Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Andrew Bromfield, and read beautifully by Cassandra Campbell, who at least in this novel has one of the most charming and captivating voices I've ever heard, especially when she does the Russian accent. I have a feeling that if I had read this rather than had Cassandra Campbell read it to me, I might not have liked it quite so much, but this audiobook pulled me in almost from the first word even though it's not my usual cup of tea.

I'm not given to reading werewolf (or shapeshifter novels) for one thing, and neither am I a great fan of social commentary novels, and this was both), but I find something very intriguing about a werefox story, and in this particular case, I felt almost like the leading lady had used her magical hypnotic werefox powers successfully on me!

It was not all smooth-riding. Sometimes it felt a bit like the author was a little too pleased with himself, and sometimes it felt like this was a guy writing from a female perspective (which it was of course!), but for me those were so mild that they were never really an issue. Truth be told, I hope authors are pleased with themselves, because writing a novel is a lonely, intensive, and all-too-often thankless pursuit, and it bears a certain amount of self-satisfaction to have completed one, even if it's one not destined for stardom.

I read some negative reviews of this to see if I'd missed anything, but I was more impressed by what those negative (and all other reviews that I read) had evidently missed: the light treatment of a rape scene. No one mentioned that at all, which was truly disturbing.

I think if a woman had written this, we would have had a different sort of novel, but whether it would have made for a better or worse read, I can't say. Here's the rub though: if a man writes and makes the woman too much like him, he's accused of writing about a man and pretending she's a woman (man-with-tits syndrome), whereas if he makes the woman more traditionally feminine, he's accused of making her traditionally feminine! You can't win, so my advice to men writing about women and women writing about men is full speed ahead and damn the slings and arrows of outraged readers. You can't write for everybody, and most of the time you can reliably write only for yourself.

The werefox is named A Hu Li, the pronunciation of which is apparently, in Russian, an insult along the lines of 'go have sex with yourself'. Though she's Chinese, she hasn't lived in China in several hundred years, so I found it a bit short-sighted that this author was accused in one review of being mistaken in putting her last name (Hu Li) last. On the other hand, if she's not human (she's a werefox who looks like a young Chinese woman despite being two millennia old), then why would she look Chinese? This isn't explained in this novel.

Frankly, the Asians annoy me because they tend to look so young when they're really much older(!), so this discrepancy didn't bother me, but this nationality issue is one of several that went unexplored, which annoyed me even more than young-looking-but-really-not-Asians, but because the author explored so many things (and amusingly so for me), I was willing to let other things go unexplained.

Besides, she's a werefox who can change her appearance to some extent. When she becomes foxy, she typically doesn't change her appearance into that of a fox. Her only unchangeable attribute is her tail, which can change impressively, but only in size. It cannot disappear, so she has to keep it well-hidden to pass as a human.

A, who has sisters who all evidently sport names starting with English alphabet vowels (Russian has vowels, and more than in English: а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю, и, but we don't see any names prefixed with those). Doubtlessly Chinese has vowels too, but I'm not remotely qualified to get into that. Besides, this is set in Russia where she's lived for at least two centuries, so it's really disingenuous to look outside that nation for explanations or cultural attributes.

Additionally, this was an English translation of the Russian, so maybe the vowels were translated too! We hear about her sisters occasionally, and they're just as interesting as she is, but given the werefoxes apparently cannot reproduce, how they are sisters is another thing which slipped by unexplained. Maybe all werefoxes consider themselves sisters even though they really have no gender. They just look like women; they really aren't women. Or men. But given their lack of reproductive organs, their entire existence is unexplained. They are supernatural creatures though, so I let that go, too.

A is nominally a prostitute living in modern Moscow, and preying on her clients for the energy they release during sex, which is collected in her tail. I thought this was hilarious given that one abusive term for women (at least in English) is 'tail'. This tail is ostensibly a curiously masculine organ, since it become erect (after a fashion: enlarging and 'pluming out'), but given that the penis is really just an enlarged and slightly re-purposed clitoris, it's not masculine at all when you, so to speak, get right down to it.

She uses her tail to send hypnotic suggestions to her client, making him (or her, lesbians apparently love werefoxes) believe they're having sex with her when they're really just masturbating and she's sitting off to one side reading books by Stephen Hawking. So she's paradoxically a prostitute and a virgin. Until she meets a werewolf who rapes her. How can he do this when she has no sexual organs? She has a penis catcher which is an extensible pouch underneath her tail and which is there solely for tricking males into thinking they're had penetrative sex with her. This seemed like an oddity to me, but again, she's a supernatural creature, so I didn't worry about it.

It bothered me more how accepting she was of the rape. Not only did she 'get over it' quickly, but she entered into a continuing sexual relationship with her rapist. Again, supernatural creature, but even so it was hard to read and I had mixed feelings about how that rape was depicted and wondered (as I had several times reading this), how it might have been written by a female author. I also wondered if some form of punishment was coming, and for the longest time it did not, but in the end it did, so this lent a form of justice to the horror, although there really is no meaningful justice for rape.

At the same time I tried to keep in mind that neither one, the rapist nor the one who was raped, was human. They were more animal like than human too boot. On top of this (or beneath this if you will), she had no actual sex organs, merely a flexible bag of skin expressly for containing stray penises (or large clitorises, too, I guess). This did not mitigate the rape, but it did put an unusual spin on it.

The two of them are both human-looking (at least the wolf was until he got her scent when she tried to take him to the cleaners), but they're paranormal. She rarely becomes an actual fox, and he becomes a wolf only when sexually aroused (and that;s when he loses control apparently).

This certainly doesn't make rape permissible; nothing does, but I wondered if these supernatural human-animal hybrids viewed what had taken place in a somewhat different light to we humans. Had a woman written this, I think this would have been explored and the reader would have got a lot more form it, but we were left without any exploration of it, and this was the worst aspect of this novel for me. As it was, all we had was a largely barren thought-exercise on how animals behave in the wild. Is there rape in the animal world? Yes. That much is quite clear. How do the animals view it? That's a lot less clear.

