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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bunk 9's Guide to Growing Up by Adah Nuchi

Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good, the Bad, and the Awkward," written by the endearing if fictional girls of bunk nine at the Silver Moon Camp Sisterhood, and illustrated adorably by Meg Hunt, this book was freaking awesome! it;s a fast, simple, easy read and packed with useful information - useful, and essential.

I like to think I know a lot about women, but anyone who knows about women also knows there is always so much more to learn, and while many parts of this were quite familiar to me, many other parts were an eye-opener, and served only as yet another reminder of what women have to put up with even if they lived in a world which was totally devoid of men!

The girls of bunk nine are: Abby (from Eugene OR), Brianna (from Austin TX. Yeay!), Emma L (from NYC), Emma R (San Jose, CA), Grace (Princeton NJ), Jenna (Philadelphia PA), Lea (Paris, France), Makayla (Charlotte NC), and Sage (Eugene, OR, and full of sage advice...). They are smart, diverse, feisty, teasing, assertive, full of good humor, and more importantly full of tips and good advice.

Different chapters cover different aspects of these changes, and they go into detail but are never too long or too detailed. The chapters are amusing, with observations 'penned in' by various girls in the bunk, and by some boys too. In chapters labeled for the week of camp, we get to learn of Puberty in general, of hygiene, breasts, menstruation (shouldn't that be 'womenstruation'?!), boys, health, and feelings - in short, completely comprehensive as it ought to be.

Be warned, this book is explicit, both in in the text and in Meg hunts colorful depictions. The book is presented as a 'hand-written' guide book to be passed from girl to girl (and to be chased-down mercilessly if the boys in bunk 8 ever get their hands on it!) But the boys did, so again, be warned, they added their own chapter about how boys change as well during this time. I thought this was a smart move on the part of the author, because girls need to understand this just as much as boys need to understand what girls are going through.

I don't have any daughters I'm sorry to report, unless you count two pet girl rats whom I adore. I wish I did have daughters, but I guess my brutal Y chromosomes viciously overpowered my gentile X's and Oh! I feel so dirty. But if I had had daughters I would have no problem handing this book to them once they reached the age of seven, eight, or nine, depending on their development and progress.

My view of this is that I and my wife would have covered a lot of this with said daughter(s) before they reached that age, not as lecture, or worse, a series of lectures, but as the simple act of honestly answering all her questions without evasion in age-appropriate 'sound bites' to keep her moving along.

If she's satisfied with the answer, you're done! If she has follow-up questions, tackle those head-on in the same way. It's the only sensible way to deal with this. Tell her what she needs to know, imbue in her the advice that not everyone wants to talk publicly about some of these things, so there's a time and a place, and a choice of friends and other people with whom these things can be discussed.

In this way, you teach her no shame, and she learns caution and wisdom, and you let her know that you're the source of trustworthy, straight-forward information, and she will readily come back for more answers when she's ready for them. Whatever approach you take, you'll have a lot better answers to give after reading this book! She may or may not have more questions, or she may prefer to share it with her friends and talk about things with them. Either way you've done your job (as long as you're sure her friends parents won't object to her sharing the book or what's in it!).

If I have a criticism of the book, it's not in the occasional use of an old song title for a section header (Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes on page 17 and Get Back later - although the song title was just Changes). Actually I'm not sure if that last one did refer to the Beatles song and it's not really important whether girls in this age range ever heard of the Beatles or David Bowie, because this book is for parents too! That criticism I reserve for Middle Grade or Young Adult authors who older than their intended reader, yet are too lazy to research the kind of music these girls would actually listen to, and instead make up some lame excuse that has their main characters addicted to precisely the same music the authors knows and likes. Yuk! That didn't happen here!

No, the one criticism I had was in the color scheme. Overall I really liked it - it was bright and sparkly and attention-grabbing, but I have to question, purely in terms of legibility, some of the color choices for some of the splash balloons. Light blue on light gray, and pink on light blue tend not to work!

Here's is where there is another major difference between men and women other than the pubertal changes and most obvious gender differences, ans it's one that's not well known. Women tend to see subtle shades of color better than men do. Evolution has given them better-tuned color receptors in their eyes. We have three types of receptors, and guess what? Two thirds of your color reception comes from the X chromosome! Guys only have one of these and if the color receptor genes are faulty, they're screwed! Women have a back-up on their second X chromosome, Men have no back-up X! This is why men tend to color blindness far more than do women!

In the light of this knowledge, I have to ask if these color schemes looked good to the author and the illustrator because they're women, but looked bad to me because I'm a guy?! It's definitely possible! In the case of the light blue text on light gray background I quite literally could not read it until I enlarged that balloon greatly. Then I could make it out, and the final insult hit me. It was advice specifically referring to dads! LOL! The one thing aimed directly at dads was not legible to them because we don't see shades as well as women! Was this done on purpose?! This was on page 24. Other such instances, although not quite as bad, were the note 'taped' to the bottom of page 35, light blue on pink, and also on page 84, pink on light blue. although this was, for me, easiest of the three to read. Note that this is in the ebook version, which is all we amateur reviewers get to see, so I can't speak for the print version. And I can only speak for myself of course, maybe my color vision is just muddy?!

On a note that has nothing to do with this but which is fascinating, I learned from recently reviewing a book about the human genome, that there are women who are tetrachromatic. There are not many, maybe 3% of women, but what a thrilling thing to have a fourth color channel! Assuming the brain can avail itself of the information! Dr Gabriele Jordan of Newcastle University in Northern England is actively investigating this phenomenon.

In conclusion, this book is in my opinion the perfect primer for young girls who are nearing puberty or who are already in it. I was impressed by how full of information it was. Obviously as a lifelong male, I haven't been through female puberty, so how do I judge it? For how inclusive it is, how diverse, how wide-ranging, and how intelligently it's presented. And how visually too: the text flooded the page without swamping it, and was very eye-catching and inventive.

