Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Friday, September 22, 2017

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

Jane Austen is batting a .6 with me at this stage. I really liked Pride and Prejudice, not so much Emma or Sense and Sensibility, but then I enjoyed Lady Susan and I loved Northanger Abbey! What a lot of people do not seem to get about this novel is that Jane wrote it when she was just 28, and still very much a playful youngster in many ways. It was her first real novel that we know of, but it was put aside as she worked on others. Though she began re-writing it later in life when she was more than a decade older, she died before she could finish it.

The story revolves around Catherine Morland, in her late teens, and fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Bath (evidently one of Austen's favorite locales) by the Allen family. It's there that she meets two men, the thoroughly detestable James Thorpe, and the delightful Henry Tilney. While Thorpe pursues the naïvely oblivious Catherine, she finds herself very interested in Henry and his sister Eleanor.

In parallel, James has a sister Isabella. They are the children of Mrs Allen's school friend Mrs Thorpe, and Catherine feels quite happy to be befriended by Isabella who seems to be interested in Catherine's brother John - that is until she discovers he has no money when she, like Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility, transfers her affection to the older brother - in this case, of Henry Tilney. Captain Tilney, not to be confused with his father, General Tilney, is only interested in bedding Isabella, who is in the final analysis every bit the ingénue that Catherine is. Once he's had his wicked way with the girl, she is of no further interest to him whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Catherine manages to get an invitation to Northanger, the Tilney residence. Catherine is a huge fan of Gothic novels, and Ann Radcliffe's potboiler, The Mysteries of Udolpho is mentioned often. Arriving at Northanger, she is expecting a haunted castle with secret passages, but everything turns out to be mundane - the locked chest contains nothing more exciting than a shopping list, and General Tilney did not murder his wife.

Henry Tilney is a lot less miffed with Catherine in the book than he was depicted as being in the 2007 movie starring the exquisite Felicity Jones and the exemplary JJ Feild, but as also in the movie, the novel depicts a lighter, happier time with General Tilney absent, but when he returns, he makes Eleanor kick Catherine out the next morning to travel home the seventy miles alone, which was shocking and even scandalous for the time, but by this time Catherine has matured enough that she's equal to the burden.

It turns out that the thoroughly James Thorpe (much roe so in the novel than in the movie), who had been unreasonably assuming Catherine would marry him, only to be set straight by her, has lied to General Tilney about her, and whereas the latter had been led initially to believe that she was all-but an heiress, he now believes her to be pretty much a pauper and a liar.

Henry bless him, defies his father and makes sure that Catherine knows (as does Darcy with Lizzie!), that his affections have not changed which (as was the case with Lizzie). This pleases Catherine immensely. Despite initially cutting-off his son, General Tilney later relents, especially when he realizes that Catherine has been misrepresented by Thorpe.

There are a lot of parallels in this book with the later-written Pride and Prejudice. You can see them in the dissolute soldier (Captain Tiney v. Wickham), the rich suitor (Tilney v Darcy), the break and remake between the two lovers, the frivolous young girls (Isabella v. Lydia) and so on. Maybe Northanger Abbey is, in a way, a dry-run for the later and better loved novel, but I think that Northanger Abbey stands on its own. I liked it because it seems to reveal a younger and more delightfully playful author than do her later works. I dearly wish there had been more novels from Austen from this era. She could have shown today's YA authors a thing or two, but I shall be content with this on treasure.


Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, John Green


Rating: WORTHY!

There seem to be an awful lot of reviewers (even positive ones) who simply didn't get this book. It was a parody, and on top of that, it was gorgeously illustrated and on top of that, it was funny.

The stories were off the wall, but were also played for serious effect even as humor came squeezing through at every tack. Frankly, this is something and I might have launched in all seriousness to get my kids going and make them think their dad is really losing it - as they accuse me of so often (especially after I released Baker Street), but these guys (Dave Roman writer, John Green - not the John Green who makes me barf - artist) actually produced it. It's about this teenage guy who can turn into a boat! It was pretty funny, and consistently so through every story.