That aside, the rest of the story was entertaining and quite fascinating, The werefox was completely entrancing and I enjoyed listening to her and learning about her. The werewolf was pretty much what I expected from a werewolf, and is why I do not find their stories interesting. On the contrary: they're boring, and telling endless more stories about them brings nothing to the table at all. Werewolf story writers need to get out of the fathomless rut they're in, and you can interpret that in any way you like. But I recommend this for the easy story-telling, the fascinating werefox, and the ever-present but very subtle humor.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ghost in Trouble by Carolyn G Hart


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known this audiobook was part of a series I would never have picked it up, but as a one-off (as I thought it was) it sounded like it might be worth a listen, and I tend to experiment more with audiobooks than other formats, so I decided to give it a chance. In the end I decided I'd rather hear the sound of synthetic rubber on asphalt than listen to any more of this in the car, before I turned it back in to the library! LOL! The southern belle accent of the reader turned me off as much as the amateurish writing.

The problem with writing supernatural tales is that you really need to come up with some sort of intelligent framework in which to set them. It doesn't have to be cast-iron reality by any means (because it can't be!), but it does have to make some sort of sense. None of this did.

All the author has done is exactly what far too many unimaginative and blinkered authors do when they tell tales like these: they take our real world and simply translate it to a ghostly one, and make no other changes, so Bailey Ruth (this is the Bailey Ruth series volume 3) and her husband Bobby Mac (barf) are still married and leading exactly the same life they led on Earth when they were alive, except that sometimes, while BM is out fishing in his boat, BR goes back to her home town to solve a problem, in her role as a volunteer for the heavenly department of good intentions! Barf. BR is a moron. I'm sorry, but she is. She knows the rules (don't be seen, don't be heard, and so on), yet she continually breaks them not because circumstances call for it, but because she's simply too dumb to follow them.

I don't get her mission, either. In this story she's supposed to be trying to prevent a woman whom she disliked in life, from being murdered. We're supposed to assume that BR is a decent, likeable person (although she was tedious to me) and therefore if she doesn't like this woman she's supposed to be protecting, then this woman is not likeable, so where is the justification for her mission? Why not leave her to her lot? Besides, can't this god in her heaven not control things with his divine powers? Can he not protect her? Why is BR needed at all?

There's no explanation for this, except that in the Bible, one thing we're shown repeatedly is that god is incompetent and can't get a thing done without a human to help him. Need commandments? Better have Moses hike up the mountain to go get 'em. Earth flooding? better get Noah to build the ark and round up the animal feed because no god is going to lift a finger to help. Need to get everyone right with god? Rape a virgin and sacrifice her son on a cross because the divine mind can't think of any more intelligent way to do it than brutally and bloodily, as his history in the Old Testament proves. You know how the story goes.

Plus, given what happened recently in Las Vegas, are there not more important missions - assuming god is so helpless that missions must be undertaken? Is it not more important to send someone out to prevent a child being abused or kidnapped than to prevent some obnoxious woman from dying? Where was someone like BR when psychos opened up with machine guns and automatic weapons on innocent people out enjoying themselves? It's nonsensical. If abortions are so bad, why not send BR on a mission to get all these unwanted children adopted? I guess her god can't be bothered with that.

This author's concept of daily life in Heaven is not only just as nonsensical, it's antiquated. If you want comedy, Lucille Ball is still doing her shows in heaven! Seriously? Why would she? For the last decade of her life she wasn't doing her show, so why would she restart it when she went to Heaven? And why Lucille Ball? Is the author unaware of the scores of other TV comedies and comedians that have been and gone in the intervening period? Or is she simply too idle to look them up? Would no one want to watch any of those people? It's the same with cooking. Your cookery is taught by Julia Child and the same rationale applies here, too. It's a case of the author going with what she knows, and I know the knee-jerk advice is to write what you know, but in this case it backfires.

Stephen King was a teacher before he became really well-known as a horror writer. He never met a shy schoolgirl who could control objects with her mind. He never saw a vampire, or uncovered an alien spaceship, and he never drove an evil 1958 Plymouth Fury. Should he have confined himself therefore to writing only about teaching? 'Write what you know' is asinine, Write what you want, is my advice. But think about what you're writing or you're going to end-up with crap like this.

So in short, this was tedious, primitive, poorly thought-out, badly-written and nonsensical, and I cannot recommend it.


Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Future War by Robert H Latiff


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say right up front that I was disappointed in this. It seemed disorganized and rushed, and the text was so dense that it was hard to read, while at the same time so lacking in any breath that it felt like I was skimming the text even as I read every word!

I know this may sound strange coming from a fanatic like me who is always railing on authors and publishers to consider how many trees are being killed-off when setting up the formatting of their books, but I never expected to be advocating for a book to use more space than it did! This one went too far in compacting the text. The lines were so closely-spaced that it was hard to read, and then there was the usual 'academic-style' one-inch margin around the text! It felt so contradictory that it actually amused me. Smaller margins and slightly more widely-spaced text would have made it more appealing and a lot easier on the eye.

Even so, the way the book was put together was not appealing to me at all. Subtitled "Preparing for the New Global Battlefield," I felt it was so rushed and so shallow that it left me with very little useful information about how things might really be whether actually on a battlefield or in cyberspace. There are parts that were eye-opening and interesting, but the majority of this felt more like a largely-speculative work, rather than something which derived its prognostications from existing technology and predictable future directions.

On top of all this, the coverage of any one topic was so cursory that it really didn't get covered at all. One of the organizational problems was that there was very little in the way of hierarchical structure to the text, or by way of labeling subsections to make reading easier and to serve clarity. Consequently, it felt more like a stream-of-consciousness approach, and this didn't serve the subject matter well at all. The book was paradoxically only a step or two away from an outline list, yet nowhere did it actually have an outline list to make comprehension easier either in regard to what you had just read or were about to read in the upcoming chapter.

This book is very short and is a fast read, and if you want the vague 'ten-thousand foot' view or the whirlwind tour of future battlefield trends and technology, then this will give you a start, but it was really lacking far too much in depth and detail for me. It left me notably dissatisfied, and I cannot recommend it.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrighi


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another winner from Net Galley's 'Read now' offerings, where you can find some real gems if you look carefully. This therefore is an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher.

In this graphic novel, Morrigan Moore is dragged along to yet another new town, behind her older brother and mother, who are co-authors of a series of novels based on assorted local folk-tales and legends. They're about to start a new novel, and are here for research.

Morrigan isn't happy, but is trying to make the best of a bad job. As mom and bro start to investigate the local legend of the voracious and predatory 'King of Crows' and his foe, 'The Scarecrow Prince' Morrigan finds herself not researching the legend, but living it, as she gets the mantle of The Prince thrust upon her, and discovers that it's she who must stand and defy the King of Crows - and not in some fictional work, but for real.

