Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski


Rating: WARTY!
Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm sorry I could not give it a better review, but the pledge is to be honest, so here it is!

There is at least four books titled 'Mind Virus' or something very similar, so the title is not unique, but this one sounded interesting to me. While it started out well enough, the more I read of it, the more it felt like a diatribe about atheists than ever it was a novel telling an engrossing story.

Normally I applaud an author who takes the road less traveled, so I was initially thrilled with the off-the-beaten-track approach, but the story devolved into trope, and in the end, bogged-down in the diatribe, and it really forget to tell us anything interesting, engaging, or worse: actually credible.

Call me warped, but it was amusing to me that I lost faith in a book about faith. It's also sad, because it had been interesting and engaging in the beginning. The plot is too improbable, though. Instead of religious terrorism, the story is about atheist terrorism! Now this is unlikely, but it's possible, and I applaud the author for taking a different tack, but the more I read of the novel, the more it felt like there was an agenda here other than telling a story, with the author not-so-subtly sniping at atheists every few pages. The villain was such an absurd caricature that he was just not credible, and he doesn't talk like any atheist I'm familiar with.

The story begins with a series of terrorist attacks on religious locations using a virus which, despite our being repeatedly told is horrific and deadly, never actually does any real harm because the hero rushes in and inevitably stops the attack at the eleventh hour. It was a bit too much, and tedious in how repetitive it became.

The trope of a retired veteran being recalled to the intelligence services to combat the threat is way overdone in stories these days. If you're going that route, you need to have a very good reason why an outsider has to be brought back in; that is, why the resources they have at the CIA (in this case) are insufficient, yet no real reason was offered here.

The "hero"'s name is Robin Fox, no doubt named after Robin Lane Fox, a well-known atheist and academic, and he almost immediately begins globe-trotting. Instead of keeping authorities informed of the threat and letting them handle it, he abandons all communication at the end, and personally takes charge, actually physically chasing terrorists and bringing them to book, so he was something of a one-trick pony, and it felt far too incredible that he was the only one who could do this: see the threat, spot the interloper, and defuse it at the last minute. Once or twice maybe, but every single time, and single-handed? It didn't work for me because it was so unrealistic.

The method of the attacks in each case was so improbably contrived that it was not only unlikely to succeed, but it was contrived in a way which was tailor-made for Fox to defeat it. He was always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to foil the attack.

In one case, the method was to use linseed oil to make a garment erupt in flames, and then to have the nearby fire extinguisher 'impregnated' with the virus, so it was spread as someone tried to put out the flames. This was so absurd that I actually laughed. I agree that linseed oil is dangerous in a pile of soaked rags, but to have it in the material of a garment is not likely to have the same effect, and the smell would be highly noticeable. No one would put on a garment which smelled badly of putty!

And why go to all that trouble? Too much can go wrong. If the practice was to use linseed oil (also known as flax seed oil, FYI) to polish the pews, which seemed a bit of a stretch, then why not simply put the virus in that, or spray it from the gallery during the service? It made no sense to me to set it up in such a risky and Heath Robinson fashion, and it made me feel like the author had become so enwrapped in presenting a "cool scenario" that he failed to look critically and objectively at what he was writing. This took me right out of the story.

There was too much trope and stereotyping in the novel, which ultimately defeated the 'off the beaten track' approach which I'd initially admired and rooted for. For example, we get an Irish MI5 officer whose name is Liam Donovan. He had a, wait for it, red beard, and red hair. This could not have been more of a condescending cliché if he'd been named Paddy O'Brien, had worn shoes with curling toes, a green felt hat, and carried a shillelagh.

The atheist terrorists leave a trail of clues to their next attacks like this is a Nancy Drew story. These clues are ones which only Robin Goodfellow can solve of course, and each clue consistently got him there in time to save the day. Why would a terrorist leave clues? There's a halfhearted attempt to explain it as a conceit on the part of the obsessively posing and monologuing terrorist leader, but it failed. I don't have a problem with the good guys doing the footwork and making the breaks for themselves, but to have neat clues laid out, Dan Brown style, and have the hero swoop in and solve them all so effortlessly and in the nick of time, was too much to swallow.

The author has the atheists worshiping at the altar of Charles Darwin, but no atheist does that, and all of the atheists I've encountered understand evolution very well. They would never talk of it as the Nazis did, for example, as winnowing out the weak links to make the race stronger, in the way that the over-the-top villain mindlessly monologues about.

As a point of order, it's the creationists who slander Darwin by misrepresenting what he said and who make endless attempts at character assassination on him, like if they discredit him, then the Theory of Evolution fails. Atheists are not that stupid and never would misrepresent his work. Plus they have better things to do with their time!

Atheism isn't about a belief system or about worshiping at the altar of the sciences; it's simply a lack of belief due to a lack of viable evidence, and that's all there is to it. Yes, there are some atheist campaigners like Richard Dawkins, but most of us don't care about religion enough to waste much time even thinking about it; we're too busy getting on with our lives, content to let religion fail under its own unsupportable weight.

Yes, we find it foolish, and often in equal parts amusing and annoying, but that's about it. Yes, if it tries to encroach on our rights or control our lives we will fight back (but not with bombs or viruses!). Other than that we really don't care if people want to believe in fairy tales. It's their choice.

So this book felt like it misrepresented atheists, but that wasn't the worst fault by any means. I would have bought into the plot of atheist terrorists if they hadn't been so painfully paper-thin and caricatured. That, the boring and poorly plotted story, along with an improbable terrorist and an even more absurd protagonist who was so self-righteous and infallible that it left no possibility of suspense for the reader at all, were what brought this down for me.

I began skimming this novel around page 270 (out of some 330 pages) and I quit at around page 300 when it devolved even more absurdly into secret passageways and booby traps. I wish the author all the best in his career, but I cannot recommend this novel.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Femme by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

After having a somewhat disappointing experience with another volume by this author, which I read in an advance review copy, I decided to try again with a print volume of an earlier novel which I found in my local lovable library. I'm sorry to report that this earlier effort was equally disappointing, so while I still have faith that this author has it in her to write a good story, I haven't seen it yet and I have now lost any interest in going looking for it any more!

The problems with this story were the same as her more recent one, which is not a good sign. Again, the characters were one-dimensional and juvenile, if not outright spastic, for their age. The main character, telling this story in first person unfortunately, was only marginally smarter than the one in the more recent book, which means the main characters are getting dumber, not smarter! This isn’t a good sign.

The story here is that a student named Sofie Nussbaum who we’re told, not shown, is smart (as in like reading poetry equals smart, for example), is head-over heels for her boyfriend Paul, and then inexplicably does a 180 and becomes gay. I am by no means saying that a woman cannot arrive at the knowledge that she's not hetero after all, any more than someone who has been interested in only her own gender cannot end up loving a guy. It's a two-way street full of traffic in both directions. Sexual preference is very fluid and even gender is becoming a lot more so lately now that people are a lot freer to be who they really are.

It was the way this story was presented which made it lack credibility. For the one character, it was telegraphed way too loudly, while for the other, it wasn't demonstrated at all! And I get that this is a sort of special needs book - more of which anon - but that's no excuse to write down to your reader, no matter what reading level they're at.

Much of the story wasn't thought through. The main character was supposedly of limited means, yet she has everything she ever wanted, including clothes galore and so much make-up that it was all-but falling off the shelves. The telling that she was relatively poor and the showing that she had more than anyone who actually was poor would ever have made the story false and the character along with it.