This foreign exchange student comes to the school and her name is Nina Pinta Santa Maria. Teen Boat (his actual name) falls for her, but she only has eyes for the school jock, who is a jerk of course. Teen has a best friend, a girl named Joey, whom he takes completely for granted. He is so oblivious of her that it's truly funny rather than annoying, although it does make me wonder why she puts up with him.

But then Joey has a secret of her own which isn't revealed in this volume. One of my sons, who seems to have inherited my wife's power to divine these things long before I ever do, thinks she's secretly an iceberg, and I'm on board with that. She's definitely a cool character.

Teen Boat runs for class president, falls in love with a Gondola, crashes into a gas tanker on his driving test, and has a run in with pirates, and therein a sequel lies! One which I shall track down ASAP and hopefully find it on sail..... If not, I may well end-up on the dock before the judge and be propelled with a stern warning into the brig for failing to bow! If looks could keel!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Erratum: "A had on Xander's knee" about 79% in should read, I think, "A Hand on Xander's knee".

This was one of the most engaging and beautifully-written novels I've ever read. I was sucked in from the start and swept along with it effortlessly. There were times that I hated to have to stop reading to get back to real life because this was more interesting! But you know it was better that way because this novel was such a tease in so many ways that by denying myself the chance to read it all in one go, I felt I shared a little something with the two main characters.

Skylar Stone is the proverbial 'born with a silver spoon in his mouth' (except that it's more complex than that), and that spoon was a very cold and uncomfortable one. Nevertheless he pressed on in life and was doing well, being both extremely popular and much sought-after as an escort to various functions by campus coeds, but he's living solely to please his father, the chill, efficient, lawyer who wants Skylar, essentially, to become a clone of him, and join his law firm - after he gets accepted to Yale Law college and graduates, of course. Therein lies the problem, because Skylar isn't scoring well on his LSAT test papers and is being tutored with little good result. His heart just isn't in it, but he's in denial about that so desperate is he to keep his father happy.

The aptly-named Xander Fairchild, on the other hand, or more accurately, on the same hand, since he's also alienated from his parents but for different reasons, is almost the polar opposite of Skylar, because he is the eponymous recluse, cantankerous and unaccommodating. He wants to do the bare minimum when it comes to interacting with others, but he has to put on an art show to graduate. The two meet almost accidentally but not quite and slowly, both come to realize they both need each other to finish their senior year projects.

This need, at first purely utilitarian, and at first resented intensely and predictably by Xander, develops into something much more personal over time as they discover that there is something more going on here than helping each other out. They're also each helping to meet a need in the other, and it;s one that one of them resented and the other barely recognized he had.

This romance comes about as the most teasing and taunting of slow-burns, and it's a real pleasure to read because you're never quite sure what will happen next. I could list more than a few YA writers who need to read this and learn from it about how real relationships begin, develop, and grow to fruition.

Note that while this author likes happy endings, she certainly doesn't like ones loaded with sugar, so if you've been getting force-fed a debilitating diet of too much sugar and fat with your reads lately, this healthy nutritional blend of wholesome writing and fiber-filled characters should please you immensely. It did me. I recommend it unreservedly. I will be looking for more novels by this author (and secretly hoping she might be contemplating writing one about one of the characters featured in this one: Zelda! I just know they have a story to tell!).


Friday, September 15, 2017

Emma by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

Emma Woodhouse is a meddling little bitch. I did not like her. This is the second Austen novel where I feel the screen writer (Douglas McGrath) did a better job than did Austen in presenting this story. The 1996 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow was enjoyable because of that screenplay, but also because of Paltrow's portrayal, which was every bit as exquisite as Jennifer Ehle's 1995 portrayal of Lizzie Bennet in the definitive TV series Pride and Prejudice. This novel was short of that by a long chalk, particularly since the book itself was way too long. Austen needed an editor. I can't help but wonder how many trees have died over the years to keep this book in print. Was it worth those deaths?