Morrigan grows into her role and starts making her own rules as the story careers to its uncertain conclusion. I really enjoyed this graphic novel for the feistiness of its main character: a strong female to be sure, and for the originality of the story and the excellence of the artwork. It's well-worth reading and will give you something to crow about!


The Ghost Of Gaudí by El Torres, Jesús Alonso Iglesias


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a Net Galley offering which was in the 'Read Now' category. That Category can be a mixed bag, but I have found some real gems there, and this was another one - an award winning comic which seems to have been sadly under-served primarily because it was not an American comic. Or maybe people simply have not heard of Antoni Gaudí, architect of the Sagrada Família, the most-visited monument in Spain?

So what was refreshing about this was that it was not set in the USA. Sometimes I think writers in the USA forget there is an entire planet out there, most of which isn't USA. This was set in Barcelona, so not only did we get to visit somewhere that was well off the beaten path (in terms of story settings we commonly see in graphic novels in the US), but also which told an engaging and intriguing story.

In Barcelona, murder victims begin showing up and a problematic investigator is having trouble convincing people that the murders are somehow tied to the architectural creations of Gaudí. As he tries his best to track down the perp on his side, a woman who saves an old man from being hit by a vehicle in the street and becomes injured herself, finds she is somehow now involved in these crimes. Did she save Gaudí's ghost? Is there even a ghost? If not, what was her experience all about, and who is committing these crimes - and why?

The story is just the right length, with just the right amount of freakishness and normality to blend into a great story set in a beautiful-looking city. The artwork is wonderful, and I really enjoyed this. I recommend it as a worthy read.


You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins


Rating: WARTY!

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

This started out great, but slowly fell apart the further I got into it. The blurb announced that it's "Told in alternating teen voices across three generations," but I did not expect from this that we would actually fast-forward through all three generations, and eventually be moving so rapidly that it was all-but impossible to keep track of who was who.

I'd thought it would be about the interactions between three generations all existing together! I did not expect to be flung summarily and unexpectedly into the future as those new generations arrived on the scene. The story lost so much in those jumps that it was ruined for me.

The huge, unbridged chasms between different parts of the novel were destructive, and really spoiled the story which had begun at a really good pace and allowed the reader to honestly get to know this family. I would have been quite content to follow the first two girls, Sonia and Tara, through the whole book, and see how their lives panned out. Unfortunately, I was robbed of that in this author's hell-bent, breakneck sprint to get to the grandchildren.

I felt Sonia and Tara were torn from me and diminished into becoming distant and vague memories as the new generation swept in. We learned nothing of their adult lives except what we were told in summary. It was like riding an elevator, and the car coming down at a comfortable pace, then something goes wrong and suddenly you're plunging the last few floors in free-fall. There was no warning; nothing to indicate that the comfortable pace of the early story was suddenly going to change to a rough ride.

Even that might have worked, but the story moved far too fast and spent so little time on the youngest generation that we never got to know them. They were brought in so quickly, and were danced around so capriciously that they were never more than two-dimensional shadow puppets, and not real people at all. I could not connect with them.

I was left not caring about them because they were strangers. I was left wondering why I had read that far instead of DNF-ing this novel as soon as Sonia and Tara were forced to take a back seat. It felt like the author had lost interest in the story and wanted to get it over with as soon as she could, so that she might move on to another project, and so she just summarized, or maybe simply published her outline instead of turning it into an actual story.

Perhaps I should have figured out how it would end when we met the first two girls with their story already in progress. After the briefest flash-in-the-pan memory of life in Ghana, which I had thought might be relevant later, but which was not, we meet the girls already on a plane from London to New York, so London is not even a memory in the author's desperation to get these teens onto American soil - like no other soil really matters, not even for Indian girls.

We did get a very brief time in India, which was delightful, but that was quickly over, and then the future was already banging on the door, demanding entrance, and people were married and having children before any courtship had seriously begun. It was too fast, too furious, to borrow the name of a movie, and like the movie, it was all fumes and madcap rushing from that point onwards. It was very unsatisfying.

This had the potential to be a great story and I wish the author had had enough faith in her two girls to let their story shine, but she evidently didn't, and it obviously didn't, and I felt robbed. I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Kobane Calling by Zerocalcare


Rating: WARTY!

This was another 'Read Now' graphic novel that I requested from Net Galley, and for which I thank the publisher. I like to look at the 'Read Now' because while material in this category can sometimes mean a novel is not doing well and for good reason, it can also mean that something worth reading is being overlooked. I've seen many examples of both, and I am sorry to have to report that this one, for me, was not a worthy read.

There was a prologue. I never read prologues because they're tedious and antiquated. My advice is that if you must have one, then include it in chapter one or somewhere in the story, preferably not as a flashback. I routinely skip all prologues, prefaces, introductions, forewords, and so on.

In this case this created a problem because there was no obvious beginning to the story itself, so I skipped past page after page looking for a start or a chapter one, anything, and there was nothing to indicate where the actual story began!

This lack of organization was rife, and the total lack of respect for trees irked me. I don't think comic book writers in general ever consider how many trees they're going to destroy if their story takes off as a print edition. I wish they would. In this case, this book had a title page (which may have been a place-holder for the cover we don't get in the review copy), followed by a blank page, followed by another title page, followed by a credits page, followed by a small print page, followed by an extravagant two-page map, followed by a blank page.

This was followed by yet another title page - like we don't already know the freaking title of this work by now? Seriously? How many title pages do we need? Does the publisher think we're that stupid, that we can't remember the title page? Maybe so - because I did have to swipe past page after page, after endless page to get to the story, so it's entirely possible, by by the time I've waded through all these extraneous pages, that I could well have forgotten the title!

That was followed by a black page and then the story began, but this was not the prologue! This was the pre-prologue! Fool that I was, I read this thinking that the actual story had started, but no! After two pages, then began the prologue! I am not sure where the prologue ended. We got some more titles, but they were so odd and random that it was never clear if the story had started or if this author was totally enamored of prologuing.

I know there are in-a-rut publishers who are mesmerized by the library of Congress 'rules and regulations', but I say screw them. When did Congress ever care about trees unless it's how much money can be made and profits taxed from cutting them down? This wasn't even an American publication: it was, I think, but am not sure, Italian, and was revamped and translated for English speakers, so there's even less reason to concern ourselves about antiquated Congressional ideas about publishing.

