people care about the classics because they're really that great, or because we're force-fed these things in schools and colleges and by pretentious, bombastic critics until they can't think for themselves? There is a massive gulf between the writers who make money from their writing by producing novels which sell well, and the classic emulators who win awards, but about whom no one really cares that much unless they're forced to by college courses and school teachers, and by pretentious "must-read" or "Top 25" lists that try to brow-beat people into reading this book instead of that one for no other reason than that the creator of the list thinks their own opinion is akin to divine guidance.

If you're teaching people who actually want to write modern novels, then you need to read modern novels, not antique and obsolete ones, and you need to consider why it is that people buy this one and not that one. You need to ask why must we be forced to study the work of authors who made little to nothing on what they wrote and who are now being taken advantage of not because they were necessarily brilliant, but merely because they're no longer due any copyright fees, when each and every writer really does not want to be the next classic writer, but the first 'themselves'. They want to write. They need to write, and for my money what they should do is read lots and lots of the genre(s) in which they're interested, and then - in their own voice and using their own characters and plots - write something in that vein. Forget dusty professors who make a comfortable living not from their writing, but from a sinecure. They're not to be trusted.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend the classics do have miraculous things to teach us. This now begs the question: if that method is so great, why does the author of that how-to book not take her own advice? This novel was poorly-written, and it was filled with abusive stereotypes. This seems to be the author's MO, and it was insulting to everything from the chimpanzee (which it constantly and ignorantly referred to as a monkey) to the reader, whom it insults by this novel's very existence.

The author bewails the fact the game hunters shot the chimpanzee's parents, but she describes the locale as a paradoxically-named game preserve, not a wildlife conservation park! That doesn't make it right that the chimps were shot, but neither is it surprising when it's a game preserve that animals die unnecessarily. And no, chimps don't have cute little family units with mom, dad, and 2.2 children like humans do, so why did it matter that mom and dad ape were shot? Mom, yes! Dad? Not so much in a chimp's world. For all her blather about choosing your words, she completely failed here to choose her words wisely.

The title describes a play which is being put on by a bunch of appallingly cardboard and stereotypical actors. It's told from several rather confusing perspectives, and none of them were interesting to me. And blurb-writer? No, the narrative isn't madcap, it's boring. Get that much right, please. I cannot recommend this.

My New American Life by Francine Prose

Rating: WARTY!

Having read (or more accurately, listened to) as much as I could bear of Francine Prose's "Reading for Writers" which purports to teach people to write through fawning over the so-called classic writers, I decided to try some of this author's own fiction and see how she stacked-up against her own advice, and she was so far from it that I found it amusing. I got three of her audiobooks from the library and found all three to be let me say, less than satisfying. I tried to come into the first one neutrally, intending to give it a fair shot (maybe this author writes a lot better than she teaches?), but she quickly disabused me of any such notion.

This author seems like she cannot write about everyday lives and make them interesting. It's like she lacks confidence in her own writing and so has to call on the melodramatic fringe to perk it up a bit. The problem is that she seems able only to trade in stereotypes and caricatures and even about those, it seems she can tell only the most uninteresting stories in the most boring prose. Her writing style is that of poor fan fiction: he said, she said, he said, she said, ad nauseam. It's like that for paragraph after paragraph, unvaried. It is horrible writing.

That an author like this gets to be a professor who purports to teach others to write is a travesty. She doesn't seem to realize there are words other than 'said' which can be employed when ascribing speech to someone, or better yet, that there are many times when you don't actually have to specify who is speaking! Or you can indicate who is speaking by adding an action here and there. Has she not even learned that much from the classics? I mean, I wouldn't abuse this non-ascription as much as Jane Austen did because it can be confusing, but please, no endless 'he said, she said' tedium! Change it up a bit for pity's sake!

This story purports to relate "what it means to be American" but it has nothing to do with being American. Instead, like too many other such stories about the 'huddled masses', this one is all about creating insulting ethnic stereotypes, in this case aimed at the Albanians. This is a derogatory and condescending view of what it means to be an Albanian. According to this author all Albanians are the same: they think the same, dress the same, eat the same, behave the same, and a good many of them are gangsters, if we're to believe this Prose.