For example, she's not well-off, but can drop everything and take off for a trip to the USA? The story was set in Canada, so it was a only drive over the border, but it's not exactly cost-free to spend several days driving and eating out! And there was no mention of her getting a passport, which she was unlikely to have already had if she were poor with little prospect of leaving the town in which she lived, let alone traveling internationally!

I think the problem here is that the novel was far too short to contain the story the author wanted to tell, which resulted in everything having a sadly cursory treatment instead of being related to the reader intelligently and naturally. It didn’t work. Why the author confines herself to such small books is a mystery to me, but this book is tiny. With dimensions of 4.25" (10.8cm) by 7" (17.8cm), it’s smaller than the usual paperback size, while the margins are quite broad (1/2" -1.3cm- on the long side, and almost one inch -2.5cm- top and bottom) and the text is spaced maybe 1.5 lines.

The book was 175 pages (of which I gave up after 150 out of sheer disappointment and frustration). If it had been single-spaced and the margins made narrower, and a standard paperback format used, this would have made a much slimmer volume and saved a few trees in the print version. The author unfortunately doesn't have any say in how the book is formatted. That's all on the publisher, which is why I self-publish.

As to the content, it was pretty much the same as the other volume I read by this author, which is to say that there was zero depth to any of it. Characters are undeveloped, and abruptly change their feelings, and in this case, even orientation on a dime and so did not occur naturally, organically, or believably.

All of the main characters were manic depressives, flying off the handle for no reason, changing as abruptly as the wind, and going from loving to vindictive on a whim and it simply wasn't credible. Whereas the main character's change of orientation was telegraphed, the feelings of her love interest, Clea, were completely obscure, so the relationship seemed completely one-sided as it was in the other book I read! It was overdone on the one character and not done at all on the other. There was zero indication from her PoV, which is a dire failing for first person novels, which is one reason why I detest them so, but this bias made Clea's attraction (it's far too early to call it love) for Sofie a complete blank.

Frankly, this book read like it had been written by a pre-teen. I know it's a so-called 'Hi-Lo' novel - one written for younger readers who have low interest in reading and high interest in romance - but this felt like it insulted such people rather than being intent upon seriously drawing them in. It’s like the author is confusing low interest in reading with low IQ, and the two are not the same at all. I wish this author would write a longer book, and take her time with it, establishing solid, believable ordinary characters, and then letting them tell the story instead of dictating to them how it should go and having the whole thing fall apart under its own weight instead of soaring elegantly. You're not going to generate any interest in reading by writing boring or silly books. JK Rowling understood this. Why does this author not?

Again, as with the ARC I read, there was a point at which the book became very choppy and devolved into a series of vignettes rather than facilitating a flowing story which naturally sweeps the reader along with it. I cannot recommend this one.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Perfectly Precious Poohlicious by Mary Elizabeth Jackson, Thornton Cline, Alice Antime


Rating: WARTY!

Written by Jackson, illustrated by Antime, with some song scores by Cline, this book was treasonably-well illustrated, but the 'story' telling was way too sugary for my taste, and wasn't even a story. it was much more like some sort of self-hypnotic mantra about how perfect, and precious, and beautiful, a baby was. I can see maybe a market for giving this as a gift to someone who has a new child in the family, but whether they would actually want this as a gift is another issue. Other than that, it fell completely flat for me. Knowing now what's in it, I would neither want to buy this nor get it as a gift.

I don't get the title, either - poohlicious? It sounds like you're comparing your baby with poop and delighting in the similarity. Pooplicious? There's nothing beautiful, perfect, or precious in a dirty diaper, trust me. The title just doesn't work.

Everyone thinks their own child is precious and perfect and beautiful, and there's nothing wrong in that as long as - when the child grows - beauty is not the criterion by which she's measured, and perfection is not the target she's forced fruitlessly into chasing. There is nothing wrong with striving to be your best, but demanding these things and setting them up as the only things worth living for is absurd. Therein lies insanity, broken dreams, and suicide, and promoting shallow ideals as worthy goals in life, especially in a mindless self-affirmation of a chant like this, is far too self-obsessed for my taste. I cannot recommend this.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis


Rating: WORTHY!

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not façades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Love is Love by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

This is another short "love" story in a similar vein to Same Love which I reviewed positively a day or so ago, but I was not able to give this the same rating for a variety of reasons. I liked the idea behind the story, and I appreciated the diversity it exhibited, but it felt far too trite, simplistic and shallow, and the characters far too caricatured for me to rate it as a worthy read.

I'm not a cover-lover, so I normally don't talk about book covers because they have nothing to do with the book's content and my reviews are about writing, not about bells and whistles, or glitz, or bait and switch. That said, I have a couple of observations about this cover. The first is that the person depicted in the cover image is gorgeous in the ambiguity and androgyny they represent, and I loved it for that. I'd like to read a story about that character, fictional or otherwise! The second observation is actually the problem: this cover has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anybody or anything in this entire book! So why was this cover used?!

I know that authors (unless they self-publish) have no say in the cover they get stuck with. I'm truly sorry about that, but this is a price you pay when you go the traditional publishing route, so this cover problem isn't a factor in my review. This is just an observation. I don't know how publishers can get it so wrong so often, and I'm forced to speculate on motive here, because whatever that is, it's certainly nothing to do with what the author is saying or trying to do with what they wrote!

I just wish publishers were more sensitive to a book's content than they all-too-often prove themselves to be when they slap a random cover on it. I know some people, particularly YA fans, get orgasmic over covers, but mature readers (and by that I don't mean old, nor do I exclude YA readers) do not. While many of them may appreciate a well-done cover, the bottom line there is that they're all about content. I'd rather have a lousy cover with a brilliant story than ever I would a gorgeous cover with a poor story. Reference The Beatles 'white album' (so-called) for sustaining argument!

As far as content is concerned, I was frequently disappointed in the story-telling, and this is where the real problems lay with this work. It was too simplistic, and the main character, Emmy, was not a likeable one (nor did she look anything like the character on the cover, so no match there). She wasn't strong, nor did she become strong. She showed zero growth, which is sad because she was sickeningly immature. Instead of a girl turning into a young woman with purpose and drive, all we got was an unchanging, needy, whiny, and self-pitying mess.

The worst part about all of this was that she knew exactly what her problems were, but never once did she exhibit the strength to try changing herself, or even evince signs of some development of a will to change. She was a weak and uninteresting character who did not remotely deserve the reward she got. There was no justice in this book, and this was a problem.

I don't typically care about genre any more than I care about gender. A person is a person, and a main character is a main character, but what this book most reminded me of is a genre of novels that I do detest, which is the one where the woman runs away from a bad relationship back to her home town where she meets the love of her life. I despise that kind of a story, and while this novel was not quite that bad, it had a lot of the hallmarks of such a story.

Emmy is so desperate to be popular that we meet her blowing the school hot guy, Ty, in some disgusting stairwell one night, just in hopes that from this she will become popular. How that thinking ever made sense is a mystery. All it told me was that she was profoundly stupid. I didn't mind that. I can work with that, because my hope was that she would wise-up and grow a pair, but she never did.

Emmy is 'overweight'. That's never actually defined, but that's not necessarily a problem, especially not in a society where anorexic actors and models are perversely considered the standard of beauty. 'Overweight' is not a problem unless you're unhealthy with it, and Emmy is, because she's overweight from binging on junk food for emotional comfort.

She knows this perfectly well, but never once does she even consider stopping the rot. Instead, she hangs around like a maiden trussed to a tree, awaiting her shining knight to come shield her from the dragon of life. This is why I did not like her. Throughout this whole story she never initiated a single thing; she was never the actor, always the one acted upon, and her inertia, passivity and complete lack of metaphorical balls was sickening to read about.

