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

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Hoodoo by Ronald L Smith


Rating: WARTY!

This was another failed audiobook experiment. It's aimed at middle-grade readers, so I am not the intended audience, but two things really bothered me about it and constitute my main reasons for rejecting it. I would not recommend this at all for young, easily scared, or overly sensitive children.

The story is about 12-year-old "Hoodoo" Hatcher who grows up in a very superstitious 1930s Alabama. A stranger comes to town who is evidently Satan himself, coming to collect a debt apparently owed by Hoodoo because it was incurred by his deceased father, but I don't know for sure because I didn't listen to all of it.

You know, I am really tired of reading stories about black kids growing up with their grandparents or other relatives. Less than ten percent of African American kids are raised this way, and while it is unfortunate, even tragic, and while it is over twice that of white kids, it's still less than ten percent. If you were to judge by how often it's portrayed in novels, movies, and on TV, you'd think it was all black kids.

It's inaccurate and it's particularly appalling in novels which children read and can be misled by; novels which often win idiotic Neuteredbery awards and such nonsensical crap. In fact I think that's a rule: that if your novel isn't about a dysfunctional family, you can't be nominated for a Newbery - but I may be wrong about that.... My point is that it's time for authors to tell it like it is, not tall tale it like it isn't.

The endlessly-repeated sleeping (and later, waking) dreams/nightmares in which this unintentionally comical Satannic figure threatens Hoodoo in his basso profundo voice were ridiculous, and were what turned me completely off it. It became tedious to listen to. The "Yes, Massah!" voice of reader Ron Butler was inappropriate and a turn-off to boot.

The other thing which bothered me were the many extended scary sequences which are going to be too much for young readers - and especially listeners. You do not want your child listening to this as a bedtime story! For me they were boring. The story seemed to be going round in circles instead of going somewhere interesting, and Hoodoo's obsessive-compulsion of doing this himself was laughable when there were others who could have helped him if the author hadn't been so rigidly dead-set against it.

It was an uninteresting and unimaginative story told badly and I do not recommend it.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley


Rating: WORTHY!

Read sweetly by Bahni Turpin, this was another successful audiobook! See? it does happen! To be perfectly honest, it was a bit lacking in credibility: the usual middle-grade story where adults never help, and kids never go to them for help, which frankly annoys me, but that aside, it was an interesting and credible story (for the most part!), decently plotted and which involved adventuring and detective work as three kids-of-color from disparate backgrounds strove to track down some historic paintings by a black artist from Harlem, and overcome the machinations of an unscrupulous property developer. I recommend it.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - Audiobook


Rating: WORTHY!

This was one I picked up from the library at the same time as The Winter's Tale which I recently reviewed. I'm happy to report that this was much better than the other one. The cast was better for a start, and included David Tennant of Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, and Broadchurch fame) and (if you like him) Joseph Fiennes (of Shakespeare in Love fame in which he starred with Gwyneth Paltrow).

Frankly it would be nice to see a production of R&J which featured actors the actual ages of the principals in the play (Romeo's age remains unspecified, but Juliet, curiously, was thirteen!). I guess modern day sensibilities are far too squeamish for that, and in any case women - even those form wealthy families, did not marry at so tender an age in Elizabethan times, which is why her dad suggests she wait two more years. Childbirth at a later age was safer, but even marriage was unsafe for Juliet given what happened!

The question is though: are there not fine young actors aching for a chance to strut their stuff in this play? So why choose actors in their thirties? Joseph Fiennes who was 33 when this was published, and Maria Miles (who played Elfine Starkadder in 1995's Cold Comfort Farm) was probably around that same age, although little is known about her!

That said, and apart from some sorry over-acting on Fiennes part, this was not a bad full cast production and I enjoyed it.


Friday, May 4, 2018

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare


Rating: WARTY!

This was probably written around 1611, and first published in 1623 in a folio which grouped it with the comedies! It's not a comedy, unless a comedy of error. Some have labeled it a romance, but it's not a romance. To me it's a tragedy in more ways than one because it's not well-written and it's an awful story in the sense of being completely unrealistic. In that regard, it's a typical Shakespeare play where he asks us to remove our brains before entering the theater, but then he does call it The Winter's tale - like it's the mother of all tall stories, told in this audiobook by a very average full cast.