A disturbing number of these stories, and this one is no different, seem to be about illegal immigrants. Lula is one such person. She's a mid-twenties Albanian who is involved with gangsters she calls her brothers or cousins, but who aren't related to her. She tries to help one of them who is an out-and-out jerk, and she's too stupid to see how wrong this is and how much she could jeopardize her own future by dishonestly misrepresenting him. In the end she gets rewards she has not earned. Immigrants like Lula, no country needs.

This story was boring, and had no redeeming features. The cast was unlikable and tedious to read about. I cannot recommend this story, and I cannot understand how anyone who writes like this can profess to be a teacher of how to write novels or even someone who can tell good literature from trash.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

Rating: WORTHY!

Also known as "The Girls" this novel should not be confused with The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair, The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace, or The Girl From the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan, none of which I've read, but I am intrigued that two of these have authors with rather exotic names! Shades of The Perfumed Garden (but not fifty shades)! Anyway this novel was another audiobook experiment I picked up from the library.

Getting these books for me is like buying a lottery ticket. You take a risk when you buy one of those, because most of them aren't winners, but you hope at least the money you paid is going to a good cause. With audiobooks you take a similar risk. This one was a winner. I really liked it. I liked the writing voice, and I also liked the reader, Colleen Prendergast. If either of those two elements is off in an audiobook it can spoil it even if the other is spot on, but in this case they worked well together, and in this case I did find a good story, so I requested more work by this author from my library in hopes that her other novels will be as good as this one was.

The story is of some dysfunctional families: three in particular. Clare Wild is effectively a single mum. She has two daughters, one who is just twelve, the other a year older. Their father, Chris, is a documentary maker, but recently he was in a psychiatric hospital after burning down their house to get rid of the alien rats which he was convinced were living there. Claire has had enough of him and wants nothing to do with him. He's been released from the hospital, but Claire has not informed her daughters, Pip (short for Pipsqueak - obviously not her real name) and Grace, that he's out.

She lives in London in a home that borders on a private communal park named Virginia, which is supposed to be a shared garden used by all the homes bordering it. Children run free and unsupervised in this park, and are in and out of each other's homes. It's a bit like a commune, but not quite, and everyone except Claire who moved there only recently, has known each other for some time, although that doesn't mean they know each other.

Another such home is where Pip and Grace's friend Tyler lives. Tyler's mom is single, having divorced her husband who was mean and violent. Now she's off dating a new guy and Tyler is pretty much left to her own devices, which are more vice than devious, but that latter element plays a part in this story. Closer to home is Adele and Leo Howes, a seemingly well-balanced couple who home-school their three daughters who are all named after trees. They treat them with worthless homeopathic remedies when they get sick rather than with proven medical aid. I wasn't too keen on the Howes.

On the night of their midsummer party, Claire's daughter Grace is found unconscious with her clothes rucked up as though she was sexually assaulted, and the book then focuses on finding who the perp is. It seems we're meant to wonder if this was perhaps Chris, the schizophrenic absentee father or Leo, who had a technically inappropriate 'relationship' with a 13-year-old girl when he was only eighteen. A month or two before his birthday, everything would have been fine, we're supposed to believe, but a month or two afterwards, and it's an unforgivable crime? Laws are made to serve the lowest common denominator, let's face it, but they are the law. Calling it a 'relationship' though, is a bit of a stretch. Thoughtless misadventure might be a better term.

The thing is that Grace was found in almost exactly the same place that, many years before, 15-year-old Phoebe Rednough was found dead. Phoebe was the sister of Tyler's mum. Has her killer resurfaced? Or was hers merely a suicide and nothing to do with Grace's case?

Be warned that this story moves somewhat ponderously. It's not your usual whodunit, but it was nonetheless interesting to me, and I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Marvel's Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail that I found at the library. It was not what I hoped for at all. Black Widow is very much a comic book character, but she was really brought to life for my by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel movies. She's going to have appeared in more of them than Samuel Jackson by the time she's done! The problem is that this novel isn't really about Black Widow. Instead, it's Ava Orlova (which you might find funny when you realize that reader Julia Whelan pronounces that last name as 'all over'!). It's about her and Alex Manor, not about Natasha. She appears, but pretty much as a minor character, so the book is rather a bait and switch deal and it's really not well written for someone who is supposed to be a best-selling author.