The Saint George in this story is Jude the somewhat obscure, the artist formerly known as Judy, who is a guy who was unfortunately born in a woman's body. Again, he looked nothing like the character on the cover, so no match there, either. Other than that, we never really get to know him.

Jude is living as a guy but has had no surgery yet. He's trying to save money for it, but is of limited means, so it's taking a while. He's a barista, and Emmy meets him when she visits his establishment with her cousin, Paige, whose parents Emmy is now staying with in Vancouver, having fled Winnipeg fit to be Ty-ed. Paige also looks nothing like the character on the cover, and she's such a caricature and a non-entity, it made me wonder why she was even in the story at all.

The story-telling effectively ends here, and instead of a flowing tale, what we get is a series of vignettes from this point onward. Emmy, who writes poetry that we never get to read, is all but forced onto the stage at the coffee shop on poetry night. She's laughed off the stage, but we never learn if the laughter was at her, or in enjoyment of the poem she read. We're left to surmise it was at her, but this incident never goes anywhere else. She never comes roaring back. Instead, her poetry drops out of sight after this. In the same vein, she starts cycling, but paradoxically goes nowhere. The poetry felt like it ought to have been an overture to her regaining some confidence, and the cycling a lead-in to her getting fit, but the cycling disappears as well!

Another vanishing act is her father's notebooks. Her father is dead and her mother has married a guy Emmy doesn't like. Those issues are never resolved either, but in staying with her uncle, she discovers that he has one or two of her dad's notebooks from when he was Emmy's age. She takes possession of them, but she never reads them - or if she does, we're not party to it, so it's yet another dead end street. Her stay in Vancouver seems full of them.

Emmy begins fantasizing about Jude, gazing at him simperingly whenever he's around, and the attraction seems to be entirely physical - at least that's the most common part that's shared with us: that he looks like he ought to be on stage or on the big screen.

Although some token attempts to broaden his appeal are made, they're too few and too shallow to be believable. Consequently, the elephant in the room here is not Emmy despite her lackluster attempts to convince us otherwise. The problem is the complete lack of any viable reason why Jude is interested in Emmy, because we're never offered a glimpse of any such reason. He just falls into line with her fantasies and is won effortlessly. She doesn't deserve him and we're never given any reason why she should.

I could see a great story here, but it's not the one we got, and the title was wrong. This was far too fast to be love. 'Infatuation is Lust' might have been a better title. I found myself more interested in Jude's sweet-hearted friend, Clarisse. A story about her might have been a lot more engrossing than this one was. I wish this author all the best; her heart is in the right place, but this particular story is one I can't get behind at all, and I'm sorry for that.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Same Love by Tony Correia


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in Canada, this was a short but sweet story that I fell in love with just from the blurb. The idea is that a young Christian guy, Adam Lethbridge, with religiously strict parents, is suspected of being homosexual - it's true, but the condemnation is based on the flimsiest of evidence - he was seen shopping in the mall with a "known gay"! Clearly this 'raving pooftah' needs to be saved from Hell, so he's promptly dispatched to a Christian summer camp to be 'deprogrammed', aka saved by Baby Jesu, but there he meets another guy, a Korean-Canadian named Paul, who is questioning his own sexuality, and the two fall for each other!

I thought that was hilarious, but the story isn't a romantic comedy by any means. There is humor in it, but it's a story which is told seriously and thoughtfully. I really enjoyed it.

There's nothing explicit in it - nothing more than a kiss and holding hands - so it's a safe read for anyone who is bothered by a lot of overt physical affection. The funniest thing about it was highlighted by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce many years ago: how do you punish homosexuals for breaking the law? Lock 'em up with a bunch of guys! The same thing happens here, and the lack of straight-thinking behind that kind of philosophy boggles the mind.

Of course this seems like it was always worse for men because the white male authorities behind this asinine approach to relationships were not only horrified by, but scared of homosexual men, while they never took homosexual women seriously. As queen Victoria was supposed to have said, "women simply don't do that sport of thing!" That doesn't mean women had it so much easier, by any means. In some ways they had it worse.

I confess I had a bit of a time getting into this at first because the story seemed so full of conversational prose and very little descriptive prose, but after Adam arrived at camp, the reading became very easy and comfortable. He's bunking with three other guys including Paul: a depressed guy named Martin, and a weirdo named Randall. The dynamic between these four was fascinating. Adam also meets Rhonda on the bus up to the mountain retreat. She's being sent to the camp to be have the 'slu't removed from her - and she and Adam bond quickly.

I loved that the author pointed out the hypocrisy and cluelessness in these approaches, although I would have loved it more had there been a complete deconstruction of Biblical teachings, but the thrust of this novel was not in that direction, so that was fine. The point was clearly made that there's a difference - and sometimes a huge one - between what's in the Bible and what people claim is in the Bible. I loved that bit!

Speaking of which, as is often the case in novel for me, one of the more minor characters was the most interesting. Rhonda intrigued me and was the outstanding character. I loved how feisty, confident, and outspoken she was, and would have liked to have read more about her, especially taking the camp religious teachers to task over their poor understanding of the bible, but of course the focus was on Adam and Paul, and his other roommates.

If there was a weak spot, for me it was Randall, who didn't quite ring true at times, but other than that, the story was great, well-written, instructive, and it had a beautiful ending. I recommend this one.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Transphobia by J Wallace Skelton, Nick Johnson


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I would have really liked to have given a passing grade to a book with the aims this one has, but the presentation was inexcusably lousy and the book was literally unreadable on my phone, and practically unreadable on a tablet computer, which is to say that it was useless in two of the three media on which I tried it.

The reason for this once again seems to be, ironically, discrimination! The book was designed as a print book and yet it goes out to reviewers as a Kindle format ebook! The problem with that is the crappy Kindle app cannot handle a book presented and formatted like this one is, and the book should either have been thoroughly reformatted for Kindle and Kindle apps, or not offered in this format at all, which would severely restrict the distribution it can enjoy. It's poor attention to quality on the part of the publisher, and worse, no-one seems to have been bothered with actually looking at the resulting ebook. If they had, they'd see it was unacceptable.

For a book about inclusivity, the print-book snobbery here is laughable. The fact that this book is actively excluding various common reading formats would have been hilarious if it were not so hypocritical. The only format in which the ebook was readable was PDF format on my desktop computer, but even there, some of the print was so small that it was hard to read, and any medium with a smaller screen - even a tablet - would have made parts of it pretty nigh illegible.

In terms of content, the book doesn't do too bad of a job, but it's really not offering anything that will win converts to the side of tolerance and acceptance unless those 'converts' are largely converted already. In terms of offering help to those who need it, it doesn't do too bad of a job, but it was hard for me to determine what kind of an audience it was aiming for in terms of age and maturity.

But overall, I cannot recommend a book which so single-mindedly disrecommends itself. And if the publisher and authors evidently don't care about this, why should I? I had further confirmation of this after I submitted the review. The publisher contacted me and offered a print version, but never once did they take responsibility for the fact that neither they nor the author had taken a look at this book in various formats to see how (or even whether!) it worked! They tried to blame me, they tried to blame the applications, but never once did they say they screwed-up by failing to verify that the output was readable in the most common formats and devices reviewers (and more importantly, end-users) might read it in! I rest my case!


