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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cloudia & Rex by Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Daniel Irizarri


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great story which I really enjoyed, although I have to say it was a bit confusing at times. The art was lovely and the story was different from the usual fare. I always appreciate that! For one thing, it presented African American females as protagonists. It was nice to see strong female characters of color, who are far too few in comic books, and strong, independent females who are equally rare. I would not recommend a graphic novel if that was all it had to offer, but I would sure be tempted! Fortunately this offered much more.

In the story, two young girls, the eponymous Cloudia and Rex, and their mother run into ancient gods who are seeking safety which can only be found in the mortal world. An antagonist named Tohil wishes to destroy those same gods and is hot on their heels.

Somehow the gods end-up being downloaded into Cloudia's phone, and some of their power transfers over to the girls. Rex is somewhat bratty, but she finds she can change into an assortment of animals. It's amusing and interesting to see what she does with that. Cloudia is a bit strident, but maybe she has reason when her life is screwed-up so badly and unexpectedly.

Daniel Irizarri's coloring is bold and pervasive, and it really stands out from the comic. It's almost overwhelming, actually, but overall the story was entertaining and the characters were fun, I recommend this one.


4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a compendium of issues 1 though five of the originally published comics and runs to about 180 pages in the print version. I read this in Bluefire Reader on an iPad where it looked good but the text was a bit hard to read, especially the one character Walter, who is painfully shy and reserved. His speech was deliberately written under-sized in a regularly-sized balloon, and it was hard to read, so I didn't appreciate that. I think Tyler Boss's art told Walter's story well enough; it would have been nice if writer Matthew Rosenberg had had more faith in it (or the designer - or whoever decided that this was a good approach!).

That said, the characters: Paige, the tough feisty female, Stretch, an abnormally tall expert in irony, the irreverent Berger, who in some depictions seems slightly pudgy, but in others seems a lot more trim, and retiring almost to the point of self-effacement Walter, are all interesting to read about and even more interesting to see interact with each other. They all bring their own strengths as characters, but Paige is a dynamo.

The story is that four thugs from Paige's dad's past show up wanting her father to resume his role in their history of thieving. Dad isn't interested, but the four idiot wannabe robbers won't take no for an answer. The kids decide the only way to save Paige's dad is to rob the bank first so the thugs can't. Great idea, huh? The entire story leading-up to 'will they or won't they?' was entertaining and at times completely hilarious. I really enjoyed it. That's not to say I didn't have a few problems with this.

Paige was an oddity to me because in many panels she looked distinctly male. There's nothing wrong in a female having male characteristics or vice-versa; nothing at all in real life, but in the case of a minimally-drawn comic book character, this can be confusing. At least it was to me.

I found myself at one point honestly thinking there were two characters, and wondering who this new guy was and where he came from, because it wasn't Paige! Except that it was. It just didn't look like Paige. When I realized that, for a short while, I found myself thinking I had misunderstood and Paige was actually a guy, not a girl, but no, Paige was very much a girl. It was just the graphical depiction of her that confused me. It made for an unpleasant reading experience on occasion because I was happy that she was a girl!

This surreal experience wasn't helped by two other events both towards the end of the novel. The first of these was the random addition of a fifth person to their four-person team towards the end of the novel. I had no idea who this fifth person was. Maybe I missed something, but I had no idea where this person came from!

The second incident was the very ending of the novel, where Paige and her dad meet up at a prison. I had no clue whatsoever whether she was going into jail or getting out. I honestly and truly did not. I even looking back through many the pages trying to figure it out, but I couldn't, so I was unhappy with the ending. But the rest of it was great. Mostly! I recommend this, anyway. Maybe you'll have a better handle reading it than I did!


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Whatever it Takes by Tu-Shonda L Whitaker


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

In this case, the main character is in her thirties, with a lot of attitude, looking for love, feeling the old bio-clock ticking. I was trying not to be critical - to understand where this kind of a story is coming from and who it's aimed at, but apart from it being first person, this book bothered me because it's seemed like it's all about conspicuous consumption - like this woman has no value if it's not in her rich clothes and lavish lifestyle. I found that offensive.

I don't mind a novel that fills out a character by talking about her clothes and lifestyle to an extent, but every other paragraph has her talking about how well she's doing with her home (leather furniture, double sink - like that's some big upward mobility thing), her car which is a BMW, her shoes which are Gucci. And on and on! The thing is, she's a school teacher, so I'm wondering how she affords all this stuff! Teachers are woefully underpaid for the critical job they do.

Anyway, she meets the son of a friend - a son she knew when he was younger, but hasn't seen for a while. Now he's a college grad working on web design and he wears Prada shows - that's one of the first things we learn about him. I can see with his job how he can shop upscale, but again, is this all he has to offer - his shoes and his height: six feet one? I would have respected the woman more if she'd set her sights on more important things than skin and clothes deep.

This kind of story where it's all about "Hey, look how well-off and well-dressed I am!" really turns me off, because to me it says nothing so loudly as how shallow the character is, and how misplaced their values are. I don't have a problem with a person finding love and getting hot and bothered over a potential partner, but when that's all they have, and all they are, it's boring.

This is a May-December story and it's short, so it's a story where things need to move, but by about twenty percent into the novel, all she's talked about is how desperate she is for a man, and how ancient she is! She's thirty six! That's hardly antique, especially in an era when a lot of people are delaying marrying and having children until later in life. And nothing has happened in the story! The relationship could have been naturally building all this time, but it doesn't even start.

When it does start, the 'relationship' she develops with this young guy is dysfunctional from the off, and it never improves. Too often, he's talking like he owns her, and she takes no offense at anything he does or says. She's skittish all along, and her attitude makes sense, but instead of following her own instincts, and moving a bit more slowly, she lets him maneuver her right into bed and has unprotected sex with him, and later she thinks she might be be pregnant. In short, she's a moron. This is was too fast even for a novella. It throws romance under the bus and makes her look like an irresponsible and oversexed teenager, betraying everything we've learned of her until that point.

There's supposed to be some comic relief in the form of her next-door neighbor, who is a much older guy, but frankly he's offensive too, just like the younger guy. Despite the age disparity between these two men, I could see no difference between them. They were both manipulative and using her, and she was too dumb to see it and put her foot down. I didn't like any of these characters and cannot recommend this novella.


My Boo by Daaimah S Poole


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this story, we're told that Gina has it all: "the job, her own house, her own car, and a boyfriend," but she still, we're expected to believe, has a problem in that she's in Philadelphia and he's in DC. Excuse me, but that's less than a three hour drive! So we're expected to accept that this is supposed to be some life-killing issue when it really isn't.

One or the other of them could move, if the distance is such a hassle, but what this told me is that she's too stupid to see that the problem is the relationship, not the distance. Of course, that's the point, and she's having affairs on the side even as she proclaims her deep love for this poor guy. In short, yet again, we have a story about a woman who is a complete jerk and god only knows what STDs she's going to pass on to him the next time they have sex!