We're promised in the blurb that we're getting "the untold story of Black Widow for the very first time," but blurbs lie! In an introductory portion, Natalia Romanova goes to assassinate her mentor Ivan Somodorov, and ends up rescuing Ana. She unaccountably promises to be there for Ana, but then avoids her for a decade. Meanwhile Ana seems to have been doped with something right before she was rescued, so maybe she has super powers, maybe not.

Ana begins falling for Alex, who she meets by accident, but feels drawn to since she'd dreamed of him without knowing who he was. Inevitably Ana and Natalia come into contact again, but by this time I was so tired of this limp story that I quit listening, and I returned it to the library to make someone else suffer it instead of me! Mwahaha! Ivan Somodorov has nothing on me when to comes to torture!

So everything I loved about the movie Black Widow was missing from this book. The action scenes were perfunctory and unimaginative, and the story was pretty pathetic. I can't recommend it.

Invisible life by E Lynn Harris

Rating: WARTY!

Read very averagely by Mirron Willis, this was another audiobook fail and it was arguably a book about, in part, homophobia, written by a gay man, which was itself rather homophbic!

Written in the early nineties, this is a story of Raymond Tyler, who can't seem to make up his mind. Ray is a confirmed hetero until he's not. He's not exactly raped, but he is pushed into a sexual relationship with the appropriately named Kelvin (since he's so hot, get it?) who is a rather formidable-looking athlete, and then he willingly continues it, but very quietly. He's really a jerk because he's dating a woman named Sela at the time and he doesn't have the decency to break-up with her or tell her he's having sex with someone else. This is an incontrovertibly dick move, especially since he's now putting his partner at risk of picking up an STD. What bothered me is how easily they fell into bed without a second thought for possible consequences.

That said, I DNF'd this because it was boring, especially since Ray does exactly the same thing again, but to his new girlfriend, Nicole. There was this huge jump in time that came right out of left field, and then he magically meets this guy again, which is when Nicole is kicked into the back seat. What is wrong with this guy? I know there really are people like this, but I don't care to read about people being jerks especially when the story is boring, predictable, badly-written and appears to be going nowhere interesting. I can't recommend this.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this was a Kirkus starred review I would have avoided it like Ebola. Kirkus never met a novel they didn't like, which of course means their reviews are utterly useless, and I take a Kirkus seal of approval as a definite sign that I should bypass reading the novel, so those reviews are quite useful really! This was more of a snivel than a novel.

It's an LGBTQIA novel which is read uninterestingly by Jorjeana Marie, and it was a disastrous audiobook experiment. I listened to it (part of it!) a while back and I almost forgot I ever had it cross my radar. I was avoiding it rather like the main character avoids her issues, which amuses me, but the bottom line is that it was mind-numbingly boring. You know I often wish I could delete some of my less than thrilling memories, but it's not yet possible to do that outside of sci-fi. The more something irritates or depresses you, the harder it is to let it go, but this book very nearly was completely deleted from my mind which gives me hope! In theory at least, it has to be possible to forget things even worse than this!

If the author's intention in writing this was that we care about Marin, then it was a massive fail. She went about this in entirely the wrong manner. There are huge looming issues in her life, and yet all we get for page after page is tedious minutiae of everyday existence down to brushing teeth and washing dishes. Seriously? It was, at the basement level, the kind of laughable novel where a woman has a disaster in her life in the big city and little wuss that she is, runs back to her small home town where she miraculously finds he love of her life - except that this book didn't even offer that. I avoid novels of that pathetic genre.

Worse than this are the endless flashbacks which even I, who detests them, admit have their uses, but in a novel like this they are a true death knell. The novel is about mental illness and can probably cause the very thing it prattles on about. Depressingly enough begins with Marin, the main character, stuck in her dorm at college over winter break. She's all alone, we're supposed to believe - not a single other person anywhere around. She supposedly has a best friend with the unlikely name of Mabel, who is visiting over the break, and the blurb tells us that "Marin will be forced to face everything that's been left unsaid" but she does everything but that. It's unlikely that she would say nothing about any of this to someone who was indeed her best friend. I suppose she does talk eventually, but the story was such a waste of my time that I never reached that point. I had more rewarding things to do with my time.