I was, for example, pleased to see that when talk turned to one aspect of puberty - interest in the opposite sex - there was also repeated mention of interest in the same gender, which is what even hetero children can experience. The constant reassurance about this being normal and expected was wonderful. That and the endless good advice, the hints, tips, and revelations, and the honesty and humor all contributed to make this a super-special read. I advise parents to buy it, read it and give it to your daughter(s) - and sons because they need to wise-up too! I recommend it.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

Rating: WORTHY!

P345 has a tandem repeat in the footnote! A sentence fragment is duplicated! It’s a mutation! Now that there's spare DNA in the text, evolution can work on this without tampering with the original sentence! Clearly this sentence could evolve into something else! Keep an eye on it!

This book seems like it has a very ambitious title until you read the subtitle: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, and that's exactly what this is. It might be a bit technical for some, but I think in general it's written well, clearly, and it's easy to understand, with a nice line of humor running through it. There was the usual foreword, author's note, and introduction which seem to always lard books with somewhat academic leanings. I skipped all of these as I routinely do. These are antiquated forms not most wondrous and I do not wish them to unfold, not on my time. After those, it got interesting.

I loved the way the science-free creationists are given short-shrift and sent packing. In the natural order of things, these people are parasites. They do no science of their own. Their idea of science is to sit on their lazy asses and pick over the published papers of hard-working scientists.

No, actually, they don't even do that much; they simply scan the clueless media headlines, assume that those represent the actual science paper accurately, and run with it. This book warns against taking seriously those sensationalist headlines about 'the little gene that could', but creationists are as heedless to those caveats as they are to injunctions against jumping to conclusions, and to not telling lies about evolution.

They either claim that the reported science supports the creation position (without making any effort to demonstrate how this is so), or if they dislike it, no matter how solid and well-supported it is, they claim it's all lies, and hoaxes - done by the very same scientists they previously got through praising for supporting the creation position in a different paper! LOL! These people are hypocrites at best and idiots at worst.

Bu this book isn't about creationism, which is why it's given short-shrift. This book is about the genome, particularly where it's been, and even where it's going (which is somewhat harder to assess!), and how it all plays into making us who we are, with all our peculiarities, habits, and even our looks and thoughts.

I found some bits of the book a little tedious and some of them superfluous to my mind, but overall this topic fascinates me and I had an easy time reading this all the way through. There are some awesome revelations (at least they were to me!), some intriguing insights, and it's grounded in solid, rational, intelligent science throughout. For me that was the best part of it. Yes, I'm biased - and unashamedly so when it comes to science.

The chapters might feel a bit long, especially if this does seem technical to you, but they're well-worth making the effort. Around every corner is something to make you stop and think, and wonder, and marvel. Each chapter is dedicated to an aspect of the genome and how it plays out in real life (if we know that much about it - there are still mysteries to solve and maybe you or your children will solve them!), and to the most intriguing parts of it and how they work together - or how they fail and cause us problems.

This book isn't just about genetics though - it's about people primarily, and how we got to be who we are. How our genes make us work, or in some cases malfunction. How we're quite literally more or less related to all life, but especially to other humans, including extinct relatives such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, and how we're inextricably tied to all life via the evolution of the genome in assorted species that lead through time from the first cell to us and everything else alive today. As the well-known Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Christian, said, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution." He didn't add, but maybe should have, that the dark of creationism offers only nonsense.

Even as a science aficionado, this book answered questions I had not thought of asking, and questions I have thought about asking, but never got off my butt to do the answering - such as why are men more prone to color-blindness than women? The answer is simple, and you can probably figure it out with some little thought, but in case you never got there, like me, it's in this book along with lots of other answers.

The truly intriguing part though was what an adventure the human genome is - and no: don't believe popular political announcements of how it's been finally mapped. It's mapped in the same way that old world maps of the globe were - the basic overall geography is right (near enough) but the detail is still being filled in, especially when it comes to the detail of how it all works together and how the genes (and the relatively recently discovered epigenetic markers) work together or even dissonantly.

To me, rather than a map, it was more like one of those high resolution Internet images which sometimes appears on your screen, and at first it's highly pixelated so it looks blocky and blurry, but as you watch, new scan lines are added and the image slowly comes into sharper focus by stages. That's exactly where we're at with the genome! We have that initial chunky download and now we're in the first phase of those extra scan lines being added so the resolution is slowly becoming clearer, but we still have many more 'scan lines to add' before the picture is sharp enough for science be happy with. Meanwhile the creationists still remain as idle as they are clueless.

On the topic of the increasing resolution of genetics, I learned yet more information about how humans are not binary. I mean to open minds, it's obvious to begin with, but contrary to creationist claims of perfection, we are seriously messed up when it comes to genetics and reproduction. The majority of people end up with one X and either an X or a Y, but some do not. Some get an extra X or an extra Y or only one X and no Y. There are other combinations, too.

This was intriguing to me because I learned from this book that women don't use both X's. They use only one. The other one gets those epigenetic markers and becomes methylated! That doesn't mean the same as drunk or drugged-up; it means it's muted. What I had hoped to read is that when a person gets only one X and this causes problems is it because that lone X is muted so they effectively have no X? If so, can it be un-muted and will this fix the problem? Maybe we still have to discover that, and this is why genetics is such a big industry, and such an important and massive frontier for science. There is so much more to learn, and this book is a great primer on this new ocean of discovery into which we've just begun to dip our toes.