Rather than seek ways to fix what she blindly perceives are the problems with her relationship, she takes the sleazy way out and steals her housemates' mate! That's the kind of lowlife she is. Sorry, but no! Who would even want a romance with someone as stupid and dishonest as she is? This book isn't about romance; it's about a woman who is sexually-obsessed and that;s all there is to her. This story wasn't remotely romantic and she's not remotely interesting. It was salacious and unpleasant to read, and I cannot recommend it.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Every New Year by Brenda L Thomas


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

I know this one was supposed to be an erotic novella, but seriously? There really wasn't anything erotic in it. It was a bit creepy actually to discover a doctor preying on his patient. It's entirely inappropriate for a doctor to behave toward any patient like either of these doctors did; both of them ought to be struck-off. Additionally, I don't see a future for two people as shiftless and sexually-obsessed as these two were, so where's the romance? The characters were shallow - not only in how they were written, but also in how they were behaving.

The utter improbability of how they were brought together made the story more of a joke than a worthwhile read. The woman is supposed to be a urologist (I guess), but she's really a sex doctor who's not even in denial. She inappropriately gives her supposedly sexually-malfunctioning patient an erection and is pleased with herself for doing so. She's obsessed with penises, which convinced me that her relationship with this new guy will never last. She's utterly clueless and her attitude to her fiancé sucked, which further led me to believe she's not worth having a relationship with.

She's all set to go on a winter cruise around Hawaii when she gets an emergency call: a couple were having sex and the man had taken not one, but two too many Cialis#reg;. How this got him stuck inside the woman he was being unfaithful with is an unexplained joke. If the novel had been written as a parody or for comedic effect that still would have been tedious, but it wasn't supposed to be funny.

Taking more tadalafil doesn't give you a larger penis such that if you take too much it becomes so large it gets stuck. It's very easy to look up symptoms of an overdose online these days. And note that IVs are not the answer to everything! You don't get one free with every hospital visit! Particularly in this case where the problem was supposed to be too much fluid in a certain organ - you hardly want to stock the patient up on even more fluid!

The author doesn't seem to grasp that the ER doctors have probably handled far more of this kind of situation than the main character ever had. There was no reason whatsoever for this doctor to be called in, so once again we have a very contrived situation, and it gets worse: she's unfaithful to her boyfriend, has unprotected sex with a man whose history she doesn't know and doesn't even think about asking (and she's supposed to be a doctor?). After this, she goes right back to getting it on with her boyfriend. Then she ditches her boyfriend and goes back to the doctor. She's a jerk, period.

The doctor is utterly irresponsible. He doesn't know this woman and she has lost her memory, yet when he prepares a special dinner for her, it consists of a "platter that held two large lobster tails." He doesn't know is she has a sea-food allergy! He doesn't know anything about her. He could have killed her. She might be a vegetarian fro all he knew and would have been disgusted that he had fed her dead animals when her memory returned. His conduct is inexcusable on so many levels. It's not romantic at all. it seems that the author was blindly going for the trope romantic evening without spending an iota of thought on how this particular story needed a better plan.

I didn't like either of the doctors, or her boyfriend, but at least he tried to understand her. For this he's rewarded by being screwed, and not in a good way! This was not a nice Christmas/New Year's story, and I cannot recommend it.


Dangerously in Love by Crystal Lacey Winslow


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of four novellas I got from Net Galley centered around the festive season and relationships. All of them were disappointing, I'm sorry to report. The problem was that they were far less romance than they were soft-core porn, and there really wasn't much porn, so what did that leave? In a two words: very little - and nearly all of that was a disappointment. I wish the authors all the best in their careers. I found these stories most saddening because some of these of these writers can write. I just wish they would have reached higher, instead of going solely for the low-hanging fruit.

Note that this is obviously just my opinion, and I'm not normally one for reading his kind of fiction, but I'm curious about all genres and I like to keep up with what's going on in them. It had seemed to me that this was a great opportunity to take in something new and maybe find a new writer to love. I'm sorry it didn't work out.

There seemed to be a common theme among the novellas: that of being single and feeling unloved, or of being in a dysfunctional relationship that the main character had somehow deluded themselves into thinking was the one - or at least was better than nothing! I know how that goes. But the way they 'fixed' their 'problem' was asinine cowardice, not romance.

There was a consistent problem in that all of the characters were so shallow: they were all about fancy clothes and designer shoes and hot sex, and in the case of every one of the women, that hot sex had to be with a tall guy who had an overly-large penis. It was sad to read how juvenile and poorly-focused these people were - and also what poor judges of potential partners they were, and how thoroughly shallow and clueless they were. Not one of them actually deserved a decent relationship because none of them had earned one.

In this particular case the story was about a guy who was in a relationship with a girl he thought he loved. The guy, London, is a bodyguard for hire and most recently had been working for a rapper. He was planning on proposing to his girlfriend on New Year's Eve and for some reason had thought it was a good idea to buy an eight-thousand dollar engagement ring the purchase of which left him all-but broke. This told me the guy was an idiot, and was one of the hallmarks of this story: conspicuous consumption. His girlfriend was right to leave someone who evidenced as little forethought and planning as he did, but she was equally short-sighted. Neither of them was worth reading about.

Inevitably, because it's that kind of a story, after the break-up London ends up falling for Jovie which sounds so disturbingly like Juvie that it made me wonder if she was under-age! Anyway, Jovie has an evil twin. I'm not making this up (the author is!) This 'twin thing' has been way overdone, and if you're dead set on employing it in a plot, you need to find something truly new to bring to it. Evil twin doesn't cut it, and certainly not here. The evil twin wants to wreck her sister's relationship with London. The thing is that I'd lost faith in the story by this point, so I really care what evil twin was up to, or what happened to any of them for that matter.

I had very little reason to believe that her motive was smart or justified or valid. I need something better than this: something original, and with life in it. I really wasn't interested in any of these blinkered, shallow and self-obsessed characters at all. I need instead real people who have real feelings and who are clued-in to life. This was more like a fairy take than ever it was a serious story about adult relationships and frankly, I have better things to read with my time. Life is too short - even for a short story like this - and I cannot recommend it.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a very short story (56 pages in Bluefire reader on an iPad), and it's less of a sci-fi (notwithstanding the cover which I pay little attention to anyway!) than it is a 'sigh and fie on you!' story, but in the end it was just the right length. Any longer and it would have been padded, and I would not have liked it so much. Any shorter, and it would have been inadequate.

The world this is set (Mexico in the near future) reminded me very much of the kind of world William Gibson created in Neuromancer. This author does it just as well if not better, but here it's nowhere near as hi-tech, so it's more relatable. In this world lives twenty-five-year-old Amelia with the emphasis on old, because that's how she feels. Another two years and she won't be able to make money by selling her blood to old farts who think it will rejuvenate them. Amelia's only dream is of visiting the colony on Mars.