Things I Should Have Known by Claire Lazebnik


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an awesome book by an author with a mouth-twisting last name - which happens to be the Arabic word (zebnik) for zebra as far as I know (but that's only as far as I know)! It's also a book where things could have gone sadly and badly wrong, but the author picked her way carefully through this maze and the result was amaze! For me she put a foot wrong on only a couple of occasions, missteps which I was happy to let slide because the rest of the novel was totally awesome.

Having read so many (far too many, in fact) YA novels which have timidly, like a lamb, followed the rest of the herd along the path most traveled (usually into bland oblivion or itchy annoyance), I live for novels like this, which strike out on their own path, tell their own story, and make it real.

The differences are clear from the start. Contrary to far too many YA novels, instead of starting out as the outcast and the underdog, Chloe Mitchell is a popular girl who is well-liked and dating the school's hottest guy (so she says), so that's a welcome reversal of the usual YA trope right there. In another departure, Chloe's sister, Ivy, is autistic, quite highly functioning, but nonetheless decidedly on the spectrum. What Chloe doesn't know to begin with though, is that the guy she most detests in school, David, also has an autistic sibling, Ethan, and he attends the same school Ivy does.

Chloe is truly torn between wanting to have a life for herself, and feeling responsible for Ivy, and facilitating her having a life, and she manages it well despite feeling put-upon and abused at times. It comes to pass that when Ivy expresses some interest in Ethan, Chloe decides maybe the two could date. Despite being four years younger than her sister, Chloe is very much the older sibling in this relationship, and she nudges Ivy along and arranges for them to meet at a yogurt shop downtown.

When she and Ivy show up, there is Ethan, and with him most unexpectedly, is David. Chloe is confused and annoyed at his presence until she discovers David is Ethan's brother, and has the same relationship with him that Chloe does with Ivy. Suddenly she not only has something in common with the guy she detests, but it's also something of vital importance.

A lesser author might have left it at that, but this author doesn't. She keeps on ramping it up. Ivy, while enjoying, in her own way, her visits with Ethan. has much more interest in a girl at her school named Diana, and rather belatedly, Chloe realizes her sister is gay.

Here was the first misstep in the writing, for me, which is that Chloe then refocuses on finding Ivy a "young, gay woman with autism" which is wrong-headed. Ivy's partner needs to be someone who can be with Ivy and appreciate her for who she is. The partner is required to be neither 'young' nor autistic herself!

Chloe makes a lot of mistakes and typically learns from them, but she never seemed to learn from this one. That she was so wrong about Ivy's sexuality ought to have taught her that she should be more cautious in who she tried to "line up" for her sister in future.

Of course it's obvious what was going to happen, because this novel still has the trope of the girl falling for the guy she initially hates, but here's it's done sensitively and not at all like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, which was very much appreciated.

The relationship between David and Chloe grows naturally and organically, and there's no miraculous transformation. The relationship is troubled and thorny, because David is, but it's easy to see how the two of them are learning to accommodate to each other's ofttimes uncomfortable shape and demeanor as they grow to know each other. That kind of maturity in a relationship is rare in YA novels which are all-too-often puke-inducing, instadore-laden disasters.

This brings me to the second misstep, which is that David, at one point, is described by Chloe as having yellow flecks in his eyes. This is the biggest, most annoying cliche in all of YA-dom. Usually it's gold flecks, but yellow is hardly any better. I despair of YA writers who employ this because I have read it so often it's nauseating, and it smacks of a complete lack of imagination and inventiveness on the part of the YA author.

In the unintentional humor department, I have to quote the opening few words from chapter six which are: "A little before seven" which I thought was hilarious because chapter six is indeed a little before seven. But that's just my truly, hopelessly warped mind. In the intentional humor department, of which there were many sly instances, this line was a standout: "The indoor tables are all occupied by unshaven guys writing movie dialogue on their MacBook Airs, so we sit outside." The novel takes place in LA, so this was perfect and made me LOL.

My two minor gripes aside, I truly loved this novel and I fully recommend it. It was a welcome breath of life in a YA world which has become glutted with the rotting corpses of an endless parade of YA clone novels marching lock-step towards oblivion. The formatting of the ebook needs some work, but I assume that will be taken care of before it's released. In case it isn't, this needs to be fixed: "wish she could stay in in high school forever." (An 'in' too many!). But other than that, this book was about as near to perfect as you can humanly get it.

Every Family is a Little Nuts by AJ Cosmo


Rating: WARTY!

On balance I've liked this author's children's books, but I didn't get the point of this one! I mean, yeah, obviously it examines a slightly dysfunctional family, but it never seemed to go anywhere, and there really was no happy resolution, which some children might find rather disturbing.

If there's one thing children definitely need, it's the feeling of security. The story in general was not awful, and the illustration was charming, but the poor squirrel, Wally, really didn't seem to get any satisfaction and I think this is a mistake.

The story involves some unspecified holiday with gift giving, so from a religious festival PoV, it's quite neutral, which is a good thing, but Wally seems to get buffeted around without going anywhere, and has tasks put on him without seeming to garner any satisfaction from them or from a sense of helping or duty. None of this is really pursued, so the opportunity to teach some lessons here seemed wasted to me. I get that life isn't fair and there is no expectation of a reward, nor should there necessarily be for helping people, and children at some point need to understand this, but even this lesson seemed to become lost in the welter of activity and disconnected events. I can't recommend this one, but I do recommend this author in general.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Backstrap by Johnnie Dun


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel started out quite interestingly, but by the fifty percent mark I was bored, and it never showed any sign of improving. The problem was that the novel had hit the doldrums and for fully the middle fifty percent of it, it moved not an inch forwards nor looked like it was interested in doing so. I had to quit it at about 72% because I was getting nothing from it, and life is far too short to 'stick it out' with a novel that simply isn't thrilling you.

The plot here is that Callie Byrne, a US Army veteran, having served in the military police in Iraq, is moved to visit Guatemala, in search of an army buddy named Rachel, who has gone down there on behalf of a drug dealer named Tony. Tony is Callie's old drug dealer, before she started trying hard to go straight for the sake of her son Dillon, who is currently in custody of her strait-laced and well-to-do sister.

So far, so good, but once Callie gets into Guatemala, the story becomes gelled in aspic and quite literally nothing moves. The Iraq vet is also a trope that's being way overdone these days - along with the endless ex-special forces thrillers, and ex-marine thrillers we're seeing far, far too much of these days. Normally I won't read a story like this, but the blurb made this one sound like it might offer something more, when it fact if offered a lot less than even those stories do.

It's truly sad that authors in the count so much on US foreign aggression to help them create interesting characters for their novels. I mean thank the gods for the Middle East wars, because Vietnam was becoming far too long in the tooth. Now we have the same problem, but instead of everyone being a Vietnam vet, everyone has to be an Iraq vet (evidently no one fought in Afghanistan). But even Iraq is too far back in the past now o have young characters being Iraq vets.

We left Iraq in 2011, so even if there had been some eighteen-year-old serving on 2010, they'd be in their mid-twenties now at the very least. That doesn't leave them much time to have a child, garner an addiction, and then a recovery. Let's hope for a new war soon because god knows what we will do if can't call on a recent one! Seriously - why can a person not be simply an armed forces vet without having to have been in a war somewhere? Isn't that enough any more? It's just a little tiresome reading the same background for every character in a story like this.

The biggest problem with this story, though, is that there wasn't a character in it that I liked or felt moved to root for. There was no action at all, and certainly no point when I felt like Callie or her buddy Angus might be in danger or at risk. Frankly, and apart from the opening couple of chapters, Callie never actually felt real to me. It started out well enough, but then she became as bland as the plot, and the more the story went on the less she seemed like a recovering drug addict, and the less she seemed like an army veteran, and the less she seems like a mom concerned about or evne missing her son.