It's also another one of Shakespeare's thefts. He was a monstrous plagiarist. This story is essentially the same as Pandosto by Robert Greene, published some two decades earlier, a story in which the King of Bohemia, Pandosto, accuses his wife of adultery with his childhood friend, the King of Sicilia. Greene in turn may have taken his version from The Canterbury Tales which may have in turn been lifted from earlier stories such as The Decameron And so it goes!

In Shakespeare's rip-off, we're supposed to believe that Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, has so little to do in his own country that he can waste nine months (a curious amount of time) swanning around in Sicilia with King Leontes, whom he hath known since childhood. When Polixenes refuseth, citing pressing business back home, Leontes unreasonably tries to require him to stay, and when he fails in that, he sends his wife to try to talk him into staying. Why he would send his wife who knows this guy less well than does her husband is a mystery, but she persuades him so quickly that Leontes immediately decides she's had sex with him in order to convince him not to go!

Note that Bohemia is part of the present-day Czech Republic, so there is no way in hell a name like Polixenes would be in play there, nor a name like Leontes in Sicilia for that matter, but that's Shakespeare for you. Nor is there any way these two were childhood friends when their countries of origin were so far apart given the vicissitudes of travel back then, but again, Shakespeare expects us to buy this old mystery meat pie. He also expects us to believe the king took his wife to court (not the same as courting his wife) in a complete farce of a trial rather than simply behead her as was the fashion at the time. The reason for the trial is that it's far more an exercise in linguistic strutting and puffery than ever it was a realistic trial.

The wife, of course, dieth after the trial, but isn't really dead, just like the unheroic Hero wasn't really dead in Much Ado About Noting. Shakespeare wasn't original by any means. He even plagiarized himself! In the end, the child he thought had been burned alive on his own orders was in fact raised away from his sight for sixteen years, and the wife he thought was dead was living with a neighbor and lo an behold, all is forgiven at the end.

Horseshit! This king is so clueless that he has no idea what's going on in his own court, let alone his own country! He's so selfish that he won't let his supposed friend go home, and he's so stupid and paranoid that he thinks his best friend and his wife had sex. The guy's an asshole and simply isn't worth reading about. I do not recommend this! If you must indulge in Shakespeare, he has better material to read or listen to than this.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter


Rating: WARTY!

If this novel had been written by an unknown and submitted as is, it would never have got published. The only reason it did get published is because it was written by a celebrity. The author is an actor who currently plays Jessica Jones in the Marvel TV series of the same name, and in that show I adore her, but a writer she's not. Not yet. She may become one if she can quit writing YA trope and cliché and find a topic that's not been done to death. And have an editor who's not afraid to say no to a celebrity.

This follows the done-to-death trope of the prodigal son (or in this case, daughter with the unimaginatively bland name of Abby Williams) returning home to confront "demons". Barf. Yawn. Barf some more. Yawn a bit. Ho-hum. So anyway, the main character returns to her even more unimaginatively named small town of Barrens, Indiana where she grew up (or maybe not) and where a conglomerate named Optimal Plastics appears to be responsible for polluting the water and causing people to get sick. We're told the town is now booming, but we're never told why a huge corporation would put its roots down in a lifeless hick town nowhere near major artery roads or airports in the first place. At least not in the part I listened to.

Abby is an environmental lawyer living in Chicago and apparently lives a life of drunkenness and debauchery there. You would think someone with that portfolio would be able to confront the girl who bullied her in high-school and now acts like they were old friends, but this character is such a limp rag that she doesn't say squat. Let me just make it clear that I would never want Abby Williams to represent me in court!

It was when Abby discovers that the house she's renting has a neigh-bore who is a single dad with a precocious young daughter that my nausea rose far too high to continue. It didn't help that Abby had lost all interest in pursuing the chemical company even by this point, and had become instead obsessed with tracking down this girl, Kaycee Mitchell, she knew in high-school who had since gone off the grid. Abby was not a likable character, and I honestly didn't give a damn about her or anything else in this story. I could not care less what happened to the missing girl, because I've been given no reason to care more.

From reading other reviews out there I understand that the author knows nothing about Indiana, thinking it a football state when it's a basketball state (even I, who has almost zero interest in fatuous and ultimately pointless sporting events, knew that!), and she misnames the state university and invents a toll road where none exists. It's so easy these days to research a place on the Internet, in Wikipedia, and even go look at it on Google maps, that there's no excuse for getting things like this wrong. It's sloppy and lazy.