She lives with her sister Marta, who extracts a steep price for her sister's iffy employment prospects by using Amelia very nearly as a full-time baby-sitter and school bus for her kids in lieu of a decent contribution to the rent and food. Other than her blood, Amelia's only utility seems to be through her assignments from the Frienderr app which pairs companions with people in need of one.

Amelia doesn't even do so well at that because she's really not a people person, but she manages to keep a regular gig with an aging B movie actor named Lucía, who likes Amelia to sit with her while they watch her old movies and she talks about them. She's supposedly working on a memoir, but doesn't seem to make much progress.

Things look like they might change for Amelia when her old and wealthy boyfriend Elías shows up, "renting" her company on Frienderr. Amelia feels like she has to go because she really needs the money. It's obvious that her boyfriend wants her back, but you never get the impression that things are going to follow your typical romance novel path, or worse, your typical young-adult author path, especially since when he left before, Elías did so abruptly and without a goodbye.

That's the beauty of this novella, because the author keeps throwing you for a loop as soon as you get comfortable with the way you think this story is going. She never takes the easy path either, and I could see that right from the off, because she wrote it in third person whereas a lesser author (and your typical YA author!) would have gone for worst person voice (aka first person) which would have ruined this story for me, as it has far too many others which I've DNF'd sadly.

You can't enjoy a painting if your nose is pressed to the canvas nor appreciate a posing model by putting their skin under a microscope. There needed to be a certain distance from this character so you could properly enjoy who she was becoming, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivered it like an expert sculptor, exposing every graceful curve, chipping steadily down to every artful dimple and shadow with very little waste, nearly every line contributing to the final image of a strong woman, the like of which we see far too little in sci-fi stories.

The sole exception to this, for me was the movie dialog. Some chapters began with a lead-in, in the form of a movie script based on one of the movies Amelia watched with Lucía, but tailored to Amelia's life. I took to skipping these because I felt they took away from the story rather than added to it. If the last one had been left in place, but the rest removed I would have probably ended-up building a santuario religioso to this author! And that's another joy now that I think about it: she's Mexican by birth and uses some Mexican terms in the story without any apology and without a tedious translation en suite. I appreciated that: that she treated her readers like adults, not students who needed to learn a foreign language. It was perfectly done.

I loved this story and I highly recommend it. I shall be looking at other work by this author and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Batwoman vol 1 the many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Renato Arlem


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. This review was embargoed by the publisher until today's date of publication

While I enjoy the Marvel and DC comics super hero movies, I have a harder time with the comic books which originated these same heroes. Part of that problem is in the way the female characters are hyper-sexualized. I don't believe this is productive and it certainly isn't appreciated. The movies do great without it, so why do the comic books cling to it so desperately? It's not remotely necessary.

Batgirl (as Bat-girl) has been around since 1961, and Batwoman appeared even earlier, in 1956. It's a shame then that neither of these has made it to the big screen, a brief appearance in the old Batman TV show notwithstanding. I was thrilled to learn that Joss Whedon will write, direct and produce a Batgirl film and even more thrilled that it will be based on Gail Simone's comic book work. Unfortunately there's nothing on the roster for a Batgirl movie the DC Extended Universe before 2021 at least so, although schedules can change, it looks like we have to wait a while for that!

This is one reason why I was pleased to read this graphic novel with writing by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, and art by Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, and Renato Arlem, so we have at least one female writer and a female artist involved, and it shows. I was hoping for something a bit better than your usual fare and thankfully, I got it with this.

With the roaring success of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which had some strong female characters, I was hoping for female super heroes from that world to arrive in its wake. Batwoman would have seemed like an obvious follow-up, but instead DC seems to have opted for more Batman movies instead. Until we get Batman's female counterpart on the screen, we have the graphic novels, and that's why I think it's critical that we get more like this one.

In a very small way, this is an origin story, but the origin is conveyed in a series of touching single frame images with a palette as red as Kate Kane's hair: Kate at age nine, shooting a bow, at twenty in the military, and at twenty-seven crashing into the frame as Batwoman. But something is missing, and this crashes into the story on the next pages. A car is rammed by a truck, parents and a child are kidnapped, a mom dead. Next, Kate is depicted in unarmed combat at West Point. It's all disjointed, as is Kate.

Because of this disjunction, I had, I confess, a bit of a hard time getting into the story, but it found its footing quickly - or I did, one or the other! There is a new drug on the street: Monster Venom - and it can literally do what its name says: turn people into monsters. In order to fight it, Batwoman finds that she has to revisit one of her own points of origin: the island of Coryana in the Mediterranean. Here she confronts more than just her past.

This novel contains not only the expected - and hoped for - action scenes, it also carries with it a journey into memory and pain, disillusionment and determination. And Batwoman proves equal to what's asked of her, even to the female villain who is like a breath of fresh air as villains go. I'd like to see more of her.

It's reassuring to know there's someone we can count on, especially since Batwoman seems to have her head together more than Batman does despite her traumatic history and self-doubt. I liked this story and I recommend it. The story not only works, it's intelligent and has depth, and the art and coloring, by Jeromy Cox and Adriano Lucas not only complement the story all the way, they bring it to visual life. I look forward to more stories like this one. Hopefully we won't have to wait on Joss Whedon to get them!


Friday, November 17, 2017

Theatrics by Neil Gibson, Leonardo Gonzalez, Jan Wijngaard


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Set in the 1920's in New York City, this graphic novel by Neil Gibson tells the story of Rudy Burns who is a playboy of an actor who one night is mugged behind a bar and ends up not looking pretty any more. Out of hospital at last, he arrogantly turns own a paltry role that's offered to him, and quickly finds himself out of work and unsought-after for his looks any more. Even his well-to-do girlfriend has found someone else, although her rejection has nothing to do with his appearance. Shades of Mickey Rourke, for want of employment elsewhere, Rudy takes up boxing.

I am not a series fan and I'm frankly not sure where a series based on this premise could successfully take itself, but for this first installment, I found that I liked the novel for the story. It turned an unlikable protagonist into a pitiable one and brought my interest in. I also liked it for the free-flowing graphic content by Leonardo Gonzalez and for the vibrant colors by Jan Wijngaard.


The Red Word by Sarah Henstra


Rating: WARTY!

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

I wanted to like this novel and I began by doing so, for about forty percent of it, but then things changed and I really began to dislike it. By seventy-five percent the main character had become so profoundly stupid that I could not bear to read any more about her, so this review is of the first seventy-five percent.

The first problem was first person, or worst person voice as I call it because it's almost never the best choice. Some plots can support it. This one did not because the only thing it achieves here is to trivialize what is a serious problem: rape (aka, in this novel, the red word).