One reason it made for a sad and tedious read was that instead of being the actor, she became the actee - things were being done to Callie. She was not the one doing the things: she was being controlled and moved around; she wasn't acting on her own volition and making things happen, and it made for a very mundane character and a story which didn't particularly make me want to turn the pages.

On a technical note, the novel needs another read-through before it's ready for prime time, because I found several errors in it, none of which were the kind that a spell-checker would find (although a grammar-check might pick up one or two of them. I read, for example, "Was Tony set Rachel up?" which presumably should have read "Was it Tony who set Rachel up?" or "Did Tony set Rachel up?" I also read, "They put up with me because they have too" (too many 'o's in the 'to'. And finally, "Had he really helped cared for Ixchel" (One of those verbs is too tense!).

Then there was this one small section where I think the middle speaker (starting at 'excuse me') should have been someone other than Slinger, because the reading makes no sense if it's all Slinger:

Slinger scowled at Angus. Callie thought Slinger might just shoot Angus right there.
“Excuse me.” Slinger took a soft plantain out of his mouth and crushed it into the floor. Then he sat back and took a drink of coffee. “Bad fruit,” he said.
Slinger didn’t look up, scribbling again in his journal

But aside from those, the writing wasn't technically bad, it just wasn't appealing to me and I can't recommend this novel, although I wish the author all the best with his career.


Friday, June 2, 2017

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon, Johanna Hantel


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a subversive book designed to encourage children to read by telling them how to get out of reading, or to make it look like they're reading when they're really not. Of course, to learn all these tips and tricks, the kid has to read the book!

The book is bright and colorful (imagery by Johanna Hantel), but there are no illustrations in it; just a lot of words, but not too many. The words are funny too, and the ideas are amusing, so it would seem to me that this book will admirably serve its purpose, and I recommend it.

You can get a really good look at the interior here: http://www.hqtrs.co/i-hate-reading. It's more of a look than I'd feel comfortable giving to anyone about a book of mine (that was this short), but it's there if you want to take a look! or at least it was when I first published this.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Crazy, Wonderful Science by Mary Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

I've had some good success with Mary Lee's children's books. I've not been a fan of all of her books that I've read, but certainly most of them, and this is another winner, not least of which because in a world where women are far too often taught - by everything around them - that shallow beauty is all important, and without it, you're nothing (yes, YA authors, male authors, romance authors, etc, I'm looking at you) this book has the guts to put young girls and science together.

It's a book in the Mia series, and this time Mia is interested in what she can do for her science project. She has several options, and if you read to the end, you can discover two of these which your own daughter (or even son!) can do for herself. Mia makes her own choice as your child can make theirs. The book was fun, easy reading, well-written, and very colorful. I recommend it.


The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a charming story from start to finish, keeping my interest and proving to be a very fast read with a sudden ending that took me by surprise, since I hadn't realized I was so close to the end of the novel. This is the price of an ebook: you get no tactile feel for the dwindling pages! But it definitely took my breath away in more than one way.

If I had any real complaint, it was about the flashbacks. Other readers may appreciate these, but I am no more a fan of flashbacks than I am of prologues. Maybe some writers think they're cool, or edgy, or 'the thing to do', but for me flashbacks bring the story to screeching halt when all I want to do is keep abreast of what's happening now, not what took place a decade before. To me they're irritating at best, and antagonizing at worst. I rather quickly took to skipping over these and they did not - as far as I can tell - reduce my enjoyment or understanding of the story one iota. So I rest my case!

Seriously, for me the story would have been better served had the flashbacks been incorporated into a 'part one', or better yet, as long as you want to put in some remembrances of things past as it were, I'd rather read them in-line with the story as an occasional thought here and there, and I know this author is quite capable of that, because she writes beautifully. I look forward to her next opus with anticipation!

The other issue is relatively minor, and relates to this being an ARC, and not yet quite ready for prime time. The formatting in the Kindle app on my phone was a bit ragged here and there, with a line ending mid-screen and being continued on the line below, or a paragraph offset from the body of text when it was not supposed to be.

There was also the occasional wrong word in the wrong place, which no spell-checker will catch, such as "the thrown secure" when it should be presumably, 'the throne secure', and "Where'd you here that?" when it should clearly have been 'Where'd you hear that'. The price of auto-correct! If you're a writer, turn the damned thing off!

But let's talk about the joy of this novel, because this is far more important than anything else. As I indicated, it was passionately and beautifully written, evocative as hell, and it told a truly realistic and gripping story of two half-sisters, aptly named Chase, since the whole time we're reading this, they're chasing something. Unfortunately it's not the same thing they're chasing, but this only becomes apparent as they mature.

The story flows wonderfully. The girls age about a decade as the book follows its course, and the author does this so well that you do not notice any gaps - not as gaps anyway! Major Kudos for that. Mary is a decade older than her stepsister, and the odd thing is that both girls' parentage is hazy. They know for sure who their mom is, but dad is a less well-defined concept. The thing is though, that Mary, after an initial ambivalence, becomes fiercely devoted to Hannah, whom she calls 'Bunny' due to an event we learn nothing of until the very end of the story. Hannah never seems to resent this name even when she's in her teens.

It's a name that's also evocative of a life running from one place to another, just as Mary's nickname, 'Mare', is evocative of 'nightmare', which is what her life feels like at times, as she struggles to keep the two of them together, ahead of trouble and creditors, and fed and clothed. Initially Bunny goes along with Mary's travel plans because Mary is very skilled at what she does - not only at lifting a few dollars here and there from the wallets of guests at the hotels she finds work in, but also in spinning a fairy-tale of two princess struggling to avoid evil, which Hannah eats up as a child.

Just when Mary thinks she's found her prince charming, her past rises-up to set the sisters chasing again along the highways of the US, trying to get away from their nemesis and keep it together. It's only as Hannah begins to mature herself, that it becomes clear to the reader that these girls are as different as their fathers were, each having their own conflicting goals. You'll discover the power of this novel for yourself, and I promise you'll be upset, but not disappointed. I recommend this unreservedly.


Monday, May 29, 2017

I'm Just a Little Someone by Sharon S Peters, Amanda Alter


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a completely lovable children's story about making friends, with rhyming text by Sharon Peters and beautiful and colorful pictures by Amanda Alter. I liked the use of the numbered building blocks to make the page numbers, and I fell in love with the little dog which was completely adorable.

The little someone is alone of a shelf, being ignored by everyone when she sees another little someone on another shelf, who seems to be in the same position - so what's the solution? Children will have fun finding out and then in "researching" afterwards, to answer questions based on numbers and colors in the earlier pages of the book. I recommend this.


Friday, May 26, 2017

White Horses by Alice Hoffman


Rating: WARTY!

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

I had to wonder why an author of Alice Hoffman's stature found herself in the position of having to put a novel out on Net Galley to garner some reviews, and now I know - it's really not very good. I've never read anything by this author before, but I've always been curious, so I requested to review it and it was, surprisingly, granted! Now I know I don't need to read anything else by her!

The book started out intriguingly enough, went down hill a bit, came back strong, but then began a slow decline to the point where, at just past ninety percent in, I couldn't stand to read it any more because it was such an ungodly mess. I'm not going to go on about the spelling errors which were quite common, and not the kind a spell-checker would find - such as the word 'wont' (and no, it's not missing an apostrophe) where the word 'worst' was required. Only a serious read-through would find that kind of error. I just want to talk about the chaotic story and how poorly done it was.