The asinine blurb (for which I don't blame the author) promised "tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense," but the only word in that whole phrase which applies here is 'slow'. I pulled this off the library shelf solely because it was written by Krysten Ritter. I thought it would be well worth reading, or rather listening to but it wasn't, even though reader Karissa Vacker did a decent job.

The best thing that can be said about this novel is that it's short, but apparently, according to some reviews I read, it could have been shorter still if the endless repetition had been cut out, and I believe them far more than ever I'd believe a blurb writer! I cannot recommend this based on the part I could stand to listen to. A bonfire is a great place for a novel like this.


One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was my third voyage into the world of Kate Atkinson. As I mentioned twice before(!), I came to her via the TV series Case Histories, and I hoped her novels would be as good as the TV show, but they were not. I could not get Case Histories on audiobook and didn't want to go with the library print book. I have too many print books on my shelf and actively try to avoid procuring any more until I've read-down some of this pile! I live in fear that they will fall off the shelf onto my head when I'm sleeping and I wish to bypass such a rude awakening.

This was the second-in-line in the series, but the problem with it was that it was too rambling. The interesting thing is that in the first novel, Jackson Brodie, the ex-soldier now turned PI inherits a lot of money, but in the TV series he did not have this money. I'm not sure how they will reconcile it if they continue the TV show. I liked how there were several plot threads seemingly unconnected, and which in the end all became woven together, but that was TV. The audiobook was far too sluggish.

I could not get started on the novel. One of the characters was such a limp rag of a man that he was repulsive, yet the author seemed determined to follow him into the most mundane of activities including a writing class he attends (which I think was a flashback but I'm not sure. It's easy to miss bits in an audiobook when driving. At least it is if your focus is on the road where it should be!). The writing class wasn't even interesting, and it seemed like the author was maybe using it to insult people perhaps she had known in a similar writing class which she attended. I don't know. It just felt a bit like that.

The story begins with this limp rag man breaking up a road rage incident, and then it just rambles on and on. Jackson Brodie is nowhere in it and did not show up right up to the point where I couldn't stand to listen any more. It was read pretty decently by Steven Crossley, but that couldn't make up for the material (or lack thereof). I felt bad for him having to read this. Just in case it isn't clear: I cannot recommend this one!


Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this author was once the prosecutor who railroaded the Central Park Five black kids into jail for a crime they never committed, I would have spit on the novel rather than picked it up. But I didn’t know that until after I’d read enough of it to know it was a lousy novel written by an author who is so far out of touch with things as to be very effectively retired even as she continues to write. It was only after I gave up on it and looked her up in Wikipedia that I discovered this and other interesting facts about her.

If I’d known this novel was merely wish-fullfilment - this author basically putting herself into her own fiction as a prosecutor of sex crimes - I would never have picked it up. I am not a fan of first person stories because they are irritating at best and completely unrealistic. Few authors - and even fewer stories - can carry that amount of weight, but far too many authors aren't smart enough to realize it. The woman who read for this audiobook story, Barbara Rosenblat, had entirely the wrong voice for the story and the character, so that didn’t help. That wasn't the worst part though.

The hypocrisy in this novel was astounding. For an ex prosecutor of sex crimes to write a novel about human trafficking and then lard it up with sexist material is mind boggling. If I’d know this novel - published in 2010 - would read like it was written in the fifties with all the unaddressed genderism it contains, I’d never have picked it up. But until I listened to it, I didn't know that there would be repeated remarks made to the main character of an inappropriate nature, and never once does she address them. Guys can say pretty much whatever they want to her and she doesn’t even react. In short, she's part of the problem and the author ought to be thoroughly ashamed of writing material like this.

I don't have a problem with reading a novel by an older writer (this author is now in her seventies). The problem isn’t that. The problem is when the older writer fails to move with the times and instead, writes a modern story with an antique mindset, which is evidently what happened here. That's not even the whole problem. The author seems so obsessed with describing old buildings that she forgets what story she's telling. This story could have been about architectural design. I quickly tired of hearing yet more building history, and yet more descriptions of arches, columns, and windows. This was as much a DNR as it was a DNF. You have my word that I will never read another novel by this author. I'm tempted to say that I'm glad I never paid for this one, but in a sense, I did pay for it by merely listening to it.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Life After Life By Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was another attempt at Kate Atkinson via audiobook. It failed.