Emma claims false credit for getting Miss Taylor and Mr Weston together as the novel begins. She wants all the kudos for it, but they would more than likely have got together anyway, with or without her help. The village was small, so it's not like they would never have met, but this isn't the problem. The problem is that, smug with her 'success', Emma then scouts around for her next project and lights upon poor Harriet Smith. Harriet has her sights on a farmer by the name of Richard Martin, but Emma considers him to be of the yeomanry, and mistakenly elevates Harriet to the gentry in her blinkered vision of Harriet's blighted future.

It was all about snobbery and class back then, and being trapped in one's station. It is shamefully like that today in many ways, but back then it was a rigid code, with penalties for falling afoul of it. Emma is of the highest station - a big fish in a small pond - and her thirty thousand pounds makes Fitzwilliam Darcy look impoverished. Of course, his income was yearly, and Emma's was a one-time settlement, but it was nevertheless all hers from the outset. That amount today would be over two million pounds or over three million dollars. And what did Emma do with it? She occasionally took a basket to the Bates's? What a charity she was!

Everyone who is even mildly interested knows how this story goes. Emma talks Harriet out of marrying Martin, but in the end, she does anyway. Emma tries to palm her off on Elton and then when she thinks that Harriet has set her sights on George Knightley, she becomes peevish. She runs into criticism from Knightley for her meddling, and particularly for her insulting treatment of Miss Bates. In the end, Knightley and Woodhouse form a more perfect union. They were a good match because although Knightley sends the Bates's apples, he really isn't any more giving than is Emma when it comes to charitable works. Neither of them actually does a lick of work, and though Emma is kind to her father, who is a whiny pain in the ass and far more objectionable than ever the talkative Miss Bates is, she could do a lot better with her money and her endless free time.

The characters would have been fine for a work of fiction if the story had not been so rambling and tediously long. I recommend watching the movie, and skipping the book.


Normal by Warren Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mind Games by Kiersten White


Rating: WARTY!

I made it through only two chapters of this. I picked it up from the library based indirectly on the recommendation of a Goodreads 'friend'. It's not the book that was recommended, but it is by the same author, so I thought I'd get a preview of her work.

This book was dual first person, which means that it's twice as bad as a regular first person voice book, and both voices: the psychic girl and her blind younger sister who is held in captive, thereby keeping her older sister in servitude, sounded both the same, and neither was remotely interesting.

I simply did not care what they were about or what would happen to them, and so I ditched it. Life is far too short to waste on a poorly written series, or an idiotic YA trilogy, or on any single book which doesn't grip you from the off, when there is so much else to read, all different (hopefully) and amongst which are undoubtedly some gems to treasure!


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.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Bunny Drop Vo 2 by Yumi Unita


Rating: WORTHY!

How could I not pick this up at the library when the author's name might sound like 'yummy' and the title is Bunny Drop? It could have been bad, but in the end, although a little bit on the long side (and this was volume 2 in a series), it was an enjoyable read. I have not read volume one but I think I will try to get hold of that.

In volume one, Daikichi Kawachi finds himself the guardian of a six-year-old girl, Rin Kaga, who was living with his grandfather until the old man died. Rin (who has his grandfather's last name) was given up by her mother, and raised by Daikichi's grandfather and a helper who worked for him. Now Daikichi is the 'dad'.

This volume follows their life as Rin becomes ready to start elementary school, and it gives us quite an education on the pressure put on students and parents in Japan, as they have to compete to get into a good elementary school to kick-off their education, and Daikichi has to worry about whether Rin will be victimized because she does not bear the same family name as he has.

The story also works its way towards an interesting encounter with Rin's actual mom, who has her own story to tell which sounds like rather a selfish one to me.

It's amusingly and sensitively written, and beautifully-drawn (black and white line-drawings with some shading), and tells an engaging story, but I think it is a bit overdrawn - not in the art, but in the telling. I think a few trees would have appreciated this if it had been more compact. I sure would, but I am not going to negatively rate it for that. I just hope publishers and authors start to think about the impact of their work on the environment before they start writing their series, and especially their YA trilogy clones that could be told in one volume or better yet, not at all.