The blurb advises dramatically (employing the tired - and way overdone - "In a world" format): "In a dangerous world, Teresa must rescue herself and rewrite her family mythology before it ruins her life." I'm sorry but Teresa is so robotic, useless, and inept that you know for a fact she's never going to get it done. She is one of the most cardboard-thin, vacuous, and utterly uninteresting characters I've ever encountered. And her world isn't dangerous. Not remotely. Her brother's is, but he was never actually in any danger!

For that matter, not one of the characters in this book was painted realistically, much less appealingly. They were all caricatures dipped in the most washed-out of watercolors, mostly in shades of gray. It's a book of stains in the place of where real characters ought to have appeared. It's like they were there, but have faded so badly, all that's left is a vague and faint imprint. Teresa, the main character, about whom the story ebbs and...ebbs, is the most gossamer and unlikable of them all. There was not a single person here that I liked in the entire book, which had people come and go as though the novel itself were just a revolving door with a neon sign flashing, 'now look at this one!'.

Note that there is an incestuous relationship running through the book which no doubt many reviewers will find disturbing - like this is something that never happens in real life so writers must never write about it! Or like this is the most reprehensible thing they can think of. Yes, it is reprehensible. It's a form of rape and abuse of authority, but there are lots of other horrible things people do to each other, and what really bothers me is that reviewers don't seem to be anywhere near as repulsed by these other crimes as they are by incest.

That's worth expending some thought on. Are we so thick-skinned now that this is the only remaining "sin" which can shock us? Personally, I don't care that authors write about incest. It's just as fair game as is rape, murder, robbery, drug abuse, road-rage or whatever you care to mention. What I care about is that there is some organic reason for it being included. Here it felt like it was only in the book because the author deemed it was necessary to give some pep to a novel that was otherwise lacking anything to recommend it. In this book, there was no motivation offered for it and ironically, the most disturbing thing about it is that the author mistakenly romanticizes it without offering any other commentary.

Unless everything was resolved in that last nine percent which I didn't read, there were plot threads set-up which went nowhere, illnesses which went unexplained, threats which were never honestly pursued, and issues which were woefully unexplored. It was like one long tease, which is a way was perfect because that described Teresa to a 'T'. The other annoying thing (aside from pointless, meandering, story-crashing flashbacks), is that the author has the story make huge leaps in time, by-passing months or even years of history and takes up the story like it's the next day, and nothing and no-one has changed. It simply was not credible.

Up to about half-way through, i had hopes for this, but after that I was wondering when something was going to happen. It felt as though there was always a possibility that something would happen, but nothing really ever did. It's like a day where dark clouds build up, the heat is weighing on you, the air gets muggier and more oppressive, but then no fresh, chill wind comes racing in, no rain pelts down, no thunder rolls and rules the heavens, and no lightning breaks. It was that dissatisfying.

In the end, this stiflingly still air was biggest failing of the whole book. Maybe it all came together in those last few pages, but I was so bored and irritated by then, that I honestly just did not care what happened next. Life is too short for novels like this, and I cannot recommend it at all.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Thomas and Buzzy Move Into the President's House by Vicki Tashman


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great idea: teaching children history by letting them see it through the eyes of well-known historical figure's pets - and at the same time, in this case, allaying fears a child might have about a change or even upheaval in their life - such as moving to a new house.

I'm not a fan of Jefferson and see no reason for deface on Mount Rushmore(!), but whether you like an historical figure or not has no bearing on whether it's worth learning something about them, and I think this is a charming way to do it: seeing Jefferson through the eyes of his French chien bergère de Brie (sheepdog of the brie region - the home of brie cheese).

Beautifully and artistically illustrated by the talented Fátima Stamato (I loved her image of Buzzy on page six, at the start of chapter two, which is monitor-screen wallpaper-worthy!), this book tells of the worries of Buzzy, when she learns that Jefferson is going to become the new president (in 1801) and has to live in the President's House, now much more commonly known as The White House.

Buzzy (which actually was the name of a dog owned by Jefferson) is afraid of moving and leaving her beloved farm and friends behind (a horse, another dog, and a mockingbird Jefferson got to replace an earlier one he had bought from a slave), but when she realizes she can bring along her favorite pillow, and her fetch toy, and water bowl, and set them up where she wants in this new residence, she feels a lot more comfortable. Some things change, but others remain much the same, and finally she's happy with her new home.

The author rather glosses over the fact that Jefferson had been vice president for the previous four years (a position he got through a mistake in the constitution!), so while he had not been resident in the White House (vice presidents lived in their own home until relatively recently, when a government residence was opened for them) he certainly knew it quite well, both inside and out. That doesn't mean Buzzy ever visited, of course, so this was more than likely a very new situation for her.

The author also glosses over the fact that Jefferson soon became a breeder of the variety of dog (indeed, Buzzy gave birth on the trip back to the US, so Jefferson actually arrived here with three dogs). Buzzy was not the only such dog at Monticello, but to have multiple "Briards" running around would just confuse things as would it have done to depict Buzzy more accurately as an outdoor dog, rather than living in the house. Dogs back then were considered working animals (and even pests in livestock country, the ownership of which was taxed), so the mockingbird, "Dick" was much more of a pet to Jefferson than Buzzy was, but again, this makes for a better story for children, even if somewhat inaccurate, so overall I was very pleased with this book, and I recommend it as a worthy read for the intended age range (4 - 8yrs).


The Waking Land by Callie Bates


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher - and thank them for an ebook copy which was nicely formatted! Far too often the ebook is a second thought after the print version, and the formatting suffers, but that was not the case here.

That's where the joy ended though, because then I had to read it. You know you're in trouble with a novel when you're only ten percent in and you're asking yourself how much more you really have to read before you can DNF it and say you gave it a fair chance!
The novel started with a prologue, a thing which I never read. They're antiquated and contribute literally nothing to a story except to kill a few more trees in the print version. Maybe authors who write prologues and epilogues hate trees? The thing is that this whole business of Elanna being kidnapped and held hostage made zero sense, except in that it did herald a lot of other plot points which made no sense either! Maybe I should have read the prologue and then DNF'd it at that point?

The thing is that if I'd known going into this, that it was to be a first person YA trilogy full of cliché and trope, I would never have asked to read it, but Net Galley offered not a whisper. Such books ought to be required to carry a warning sticker. From the blurb, it had sounded like it would be an engrossing and entertaining read. Sic Transit Gloria Blurbi!

I'm very rarely a fan of first person, and unfortunately that voice is chronically over-used in YA stories. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many writers herd themselves like sheep into such a constricting voice, and one which simultaneously makes their character look so dysfunctionally self-important that it is, unless handled well, thoroughly nauseating to read.

Nor are YA trilogies any more welcome in my reading list. They're typically unimaginative, rambling, trope-filled, derivative, and bloated by their very nature. I long for a YA writer who is willing to step outside the trope and think outside the box, but they are a very rare and much-treasured commodity these days, as everyone else rushes-in like lambs to the dip, where more angelic bovines are far too wise to tread. It's all in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and it's sad; truly sad.

This novel initially had intrigued me because of the Earth magic. It's what attracted me most of all, but we were largely denied any exploration of that in the portion I read, and what we did get was accidental or incidental. This was one of the problems. Elanna has this magic, and has known of it since childhood, but she has suppressed it.

To be fair, there are reasons for this, but the fact that she's scared of it and never explores it (except for one too-brief incident we're shown right at the beginning of the novel) made me dislike her. What kind of a dullard do you have to be to have such delightful and powerful magic, and not want to at least tinker with it in private, and learn something about it? The fact that Elanna didn't, not only made her inauthentic, it also made her thoroughly boring and cowardly. There's a huge difference between teasing your readers, and denying them a story that feels real.