I came to her as an author via Case Histories on TV, which I really enjoyed, but my foray into her novel about the same characters was boring. I had the same experience here, but I confess it did take me longer to get bored! Normally when an author has failed me I don't go back to that same author. I had the same policy on dating when I was single! LOL! I don't see the point in revisiting a disappointment so I've never done it with dating and very rarely with authors. I only went back to this author because I got three of her novels from the library at the same time and wanted to at least give them all a try as long as I had them.

This one had sounded really interesting. In some ways it was reminiscent of my own Tears in Time, although that was sci-fi and didn't involve the character dying. This novel was a bit more like the movie Groundhog Day except that instead of the main character falling asleep and reliving the same day over, the main character here dies and then somehow continues on as though nothing has happened. There's no information as to how this works: whether it actually is a redux or whether this is a trip through parallel universes. Perhaps by the end of the novel this is made clear, but I only made it to just under halfway through.

I gave up on it because it was becoming tedious and repetitive. It wasn't so much that it went over the same story again and again, although it did to begin with. In this story we did slowly move forward and the character did progressively grow older as the story went on, from infant-hood to childhood to teen years and older, and even into a marriage which didn't work out. I lost interest because the tedium of her life remained the same, the relationships remained the same, and the kind of events that befell her remained the same. Nothing really different happened, so while she was growing, the story was not!

On top of that, Ursula, the main character, simply wasn't that interesting. She was so passive and she didn't do anything! Instead, things happened to her, and this never changed. She was far too passive: even a rape and a subsequent botched abortion did not impinge upon her significantly. You'd think that repeatedly dying and then finding out they had survived the death and had a second (and a third, fourth, etc) opportunity, would actually change a person and have a profound effect on them, and that this effect would become increasingly powerful as it was repeated, but this wasn't the case here at all. Ursula was Teflon™ coated! Nothing affected her. Nothing left a mark! It was entirely unrealistic, and this story simply wasn't for me. I do not recommend it. I'd much rather have read about Ursula's aunt Isabella, who sounded far more interesting than ever Ursula could be.


The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens


Rating: WORTHY!

This was yet another audiobook I picked up on spec from my sterling local library, and while I confess to some disappointment in it, I have to recommend this as a worthy read overall.

The blurb makes much of the author's Navy Seal training and service, but that portion of this story occupied less than a third of the book! This disappointed me, because it was the part in which I was most interested. The rest of the book covers his time in college, which includes some interesting experiences in Rwanda and China, but he also rambled on and on...and on about boxing, which bored the pants off me (fortunately, not literally, which would have been embarrassing), but I skipped this part wholesale.

For me this was the biggest problem with what was otherwise a decent read: the author seemed not to know how to prioritize, which felt to me like an extraordinary flaw in a writer whose professional career must have consisted - as an officer in the Seals - in reliably and ably setting priorities! I guess he wrote about what made most impression on him without wondering if it would have that same impact on the reader.

While his entire story, taken as a whole, was worth listening to, I can't help but think that others might have wished for more about his military experiences too; however, what there was of them was educational and of real interest, and this is the part to which I listened most intently. Once again he reiterates what I've heard from other knowledgeable and competent sources: torture isn't the way to get information out of terrorism suspects. Who knew?!

The book is read by the author and he does a good job. I'm very much in favor of authors reading their own work in audiobooks although it seems to happen infrequently. I don't think anyone can feel their work better than the person who wrote it, and therefore cannot give it the life it deserves like the author can. There were times when this author's diction was less than crystal clear, and he had a habit of starting a sentence five by five (as a military person might say) and then tending somewhat to a wooden two by two as he finished which resulted in an incoherent mumble form time to time, but this was no big deal.

There was one section where he went on at length about a ceremony involved in crossing the equator for the first time, but while I am sure this was memorable and meaningful to him, it was completely lost on me as far as entertaining reading goes, and once again it went on interminably. I lost patience with that and skipped it as I did with his boxing stories. Other than that I found this book to be eminently listenable, moving, and satisfying, and I recommend it.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WORTHY!

Read with gusto and love by Jenna Lamia, this was an adorable audiobook story. It was literally short and sweet and very amusing. The three main characters were brilliantly-drawn and admirably entertaining. The author's name was so familiar to me that I thought I'd read something by her before, but I can't find any record of it, so this is evidently my first encounter. I plan on it not being the last. This was a pleasant find. I tend to experiment a lot more with audiobooks than other formats, and many of them fail because of that. Once in a while a gem like this comes along and makes all of the unsatisfactory assaults on my ears bearable!