I read seventy-eight pages of a tree-slaughtering 288, and I decided I had better things to do with my time. At no point did the author actually explain why this guy had decided to go to a kill zone. From the story it looked like all he did was it around staring at the fighting going on over the border, and then once in a while put together food packages. The packages, it seemed to me, could have been put together somewhere a whole lot safer and simply shipped to where they were needed instead of shipping the raw materials there. Why this was not done wasn't even addressed, let alone explained.

For a story that I requested because it sounded interesting, it was not. It was tedious. The writer seemed much more in love with how wonderful he was to go somewhere dangerous, than ever he was in explaining anything about why he went, why things were how they were, or how it really felt to be there. The story made the whole experience (at least as far as I could stand to read) out to be a joke and it seemed to me not a joking matter at all. The story therefor was neither engaging nor educational much less entertaining, and I gave up on it because life is too short to waste on something as dull as this. I cannot recommend it.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Normal by Warren Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

Read decently by John Hodgman this was a slightly pretentious audio novel which I picked up from the library against my better judgment. The best thing about it was that it was very short, but even so I found myself skipping pieces which were boring to me.

The premise is that there is a retreat for people who are on the edge of losing it over their jobs. These people seem to be exclusively foresight strategists, which are "civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities, and who are paid by "nonprofits and charities", and strategic forecasters which are "spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare" and who are "by global security groups and corporate think tanks."

These people are consigned to Normal Head in Oregon, where they're treated for depression. Normal head seems like it ought to be a great way to cure anyone's depression! Unfortunately the novel didn't cure me need for a god read. I never really got into it, and it was a lot of drivel in places broken only here and there by mildly interesting bits and one or two amusing incidents. I cannot recommend this.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani


Rating: WARTY!

I have to confess up front my disappointment in this book: an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It professes to be written by a professional journalist, but professionalism was exactly what it was lacking. This book felt more like reading something written by a fan-girl or a groupie. Issues which ought to have been pursued were ignored and questions which ought to have been answered were never asked.

Not to be confused with Real Life Super Heroes by Ernest Cooper, or Real Life Super Heroes by Pierre-Élie de Pibrac, or even I Married a Real-Life-Super-Hero by Amity Maree, this book advises us (from the blurb) that they "...dress up at night, fight crime, save people, and some of them even have secret identities. Are they ordinary, mild-mannered citizens, or are they larger-than-life characters, determined to fight crime, risking life and limb to defend victims of violence and injustice? And why do some choose to reveal their true identities, while others prefer to remain anonymous?"

I had several reactions to that, including 'were these the only options?', but I think the most pertinent one is, why do they only go out at night? This was something which wasn't explored, and was emblematic of a flaw in this entire book: things unexplored, and aspects of the story uncovered.

An obvious answer presented itself in that many of them work a regular job during the day, but not all of them do. Another answer is that many of the things they claim to engage with, crime being the obvious one, take place at night, but this isn't strictly or always true. This was one of the things which I felt never got addressed properly in a book which to me failed too many times to take seriously.

So there are apparently people who dress in costumes and go out on city streets to fight crime. Some of them simply do things like hand out food, water, and blankets to the homeless (something which could just as readily be done during the day) or help break-up fights or find drunks a ride home and so on. Others go another step beyond that and try to bring criminals to justice. This is where the facts tended to get skimmed. Frankly I was far more impressed by those who quietly handed-out things to the needy than ever I was by the costumed 'crime fighters'.

The problem is that we got only one side to this story: the side the author clearly favored. She was not interested in reporting anything other than what she was told by the people she was following. Even when she pretended to seek out the horrible 'super villains', it turned out these guys were not even remotely villains. They were more like side-kicks to the heroes. The fact that the author is in a romantic relationship with one of the "villains" clearly reveals the huge bias in her reporting here.

She didn't care to ask the difficult questions, nor did she care to seek opinions from outside this small community. Why, if she really wanted to do a job of journalism, did she not interview police and local community leaders? Why did she no peruse crime prevention stats to see if these 'crime fighters' actually did make a significant difference? Why did she not ask these people why they didn't simply join the police force or a neighborhood watch if they truly wanted to help? All of these questions were brushed aside, if they were ever raised, in favor of fan-girling. It's an insult to real working reporters to call this reporting. It was nothing of the sort.

The biggest question of all: why these people get the name super heroes, was left unasked, let alone answered. What makes them super? How are they any more heroic than people who do what they do but don't wear flamboyant costumes? based on the content of this book, the only answer seemed to be that they roam in gangs wearing cosplay costumes and occasionally tackle crime. The biggest "hero" of them all seemed to be "Phoenix Jones", about whom the author had nothing negative to say, but here's what the book said about him reacting one night to a friend being injured:

"My friend's face was flopped open and was just gushing blood."
"...and I walked up on this guy and he just took off. I chased him, I tackled him, I pulled him, and I hit him a few times. I took the stick and I was going to whoop his ass when the police rolled up on me."

Is this what a super hero does? Beats-up people? Personally I think it would have been more heroic to have taken his friend who "was just gushing blood" to a hospital, but this 'hero' abandons his friend and goes after vengeance - not justice but vengeance. This whole thing was reported without any analysis or observation from the author. It was shameful reporting. We never even learn what happened to his friend who was gushing blood.

At one point I read the hypocritical conclusion to another event: "Although they thought the boys' intentions could be seen as good, the RLSHs did not generally accept their actions as positive." Compare and contrast with Phoenix Jones all-but beating-up that guy.

The reporter is so enamored of the heroes that she gushes herself, talking of Purple Reign, an associate of Phoenix Jones: "He was accompanied by a beautiful woman, whom I recognized." Later, I read, "Purple [reign] looked to be in good shape, too, with a shorter frame, a beautiful face" Purple reign was actually one of the few people I read about in this book that I admired for what she does. She was also at one time married to Phoenix Jones. Evidently, they separated in mid-November 2013, but you won't read that in the book.

She's not about show and flash and publicity; she's about helping people in very real ways: people who truly need the help, and she's in a good position to give it, but what does her beauty (or otherwise) have to do with what she does? If she were plain would that make her less super? If she were unattractive altogether, would that make her less heroic? Less effective?

I am so tired of reading this "plain-shaming" from female authors who should know better given the make-up, youth, and 'beauty' culture that drives everything in the west, and who seem to go out of their way to remind their fellow sex that if they aren't beautiful, then fuggeddabout it. It's a disgrace and it needs to stop. There's nothing heroic about behaving in this way. It's bad enough that we routinely see this in comic books about super heroes. We sure as hell do not need it irl.