Elanna Valtai (often called Lady Elanna for reasons which are not clear - and which felt employed only to give her a cachet she has not earned) was taken hostage at gunpoint (pistol-point more accurately) at the tender age of five, by a conquering king who, over the last fourteen years, she has grown to love as a father. This made little sense, but Elanna is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She was more like a spork with blunted tines, and consequently neither one thing nor the other. She's fascinated by botany and so, when the king is poisoned, she becomes the prime suspect with improbable rapidity, and is forced to flee.

To me, this made zero sense. The one-dimensionally hateful and cardboard princess, who is now queen, has no reason whatsoever to fear Elanna. She considers her too low to even take seriously, so why bother framing her? We're offered no honest motivation for this at all. At this point the story was no different from the trope high-school story of the girl who is bullied.

Elanna is paradoxically presented as a charming and easy-going woman who everyone likes on the one hand, and on the other, a crudely rustic figure of fun who has no place in court and who is disliked by everyone, having no friends at all! Again, it made no sense that she would have literally no one. It felt like the author was following a rigid plot without actually giving any thought to how realistic or practical this world was that she was creating. If the king is so great, then why doesn't he put a stop to the bullying? The fact that Elanna never once questions this is yet another example of how stupid she truly is.

As I mentioned, despite being repeatedly given the appellation 'Lady', Elanna is never shown to be one. I have no problem with a character being portrayed as having emotions and sensitivity. I think we need more male characters like that in fact, but as usual in YA, the author overdoes this with their main character, so instead of showing her to be a reasonably empathetic young woman raised to be nobility, not a princess, but at least with some spine, she comes across as a weak, limp, and as a weepy, clueless little girl. It was pathetic to read about her.

Once she realizes she's going to be blamed for the king's death, and instead of taking control of her destiny and facing down the charges, which would have actually made for a much more engaging story, Elanna betrays her entire upbringing, and runs away like a scared little girl. Worse than this, she's manhandled by her love interest (and yes, it was ham-fistedly and loudly telegraphed as soon as he appeared in the story), so immediately, all control over her life is removed, and she becomes the toy and plaything of a complete oaf of a man named, inevitably "Lord", as in 'Lord and Master' no doubt as we see her weakly complying with his every demand.

Not only that, she takes the usual abusive and utterly sick YA route of falling for this patronizing and condescending dick like she's an air-headed thirteen-year-old. This is entirely the wrong message to send to young girls, and the fact that so many female YA authors do this so consistently is as scary as it is dangerous. People who talk about a rape culture seem ignorant of this facet of it, in which women are taught, in story after story, that's it's not only okay for a guy to take control over your life, but that you should go along with it mindlessly, and even fall in love with him no matter how he treats you; then we look askance at those women who end-up in abusive relationships.

The saddest thing about this is that all the hots she has for this man take place when she is quite literally fleeing for her life. What kind of a pathetic, misguided specimen do you have to be, to be having hot flashes for a guy when your very life in in peril? It made zero sense and cheapened the whole thing. It was so badly done that it ruined all hope of an intelligent or realistic romantic relationship.

For me, it did nothing but keep reminding me that I was reading a poorly written YA novel into which romance had been jammed for no other reason than that the author and/or publisher determined it was a requirement rather than that it might naturally and organically grow out of a realistic relationship. It suggests that the author either doesn't trust her characters, or she doesn't trust her writing skills, and it sends the wrong message yet again: that all women are Disney princesses who are useless without a man to be a father figure as well as (sickly!) a lover. It says that no young woman can stand on her own two feet - she always needs a studly guy to validate her and shore her up. I call horseshit on that one.

I've read this story so many times that it turns my stomach. The author might change character names, and set them in a new locale, and even give then magic, but it's the same story. They're exactly the same characters going through exactly the same empty motions over and over again. Can YA authors not come up with something new for once? Really? It's pathetic how unimaginative and uninventive YA authors are. Here's a choice quote: "Don’t they realize I’m a scholar as well as a lady of fashion?" What?! Where the hell did that come from?

There are a few, a precious few, a band of sisters, out there who honestly do get it, and who write great stories. They get that this isn't the Victorian era, and that weepy, lovelorn princesses are not only obnoxious, but they are antiquated and inappropriate. They do these stories right: making them fresh and original, but the rest of those authors are doing nothing short of writing cookie-cutter "Harlequin" romances for teens, chasing the easy buck, and that's all there is to it. This is one such story, it saddens me to report. And it could have been so much better.

So, while fleeing on horseback with a group of riders, the wind whistling through her hair, Elanna conducts a whispered conversation with her BFF, who is pretentiously named Victoire. It's described as a "whisper-shout", yet everyone seems able to hear it over the wind and the pounding horse's hooves! At one point they're told, like naughty children talking in the classroom: "That is enough, all of you! No more talk. Do you want to put us all in danger?" Seriously? They're racing through the dead of night on horses with hooves slamming into the ground, and this idiot is worried someone might overhear them talking? Who, exactly, is listening? This is another example of the story not being thought through.

The sad truth is that a lot of the writing leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. We get that Elanna is afflicted deeply with the wilts and the vapors over J-Han, We don't need to be gobsmacked every few paragraphs with yet another account of how she's is hanging on his every breath and touch, and the heat of his body. It's painfully obvious who the murderer is, so there's no mystery there. We know Elanna is going to win in the end and get jiggy with J-Han, so what's the point of reading this again?

Instadore how do I hate thee? Let me count the brays! Well, for one, she has to share a horse with him, yet there's not a word of his sweating or stinking of horses. Seriously? Just how pathetic do you want her to appear to us? Elanna doesn't notice any of his smells, which were rife in that era, even in a fantasy land, but she does notice mundane things like the color scheme in the house she visits - things which seem very odd to have been taken note of by a scared woman who has never paid attention to furniture before, and who is fleeing pursuers who want to put her through a sham trial and then kill her. At the same time, for a botanist, she notices almost nothing of nature! Again, it's not thought through.

Another oddity is that Elanna seems to have perfect, if selective, recall! Despite being gone since she was a very young child, she had no problem understanding her native language, which she last heard - and spoke - when she was merely five years old. We read, "Hugh has switched into speaking Caerisian, which the Count of Ganz evidently understands, and my ears are too tired to deny they know the words, as well." Now I won't try to argue that she would have forgotten her native tongue completely, but at the very least, she would have been extremely rusty in it, and not know many of the words spoken by adults, since she never learned those as a child, yet she appears to have a completely unencumbered grasp of it.

Again, this is not thought through. It's especially bad when it's compared with the time when Elanna goes back to her childhood home. She recalls nothing of that at all! So we're expected to believe that she has a perfect (and adult!) grasp of a language she has neither spoken nor heard in well over a decade since she was barely beyond being a toddler, yet she recalls literally nothing of her childhood home? It's simply not credible.

Her respite at the house is short, because they are quickly - and unaccountably - discovered by the palace guard. How the guards knew exactly where they were goes unexplained, but even that isn't as inexplicable as why Elanna, who was desperate to escape her initial captors with her friend, fails to take Victoire with her! She decides to find the "lay of the land" by herself, first. It's just a house! What's to know? They need to get out, get a couple of horses, and leave.