Raymie isn't a Nightingale, she's a Clarke. Nightingale is the book about Florence (of the lamp, not of Tuscany, which is really Firenza) which Raymie was taking to read to a resident of a retirement home (Raymie has to do good deeds). Raymie is missing her father, who ran off with a dental hygienist, and she figures if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition (which requires good deeds and baton-twirling), her father would see her picture in the paper and be so proud of her, and miss her so much that he would immediately return home and all would be well.

Raymie has a lot to learn about guys.

Also competing in the contest is Louisiana Elefante, daughter of the Flying Elefantes, the famous trapeze artists, now deceased. Louisiana has 'swampy lungs', and is living with her kleptomaniac grandmother. They are so poor that Louisiana is counting on winning the contest to shore-up their finances.

Beverly Tapinski has no intention of winning the contest. She hates these contests so much that she's dedicated to sabotaging this one. The only reason these three girls meet is that they all show up for baton-twirling lessons as taught by the irascible Ida Knee who is the antithesis of long-suffering. The girls don't really get along too well to begin with, but inevitably they get into bizarre and amusing mishaps and scrapes, and are drawn into a tight trio who call themselves The Rancheros (it's Louisiana's idea). That's all I'm going to tell you. Like I said, the story is short and it's fun, so what have you to lose? Very little time if you don't like it. I loved it and I recommend it.


Upside Down magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Emily Jenkins


Rating: WARTY!

Prior to this novel, Sarah Mlynowski was batting a thousand with me after two novels. Emily Jenkins, aka E Lockhart, was batting five hundred after six books, and I'd never read anything by Lauren Myracle. This one has besmirched each of their escutcheons.

To be fair, it's not aimed at me, but it was written so badly I have to say you would have to be a kid with truly low standards to find this limp and frivolous effort entertaining. The main character is simply stupid, and this turned me off her right away. I don't mind a character who starts out stupid and wises up, but when the character remains dumb, and especially if it's a female character, I find the book irksome and want to remove its spine, to put it into 'Drax the Destroyer' terminology.

This is the story of three young kids who fail to get into a prestigious magic academy which is run by the father of one of the characters. Instead they go to the Upside Down magic school and they don't like it. They're incompetent, and it takes them forever to figure out what's wrong. This means that the school has failed them badly and is obviously really, really awful at teaching, but this disturbing proposition is never addressed in the writing.

This novel is a clear case of too many cooks spoiling the broth and I do not recommend it.


Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I came at from having seen the excellent TV series starring Jason Isaacs (of Star Trek Discovery - not that I watch that sorry excuse for a Star Trek show - and Harry Potter), Amanda Abbington (late of Sherlock), Zawe Ashton (late of Doctor Who: Into the Dalek), and the charming young Millie Innes - who is a true Scot! The TV show was titled Case Histories after the first novel in a series of (so far) four.

I love my library, but oddly enough they didn't have the first novel on CD; they had two others, which were the ones I got. This one is the last of the four. After I started listening to the droning audiobook, I regretted my impulsiveness in requesting two books at once. I listened to half of the first disk and skimmed the last disk on my way back to the library to drop it off! They were both tedious and mindlessly rambling, and nauseatingly droning (the reader was Graeme Malcolm and he was awful and served only to exacerbate the problem with the mindlessly meandering material). I hope the other one I got is better. It can hardly be worse!

This is a Stephen King style novel where the author thinks it's more important to go into endless, pointless minutiae instead of actually getting on with the story. The story is purportedly about a retired detective named Tracy Waterhouse. Her sole memory, it seems, is her encounter as a newly-minted police constable in Edinburgh, Scotland. She and her partner found a strangled woman who was very ripe, having been dead for many days, and also locked in a flat (apartment) with a young child. After that we're back in the present, but by then I'd already lost interest. Jackson Brodie is the hero of these novels, but he's focused on an abused dog. This one has not yet made it to a TV version.

The thing I loved about the TV show is how each story sowed three different seeds at the start, and by the end all three had grown into the same plant. The thing I found weird about the TV show is how few Scots actually live in Edinburgh - if it's judged by the casting! All the main characters were almost always English, not Scots! That may not be cultural appropriation, but it's certainly inappropriate. Othher than that I loved the show and would advise everyone to watch that rather than read these sashaying shambles of stories (assuming the others are as bad as this one was).