I recommend this with the slight caveat about regarding the overall formatting. I've noticed that academically-inclined books seem to be published largely by tree-hating organizations. I'm forced to this conclusion because of the vast amount of white space I see on every page. Clearly the aim here is to use as many pages as possible and this kills trees. And such academic books tend not to be printed on recycled paper.

Chapter one begins on page 28! When we reach it, at last I can say that it doesn't start halfway down the page, but it has wide margins on all four sides of the page and the lines are quite widely-spaced. I don't know what format the print book is in (judged by the lack of links in the text, this is clearly intended as a print book.

All we amateur reviewers ever get is the ebook, which isn't always a fair representation of the print version, especially if it comes formatted for reading in Amazon's crappy Kindle app which often mangles books. But the measurements I am about to report are taken directly from the iPad screen. Since I'm going to talk percentages, it doesn't really matter very much exactly how big the print book is.

Fortunately this one came in PDF format - which I preferentially read on a tablet after the phone fiasco, in an app called Blue Fire Reader, which is a decent reading app. I tried it in the same app on the phone, but since I do not have the genes for Falcon's eyes, the text was far too small for me to read comfortably unless you turn the phone in landscape mode when the text is legible, but then you have to try to navigate up and down the page, and because the phone is so twitchy to finger movement on the screen, if you swipe or pinch or spread at the wrong point, it can flip to the previous page or to the next page and you're lost, so it's a nuisance for phone reading.

On the iPad, the page is slightly over 19.5cm tall and 13cm wide. The left margin is 2cm, the right 1.75cm, the top margin 1.5cm, and the bottom 2.5cm - when there are no footnotes - and there were lots of footnotes which in my opinion for the most part could either have been either done away with altogether, or if deemed really necessary, incorporated into the text for a much more pleasant reading experience. Didn't that last observation make for a better reading experience with it being inline with the text rather than my sending you to the bottom of the page to read it? Just sayin'!

You may guess that I'm not a fan of footnotes at all. They're simply annoying - especially when they contain more text than does the actual page they're on, which means the footnote ridiculously goes over to the next page! I can't think of anything more stupid than that, and this is in an age of: electronics, URLs, ebooks!

Don't get me started on how appallingly short-sighted it is to continue to produce books in blinkered print mode when e-mode can be employed. For a publisher to think that those print versions can be simply moved to the e-version without a second thought is idiotic. Believe it or not, footnotes/chapter notes/end notes can all be links these days!

You can say you can't blame the author for this because these are publisher decisions, but authors can choose to go with a publisher which is more reverential of trees and is also interested in keeping up with modern times. Or they can choose to self-publish.

There are of course arguments to be made for dedicated ebook readers being wasteful of resources and pollution sources themselves, but you can read a few hundred if not a thousand books before you trade in or recycle your ebook reader. That's a lot of trees saved. That's especially true if you read them on your phone which also serves as your phone, your web browser, your camera, your alarm clock, your meeting tracker, and so on.

But I digress! So the page is 19.5 x 13cm which rounds down to 250cm². The text was 15.5cm x 9cm which rounds slightly up to 140cm². This means that forty-five percent of this page is white space! The margins could have been smaller and fewer pages employed in this book while still saying exactly the same thing! And this days nothing about adjusting line-spacing.

That does not mean I advocate cramming the text in and eliminating all white space, which would be a nightmare. I had to read a book rather like that once recently, and it wasn't pleasant, but just employing a little less white space will make a big difference in a 400-some page book.

Believe me, I know this. My novel Seasoning ran to 760 pages as originally formatted, but I brought this down three hundred pages by formatting it more wisely. That's almost half the original size! It also had the effect of making it cheaper for potential purchasers. I believe I can improve even on that next time I tinker with it, yet the novel will still look appealingly formatted. You only need the will to do this, and it's done. It's not rocket science; it's caring for the environment. That's all it requires. It's well worth thinking about.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs by Melanie Mühl, Diana von Kopp

Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Learn to See the Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits" this was a great book about how we see food both with our eyes and with our minds (it's not necessarily the same thing!). Even knowing as much as your average amateur can about how easily the mind can have the wool pulled over it, I was surprised by some of the revelations here. You may think you know how deceptive advertising can be, but what if the advertising is the food itself? What if we're already weakened and susceptible because everyone has to eat, and nature itself has predisposed us to give in to the very things which the six-hundred-billion dollar military-food complex is trying to foist upon us?

Just kidding about the military-food complex (although not about the six-hundred-billion dollars), but food is making an impressive assault on us, and it's showing on our waistlines. Maybe it should be referred to as the militating food complex?! The fact is that it's in our nature from when we were all hunter-gatherers to seek fats and sugars, and now they're so readily available to us, we have a hard time saying no. But it's not even that simple, because food sneaks in under the radar, and we can be manipulated so easily not just by it, but by those who are trying to purvey it to us.

The authors (journalist Melanie Mühl and psychologist Diana von Kopp) pull research and references from fields such as behavioral psychology, biology, neuroscience, and pop culture and make it available in short, pithy, topical chapters which make reading this so easy I got through it long before I expected to. They ask an assortment of questions and answer them: Why do we like certain foods so much? Is raw food healthier than cooked? Why do people overeat? And a lot more. They talk about real world studies and research and come up with some quite amazing trivia about our eating habits, which turns out to be not so trivial at all.

You may know that if you get a smaller plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you're likely to eat less than if you start with a larger plate, but did you know that if you sit facing the buffet, you're more likely to eat more than if you face away from it? Ot that if you get a red plate and tableware, you're likely to eat less as well? I guess that last one doesn't apply so much at Christmas, when we often see red plates, but over-eat anyway! But Christmas is of then the exception to many rules.