All that the choice of first person did here was to subjugate rape to the personal and often trivial and asinine peccadilloes of what turned out to be a clueless and ineffectual protagonist. Some writers can carry-off first person, but this writer did not. This failure cheapened the topic and did more far more harm than good. I can't forgive that when it's a topic as important as this.

The main character is a college student named Karen Huls. Karen is given certain attributes, but many of them seemed inappropriate and counter-productive to the story. First of all, she's a sophomore. The first part of that word comes (unsurprisingly) from the Greek and refers to wisdom. Karen displayed precious little of that, but on the other hand, the second part of that word comes from the Greek moros which pretty much means moron. That part I could see in her.

I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and grows, but in this novel Karen showed no sign of ever wanting to leave dumb behind her, at least not up to the point where I quit reading in disgust. Dumb seemed to be her security blanket and she clung to it avidly. Middle-grade girls are more clued in than Karen was.

Karen is a photographer, but her photography played very little part in the story, so I'm not sure why she was tagged with this interest except that, once again, it played into the artsy pretension that was so heavy-handed in this novel that that it effectively trivialized the purported topic, rape. Rape is one of many symptoms of a privileged, patriarchal mindset, and the author did nothing to change this or to even fight against it. On the contrary. The Greek system was shown to be a jolly little institution notwithstanding the fatal flaws depicted here.

I thought there was a great potential to juxtapose the lofty ideals of the ancient Greeks (at least as far as academics goes) with the base culture of the rather more Spartan-like collegiate fraternity system, but there was none of this to be found. The academic discourses on mythology had little or nothing to do with events on campus and felt more like the author was just showing-off.

The problem was that, because of the way it was written, the story seemed designed to whitewash and even exonerate the Greek system and frat boy mentality at the expense of those who have been raped and those who would advocate for them, and I found that quite frankly as nauseating as it was inexcusable.

One oddity about this novel, and this comes from the academic pretension with which it's larded, is the use of Greek words to head each chapter. Given that we start from this ostensibly elevated perch, I found it incomprehensible that the boy's fraternity depicted here is repeatedly referred to as GBC, since that fails to represent the actual Greek. Perhaps had the author been a professor of Greek instead of a professor of English, she would have understood that the Greek is Gamma Beta Chi: ΓΒΧ so TBX would be closer to the name for pure appearance. GBK would be closer to the sound as long as we keep in mind that the K is produced at the back of the tongue, a little bit like clearing the throat. 'GBC' is therefore completely inaccurate, so I didn't get the point of this representation at all, except that it conveniently lends itself as an acronym for taking a cheap shot at the fraternity initials.

The novel deals with the so-called 'rape culture' in society, or in this case on campus at a college which supports fraternities and sororities. The story, for some reason, is set in the nineties rather than in the present day, and worse than this, it's all a flashback. I didn't get this either. And I shall skip over the fact that a college professor doesn't know that it's 'biceps' and not 'bicep' as so many YA writers like to have it. Yes, the biceps brachii does split into two at the top, each a bicep, but the part that we typically refer to: the bulge that it seems, so fascinates YA writers, is the conjoining of the two, and is, therefore the biceps.

Normally the choice of first person seems to be made by authors in an effort to provide immediacy for those writers who are unable to evoke that in third person, but to choose first person and then remove it from any semblance of immediacy by not only setting this in the past, but also by throwing it under the bus of a book-long flashback was a startlingly ill-conceived approach. This method was a failure because it reduced what is a current and ongoing crisis to essentially nothing more than an historical footnote. That's entirely the wrong approach to take when it comes to the university (read universal) sexual assault crisis.

The story begins with Karen, who is pretty much an alcoholic. She wakes up lying on the ground after a night of binge-drinking, near a house occupied by some rather radical feminists, and Karen ends up rooming with them. Initially, these other students interested me far more than ever Karen did, but as the story went on, it became ever more clear that they were all really just placeholders - nothing more than 2-D cardboard stand-in characters, too shallow, caricatured and radical to be real.

I felt the portrayal of these students betrayed both feminism and those students in the real world who are struggling to expose the prevalence and casual attitude towards rape, sexual assault, and harassment across the country in colleges, universities and (particularly as we've seen lately) throughout society, in entertainment and in the very heart of Washington DC.

The whole hands-off tone of this novel is set right from the beginning in how it treats a girl (her name is Susannah) who has undergone a traumatic experience. It's not so much that this girl disappears from the story as it is that she was never really in it. She was just a name to be thrown out in conversation - another placeholder for something real, but which actually never materializes. For me, she was a metaphor for the whole novel.

Her dismissal sets the tone for the rest of this neglectful story's 'remote-viewing' of rape. Karen is supposed to be our proxy for exploring this, but the story is so obsessed with strutting its stuff regarding Greek mythology, and Karen is so very unmotivated, and tediously passive and clueless that the story goes nowhere near the raw exposed nerves of what it purports to address.

Karen is never an actor, she is the audience watching others act and failing to take home anything from their actions. If this had been written as a metaphor for the way many men all-too-often view women: as utilities and entertainment, then it might have made some sense, but that's not what happened here. What we got was indifferent writing which had the effect of rendering Karen into nothing more than a peeping tom, stealing glances at life's more seedy side-shows, and even then she does nothing with what she sees. She simply imbibes it mindlessly, and moves on, evidently not satiated, to the next spectacle.

Her placid acceptance of some quite horrific events which she witnesses, without making any effort to set things right or to report them to someone who can set things right, is shameful. Karen isn't part of the solution, she's part of the problem. Instead of despising the frat boys, she becomes an honorary member of fraternity, dating one of them, flirting foolishly with another whom she ogles and idolizes in ways which would be disgraceful had this same behavior been indulged in by a man towards a woman.

If Karen is anything, it's a hypocrite. She sees nothing wrong in any of the fraternity attitudes towards women, or with their drug abuse, since she indulges dangerously herself, or with their lackadaisical work ethic (or lack of any ethic), or with their endless drinking binges and demeaning, objectifying co-ed parties.

This is curious because when a woman is raped, Karen keeps nudging her to report it, but the woman feels she cannot since she was rufied, she remembers nothing of it. The hypocrisy comes in when Karen herself is assaulted twice, the second time badly, although much less than the other girl suffered, and yet despite her advocacy to the other girl, she does nothing about her own assault!

Instead, she just moves on once again, and thereby continues to be a part of the problem. The girl who was gang-raped was given the unfortunate name of Sheri Asselin. How the author could give a rape victim a name which incorporates 'ass' as in 'piece of ass' is a complete mystery. Was it supposed to be some sort of a joke? It wasn't funny.

One really bizarre thing is the author's blog. When I went there to take a look at it, I found it was protected - you cannot get into it unless you both register with Word Press and get the blog owner's permission to access it! I found this to be peculiar. Maybe she has good reasons for it, but if you're an author trying to promote your work, this seems like a completely ineffectual approach to take. That said, it is in keeping with the ineffectual tone of the novel.