Monday, March 26, 2018

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova


Rating: WARTY!

Another soured audiobook experiment. I typically avoid long novels because it means they're full of filler which ruins the story. Before I started blogging books I read this author's The Historian and quite liked it. I went looking for my review of that, to see what I said about it, but I must have read that before I began blogging so it's nowhere to be had! This story was far too rambling.

When I saw Kostova had out The Swan Thieves I took a look at it, but it didn't appeal to me, especially given what a fat tome it was, so I never read it. I thought it would be boring. This one sounded like it might be more interesting despite Kostova proving herself by this time to be a one-note author. I was wrong! It was rambling and boring. I listened to about an eighth of it (an eighth of a one note and I didn't quaver) and while the reader (Barrie Kreinik) was listenable, the story wasn't. Quite literally nothin happened.

I don't want twenty pages about a woman being driven to a monastery unless all of those twenty are relevant to the story, but that's what I got here (at least it felt like it), and in this case none of it was. Kostova takes a whole chapter to write about a drive from A to B, which has nothing whatsoever to do with moving the action forward, In fact it did quite the opposite. It would be like that movie, Dunkirk about the dramatic evacuation of British troops from French beaches at the onset of World War Two, showing five minutes of action on the beach, five minutes of disembarking the boat at Dover in England, and then two hours in between spent in existential angst during the twenty-mile boat ride, or admiring the beautiful ocean, the action of the waves, the blowing wind, the burning of the surf, the engine noise, the diesel fumes, and declaiming upon ocean wildlife.

Or maybe in that famous car chase in the movie Bullitt, instead of simply showing the car chase as they did, the story focused on backstory and admiring window boxes of flowers as he drove, and stopping to gas-up and get a car wash, and slowing to let the chicken cross the road and so on. I am not kidding about the chicken, it quite literally happened in this story. It ruffled my feathers and I decided that was more than enough for me.

In short I cannot recommend this drivel, and I am now completely done considering this author worth wasting any more time on.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore


Rating: WARTY!

Sashenka was another audiobook experiment I tried that failed. I don't normally go for the longer books because my time is valuable and it's a bigger investment of it to put it into a longer book and have that fail. If it works out, it's great, but given that I take more risks with audiobooks, they tend to fail more than other media, so I tend not to go for the longer ones. This one sounded like it might be good if it worked out, but it didn't.

If it had bee about half the length it was, I might have been willing to invest more time in it, but it was endlessly rambling, jumping back and forth, and worse, the author seemed like he was obsessed with showing off his knowledge of the classics instead of telling a succinct and engaging story. He spewed out title after title, some of which I'd even heard of, but it served the story not at all. Writers who do this are among the most pretentious, substituting books for smarts, and book names for knowledge and sophistication.

Despite this focus on showing how intellectual the main character is, the ham-fisted book blurb describes her - sixteen-year-old Sashenka Zeitlin - as "Beautiful and headstrong" like her best trait is her beauty. I detest writers who reduced women to skin-depth, like a woman has nothing else to offer and their character is quite useless except for her 'beauty'. What does it matter where she is on the dangerously sliding scale of beauty to ugliness if she's an interesting character? Is she so boring that the author has to make her beautiful in order for her to have anything at all to offer the reader? Because that doesn't work for me.

It's not just the book blurb writer. The author himself is equally culpable, sexualizing his character very early on in the story when he informs us that she has the "fullest breasts in her class." How is this remotely relevant to anything? If the story were about sex, then I can see how it would be something of import, but it isn't. It's supposed to be about this woman and her life in Tsarist and then revolutionary Russia. Her breasts are really nothing to do with her story unless she goes to work for the communists seducing political enemies, in which case I could see some relevance. if the tit doesn't fit, you mustn't acquit, and I find this author guilty.

I thought it might start to get interesting when Sashenka is thrown into prison as a political offender because of her association with her uncle, but no! The novel is set in 1916, right before the Russian revolution, and I thought this might make it quite gripping, but the author seems to have sterilized it so effectively that the rich soil of a potentially entertaining novel is reduced to unproductive sand.

The only interesting thing to me was the repeated mention of gendarmes, which I had never heard of in connection with Russia, but these were the political police. It would have made more sense to call them jandarmov, which is how the Russians pronounced it.

The author may be able to write knowledgeable non-ficiton about this era, but he has no clue how to write a gripping novel, a compelling main character, or realistic female characters.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wonder Woman Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo


Rating: WARTY!