If you're interested in how humans behave, in food and diet, or are looking to maybe lose a couple of pounds and want to find ways to psych yourself into it, this is a great book to read. It's not a diet book by any means, but it does clue you in to both diet and weakness, and knowledge is a powerful weapon. Even as a book about food and perception, which is what this is, it was fun, interesting, surprising, engaging, and well-worth the read. I recommend it.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame: A Life of Louise Arner Boyd by Joanna Kafarowski

Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested this thinking it would be engrossing and entertaining, as well as educational, but I had too many issues with it to classify it as a worthy read. Some of the problems were with the formatting, but most were in the writing.

While on the one hand I can appreciate a story of a woman who flouted the accepted conventions of her day and organized her own voyages, this book didn't really focus on anything she discovered or opened up so much as it told a story of a spoiled rich girl spending her money on personal interests. It made her sound completely unappealing to me, and the science was not really well-represented. Indeed, it was well described by one observation about a passenger on one of Boyd's voyages, and one which was quoted without comment from the author: "I'll wager she will see more than any of your scientists with their noses to the ground." This rather sums up the scientific perspective of this entire book.

Yes, she collected botanical specimens, but she apparently did a poor job of that, at least to begin with, and yes, she photographed her travels extensively and also filmed some of it, which was new for the time period, but I did not get any sense from this book of Louise Boyd really achieving anything significant (other than being a woman doing things women were not well-known for back then - and there's a caveat to that, as I shall discuss shortly). On top of this she did things which to me personally were obnoxious, such as mass slaughtering of polar bears, which are a vulnerable species at high risk of becoming endangered today, as well as wantonly killing other animals. I know mind-sets were different back then, and I know that explorers were known for hunting to replenish rations, but the delight this author seems to take in describing the endless slaughter of Polar bears frankly made me sick.

I read at one point, "The Ribadavias were amazed by the courage Louise had displayed and the vigour with which she participated in hunting the polar bear. She may have been a sophisticated socialite, but she was no shrinking violet." Seriously? There really was no hunting. They would see some wild bear roaming the ice or swimming in the ocean, and stand there and shoot it. There was nothing difficult about it. Nothing heroic, nothing brave. It was cruel. The first bear she shot took three bullets to kill (assuming it actually was killed at that point) and then it was dragged back to the boat and hung up with a rope around its neck so this brave and intrepid explorer could have her picture taken next to the bear, its tongue lolling out of its slack mouth. It was disgusting. There was nothing heroic here, only that which was cowardly and shameful.

The relish with which these 'hunts' were described, and described repeatedly by this author, was honestly sickening. I read, "hunting parties were a favourite pastime" and "Louise and the Count and Countess were enlivened by the prospect of sport and more mighty polar bears fell to their guns" and "Miss Boyd returned with the pelts of twenty-nine polar bears, six of which she shot in one day." This is something to be proud of? Wantonly slaughtering 29 bears when one was far more than enough?

The only suffering the author describes is that of the people. I read at one point, "Every year, seal hunters ... get trapped in the ice. Some are able to free themselves, but many are lost. If the crew is able to free the ship, it is only after great effort and much terrible suffering." Yeah? Well you know, that's what they get for hunting seals! I have no sympathy for them. The animals suffered too.

Some of the writing seemed amateurish, such as when I read, "After the tragic death of her husband." All deaths are tragic! Even someone who dies on death row was a child at one point who might have had a different life (and death) from the one they ended with. It's tragic that they didn't, but it's also asinine to describe it as a 'tragic death'. 'Death' by itself is sufficient, or at least come up with a new adjective, instead of parroting the one every media outlet trots out mindlessly when describing a death.

Another thing which detracted strongly from Boyd's achievements, such as they were, was when it came to hiring people for the voyages. Everyone she hired was a man! The only women who came along - and those were few and far between - were the wives of the men who came along!

I understand that there were few women back then in the kinds of professions which were sought-after for these expeditions, but even when Boyd had a chance to hire one (a female botanist who wrote to Boyd and said she would be thrilled to join her on a future expedition), she went for a man instead. This hardly recommends her as a champion of female emancipation. Indeed, it makes her a hypocrite. I understand that the author had no influence over Boyd's choices by any means, but the fact that this author never even raised this as an issue is inexcusable.

The formatting of the book was as expected in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. In addition to text not being formatted as well as it ought, which I expect from Amazon, their crappy Kindle app literally shredded the pictures. I saw this on my phone, where I read most of this book, but I also checked it out on an iPad, and it was just as bad there, too, with the images fractured in the same way. The larger ones were sliced into several pieces and in some very odd shapes.

I have no idea what algorithm Amazon uses to do this but it needs to fix it. At least on the iPad I could enlarge the pictures. The same app on my phone, where the ability to enlarge pictures would have been far more useful, did not permit it. The picture captions were so poorly done that it was hard to separate them from the text of the book. I highly recommend not issuing books in Kindle format if you want the integrity of the book to be preserved.

Amazon is rolling in money and has had years to fix these issues,yet we still get garbage. The chapter index did not work: for example, you could not tap on a chapter in the contents, and go to the chapter, which made a contents list thoroughly pointless. The funny thing is that the link to the prologue worked. I tapped on it and it went to an index in the back of the book! LOL! it was a good thing too - I never read prologues! They're antiquated.

Why it should be the case in an ebook that links are non-existent or do not work, I don't know. I had the impression that this was written as a print book and no one really cared about the e-version of it, although as I said, this was an advance review copy so maybe these issues will all be fixed by the time it's published....

Overall, I cannot recommend this book as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it of one sort or another and it did the subject few favors. But then perhaps she deserves few.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Lido Girls by Allie Burns

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This novel was a delight. Rooted in real history, it takes a slightly whimsical and largely fictional turn, pursuing two women to the fictional English resort of St Darlestone, where they try to figure out what to do with their lives. Each has their own cross to bear and they each deal with it in different ways. You can read an interesting mini-biography of the real Prunella Stack here. It's as brief as the shorts these girls wore, but it moves just like the shorts: actively and with purpose! Prunella is a bit like the tornado in Wizard of Oz. She doesn't have a lot to do with the bulk of this story, but without her, the story would not have happened in the first place!