So overall, I was really saddened by this novel, not because of what it depicted but because of where it kept failing. It could have been so much more than it was, and as it was, it wasn't anywhere near enough. Now you can argue, if you wish, that I didn't read it to the end and maybe everything turned around in that last 25%, but even if it did, for me it would have been far too little and far too late. Even if it had turned around, it still would not have made me like the main character, who never showed any sign of turning anything around, not even her head to look at what was actually going on right in her presence.

Both she and the novel were a big disappointment and I cannot recommend this as a worthy read. As a great alternative, I recommend viewing the documentary The Hunting Ground, which is available for free on Netflix, and probably in other locations. It's also available on disk. A good reference for help is End Rape on Campus.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is my third Phryne Fisher and the first I've liked. I loved the TV series, but the books (Cocaine Blues - the first and Murder and Mendelssohn the last - to my knowledge - Fisher mystery). They were less than thrilling, so it suggests to me that the TV writers/adapters can often be rather better than the original writer in capturing the quintessential main character in a series like this!

This is the 14th in the Fisher series so why it was available on Net Galley I have no idea, but I'm glad it was. I'm not a trivia buff, but I have read in some reviews by others who are following the entire series, that there are continuity errors causing them to speculate on who wrote this novel! I'm not one of those, and I haven't been reading the whole series, but continuity errors are not a good thing if you want to keep your regular fans happy. For me, a casual dabbler, it wasn't noticeable.

Also the TV show has Phryne in a relationship of sorts with the police inspector who is unimaginatively named Jack. This never blossoms into romance, but there is always a hint of it. In the books, Jack seems to be more of a bit player, particularly in this one, where he hardly puts in an appearance at all, and Phryne has no feelings for him. I sincerely wish authors would drag themselves out of this deep rut of calling their go-to guy Jack, because it's so tediously over-used that I flatly refuse to read any more novels that have a main character named Jack. Fortunately, this one really didn't!

So, you may have guessed by now that it was only because of my love for the TV show that I went back a third time into the books, but I was rewarded with an entertaining story this time, even if it was predictable and a bit of a slog at times. The Phryne here seemed a lot less engaged than in the TV show; she was less scintillating. At one point one of her two adopted daughters goes missing and Phryne never seems to show any anguish over it whatsoever. She is trying to find her, but there's not a whit of urgency or fear over it.

It's as though she has some secret information that her adopted daughter is just fine - which she was of course - but the problem here is that Phryne did not know any such thing - or if she did, then the author kept it from us. On the other hand, the author did indeed know that Ruth's disappearance was really nothing more than a red herring, if a slightly salty one. What was missing was some restrained panic in Phryne's demeanor. It did not read true. Either that or Phryne is far more sang-froid than is healthy for anyone, and particularly for her daughters' continued well-being. I think if perhaps the author had children of her own (to my knowledge she does not) she might have understood those feelings better and represented them more authentically.

The Goodreads review website predictably got the blurb wrong again. In it we're told that there is "a young woman found drowned at the beach at Elwood" but this is an outright lie! The woman is one of Phryne's flower girls for an upcoming parade, and she isn't drowned at all. Almost-drowned is right. Beaten and half-drowned would be better, but not "drowned." The Amazon-owned Goodreads corporate review web site has killed private review blogs like this one, and due to this and other issues I have both with Amazon and Goodreads, I refuse to post any more reviews at either site. They're too big, too powerful, and are becoming dangerous, so I guess they don't care if they get the blurb right Why would they? What incentive do they have?

The publisher though, ought to check on these things as they should verify that the Kindle version is formatted sensibly. I read some reviews which complained that it was not. Mine was fine as it happens, but Amazon's crappy kindle app is well-known for mangling texts. I've seen plenty of those. I recommend using PDF format, which can be problematic if trying to read it on a smart phone, or Barnes & Nobles's Nook format, which consistently renders books better than Kindle. B&N has its own problems, particularly a web site which actively gets in the way of your buying books! They need to fire their website designers.

There was a touch of ageism incorporated here. This is something I would hope a mature author would be more sensitive to. I read, "The curvaceous ladies appeared shopworn and over forty." Excuse me, but what's wrong with forty and over? Nothing, I assure you. There were other little things like this, but not quite enough to turn me off the novel. For example, we get the tired cliche of the main character looking at herself in the mirror to give us a self portrait. It's nearly always a woman when this antique MO is employed and it's tedious to read: "She pottered gently through the routine of bathing and dressing and sat brushing her hair in front of her vine-wreathed mirror. The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher looked at herself.".

Another example was in Phryne being put in the position of justifying her sexuality! This isn't Phryne. Why does she feel a need to make excuses to Lin, regarding an affair, when he's married and having an affair with her? Can only men take a lover? I read, "'...He was my lover once,’ said Phryne, short-circuiting the question. ‘When I was twenty, in Orkney. Now he is married to his Maggie and wants to go back to her. I just didn’t want to see an old friend - and a wonderful musician - sleeping in the rain. Clear?’." No, it;s not clear why Phryne even has to say this. But again, in the big scheme of things this was relatively minor.

All of that said, I enjoyed the pell-mell of this story, which featured something new popping-up regularly: a personal crisis or a parade crisis, or a new development in the story. It kept things moving in general, although at some points it felt a bit of a stretch or worse, a bit of a slog. That notwithstanding, overall I liked it, and I consider it a worthy read.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Girl With Brazil-Nut Eyes by Richard Levine


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum: It's not Kerr Dullea! The actor's name is Keir Dullea.

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

This was offered on Net Galley as a 'read now' and I've found those to be a mixed bag. Some are gems, but often those books are ones which people have not been interested in because they are not very interesting; others are interesting to a few but not to all because they specialize in some niche which may or may not have very wide appeal. For me this book was not a worthy read because it just struck me as odd, in the writing, in the subject matter, and in the ending.

There are two main characters are a fourteen-year-old boy named Josh, and a girl of similar age named Ashleigh. The story is told as one long flashback by Josh in his fifties, who is recalling events (down to verbatim conversations, yet!). This means it's in first person and a flashback, both of which I tend to truly detest. This did not help me to like this novel. If people are relating a story about something that happened years ago, or even days ago for that matter, they do not do it verbatim and go into every detail - most of which they cannot remember, and those of which they do remember having been inevitably modified (sometimes stupendously) from the reality.

I think first person novels need to have some sort of warning on the front cover akin to the one on cigarette packs so those of us who like realistic stories can avoid them as though they were Madagascar (which currently has the plague FYI). No one can remember verbatim conversations from fifty years ago, so this was a constant reminder that I was reading a novel, and that the narrator was an unreliable one. I did not trust his recollection.