As for this, I recommend it.


One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"I didn't want to your friend..." To be or not to be?! That is the question! I think it should have been "to be your friend."

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

I really wanted to like this book but I could not. It was so negatively-written and it went on and on for so very long, with an unremitting aura of sadness and defeat about it, that I do not think it appropriate for the middle-grade audience for which it appears to have been written. It seems more like a young-adult novel, but it's not a good recommendation even for that group. I think if it had been about half- or two-thirds the length, and had some upbeats added here and there to leaven a dour, unremitting funereal drumbeat of poison and tragedy, it would have been much improved. As it was, it made the 1998 movie Heathers look like a Care Bears story, and that is really too much.

There were two main characters: Annie and Elsie, and there was very little to like about either of them. Annie was glommed onto by Elsie when she changed her school. Elsie is thoroughly unlikable from start to finish and her behavior seems to make little sense at times. Se literally had no saving graces whatsoever.

We get hints here and there of a sad past, but this is never shared with the reader, which I think was a mistake since it left us with no choice but to assume that Elsie was simply a liar on top of all her other defects, but even had it been true, and even had it been a thoroughly tragic past, it would have failed to make her any more likable because she was more caricature than character.

Annie was a different kettle of go-fish and was portrayed as the victim (and not in a good way) throughout this whole story. She never learned anything, never changed, never grew, and never improved. She did not make things happen; she had things happen to her and did not even react to them except to let them carry her away in the Elsie tide, and she never even tried to swim against the current. Such a helpless maiden-in-distress was she that she had to be rescued in the end in a way which was telegraphed from way ahead of the event. She was such a limp worthless character that it was impossible to like her either.

The story is one of relentless bullying, brutality and cruelty, and all of this is from the hands of these young girls, who seem wholly out of character for the era in which they are depicted. Rosie and her allies detest Elsie, and it's not unjustified. They start hating Annie because Elsie has 'captured' her first, but when Annie sees how awful Elsie is, she sides with the other girls, and rightly so. I'm sorry, but it's impossible to feel any sort of sympathy for Elsie.

The sad thing is that despite all this abuse going on, not one single adult ever steps up to enforce discipline, not even Annie's parents. The adults are so bland and vaguely constructed that there is no difference between any of them and for all they contribute, they could have been dispensed with completely and the story would have remained largely unchanged.

What happens is that, since this is set in the 1918-1919 era of the flu pandemic, Elsie dies, and comes back to haunt Annie, making her do vengeful things which eventually land her in a home that is one step shy of an asylum. Elsie follows her there, making her situation worse, but no matter what Annie does, Elie's behavior never changes. It makes no sense! Not that Annie really does anything save whine about her lot in life, and since this is written in first person, it makes for a very tedious read. I kept on reading in hopes of a turn-around or at least an improvement, but there was none to be found here.

Annie is a completely unmotivated character who is blown about in Elsie's wind. At the risk of a spoiler, she is not the only one affected by Elsie, but we learn of this only in a passing sentence or two at the end. I think the story would have been immeasurably improved if the other stories had been told, but this monotonous focus on Annie and Elsie, which essentially goes nowhere for three hundred pages, is too much. Everything is resolved in the end, but there is no build up to it. It takes place literally in the space of a half-dozen pages at the end and so is rather abrupt. perhaps the author herself grew tired of how this was dragging itself out?

There was a good story to be told here, but we did no get it. The author found the root of this story in something her own mother, who lived through the pandemic, told her about how she and some friends would 'pay their respects' at wakes (which were held in family homes back then) so they could grab some free drinks and food, but they were scared out of this behavior when they attended one at which they soon learned that the deceased's body was that of a schoolmate of theirs: a girl they did not know had died. There is a different, interesting story right there to tell, but again that's not the one we got.