On the fictional side of things, Natalie Flacker seems a bit rebellious and lackadaisical to be a vice principal in a prestigious girls' school, but it seems she was sheltered by the principal. Now that her mentor is retiring die to ill-health, Natalie's future seems a bit uncertain. It becomes downright lost when she's photographed attending a women's physical fitness convention - and one which is frowned upon by the male-dominated society in which Natalie moves. She is soon out of a job, and for want of something better to do, she decides to summer at St Darlestone with her dearest friend Delphi.

Their prime goal is to secure useful employment, which might be a bit hard to come by since Natalie can't exactly ask for a glowing reference from her last employer. Delphi is game, but suffers from some sort of catatonia or fatigue, and is often invalided by it. Fortunately Delphi's brother Jack is at the resort, working at the Lido swimming pool where one of the summer highlights is a beauty pageant.

I know, I took a vow never to read another novel with a main character named Jack in it because it's the most over-used go-to name in the entire history of literature, and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of authors over-using the name, hence my vow, yet here I am reading one! In my own defense, I didn't know this one would be hi-Jack-ed until I started it. On top of that, a beauty pageant? Fortunately, that's not the most important thing going on here! There's a much better story being told of friendship and perseverance, and this made all the difference for me.

Natalie's life seems to be falling apart at the seams at first, with Delphi growing increasingly distant and her own hopes of employment seemingly limited, but she perseveres and makes friends and eventually manages to earn a decent living, but even as she does so and grows closer to Jack, Delphi seems to be growing ever further from her.

The best thing about this novel is that it was warm and sweet, and completely unpredictable; just when you thought it would go one way it went another and this was the main reason I enjoyed it so much because it did exactly what I love authors for doing: it wandered off the beaten track into new territory, and I was happy to follow because that made it so much more interesting. I have no time for cookie cutter novels with everyone jumping on the successful author's bandwagon and trying to clone her or his best seller. I much prefer authors who carve their own path, and this one did exactly that, and it was the better for it.

This was an advance review copy as I mentioned so there were some minor issues with it, which I imagine will be fixed before the finished version this the shelves (or whatever the e-version of shelves is!). At one point I read, "with curls as luscious as Ginger Rogers'..." This should have read "Rogers's" since her name isn't a plural! Another one was a minor pet peeve of mine: " the poisonous snake at her feet." Snakes tend not to be poisonous - you can eat one with no ill effect, but they can be venomous!

Since my blog is more about writing than anything else, I have to point out that there were some unintentional writing issues such as where I read, "...swimming alone might be a reckless thing to do, but the pull was too strong." I think that could have been better worded (the attraction was too strong, maybe), since 'the pull was too strong" might be conflated with an undertow or a riptide in the water. Again, it's a minor issue but these things are worth expending some thought on if you're all about your writing.

There were also some formatting issues as usual with the crappy Kindle App that Amazon uses. Sometimes the next line would not be indented, particularly if it was a single line, and at one point I read "The redhead was busy devouring..." but the word 'The' was on the next line, superimposed over the first word on that line! This has nothing to do with authorship or writing, just with Amazon having a substandard format for ebooks.

But these were minor issue and inconsequential given that the book itself was so good, so I fully recommend this as a worthy read.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mis(h)adra by Iasmin Omar Ata

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Based on her own experiences as someone who endures epilepsy, this graphic novel tells the story of Isaac, an Arab-American student struggling with trying to get a college education while coping with the disruptive effect of epilepsy in his life. He's not doing very well, but he has an underlying current of hope, which keeps him moving towards a brighter future - and not one that's made bright merely from a pre-seizure aura.

The story is intriguingly done through the use of visual metaphor (as well as in the text), and often in the very graphic form of scimitars all directed at poor Isaac. The despair and exhaustion he suffers from constantly being at risk of a seizure, and from his inability to get even his own father to believe him when he talks about his problem, is palpable in this story. It's almost despairing and exhausting to read it.

At times you want to shake him out of his lethargy and inertia, but at the same time you realize this is such a knee-jerk response that you want to slap yourself. It's at that crux that you realize how debilitating this is; it's not that Isaac is stupid, or lazy, or incompetent, it's that this illness has such a crippling hold on him that he's all-but paralyzed by it.

Most of us tend to associate seizures with flashing lights as depicted in the Michael Crichton novel The Andromeda Strain but this is an ignorant view which completely neglects the serious role that less specific preconditions such as tiredness and stress, inter alia, play in triggering a seizure - and the danger of harboring a narrow definition of 'seizure' is also brought to light. A friend of Isaac's lectures him about letting his friends help instead of shutting them out, and this straight-talk marks a turning point in his life.

This was a moving story, a fiction, but based on real truths, and it was illustrated with startling colors and bold depictions. I liked it and I recommend it, and I would definitely look for future novels from this author.

Future War by Robert H Latiff

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrighi

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

The Ghost Of Gaudí by El Torres, Jesús Alonso Iglesias

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dangerous Woman from Nowhere by Kris Radish

Rating: WARTY!

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

I was very disappointed in this book. A 'dangerous woman' Briar Logan was not, unless you count being in danger of putting me to sleep with endless flashbacks and rambling descriptions. She always sounded like she might be going to be dangerous, but she never was. Right at the point where she could prove herself to be dangerous, she gets hit on the head by one of the bad guys, and is invalided for some considerable time after that, so where exactly was the danger she posed? Maybe it popped up at the very end, but I gave up all hope of it and never made it that far.