Om top of this, the story was disjointed and as manic as Ashleigh was supposed to be (although she showed little evidence of it - that part was all tell and no show). The novel jumped around too much, especially in his reminiscence of that one summer, which was less of a story than it was a list of events, and it swung from high to low like the novel itself was bipolar.

As a character, Ashleigh made no sense to me at all. I know that people who have depression and phobias and those kinds of problems cannot always logically argue themselves out of it because the very fears are irrational and in depression, your own mind is betraying you, but it can be done to an extent; yet here we have Ashleigh, described in the blurb and in the book as 'beautiful' and 'brilliant' (notice the beauty always comes first as though that's the most important quality a woman can have, nothing else being quite that crucial) being portrayed as completely helpless before her own issues. Instead of making her looks strong and heroic, this rendered her weak and dumb.

That doesn't mean she could have magically cured herself, but it does mean she ought to have been a somewhat different character than she was. That said, since she never exhibited any illness - we are always told about it, never shown it as it happens, I guess she had no need to try to figure ways to fight it! That is, of course, a huge problem with first person: nothing can happen unless Josh witnesses it personally or is told about it in long expository paragraphs. Rather than bring her to the fore and make her stand out, this pushed Ashleigh into the background, turning her role into a walk on part instead of making it a starring one in Josh's self-obsessed home movie of his life.

The idea here is that Josh is called 'Bugboy' because he has some sort of hip problem which means he cannot walk normally, walking instead with his legs splayed to the side somewhat. This is described cruelly by fellow students as walking like an insect, hence his nickname. It's painful for him to walk very far we're told, but we're never told anything about what medical treatment he's getting, if any, or advice he's been given about exercise or therapy aimed at working to improve his condition (if any).

I know this was set some thirty years or more prior to the guy telling us about it, but medicine was not exactly in the dark ages in the late eighties, and this lack of attention to treatment of his condition makes it look almost like he's faking it for attention. He's not, of course, but that's one impression this writing can give.

The 'Brazil-nut-eyed' part of the title comes from the fact that Ashleigh has large eyes but Brazil nuts speak more of color than of size and of hardness, which doesn't describe her eyes at all, so the title made no sense. The misheard lyrics to Madonna's La Isla Bonita describing a girl with 'eyes like potatoes' is much more evocative (if not what she actually sang!). Even calling her pecan-eyes or better yet, walnut-eyes would have sounded better to my mind.

Ashleigh comes one day unannounced to sit at the 'defectives' table in the school cafeteria. The occupants of this table describe themselves as defectives because they all have one issue or another and they found themselves drawn together not because they necessarily wanted to hang out with all the others, but because they were rejected by everyone else.

This was a bit hard to believe, but possible, I guess. It's really been overdone though in teen exploitation movies and comedies. 'Bags' has bags under his eyes and was asthmatic (or something like it - their various conditions were left startlingly vague). Stuttsman (eye-roll) had a stutter. Veronica had a bright red "birthmark" on one cheek. Samantha had a limp. The real defect here though, was that all of these purported defectives were sweet, friendly, smart, thoughtful people who all became successful in later life, while everyone else was a cruel tyrant and ultimately a loser. So were were expected to believe. It was not realistic.

What was truly hard to believe was why Ashleigh joined them. It was never really explained. Yes, we were told (not shown) that she felt defective because of her mental insecurities, but this was never convincing and unlike the others, we never heard stories about her being rejected by anyone. She seemed perfectly capable of latching on to anyone and befriending them, so this failed for me.

it was equally a fail that none of the school bullies got any sort of comeuppance, but the story ended rather hurriedly and rather haphazardly, so I guess this was just let go like too many other things. The story never felt wrapped up for me. For example, while we learn a bit about the other 'defectives' in later life, we hear almost nothing about Josh. it felt odd, like it has been vacuumed ans scrubbed clean of anything interesting. even his career choice was predictable and unsurprising.

I am not a fan of baseball, so the endless detailed references to baseball including whole paragraphs and groups of paragraphs made me numb, and I skipped them unread. Some to the text which didn't even mention baseball was like this too, so the story became even more disjointed than it already was with jumping so many boring paragraphs. Maybe baseball fans will love this, but many others will not.

If you think this is a love story it isn't. Maybe you think then, that it's a story about friendship, but if that's what it was, then the friendship itself was decidedly odd and one-sided. It could have been the kind of story where the friendship grew naturally into a romance, but it never went there; quite the opposite in fact.

The two of them never kissed, never really held hands, never had any sort of real intimate moments, and never talked about their feelings for one another even as a friendship. The whole relationship came off as cold and clinical at best, and as Ashleigh cynically using Josh at worst. It felt like the two were hanging out together not because of any attraction to each other for whatever reason, but because of a repulsion from everyone else, or because both of them had fallen down a well, and were stuck together until one or both of them could get out somehow.

There was neither love nor romance, which is fine for me because that is so overdone in books like this that it's tedious to read, but that said, the friendship didn't really go anywhere and it was, I felt, betrayed by Ashleigh towards the end when she started keeping secrets from Josh, her (we're told, not shown) best friend.

In short this story did not work in my opinion. It felt a bit like the 1991 movie My Girl with the genders reversed, and it did not impress me any more than that did, so I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. The Newbery people might like it, but from me that's not a recommendation.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bubby's Puddle Pond by Carol Hageman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The purchase price of this book is a little steep, but it runs to 33 pages of story and support material, and it's a fully-colored and illustrated (by Nate Jensen) book. The story is rooted in the real-life creatures resident in the Sonoran desert and additionally, a dollar of the purchase price is donated to the Arizona Game and Fish Adoption Program.

The story is based on a tortoise adopted by the author's daughter, and tells of Bubby, who settles into his new home and meets several friends: a wren, a quail, a rabbit, a small dog, and a gecko (which is actually not a native, but technically an invasive species which has spread across the world adapting to similar climes outside of its origin - rather like the rat, although geckos are not usually considered pests!).

Bubby has several adventures, not least of which is going into hibernation each winter - yes, even in Arizona, where winters can be distinctly chill (as I experienced one New Year's Eve - but the hot tub helped!). The story is sweet and easy-going with the emphasis being on friendship and the 'crises' being very minor and not scary. I recommend this for young children who enjoy nature and animal stories, and perhaps as an introduction to such stories for children who are not yet endeared to them (if there are any!).


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Kid Authors by David Stahler


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I could have done without the illustrations by Doogie Horner, but maybe those will appeal to the age range at which this is aimed. The actual content on the other hand was at times entertaining and interesting, but the racism and genderism inherent in the choice of writers featured here bothered me immensely, and it's why I cannot recommend this book. It's long past time to take a stand against white American males being the only important people in the world. We see it on TV, we see it in movies, and we see it in books. It needs to stop.