This gender bias appears elsewhere in the book, as we see when the author is with the super heroes "on patrol" and there's a shooting. Never once did I read of anyone in the group calling the police. Instead, I read this:

Everywhere I looked I could see young women scattering in front of the nearby nightclub, running as fast as they could with their high heels and short skirts. I also noticed that the men, in their sneakers, easily outpaced them. Say what you will about Real Life Super Heroes, but I can't imagine any of them taking off and leaving terrified a women in their wake!

How gallahnt! How St George! So women are helpless victims by definition, and only manly men can save them? We're either equal or we're not. You don't get to have it both ways: fully equal, until that is, you need a man to save you, then you're a maiden in distress? (Or vice versa, until you need a woman to save you).

The wrong-headedness of this writing was appalling, but it gets worse! At one point, the author says, "Oddly enough, during my entire life, only once was I taught what to do in case of a shooting." It's not rocket science! If you are not trained to deal with such a situation, you get your damned head down and if you can, you get away. It's that simple. Oh, and you call the cops, who are trained to deal with it. No wonder she thought all other women were in need of saving.

In another incident that was reported straight from the mouth of the hero without any investigation or analysis, we read of one guy who saw the police chasing after a man and a woman, and he intervened, busting into a police officer, and ending up beaten himself.

This was presented as heroic, but never once did the reporter ask why those people were running. They were presented as victims, but nowhere were any of the cops involved interviewed. She never went back to try to look at footage of the incident (if there was any) to see what actually happened. We got only one biased fan-girl side of the story as thought this was somehow heroic.

I don't know what those people had been doing, but neither did the 'hero'. Maybe they were perfectly innocent, but what if they'd been throwing rocks at the police? We don't know what they had been doing and neither did he, yet he charged in and assaulted a police officer, and this made him a 'hero'? If the pair had been both male would he have done the same thing, or was he charging in merely to help what he saw as a 'maiden in distress'? We don't know because the reporter didn't care to ask.

I am not a huge fan of the police many times, but these people put their lives on the line every day. They are professionally trained and legally empowered to do what they do. And they wear no mask. They hide behind nothing and they are out there doing what they see as the best that can be done in any given situation under often trying and sometimes impossible conditions. They do not randomly and haphazardly wander into situations. Yes, there are bad seeds in there and yes, even the best make mistakes. Yes, there is sometimes corruption, but they have a right to tell their side of the story - unless, that is, it's a super hero book written by this author.

Bad writing was prevalent. At one point I read, "He exuded a genuine demeanour." I think what she meant to say was that he seemed genuine, but why say that when you can make it an order of magnitude harder to grasp on first reading? I also read later, "His team fluctuates in membership, sometimes five, sometimes twelve, but the core is strong: Ghost, Asylum, Foolking, Oni, Professor Midnight, and himself." Unless my math is bad, that core is six, not five, so is it strong or not?!

After chiding an HBO Super Heroes documentary (which I haven't yet seen) for making the heroes out to look like idiots, this author then reports of one of her subjects, "Today he patrols and is writing a book on the manifestation of good, evil, and in between. It's about mental powers and the ability to read minds and control thoughts, all based on metaphysics and subatomic physics." Ri-ight! I am not kidding, this was reported as is without comment!

Another of them had this to say about how humble he was: "You can do anything you want here and get away with it. All you got to do is be that much smarter than anyone else, and it works. I do it great...I think I slept with my entire graduating class, to be honest with you. It was pretty bad and then there was the class before and after. I don't go out on patrol as much to help others really as to help me. It's for me. If people don't like it? Fine. Just try to stop me." That's so humble. Really, truly humble! An again it was reported without any comment.

This book was so poorly written and so gushingly, embarrassingly biased it was a disgrace to reporting, and I do not recommend it. Nothing could be less heroic or less super.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


Rating: WORTHY!

I gave up on this Austen rip-off audiobook set in modern Cincinnati, because it was so far removed from Austen that you couldn't even see her from there. The story tracked Pride and Prejudice closely, but the characterizations were completely wrong, so I didn't see the point.

Apparently there's this thing called the Austen Project, where writers create a novel rooted in one of Austen's works. This one was one of these efforts and it wasn't good enough. I get the feeling that if someone had written this who was not an established writer, they would never have found a publisher and rightly so.

The story went off at a tangent very early, about Lizzie's relationship with this guy named Jared who would not commit to a relationship, so even as he and Lizzie were seeing each other as friends (and not even with benefits), he and she were desultorily dating other people.

Original Lizzie of Austen was way too smart and cynical to put up with that, so this felt like a betrayal, and this Lizzie seemed like a wet rag in comparison with the original. And this non-diversion just went on and on. And on. It was tedious. Additionally, a lot of the story was endless exposition, which isn't Austen at all. Gone were the engrossing conversations which are an Austen staple. Not a good read.

It was competently read by Cassandra Campbell, but even her voice could not save the lackluster material. It honestly felt like the author was desperate to include everything modern in her story, to distance it from Austen's, so we had a transgender character (Wickham, and I don't care if it's a spoiler because it's so pathetic), an interracial relationship, artificial insemination (I guess that's the only way this author could get a semen airy into the work), and adultery. I'm sure there's a kitchen sink in there somewhere with "all mod cons," but I must have missed it since I DNF'd this one in short order.

'Eligible' is the name of a TV reality (so-called) show, on which Chip Bingley has appeared, looking for a bride. Why any sane person would even remotely consider doing this mystifies me, but I have to admit that it's in character for this character. I was never a fan of Bingley. In the end Bingley refused to choose either one of the two finalists. Now he's moving to Cincinnati and renting a house there. Why? I guess because the author is writing what she knows, which isn't much it would appear when it comes to emulating Austen. Resident in Cincinnati is the Bennet family of course: husband, wife, and five daughters.

I confess I am not sure why authors want to keep repeating Jane Austen's stories, much less why they choose to move them to a modern era and/or shift them out of England. The last one of these I tried was a YA novel which did not at all impress me. Neither did the PD James 'sequel'. This particular one is aimed at an adult audience, and initially I had mixed feelings about it.

Sometimes I wonder if Austen is turning in her grave at this modern plethora of rip-offs of her work. This author repeatedly betrayed the character of Lizzie Bennet, including her career, by having her work for a fashion magazine. Her sister Jane is a yoga instructor! This turned me off the story. I confess I can see Jane as a yoga instructor. She was not one of my favorite characters either, but to fritter away Lizzie's amazing character on fashion is an outright travesty. This is not Austen's Lizzie, not remotely.