Plus one of the main characters was named Jack. That's a huge no-no for me. I detest novels in which one of the main characters is named using the most over-used 'go-to-guy' name in the history of literature. If I'd known there was going to be a Jack in this novel I would honestly never have requested to read it on that basis alone, so tired am I of seeing the trope 'Jack' in any sort of action-adventure story.

The rambling parts would not have been bad had the story been a rambling kind of story. Had the woman been on a road trip or was 'finding herself' or something along those lines, the diversionary descriptions would have maybe felt more appropriate, but when the story starts out with a sense of urgency - Briar Logan's desperate need to follow her husband who's been kidnapped by desperadoes - and yet the entire tale lapses into a sedentary, drifting, teetering, slow-paced meander, it fails for me because the main character seemed more like she was out on a nature ramble than ever she was interested in pursuing her husband. I simply could not get into this story no matter how far I read, and the author didn't offer any help.

The wandering sentences were of the nature of: "Even with the seriousness of the mission, it is impossible to watch the dew slip from the tops of the trees and cascade through the canopy of leaves that are on the brink of turning into the bold colors of fall without thinking how beautiful it is this time of day and year."

And you know, even in those circumstances, had the descriptions been related to the pursuer's state of mind, they might have worked, but they felt like they had been lifted from a travelogue rather than from a story where this woman's mind should have been, if we were to believe her attachment to her husband, worried sick about him and providing her only with a tunnel vision getting to him as fast as she could. I did not feel form her any sense of worry or fear, or of losing hope or losing heart, or of desperation, or of anger, or anything associated with what she ought to have been feeling! Consequently, it rang false throughout.

There were also oddly contradictory passages. For instance, at one point, and during a section which I initially thought was a flashback because it seemed so out of place, Briar is talking about gleefully strangling chickens, and then right after that, I read, "...been determined to treat him, and all the animals on the ranch, with a kindness she has come to realize is deserved by every living creature."

This was so completely contradictory of what had gone only just before that it brought me right out of suspension of disbelief. That's not to say that people can't have conflicting views, but this one came totally out of left field and for no reason at all. There was nothing to trigger it, and it was one of many passages I read that that made me think the author was more focused on turning a phrase than ever she was in actually telling a realistic story.

It wasn't only rambling, florid descriptions which tripped up this tale; it seemed like everyone and their uncle had a flashback, and if they had one, then they had a dozen. Every time one popped-up, it robbed the story of momentum and immediacy. I soon began thinking that if this woman really doesn't care about reaching her husband any time soon, why should I care if she reaches him at all? I gave up on it about eighty percent in because it simply held no interest for me at all. I cannot recommend this one.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The ABC Animal Picnic by Janina Rossiter

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is an advance review copy. In honor of full disclosure, I should say that I while I am not a personal friend of the author's, I was asked by her if I would review this one, and I freely confess that I was happy to do so having had on balance, such a good experience with her books in the past.

It would be easy to favor this one for the sake of past positive perspective (get used to the alliteration - it's in the book!), but I honestly believe she would not appreciate it if I did so on that basis, and I certainly would not rate a book positively were it one I had not felt was worth reading. Fortunately for both of us, she made it very easy for me to not only really like this one, but to feel sure it was a worthy read in terms of educational value for children.

It was gorgeously-illustrated to begin with, which engendered positive feelings about it before I had begun really getting into it. The illustrations - by the author - truly are remarkable. I know a few graphic novel artists who could take a page of out Janina Rossiter's artbook! I wish I had her talent.

Whereas many children's artists are content to draw simplistic pictures, these line drawings of assorted animals, and they were very assorted, were very realistic. Usually you get only mammals in a book like this but while fish and amphibians were not present, the often neglected insects were represented, as well as one from the even more often neglected, yet crucially important Annelida phylum. We also got molluscs and even Cnidaria! Try saying that when you have an allergy going on! These drawings honestly would not have looked out of place in a Victorian-era natural history book, although they were rather more playful here, than you'd find in a book like that!

The book is aimed at helping children with their ABCs, so each four-word sentence alliterates on the key letter. The first, for example, is Andy Ant Adores Apples. I don't normally do this, but I'm going to give a huge spoiler here: the last letter is Z! There I did it! Can you guess which animal that is? I also loved the British spelling of Yoghurt, although I am sure she didn't put that in there for my benefit!

Each illustration is set in a brightly-colored background that looks like water-color, and it makes the image even more striking. There are commonly-known animals and much lesser-known ones which was appreciated, and they were not all tied to mammals, although those were prevalent. To be honest, I'm quite sure that one of them is mythical, although I am equally sure that many of us wish it were not!

So overall I am happy to rate this as a worthy read and recommend it: buy it for the educational value, Keep it for the artwork. If you can interest your kids in learning to draw like this, then you will definitely kit them out to have a career as a children's book illustrator, graphic novel artist or whatever they want! The sky isn't even the limit - and isn't that what we all want for our children?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Noble Vol 1 by Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson

Rating: WARTY!

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

While I was, on the one hand, pleased to see a graphic novel featuring people of color and a strong female character (Astrid Allen-Powell), I have to say I was really disappointed in this one because it adhered so closely to trope that it really offered nothing new to the genre. The men were magically muscular even if they had not been so before, and the women were absurdly sexualized. I keep hoping for graphic novel illustrators to get real and join the rest of us in the 21st century, but far too few of them seem to be interested in doing that and remain trapped in a perpetual and unhealthy adolescence.