This is the first book in a series of four novels (not graphic!) based on DC icons. I don't know all of them, but I believe two of the others are Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas (author of the execrable Throne of Glass which I panned) and Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu (author of the execrable Legend which I panned!). The rule here seems to be that if you write a really bad YA romance trilogy, then you can get a contract from DC comics! This is why I favor Marvel!

Leigh Bardugo is of course the author of the execrable Shadow and Bones which I also panned, so why am I reading (read: listening to) this? I admit I thought twice about picking up this volume precisely because of the author, but I was curious to see how she would handle something which wasn't her own creation. She mishandled it badly, making Wonder Woman look like some clueless, air-headed teenager. Wonder Woman Warbringer? Crappy title as well! Not that the 'warbringer' referred to WW.

At this point I am convinced that Bardugo simply cannot create intelligent female characters, but I started out by being honestly curious as to what she would do with such a being (and especially so, now Wonder Woman's profile has been raised so high by the excellent Patty Jenkins movie). This novel came out in 2017 - the same year as the Wonder Woman movie, and what a contrast here is between the two! Bardugo has another disaster on her hands.

This one started out seeming like it was just another origin story, and it completely contradicted the one told in the movie, which as far as I'm concerned is canon at this point - especially since the comic books are always retelling their stories. Seriously? If there's one thing we really do not need more of, it's super hero origin stories!

I don't know how the author came into this: did they hire her and tell her to write this particular story or did they hire her and ask her to write a story about Wonder Woman, leaving the actual choice up to her? Or did she send them a story outline that she wanted to do and they agreed? I don't have those answers, so all I can do is base this review on what I read - or in this case listen to, since this was an audiobook.

Audiobooks are very experimental for me. I listen to them while driving, so my attention is most often on the road, not the book, but I can still follow what's going on. Since I'm a captive audience several times a week, I get through quite a few of these and I also take more risks with what I select to listen to, and therefore run the risk of more failures in finding things which please me, but I also find many gems this way.

The novel was read by Mozhan Marnò who didn't do too bad of a job except that her pronunciation wandered at times. She pronounced Themyscira for example, as thought it were "Them is scarier" which, given Amazons, perhaps isn't too far adrift, but all it did was make me laugh every time she said it. Themyscira (Greek Θεμίσκυρα) was a real place and it's pronounced with a soft 'th' sound as in 'thought' not in 'this'. It should sound a bit like Theh-mees-keer-a, with equal stress on all syllables but maybe a touch more on the 'mees' part - as far as I know. This begs the question as to why they got a woman of Iranian descent to read this rather than one of Greek descent?

This book began with Diana, aka Wonder Woman to be, taking part in a foot race. Normally the princess doesn't do this, but in this case she wants to assert her growing womanhood and take what she believes to be her rightful place as an Amazon woman rather than a cosseted royal. unfortunately, a sinking schooner on the coastline distracts her, and she ends up diving in, pulling out a woman, and saving her life.

This is where the first confusion rose because one of her friends on Themyscira is an Irish woman, yet when she pulls this (almost-) drowning victim from the sea, she talks of her as human. Was the Irish Amazon not human? If she was Amazon and not human, then how is she Irish? This made no sense to me at all. I thought all Amazons were human, except Diana, who was fashioned from clay.

The problems with the writing began here because Diana is in fear now of being punished because of her transgression in saving this woman's life and bringing her onto the island, yet Bardugo forgets that Diana is a princess of royal blood. She has this fellow Amazon bullying her with absolute no blow-back, and she has Diana living in fear of failure and of being punished!

Diana did not read as royal at all, not remotely, let alone heroic! She was just another Bardugo schoolgirl character. This was when I realized that it was Bardugo, not Diana who was out of her depth here. She simply cannot write an engaging story, period, not even when it's handed to her on a plate like this.

The story did not improve, it got worse. Diana had a critical deadline to meet regarding this woman she had rescued, and yet she spent so much time lollygagging on the way until it became a last minute thing. In short, Bardugo made Diana look like a moron, not heroic at all, and I can't forgive her for that. She made Diana into a man with tits instead of telling the story of an amazingly powerful, yet restrained woman. There was no gentility or even femininity here. It was all brawn and power, not compassion and smarts, and the villain was telegraphed right from the start of the story such that even I could recognize them. I'm done with reading anything else by this authors, and I cannot recommend this story.


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 Washington...er 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.