It may seem hypocritical for me to criticize others' ripping-off of Austen when I plan on doing the selfsame thing myself, but anyone who has read the kind of stories I write has to know that I plan on doing something completely different with it - and not even a parody! Hah! And they said it couldn't be done! My whole motivation for writing this, as it was with Femarine is to take the story completely off the beaten track. Call me arrogant (I don't care!), but I have to write this if only as a commentary, after a fashion, on what others are so determinedly and so dedicatedly failing to do.

I'd have a lot more respect for a writer who did not rip-off Austen, but who instead chose to emulate her by writing a story set in period, and written with the same grace and skill as Austen herself naturally employed. I cannot respect writers who merely usurp her cachet and apply it as a cheap veneer to cover a trashy, ill-conceived story that could never stand on its own without co-opting Austen's unwilling support. It's pathetic and I think I am done reading such stories now. Time to go back to the one and only originals!


Shopgirl by Steve Martin


Rating: WARTY!

Steve Martin used to work for a living, but now he gets by writing short, very amateur excuses for stories in semi-retirement evidently. Read by the author, this novella was my second disappointment from him. I've liked him in a couple of his movies, but I think he's best in small doses, and I really think he needs to find someone else to read his books on audio, unless of course you might enjoy a book read with all the charm, poise, elegance and monotony of Navin R Johnson.

Normally if I have not liked a novel by an author I tend not to sample them again, but I'd heard good things about this one, which was made into a movie in which Martin inappropriately starred, so I requested it from my library. Mistake! It felt far more like listening a detailed synopsis for a movie than ever it did reading a novel.

Consequently, the best thing about it is that it's very short. I began listening to it on the way home in the car, but after less than fifteen minutes, I was so revolted by it that I preferred the sound of the car's wheels on the asphalt to listening to any more of Steve Martin read Steve Martin.

If it had been written in the fifties, I could understand the attitudes expressed in it, but this was published in 2000. The movie from it evidently died the death too, making only 11 million in the theaters. I might take a look at that out of pure curiosity, but I hold out little hope for it...or for Martin as a writer of novels from here on out.

The writing was all tell and a no-show in terms of intelligence. If it had been penned by an unknown it would never have got published because Martin's amateur writing is awful, as in, "Mirabelle is smart because she reads books." Seriously? This from a professional? The one thing he does actually show is her complete lack of intelligence, evidenced by the very fact that she gloms onto rich man Ray when he's clearly the bigger loser of the two men in her life, neither of which she should have become involved with in the first place!

Or perhaps, if she had decided to check out Jeremy, she might have offered him a few tips towards improving their interactions, instead of taking Martin's antiquated and genderist advice that the guy must know, do, and pay for, everything, and the girl just needs to simper on his arm and look pretty in designer clothes to fulfill her entire life's worth and function.

It irked me that the author (through his character Mirabelle) seems to have some sort of antique delusion that when a couple go on a date, then the guy pays for everything (no doubt opening doors and pulling out seats and so on). I guess females were never emancipated in his world. I can see if the girl is poor and the guy rich, then this is the way it would sensibly work, and vice-versa, but when both of them are not well off, and the girl is apparently better off than the guy, it's entirely wrong, and even immoral, for her to expect him to pay for everything. Martin doesn't get this because he's not remotely strapped for cash, and if he ever has been, he's quite clearly forgotten what it's like.

Porter is supposed to be middle-aged so why they had sixty-year-old Martin play him in the movie is a mystery, especially since it quite obviously didn't do a thing to help the box office! Clare Danes was only in her mid-twenties which would have been, I think, the right age for her character.

Martin definitely needs to find someone to read his books for the audio version, because his reading voice is terrible. It is flat, unentertaining, and it evidences no feel for pace or tone. I felt like I was a young kid in school being read to by a very inexpert teacher. The novel was bad, but his voice made it much worse. The ending, from what others have said, sounds like even the author got bored with himself and just dropped it. I happily grant that on a good day he can (or was able to) write a decent amusing movie, but he cannot write books.

What was so bad about the novel? Well, the plodding, amateur, elitist, pretentious writing to begin with, but then we got onto the part where the narrator talks about Mirabelle Buttersfield who works at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and it deteriorated.

She works the glove counter which seems like an exaggeration to me, but I don't shop at that kind of store, so I can't comment beyond this point. She leads a very dull life and her only two diversions (apart from her cats) are millionaire Ray Porter, and impoverished Jeremy. She derides Jeremy because of his lack of ambition, but she's exactly the same as he is!

This book was godawful trash, and I refuse to even remotely recommend it. I'm done reading Steve Martin's efforts.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Park Bench by Christophe Chabouté


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I had never heard of Christophe Chabouté, but after "reading" Park Bench, I am a fan! I put reading in quotes because there's nothing to read! It's all art, all pictures, no interpretation necessary - a truly international work in some senses (see caveat in penultimate paragraph). Almost all the action takes place around the titular public seat in a park. Just by watching this one locale through the lens that the author provides us, we see a microcosm of life.

We see people who use the bench and we see those who don't even see the bench. We see friendship and antagonism, love and abuse, and a persistent dog which is determined to claim this territory for its own! I particularly loved the scene in the snow where we don't even see the dog - only its footprints.

That's the genius of this. At first, when I started to look through it, I kept wondering if this was it, and then I realized it's not only it; it's everything. Naturally, the first impression is that speech is missing, but that's intentional. The one thing that was truly missing is the sense of the passage of time. I don't know if that was intentional or not.

Yes, we see the occasional season now and then, but do we see years? Are we meant to? That's the only explanation for the remarkable phenomenon which slipped right by me, mesmerized as I was by the images, until the author hit me over the head with it at the end!

I loved this, I thought it was brilliant, amusing, engaging, and really, really well done. The artwork is exquisite and detailed, and evocative. The French cop actually looked so French it rather removed it from its cosmopolitan flavor for those few frames, but everyone else could have been anywhere else - anywhere that's largely white and western that is, because there were few people of color visiting this park. That, I think, was an omission, but no doubt there are parks like this. Donald Trump probably lives near one.