In many ways this novel was reminiscent of the TV series, Extant starring Halle Berry, wherein people come back from space changed in odd ways. This graphic novel has nothing to do with aliens, however. In the end, it's your regular super hero novel, and in that regard it's very similar to the Fantastic Four (the 2005 movie) wherein four people out in space are affected by a phenomenon and given super powers. Here, five people go out into space to prevent an asteroid colliding with Earth, something happens, and at least one of them returns to Earth with powers.

Without wanting to give away spoilers, one problem for me was that the plot assumed everyone was using the same data regarding the asteroid, and this is never the case. There are too many different nations with a vested interest in their own safety for them to rely on one set of numbers without verifying them, so a 'plot twist' late in this volume did not work for me.

That said, there never was any justification for sending out people to tackle this problem in the first place. Missiles could presumably have done the same job - especially set in the future as this was. We already have drones and robots, yet far too few writers factor this into their scenarios. This novel offered no reason for people to go out there, other than that it was necessary for whatever the asteroid would do to wrangle a super hero transformation. It was a bit lacking.

The main character, David Powell, was affected by something, and has developed mental powers which can repulse and otherwise move objects and people, but he is having trouble controlling the power he has. Despite flashbacks which are annoying to me, especially in this story where they served little purpose other than to confuse the story, there is no explanation offered for how he came to be in this state, running loose, using false identities, and hunted by the Foresight Corporation (which seems to be inexplicably lacking policing by any government). All we're told about him is that the guy has lost his memory.

This for me was one of the major problems with this story: it was a confused and disjointed mess, with apparently random scenes tossed in. There were random flashbacks which made little sense and the whole story was in disarray. The flashbacks really did not contribute to the story whereas other flashback (if they must be included) that could have illuminated things were never offered. Everything seems to be under the control of the global Foresight Corporation. Its CEO is Lorena Payan and she is the villain here, but she makes for a pretty poor villain, being pretty and poorly developed. I could not take her seriously.

Overall I did not get any enjoyment out of this, nor any entertainment. It was not really clear at any point what was going on, and this made it boring. I cannot recommend this story.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Jot of Blood by Katherine Bayless

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Don't confuse this author's name with that of dancer Katherine Bailess!

If I'd really been paying attention and properly noted that this was the start of a series (The Coventry Years), I probably would not have requested to review it. I am not a fan of series. Once in a while one comes along that is worth pursuing and I had hoped this would be one, but in general series are very derivative, unimaginative, and often tediously and unnecessarily drawn-out, as this was. Plus it's in first person because, as you must know, it's quite illegal in North America to write a YA novel in any other voice....

I was initially curious about this though, which is why I requested it, but my curiosity was squelched at only five percent in, when I wanted to ditch this thing because of the tired YA clichés with which it was larded. By fifteen percent it was honestly nauseating me because I have read this same sad, stupefyingly simplistic story a score of times, and this author had brought nothing new to it.

It's like there is a certain category of YA author which is devoted to cloning every other YA author, and that's not for me. Maybe there are readers who like that kind of thing, but if there are, I feel bad for them for being in such a rut. I look for the authors who prefer the read less traveled, and who try to bring something original and unique to their audience. OTOH, if you want the same old, warmed-over fare you already were force-fed in the last YA novel you picked up, then this might be for you.

The cloning (such as using Vampire Academy's 'strigoi' liberally, for example), the trope, such as the incipient love triangle, the instadore in Lire's pathetic mooning over Cal, and the truly pathetic main character herself really turned me off. I made it to the end of chapter ten, which was 47% in, and could not bear the thought of reading any further, let alone going through a whole series of this.

It's supposed to be about upper high school kids, but it felt like reading a lower middle-grade story, because these people were so immature and petty. The main character - with the highly unlikely name of Clotilde Devon - goes by 'Lire' for reasons I never understood. The nickname is pronounced 'Leer'. I can understand that.

The Goodreads blurb read, in part, "Adolescence is hard enough, but add magic to the mix and things have a way of getting complicated in a hurry. Even at Coventry Academy, one of the best schools in the world for the magically inclined, some 'gifts' mean nothing but trouble." I didn't get how this was supposed to be the best school. There was nothing in the first fifty percent of the story to indicate that.

Quite the contrary; it seemed like any ordinary high school, but with far more bullying than any ordinary high school would have. The oddest thing though, was that it was so ordinary. Unlike at Hogwarts for example, there were no magical lessons taught here - not even how to control or use your particular skill. That seemed extraordinarily strange (and not Stephen Strange!) to me, so where the 'add magic to the mix' came in is a complete mystery. There was none practiced here.

One reviewer who reviewed this negatively said that "Cal wasn't a typical twilight werewolf", but he was. There was literally nothing new here at all. Cal is your typical trope werewolf and Zach is your typical standard-issue buddy (but more obnoxious). Let's call them what they are: Clone-Wolf and Yuk. Neither of them were remotely interesting except in how obnoxious they were, immediately and repeatedly calling Lire 'princess' for no apparent reason, and randomly tugging on her ponytail again and again for no apparent reason. Lire is such a passive, wet rag that she had can find absolutely no objection to this treatment whatsoever.

Of course Cal is obnoxious towards Lire so she immediately falls for him, and from that point onward, quite literally every other page has an observation from Lire on how muscular he is, how attractive he is, or how good he looks in this outfit or that, or how he couldn't possibly be interested in her. Oh my but how attractive is he? How muscular! How cut and ripped and [insert other destructive adjective perversely intended to indicate perfection] he is! Here's an example: "My heart fluttered, and I immediately wanted to kick myself for it. I wasn't a damsel in distress. I could take care of myself." No, she can't. She's proven this repeatedly by this point, so she's not even honest with herself. Maybe her nickname is really 'Liar'?

This is the asinine love triangle we're presented with, even though there's absolutely no reason whatsoever for Clone-Wolf and Yuk to pal up with her. Of course they do, not because it was going to naturally happen, but because the author insists that it has to happen no matter what.