It's really that simple, yet this limp dishrag of a friend leaves Victoire behind, so that when the palace guard arrives, Victoire is abandoned upstairs. Elanna whines about getting her out, but instead of growing a pair and insisting on rescuing her best friend, which would have made for some great drama, and would have given Elanna some street cred, she's portrayed as spinelessly complying with Lord Almighty J-Han's dick-tates. Once again what we're shown is that she's his property now, not her own. Once again this is entirely the wrong message to send. I truly detested Elanna by this point in the story.

While fleeing for her life, Elanna observes, "I won't be made to use my magic - the magic that puts me in mortal danger" Excuse me? She's already in mortal danger! She's already been declared a witch and a murderer, and had that broadcast across the land. How could she be in any more danger? This is exactly what I mean about Elanna being a profoundly stupid woman, and the last thing I need to read is one more YA novel extolling the 'virtues' of stupidity, in a female main character.

The sad thing is that it never stops in this novel! At one point Elanna reveals that "I know how terrifying it is to walk into a room full of strangers." This is a woman who was raised in a position of nobility, taught to expect deference from everyone. Never before have we been given any indication that she suffers terrors at walking into a room, and now suddenly she knows? Again it makes no sense.

The root problem here is that this novel offers nothing new, which begs the question as to why it was even written! The romance is cliché, the bullying is cliché, the main character is a walking, YA female lead, cliché. At one point very early in the novel, shortly after the studly J-Han arrives to take Elanna into his possession, I read this: "He swings me around, making the world spin, and then we go inside together, my cold hand tucked into his big warm one" so immediately the process of infantilization has begun right there, and this main character is now no more than a weak child in the hands of a trope, strong, manly man. This is one of the biggest problems with YA - the girl becomes a toy for the boy, a plaything, a piece of property, to do with as he wishes, and the girl goes right along with it. Elanna is one of the most stupid, vacuous, compliantly empty characters I've ever encountered. The more I read about her the less I wanted to read about her.

So when did I quite reading exactly? It was right on the cusp of thirty percent in, when I read of a character's eyes that they were "flecked with gold." I cannot even number the times I've read this exact phrase in a YA novel. What the obsession is with gold-flecks in a character's eyes completely escape me, but it's been done ten trillion times if it's been done once, and if I'd read this any earlier, I probably would have quit right then. Admittedly, the phrase is usually employed to describe the male love interest of the female MC, and in this case it wasn't, but does that make it okay to copy? No! That description needs to be summarily banned from YA literature.

It should be needless to say at this point, but I will clarify it anyway: I cannot recommend this story, because it's really just a clone of far too many others that I have also been unable to recommend for the same reasons. I don't care if she gets better as the trilogy goes along. I really don't, because for me she's already a failure, and if it takes her three books to grow a pair, then that's two books too long. The problem with trilogies is that the first book typically only ever is a prologue, and I don't read prologues. Novels like this one have been steadily nudging me to the point where I'm ready to forsake reading YA stories altogether, which would be sad, because once in a while there's a real gem to be found among the base rock.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Handbook of LGBT Tourism & Hospitality by Jeff Guaracino, Ed Salvato


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second non-fiction book tied to the LGBTQIA community that I shall review today and it gets a 'worthy', too, despite problems I had again with the formatting of the ebook. Clearly this is intended as a print book, with the e=-version getting short shrift, in that it looks like ti was pretty tossed together to get it out before reviewers, but just as this book advises those who wish to take advantage of the spending power and willingness to travel of a particular community to prepare well and know your market, I'd advise publishers to send out better review copies if they don't want to irritate reviewers and get lower grades!

That said this is an important book, and formatting problems aside, it offers a detailed and thoughtful approach to how businesses can position themselves to take advantage of the current boom (which I dearly hope continues) in how the LGBTQIA community is looked upon by the rest of us, and I thought it deserved to have the shortcomings of the e-version overlooked in the hope that if this ever does get released as an ebook, it will look a lot better than the sorry copy I got to review! The rainbow community deserves better, too!

It may sound a little mercenary to talk about a community of people who have had enough crap to deal with already, as a marketing opportunity or as a rising segment of disposable income, but that's what this book is about, and businesses wouldn't be in business long if they didn't make money, so what are they going to do? Ignore this community? They're morons if they do. Meanwhile the smart ones are going to be looking for ways to work with an in this community and this is where this book shines. The authors have done their homework and talked to the people who know.

I list below a more detailed contents than you might find elsewhere (and frankly, I deserve a medal for managing to extract this from Kindle's crappy app!):
THE FOUNDATIONS OF LGBT TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY
Your “elevator pitch”: The importance of developing a segment-specific program for LGBT tourism
Sizing the LGBT segment: Buying power
The importance of the LGBT segment in the travel industry
Tips before launching your LGBT marketing campaign
Success in the LGBT travel market: Top ten tips from Jeff and Ed

BUSINESS ESSENTIALS: UNDERSTANDING THE LGBT TRAVEL MARKET
Understanding key segments and focusing your resources
Lesbian travel: Women first, then lesbians
Bisexual travel: Identifying an elusive population
Putting the T in LGBT travel: Introducing the trans traveler
LGBT family travel trends
The top ten trends in LGBT travel
Training, staff, business policies, and employee resource groups

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
LGBT tourism and hospitality businesses
LGBT events, festivals, and sporting events: An overview
LGBT sports to drive revenue and visitation
Pride festivals
Tailoring your mainstream product with an LGBT twist
Welcome signs and symbols
The cruise industry
LGBT tour operators
Gays and the motor coach
Airlines: Putting more butts in seats
Hotels and lodging
Meetings, conventions, and business groups
Milestone celebration travel: Weddings, honeymoons, and other celebrations
Navigating controversies and turning them to your advantage

MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS
Setting your marketing goals, budget, and staff
Getting your advertising history straight
Strategies for building an effective marketing campaign
The changing media landscape: The rise, fall, and rise of LGBT publications
Great content in context is your foundation
Communications, public relations, and media relations
Smart press trips
LGBT print advertising and gay-inclusive creative
Online and digital marketing
Marketing through mobile phone apps
Ten tips to keep your LGBT campaign and your destination competitive
The ten classic principles of successful LGBT marketing

THE GLOBAL VIEW: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Asia: The most gay-friendly destinations
Argentina: Five tips for your LGBT business
Brazil: A strong LGBT tourism market
Canada: New ways of marketing using content in context
China: A market opportunity
Colombia: Five tips from an emerging destination
Europe: Tips on the lesbian market
India: Cultural, religious, and societal challenges
Israel: Marketing LGBT tours in Tel Aviv
Japan: Welcoming international LGBT guests to a conservative country
Mexico: A gay-friendly but macho country
United Kingdom: Reaching LGBT travelers is always a challenge
The United States: Beyond New York and San Francisco

TRENDS AND INDUSTRY RESOURCES
Market research: Companies, data, surveys, and reports
Associations and conventions
Advocacy organizations
Conferences and expositions
Further reading
Annotated bibliography
Discussion question
Notes
Index

I'll mention a few of the problems with formatting I encountered which will hopefully be cleared up before any ebook is released. need to mention. There were items like this: "For exam2A ple, an LGBT traveler in the United States," where some sort of numerical marker had become embedded in the text. This was quite common.

There's a table, Table 2.2, featuring "Terms Used by Trans People to Describe Themselves" which is so screwed up that it's completely unintelligible. The phrase, "3d 3D PRIDE FESTIVALS" was not only repetitive, it was in three different font shades/colors!"

But as I said, I am not rating it on the crappy Kindle app(earance). I'm not a fan of Kindle (or Amazon!), so ignoring that, I rate this a worthy read and a valuable asset to anyone who wants to attract LGBTQIA business, because take it from me, we're never going to be over the rainbow!