I cannot recommend this based on what I listened to - which made so little impression on me that I immediately forgot most of it! And bno, she;s not okay, and neither is this novel. KO'd more like.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman

Rating: WORTHY!

Read in fine style by Liz Morton, this was a charming book for very young kids about Kate and her fine steed Cocoa. They live on a ranch and there are always things to do on the ranch. I was slightly perturbed by the fact that, on the one hand the ranch was "naturally" run by a guy, but on the other hand, it was a girl, Kate, who was doing a bunch of the chores. Is that genderist? Make of it what you will!

Other than that, it was read at a pedantic pace for grown-ups, but at a good pace for children. There were two disks: one being the story and the other being the story augmented with a little 'ding' each time you should turn a page - obviously meant to be listened to in conjunction with with the print book so the child can follow along. Presumably the print book is illustrated, too, as a further aid. This is a great book for kids learning to read.

I liked Kate and loved Cocoa and I recommend this as a fun read for kids.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chance by Kem Nunn

Rating: WARTY!

This is form an audiobook I got form my library after having watched season one of the TV show which is based on this book and actually follows it pretty closely.

Overall, I though that this was a worthy read, but I have to qualify that by adding that this author is so in love with his own turn of phrase and with repetitive philosophizing that he spoils the story in some places. The worst example of this was during what ought to have been a gripping climax, when the final showdown comes between the corrupt detective and the, let's face it, equally corrupt doctor. In stead of letting the pace pick up and making it exciting, this author slowed it down and went off into endless rambling diversions which caused me to skip pretty much the whole of that section instead of enjoying it as I was hoping to. Kem Nunn does not know how to write a thriller.

I did not like Eldon Chance, the so-called "neuropsychologist" either. That actually is a profession, but to me, the name sounds like it was made up by a writer who didn't know medicine too well! Chance was just as corrupt as the detective who was the villain in this story. As a doctor, Chance sees people to evaluate them for legal purposes: court cases, last will and testament contestations, and so on. When he meets Jaclyn Blackstone, he falls for her - which is to say that he just wants to jump her bones; he doesn't really fall for her in any other way, or at least if he does, it's not apparent from the writing.

The problem is that he's the doctor here, which makes him a quasi-authority figure, so though she is technically is not his patient as it's generally understood, he is in a professional relationship with her and it would be flat-oout wrong to get involved. Worse than this, she is a sick woman. She has multiple personality disorder and it's entirely unethical to take advantage of that and of her vulnerability. That said, it's hardly the "steamy affair" the book blurb extolls. Worse than this in a different way, by becoming involved with her, Chance has undermined any reliability his professional diagnosis might have had should people find out about his behavior. This could actually harm Jaclyn Blackstone.

She's not only vulnerable as a patient; she;'s also the victim of an abusive and somewhat codependent relationship. She's married to, but separated from a detective in the San Francisco PD. As Jaclyn Blackstone, she is afraid and seeking to avoid her husband, but as Jackie Black, she willingly has rough sex with him. When the detective discovers that Chance is hoping for a chance with her, he makes veiled threats.

Here is where I really took a dislike to Chance. Instead of thinking of his family and backing-off, he continues to actively pursue Jaclyn, leaving his young daughter open to retaliation by the detective. At one point he spends a weekend with Jaclyn, with his phone turned off (turning it off and forgetting to recharge it are constants in Chance's life), and when he finally gets back on the air, eh discovers his daughter is in hospital having OD'd. That's the kind of lousy, selfish, absentee father he is. We never see him interact with his daughter except in reaction to something.

Chance is also separated from his wife and they're divorcing. In order to try and raise some money, he sells some antique furniture after having had it tarted-up to look like it's all original, by a guy named Dee (real name darius Pringle, but you'd better never call him darius to his face). Dee is a big tough guy who lies about his military experience, but who nonetheless is a very dangerous man. He and Chance form an awkward friendship and partnership in trying to get one-up on detective Blackstone, but until the climax. it's like everything Chance does is ill-conceinved and doomed to failure.

For me, Jaclyn and Dee were fascinating people, and even detective Blackstone was more engaging than Chance, but we only got to know about them through Chance interactions, as it were. Dee and Jaclyn both have amazing stories to tell but that's not what we got unfortunately. I was sorry about that, but even so, we got enough of them and enough of a decent story for me to rate this a worthy read.