The bullying in this school is so extreme as to be completely absurd If this had been a parody, it would have been funny, but as it his, quite literally everyone in the school (except for newcomers Clone and Yuk of course) detests Lire. I am not kidding you. She's a complete pariah and she lets us know this routinely, and in first person voice! Frankly, I would have shunned her because she was so nauseatingly whiny, Who cares if she's a clairvoyant? Shes actually more like a bifocal-voyant because she can only whine endlessly about her treatment, or drool endlessly over cal. That's it. That's her entire repertoire.

The Net Galley blurb tells us: "The contents of this book include one surly werewolf, a snarky invisible prankster, and enough indelicate language to make a succubus blush." Really? Indelicate language? No there's none, unless you class "fricking" as indelicate. In short, it's totally unrealistic, No kid in this entire school actually swears, which I took as more evidence that it was aimed at a middle-grade audience.

The writing is often as obnoxious as the characters. There's fat-shaming at merely 2% in: "He'd been three years older and a big fat jerk." Maybe that wasn't meant to be literal, but it was also entirely unnecessary. Lire is supposed to be attending an elite academy and this is the best she can to to express herself? That remedial English level of expression was common. Lire was obnoxious in coming up with an abusive name, on the spot, for anyone she did not like, often in the form of a truly juvenile Mr Mcfartypants (that wasn't one but it's of precisely the same mentality - again, it's middle-grade material). Lire even chortles at one point! No, I am not kidding.

The French! Periodically we got a French lesson with the French phrase followed immediately by the English translation (for example: "Bon, tu m'as compris. Alors, tiens, elles sont à toi." Good, you get me. So, here, they are yours). It was tedious, and especially so for those of us who understand enough French to get the sense of the phrase. Even those who do not, do not need it monotonously and literally spelled out every single time. There are better ways of handling this, and this author seriously needs to find them.

The writing was bad in other ways, such as when I read this: "Total invisibility, including their shadow." Seriously? There are different ways of being invisible, of course, but in a paranormal novel lie this, where it quite literally meant that the character was invisible, of course there's no shadow! How can there be a shadow when there's nothing to block the light? Clearly this concept was sorely lacking some thinking-through.

Another example of poor writing was this: "The car rocked as Dad executed a three-point U-turn. What the...frick (to employ an indelicate word from the book!) is a three-point U-turn? It's either a U-turn or it's a three point turn. It's not both.

Oh, and Lire's two paramours can move at super-speed. This is their secret power. She leaves the cafeteria shortly after they do, all-but sprints to her class, and they still get there before her, and early enough to cause trouble before she arrives. Again, it's not thought through.

This was the problem with this whole book when you get down to it. It could have had the makings of a good story but to get there from here, you'd need to make a 3 point U-turn - the three points being to ditch Lire, Clone, and Yuk. And lose the first person voice. Or give it to a character who would be worth listening to, and who was a whole lot less whiny. Amanda, for example. Now there was an interesting character although the author did a lousy job of giving her any rationale for her behavior.

As it is, this novel is not a worthy read and I cannot recommend it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Amanda Prose would work well as this author's name too, since this was well-written and flowed so nicely! It told an engaging story and told it well. I am not a fan of novels which carry too much unleavened negativity, but this one avoided that, despite the painful topic it dealt with.

Nina McCarrick is living 'high on the hog' as they say in the USA, in an almost palatial home with her self-employed husband, Finn, and her two fine sons: Connor and Declan, who attend an exclusive private school. She's made her profession that of a full-time housewife and homemaker.

When Finn dies in a car accident, Nina is left alone with the boys, and as if this isn't bad enough, soon her whole world begins to crumble around her as she learns that her husband has run-up eight million pounds in debt on a bad investment in a construction job that his business was trying to negotiate, but which fell through.

Nina had no idea they were stretched so thin, since she was kept entirely in the dark about his business. He always assured her things were fine. Worse than this, as if it could get any worse, their house was tied-up in the company's finances, having been mortgaged to raise funds, and they are going to have to leave. Everywhere she looks, things seem blacker. Their savings are gone, and men show up one day to strip her home of anything saleable. Connor only manages to retain his laptop because it's for his education.

Nina and her kids must leave their home and she cannot think of anywhere she can go. Her family is unable to help and her snotty neighbors do not want to know her any more. Her sister steps up and manages to find her a place that's owned by an uncle, but she still has to pay rent. She figures she has enough to get them though two months, but she desperately needs to find a job - one for which she has zero qualifications or training because she has not worked since she married. Her endless, fruitless job search is heartbreaking to read. It's sad to think that the civilized world end up this way if the Business President™ continues his current insanely reckless course!

The rental place is minuscule compared with what Nina's used to, and it's cold during this winter of Nina's profound discontent, but it's a home of a sort, and Nina is now back in her home town of Southampton, close by where her sister lives - and surprisingly simply compared with what Nina's old life provided.

This is a sister with whom she has barely been in touch over the years. Nina could not shed her background fast enough once she met Finn all those years ago, and she has not looked back since, but now she finds she is having her face rubbed in her failings every time she turns around.

This story follows Nina as she tries to hold not only herself together, but her family and her life. She has to weather some dark times, and deal with her older son's anger and despair at having his comfortable life taken from him so speedily and abruptly. She bounces unpredictably between anger at her husband's betrayal and secrecy, and her pain at losing him, between fear for their future and hope that things will turn around.

I really appreciated that this author is smart enough to make this story about Nina and her strength,golden goose and rescue her from the dragon of disaster that seems constantly looming over her. I really liked this story, it was a fast comfortable read, and had interesting and engaging characters. It was realistic and enjoyable, and I recommend it. I shall look for other novels by this author.