But I am not going to quibble over that when the rest of it was so perfect. Not this time. I recommend this.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ink in Water by Lacy J Davis, Jim Kettner


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a long comic, but an easy read. The art is black and white line drawings and gray scale art which has a sweet watercolor texture to it - perhaps because so many images show it raining! Initially I had mixed feelings about it, because it had a 'been there done that' feel to me - not that I've been there and done that, but like I'd read this story before - like it was reiterating. But it's a very personal story, and even if you have read 'it' before, you haven't read this one, and it's an important story which bears repetition, not least because it has such a positive outcome.

Lacy J Davis fell into a destructive eating spiral after a broken relationship, but this was not one where weight went up. Instead, it went precariously down. The story continues in this vein, exploring her life afterwards, in all its ups and downs, advances and set-backs, sparing no details, and hiding no sin. For that alone I commend it as a worthy read.

I'd like to have seen this better illustrated in the artwork, because while some of the art was really engaging, some of it was rather rudimentary, so it felt a bit patchy throughout, and I think this lessened the graphic impact of what happened here: the images for 'before' and 'after' and finally, 'later after' had too much in common to make a really arresting impression.

When you start out with an improbably skinny 'cartoon-like' character in a story about an eating disorder, it's a bit self-defeating. It's really hard to convey the extent of the problem in your illustrations when your character starts out already looking anorexic before the problem begins! I felt that a little more realism in the drawings would have contributed significantly to the impact of the story.

Additionally, I'd like to have known where the roots of that potential to fall were grown and why they went the way they did given the apparent tripwire for the break-up, but that was not shared with us, assuming it was even known. Yes, we know the proximate trigger of this problem, but if there's something falling, that kinetic energy came from somewhere, but this 'somewhere' went unexplored. Given that this was supposed to be a teaching tool inter alia, I felt that this was an omission which should itself have been omitted. It was one of several omissions, and I think the work would have been stronger had these holes been filled.

Another such hole was when a friend died. This person had been an important and ongoing part of the story, but the death was passed over rather quickly, and (unless I missed it) we never did learn what happened other than it resulted in a death. We did see the negative effect of it, but this part of the story was solely about the author. I felt it ought to have been also about the friend as well. This omission felt unkind given how important the person had been.

I felt that more attention should have been given to medical aspects of this disease, too. Doctors were in and out of the story, but they were always 'walk-on' parts. Nowhere was there any talk of how much the medical profession can help with problems like this. Nowhere was there talk of therapy or psychiatric attention, either to say it couldn't help or to say it could. It was almost as though none of this was ever considered, and I think this was a dangerous omission, cutting out healthcare consultations almost entirely, as though they have nothing to say or contribute.

Being a personal story is both a strength and a weakness for this comic, because we got the author's first-hand PoV, but we also got nothing else. For a book that aims at least in part to be a teaching tool, I think this handicapped it. Maybe it doesn't work for you, but who are you to say it would not work for someone else? I think a great teaching opportunity was missed by not being more expansive and offering possible alternatives to what this writer chose for herself, even when she made poor decisions.

I'm am most definitely not a fan of prologues or epilogues, and I avoid them like the plague. This comic had both, I'm sorry to report and as usual, neither was contributory. Had I skipped both I would have got the same from the comic so my advice is to cut them out and save a few trees. All the prologue did was rehash the 12 step program. I'm not sure there's anyone left on planet Earth who doesn't know what that's all about, so I saw no point to the prologue. Al the epilogue did was show us half-a-dozen pages of the author typing at the computer, or of the same rain we saw in the prologue, so this contributed literally nothing. Once again I rest my case for ripping prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions, epilogues, and after-words out by the roots, and save some tree roots.

That all said, overall I did enjoy the story because it was brutally honest, it did not offer an easy, magical solution, and it did not flinch from talking about difficult issues. I'm not convinced the four-letter expletives or the uncensored nudity contributed anything to this particular story, but again, it was honest, so I guess it came with the territory! The best thing about it and what recommends it most, is the positive outcome, which is always a good thing when trying to encourage others to take positive steps to overcome disorders like this. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Superhero Comics by Christopher Gavaler


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq by Rosalind Miles, Robin Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

YA authors an graphic novel writers could learn a lot from an awesome book like this, about depicting strong female characters. Full of detail, it relates the stories of scores of women who were warriors, most of them in times when women were not considered capable or emotionally up to it, let alone being strong, independent and fierce.

Even with the detail it offers, it also includes references for further reading. The book is divided into sections for different types of female "soldier" in the broadest sense. It offers war leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Margaret Thatcher, actual combatants such as Molly Pitcher, Lily Litvak, and Tammy Duckworth, spies like Belle Boyd, Virginia Hall, and Noor Inayat Khan, and reporters and propagandists such as Martha Gellhorn, Tokyo Rose, Anna Politkovskaya. It also has a section on women whom we in the west could not consider heroic: women suicide bombers, and despite the success (for their cause) of female suicide bombers, women in the Middle East are still in a fight for equality, respect, and fair treatment.

The accounts are a mix of general overarching stories supported by very many detailed accounts of individual women. There is a bias towards white western women, but then this is where the best documentation resides, and even there, some of it was biased against women or largely erased or considered not noteworthy! Women can't win no matter what color they are, but hopefully that's undergoing what will become a permanent change now.

Despite this there are many women of color included as well as rather obscure women where documentation could be found, and the stories cover ancient history (Greek and Roman) through modern (Iraq War). The authors are not afraid to tell it how it is even if it does not make the woman in question look exactly pristine. While there seems to be something of a bias in World War Two accounts to British and American women, and in more recent wars to American soldiers, there is something for everyone here, and it all goes to prove beyond any question that women are every bit the equal of men, no excuses, no qualifications, no more lies and bullshit.


The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin


Rating: WARTY!

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

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


A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an interesting story about a school bully and a deaf girl. Shoya's problem is boredom, but instead of finding benign ways to deal with it, he resorts to destructive ones - picking on other children and doing dangerous stunts like jumping off bridges. Shoko is a girl who is deaf, and consequently her speech is impaired. She is new to Shoya's school, and she communicates by writing in a notebook, and encouraging others to use it to write questions to her.

Shoya immediately starts picking on her because she is such an easy target for him, especially since she has such an accepting and friendly disposition, and she never retaliates. His behavior is abominable, but the thing is that very few people in the class treat Shoko with respect and consideration, not even other girls. Shoya's behavior is the worst though, and even as his friend start deserting him and abandoning their juvenile practices as they mature and pursue academic interests more studiously, he never does.