The book is not about children who are authors, but about the childhood of now well-known authors. The details are necessarily brief: each author gets ten or eleven pages on average, of quite large, liberally-spaced print and some of that space is taken up by the illustrations. At the back there is a half dozen or so pages with one paragraph 'also-rans' which is interesting because it includes writers like Alice walker and Maya Angelou who apparently didn't make it into the 'big time' here, but even in this section, most of the writers appear to be white American males like no one else is worth listening to.

The book has an introduction which I skipped as I routinely do, because introductions (prefaces, author's notes, forewords, prologues and so on) are wasteful of paper, are antiquated, and really tell us nothing useful. I rather get right into the body of the work than waste my time on frivolity.

Some of the stories are upsetting, when you realize what some kids had to go through to get where they got, and that isn't over today either, but how much more of a struggle is it for some authors to get ten pages in a book like this? Other stories are endearing or amusing, so there's something for everyone, but that said, the vast preponderance of coverage is of white American male authors which represent eleven out of the sixteen - almost seventy percent - who get ten pages here. Four of the others are British, and one is French.

That's a seriously limited coverage in a world where two-thirds of the planet's population is Indian or Chinese, fifty percent of the planet is women, and most of the planet isn't white. There are only three are non-white (two African Americans and one American Indian) authors represented here so it bothered me that children reading this might get the impression that only America (and maybe Britain) has anyone who can write, and nearly all those who can write are white men. This is neither an accurate nor a realistic impression, nor is it a useful one to give children in a world where whites are the real minority.

This is a skewed view which is already being hammered into young peoples' heads by the appalling number of novels coming out of the US which are also set in the US (or if they're set abroad, they star Americans, like no one else ever has anything to say or any adventures to write about), and largely written about white characters.

This Trump mentality is isolationist and very dangerous, so I would have liked to have seen a much wider coverage and more female authors (who get less than forty percent representation here). Also the youngest writer represented here was born in 1971! Almost half of them were not even born last century! 13 of the sixteen were born before the 1950's! It's not being ageist to ask for a sprinkling of younger writers! And could there not have been more females, more people of color, including an Asian or two?

Could there not have been a Toni Morrison or an Octavia Butler? A Clarice Lispector or a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? A Zadie Smith or an Elena Ferrante? A Lu Min, a Zhang Ling? No Jenny Han or Tahereh Mafi? No Jhumpa Lahiri or an Indu Sundaresan? There are so many to choose from, so it's a real shame that this book evidently went with the easiest, the commonest, the path of least resistance? It felt lazy to me at best.

These are the authors which do appear:

  • JRR Tolkien (white, English, b. 1892)
  • JK Rowling (white, English, b. 1965)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (white, American, b. 1809)
  • Sherman Alexie (American Indian, b. 1966)
  • Lewis Carroll (white, English, b. 1832)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (white, American, b. 1867)
  • Zora Neale Hurston (black, American, b. 1891)
  • Mark Twain (white, American, b. 1910
  • Judy Blume (white, American, b. 1948
  • Langston Hughes (black, American, b. 1902
  • Jules Verne (white, French, b. 1828)
  • Roald Dahl (white, Welsh, b. 1916)(
  • Stan lee (white, American, b. 1922)
  • Beverly Cleary (white, American, b. 1916)
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery (white, American, b. 1874)
  • Jeff Kinney (white, American, b. 1971)

The book had at least one inaccuracy: it proclaims that Joanne Rowling (now Murray) was Joanne Kathleen Rowling, but she never was. It was only Joanne Rowling (pronounced 'rolling'). The 'Kathleen' came about because her weak-kneed and faithless publisher declared that boys wouldn't read a book written by a girl. They insisted that she use her first initial and a fake middle initial. Not having any clout back then, she chose the 'K' for 'Kathleen', the name of her grandmother.

This is why I despise Big Publishing, but at least I have the knowledge that a dozen idiot publishers turned down her Harry Potter series and thereby lost a fortune. The sad thing is that now they're trying to make up for it by buying every idiotic magician series ever produced, which is cheapening the whole genre. This why I self publish. I refuse to let blinkered publishers try to tell me what my name should be. I'd rather sell no books than deal with people like that.

So, in short, this could have been a hell of a lot better and I cannot recommend it.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harry’s Spooky Surprise by NGK


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated charmingly by Janelle Dimmit, this is the story of Harry’s plan to have a fun Halloween, and rather than go out grabbing candy, he’s not thinking of himself, but of others! It’s a great theme to have for a book about a holiday that kicks off a fall and winter season during which it all too often seems that our lives revolve around “What can I get for myself?” be it candy at Halloween, feasting at Thanksgiving, or receiving presents at Christmas.

Harry is a bit of a nervous nelly, since it’s dark out and he sees a lot of strange shadows, but the mildly scary bit is soon resolved as he realizes that not every shadow is a problem. Few are as it happens! He ends up meeting his friends, preparing his surprise, and then surprising his unprepared friends! I think this is a sweet, fun book, and it tells a worthy tale for Halloween.


Ghosties by Gerald Hawksley


Rating: WORTHY!

Another fun and silly rhyming book from the guy who does them so well. This time, in time for Halloween, it's Ghosties, and never was there such a bunch of goofy ghosties. They're everywhere, and they're into everything. Floating in the sky, rushing around, woo-hooing. There's even ghosty cats and dogs, ghosties wearing hats, ghosties on stage. It's all the rage. I think this is a fun and non-frightening book for kids to enjoy a Halloween with.

The Last Savanna by Mike Bond


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book has been around for a while and when it was offered on Net Galley I read the blurb and thought it might make for an interesting read, but I was wrong in my assessment. It was not. There were several problems, not least of which was the bait-and-switch wherein the blurb led me to believe this was to be about fighting those who murder elephants for their ivory, when it was really just a sad story about some obsessive old dude who can't get out of his head this woman with whom he had a one night stand decades before, and now is unaccountably obsessed with for no good reason (not that there is ever a good reason for obsession!). Worse, this guy is married and this told me that he was a sleaze. Why would I root for him?

Add to this the delight the author takes in describing scene after scene of blood, gore, and slaughter, including for the entire opening segment of this novel, and it turned me right off, because when there was no gore, there was unending tedium and mind-numbing introspection which turned me off further. I'm not a fan of Kirkus reviews. I routinely avoid them because they never met a novel they didn't like, which means their reviews are utterly worthless. It's reached a point where if I see that a book has been reviewed by Kirkus, I walk the other way. This is ironic because if I'd happened to have seen their review, I would have known to avoid this novel like the plague! They said it "Will make readers sweat with its relentless pace and blistering descriptions of the African sun." I would have known for sure from that mindless garbage, that it was precisely the opposite.