Inevitably, Shoya goes too far and Shoko quits the school. Several years later, they meet again. This meeting is where the story begins. All the rest is flashback, and since this is a series, the story is never resolved in this one volume. On the one hand this is why I detest series as a general rule, and why I dislike flashbacks. On the other, this series - at least this introductory volume of it, was not so bad. The art was a bit too manga for my taste, but on the whole, not bad, and the writing was enjoyable, but all this can ever be is a prologue. I detest prologues!

So while I may or may not pursue this series, I did enjoy this one volume despite my reservations about such efforts, so I recommend it, and I may well get into volume two as time and opportunity permit.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves


Rating: WARTY!

Read by (I kid you not) someone named Ann Dover, and written by Anne Cleeves, this was another experimental audiobook and though it initially intrigued me, it quickly failed. In fact, it was quite simply one of the most tedious books I've ever had to listen to.

It took so long for quite literally nothing to happen, and it was so larded with endless, irrelevant, boring-as-watching-a-cowpat-dry, extraneous detail about everything and anything, that I couldn't stand to listen to it and returned it quickly to the library so someone else would have to deal with it instead of me!

It was all my fault! I had thought, when I first picked it out, that it was one of the books that had given rise to the TV show Shetland, which I've watched and enjoyed despite the high improbability of so many murders occurring in such a small and sleepy Scots village!

This wasn't any such thing! It's part of a different series, which also (and inexplicably in this case) made it to TV, and which is known as the Vera Stanhope series. Now I shall never get the book for the Shetland series because this was too poor of an experience of this author. I do not want to read any more of her work, especially since I have too much else to read, to bother with her again.

For those who are interested, the story begins not with a murder, but with a suicide. Rachael is the team leader of a trio of women who are studying the potential environmental impact that a proposed quarry will have on a national park and a friend of hers hangs herself. Later, somewhere in the tedium there actually is a murder. It's the plot! Done to death by the author! No, I'm kidding. There is a murder and Vera is on the case. Yawn. That's it! I cannot recommend this based on the limited sample that was all I could stand to listen to.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Auma's Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This story is set in Kenya, a nation of almost fifty million people, mostly Bantu and Nilote, but an assortment of many others, too. It sits on the east coast, right below the spike that's known as the Horn of Africa. Kenya is home to Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old Homo erectus fossil. It's also home to the third largest AIDS population in Africa, but it's one that of late, has seen some success in battling this deadly infection.

This was a depressing story about the appalling AIDS epidemic in Africa which hosts about 15% of the world's population, but is home to almost seventy percent of the world's AIDs victims. This story makes that cold statistic real in both mind and heart as it tells of the life of young Auma, a child who was not thought likely to survive birth, but who grew smart, strong, and ambitious. She wants to be a doctor, and sees her performance at track as a ticket to getting the education she needs to follow her dream, but the powers that be want to see her neutered by being married off at fifteen.

We learn of her harsh schooling, and her living conditions which are primitive to us, but sadly all-too-normal for too many African children. Auma never loses her way, though. She is determined and steadfast, even when AIDS, which the locals euphemistically and with rather gallows humor label 'Slim', comes calling at her door, first taking her father and then seeing her mother fall ill.

It's good that Auma has the stamina of an athlete, because this isn't a US TV show where everything is wonderfully wrapped-up in thirty minutes, and all familial spats are resolved with joyful outcomes. This is Africa - a terra incognita to us spoiled-rotten westerners, and Auma's story is about the real world, not about the cozy fictional one with which we proudly cosset our so-called civilized selves.

I noted that some other reviewers have set this story in the 1980's, but (and I admit I may have missed it) I got no sense of when this took place at all from the actual writing. There are no temporal markers in the small village of Koromo: neither cell-phone nor landline, neither flat-screen TV nor any sort of TV or radio. There's no electricity, no running water, unless you count running down to the river and then boiling the water you bring back. There is no sense of an outside world because the world was the village to these people and very few left it.

They did talk about AIDS and HIV though, and those names did not come into use until the mid-1980s, and would doubtlessly not have been in common use in Africa until later, despite HIV first arising there. So saying this was set in the 1980's seemed to place it a bit too early to me, especially since there are, in Auma's story, medications available even in Kenya, to help combat the effects of AIDs.

The amazingly-named author, who is an associate professor at Shippensburg University (she has a doctorate from Tennessee State) grew up in Kenya, and she talks of paying for school education. Since 2003, education in public schools in Kenya has been free and compulsory, so it would seem that the story takes place sometime in the nineties at a rough guess, but in the end it really doesn't matter, because the problem is the same regardless of when the story actually takes place.

In terms of the presentation, this was another ARC provided via Amazon's crappy Kindle format, which is probably the worst medium (aside from mailing a hand-written copy! LOL!) for presenting a review copy, I urge publishers not to use Kindle format, but instead to go with PDF or with Nook format, both of which are significantly superior to Amazon's sub-standard system.

Overall, the layout of the book was good, but true to form, Kindle screwed-up the image which was used as a section divider in this novel. Instead of it being a small rectangle between sections of text, it occupied a whole screen on my phone. It did better in the Kindle app on an iPad, although why there is a difference between the two, I cannot say - except that they are both using the same crappy Kindle app!

The other instance of Kindle's poor formatting was where I read this: "Good morning, Class Seven," Mrs. Okumu greeted us." The children responded, "Good morning," but the one 'Good morning' was superimposed atop the other instead of being on the next line! I've never seen that before. I have no idea how it even happened. But like I said, these are not problems with the writing or the plot, so they weren't an insurmountable chore to deal with (and certainly not in comparison with what Auma had to go through!). It was a reminder of how Kindle simply isn't up to handling graphics of any kind and in some instances, plain text! That's not on the writer or on the story though, so it doesn't affect this review.

The only writing issue I encountered was a trivial one, but it did stand out to me. At one point I read "My legs burst forward, dashing to save Mama from Akuku. I sped ahead, my heels kicking up fresh dirt." The problem with this is that your heels don't touch the dirt when you're sprinting! Like I said, trivial, but everything is worth expending some thought on when you're a writer. Overall though, this is a worthy read and (I have to say this!) I urge everyone to read it and weep.

I liked this story and recommend it as essential reading. We can't forget about this. We can't forget that while we wallow in pampered luxury, there are others - far too many others - who struggle every day. Even without the disease, Auma's existence was precarious and heart-breaking. The disease was like a bully playing cruelly on an already deprived life, yet Auma never broke under the weight of this brutal burden she carried. This story is well-worth reading and ought to be required reading.