Dorothy and Ian MacAdam have lived on a ranch in Kenya for a long time, yet despite their supposed love of Africa, neither is happy, and Dorothy wants out of there, whereas Ian is just a jerk who cares nothing for anyone but himself. At the drop of a hat, he abandons his wife purportedly to go hunting poachers even though neither he nor we have been offered a solid reason for him to go. As it happens, his 'obsession chick' is, by amazing coincidence, kidnapped for ransom for no good reason, by some itinerant and laughably brutal caricatures of Somalis, and suddenly Ian is galvanized to chase them. The hell with the elephants. From that point on, no one cares about poachers. The bait-and-switch made it about kidnappers. The novel should have been titled "Like Women for Elephants."

You know if the Africans were serious about stopping the elephant and rhino slaughter, they would track down and tranquilize every last one of them and remove their horns and tusks, and they would keep doing this until all the lowlife scum poachers have been forced to give up their evil and brutal trade for lack of bounty, and have found something else to do. Problem solved. There's no reason to kill the animals if there's nothing for the poachers to benefit from, yet this slaughter goes on and endlessly with these animals being slowly wiped-out because no-one evidently has the good sense or the guts to step-up and remove the incentive.

This would have been a much better story had it been about someone doing precisely that: sneaking around under the governments' noses, and avoiding poachers, and getting it done, but instead of something new and different we got precisely the same and that was precisely the problem with this story: it offered nothing new or original.

It did not help that the story-telling, particularly the violence, was so overly-dramatized that it became a joke, with people being shot and flying backwards in the air from the impact of the bullets which simply doesn't happen except in asinine Hollywood depictions. Bullets are so small and dense, and move so fast that they're through you before you even notice the impact and they sure as hell don't kick you backwards like you're a circus acrobat, not even if they break a bone. And there is no way they're going to kick a huge elephant's head around from the impact either. Puleeze! These descriptions were a joke and constantly kicked me out of suspension of disbelief and helped to ruin this story.

I stopped caring about any of this about a quarter of the way through, and I skimmed and skipped to about half way through, and I realized I was wasting my life reading this, when I could be reading something more engrossing, more entertaining, and more authentic. Life's too short. I cannot recommend this based on what I read.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys The Big Lie by Anthony Del Col, Werther Dell'Edera


Rating: WARTY!

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

Well, this was certainly not what I expected! I thought this was a modern take on a couple of series which date back to 1927 (The Hardy Boys) and 1930 (Nancy Drew). In the late seventies, there was a brief and disastrous run on TV featuring both story lines intertwined, but I thought this would be truer to the roots. It was far from that.

I recently reviewed a book about Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters Harriet and Edna, how these series came to be, and who wrote them. It made for an entertaining read, but apart from seeing a TV movie about Nancy drew, I have very little exposure to the actual stories themselves. That's why I thought this might be interesting. I'm sorry to say it wasn't.

the first hint that something was off here was when the Hardy Boys get arrested (apparently out of the blue) for questioning over the death of their father - and the police officer was slapping one of them around. This just felt completely off kilter. It's not to say you can't have a story where a kid is slapped around by a rogue police officer, and it's not to say you can't update an antique story that's badly in need of a make-over and get a better one, but in this case, it felt so out of place and so lacking in rationale and motivation that it kicked the story right out of suspension of disbelief.

It didn't work either, to have this on the one hand and a really old-fashioned style of illustrating the comic book on the other. The two simply didn't work together, especially since the art was lackluster and poorly rendered. I don't know if this was merely in the ebook, which is all we amateur reviewers usually get to see, or if it would have been just as bad in the print version, but the art was poorly delineated, scrappy, sketchy, muddy, and drab. Overall, the the experience was a poor one, and I could not stand to read past the half-way point in this story. Based on what I read, I cannot recommend it.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Secret Weapons by Eric Heisserer, Raul Allen


Rating: WORTHY!

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

From the guy who wrote the screenplay to the Amy Adams/Jeremy Renner movie Arrival, this was a story along the lines of Marvel's Inhumans or X-Men. People have intriguing super-abilities, but there are really amazing powers and rather oddball powers. The ones we get to meet are the ones with the oddball powers, who have been neglected, if not rejected, by those who might be interested in this kind of thing, because they're considered unimportant. One of them, for example, can talk with and understand birds; another can magically pull an object out of thin air, but he can't really control what it is he pulls; a third can turn to stone at will.

It's only as the story progresses that we can see that these powers might be of more utility than they initially appear to hold, and that they can be especially good when several such empowered people, known in this story as psiots, work together. The guy who can magically make things appear only learns later where they're coming from, and it's actually quite interesting, but not everyone is neglectful of these people. A government employee, Amanda McKee, is a technopath who can communicate with electronic systems even when she has no device in her hands.

Known by the inevitable code name of Livewire, she is investigating what's left of a facility run by Toyo Harada, who is the most powerful telepath there is. He's Amanda's former mentor and he's responsible for discovering and 'activating' these psiots. Many did not survive activation, but those who did were secreted in Harada's facility, and now they've been cast loose, abandoned to fend for themselves, which would have been fine except for the fact that a machine named Rex-O, which can absorb the powers of psiots, is hunting them down apparently intent upon wiping them out. If it absorbs Amanda's power, it can find all of them. And it's just captured her.

Although this is far from 'off-the-beaten-track' - in fact, it's on a track which has been pretty much beaten to death by now - the story was nevertheless engaging and intriguing. The characters were interesting and relatable, and they certainly made me want to follow them and see what they get up to. It helped that the artwork was good: well-drawn and nicely-colored. I liked this graphic novel, and I recommend it as a worthy read.


Northstars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville! by Jim Shelley, Haigen Shelley


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great comic with a great title. In Snowville, Santa's daughter Holly (not much of a stretch there!) thinks she's getting a babysitting job when she's put in charge of the daughter of the visiting Yeti King. She doesn't know she's about to set out on an adventure which will uncover a conspiracy at the North Pole!

She quickly learns that Frostina is a girl very much her own age if a little taller (she's a yeti after all, although she doesn't look much like the traditional yeti is supposed to), and very soon the two are involved in an adventure. This was, to me, described a little confusingly in the blurb as being a trip to "the subterranean city of Undertown to investigate trouble in Troggie Town." I didn't quite get what that meant. Is Troggie Town part of the City of Undertown, maybe a suburb or an Ethnic neighborhood? Or is Undertown misrepresented and is a region rather than a city or a town - a region in which lies Troggie Town? It's no big deal, but it felt a bit confusing, especially since it doesn't look subterranean at all, being awash in snow, trees, and lots of bright light!

Anyway, while down there they encounter some weird and wonderful creatures and strange opponents, but the two feisty girls win through and save Christmas, and isn't that what's needed more than anything - saving Christmas from any selfish interests which would ruin it? We can all fight that battle!

I really enjoyed this story and thought it was well-written, beautifully drawn and colored, and told a worthy tale of Christmas fun and adventure.