Everything is spaced out in this book, including the text and margins. If the margins had been smaller, and the lines of print slightly closer together the book could have been maybe fifty or more pages shorter and a few trees saved. Again, that's not what we got. Once more I have to beg a publisher to consider what they are doing to the trees when they format a book as liberally as this. There are better ways. In an ebook, which is what I got for this review, there are no trees harmed, of course, but a longer book still takes more transmission time over the Internet and that requires the use of more energy, so again, a longer book is less kind to the environment.

I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this read.






Saturday, September 2, 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

I think this is the best of Austen's efforts, and I recommend it.

Gutenberg has a free ebook of this novel. This is my second time through it, but this time it was by means of an audiobook I got from my trusty local library. I was less pleased listening to someone else read it, and I confess a bit surprised by how much prose there was between conversations. When one thinks of Austen one thinks of amusing observations and retorts, but sometimes I think I've been spoiled by seeing excellent TV productions of these stories. Austen does include a lot of (sometimes tedious) exposition, but it can also be amusing.

Mrs Bennet is perennially trying to find husbands for her five daughters, from oldest to youngest: Jane, Elizabeth (Lizzie), Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia. The story is special in that it is 200 years old and so is quite different from modern novels in outlook, and different again from American novels since it's British. It is an historical novel written contemporarily and therefore is as authentic as it gets! A lot of modern writers, especially in the YA field, could learn a lot from reading it - and internalizing the lessons here. 'Tis a pity that more do not.

I have to reiterate that Austen fanatics tend to forget what a life of privilege most characters in her stories lead. They are rich even though they often plead poverty (Bennets, I'm looking at you!). They are spoiled by having servants run around after them. They live in better homes than most people have even today, and they lead a life of the idle rich. In short, it's snobbery and privilege, and we're supposed to overlook all of that and enjoy the romance!

For me the romance is soiled by the grotesque inequality and entitlement. Would not Fitzwilliam Darcy have been that much more heroic had he been shown to do far more for the impoverished and needy than ever he was inclined to do here? Yes, he rescued Lizzie's family from the scandal brought on it by Wickham, but he did it for selfish reasons. He would have been more heroic had he challenged Wickham to a duel after the SoB tried to seduce his sister, and shot the jerk. His behavior seems almost cowardly here, and Wickham never does get a come-uppance.

That said, I did enjoy this story as it was, for what it was and for when it was (quite literally) penned. Austen often has a (perhaps unintentional) turn of humor that I find delightful, as in chapter 17 where she has Jane and Elizabeth secretly discussing Wickham's revelations regarding Darcy, from which they're disturbed by Bingley's arrival with an invitation to the ball which he had promised Lydia he should hold:

The two young ladies were summoned from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking;
Austen seems overly enamored of shrubbery in this story!

Austen also seems inconsistent in how she uses the indefinite article before an aspirate. She writes 'a husband', but 'an hope'. This may be less interesting to others than it is to me, because to me it's yet another reason to take interest in more antiquated writing styles, especially when found in the form of fiction. This antiquity of style is one of the charms of such novels. I almost end up feeling as though I'm a better person, and certainly I feel that I'm better equipped as a writer for having an acquaintanceship with such work.

The novel suggests a closer friendship between Jane and Bingley's two sisters than either the 1995 movie or the 2005 movie would have you believe. The novel also indicates that Elizabeth's first two dances with Collins were much more embarrassing than they were depicted as being in the 1995 movie ('mortification' is the term Austen uses, followed by 'ecstasy' as the dances are over and Elizabeth is released!). The 2005 movie shows no problem there at all.

This novel was not originally intended to have the title 'Pride and Prejudice', it was to have been titled 'First Impressions', but two other works with that title had been published quite recently as Austen was revising her work, so she changed it to what is in my opinion a far better title. It's hard to see this novel under it's original name!

one of the reasons I enjoy this novel is that I am familiar with many of the places mentioned, not only from having been there but also from having lived here! On her trip with the Gardiners to Derbyshire, a county in which I was born and raised Mrs Gardiner's home village of Lambton is mentioned. There is at least two Lambtons in England but neither is in Derbyshire.

One of them is famous for being the home of the Lambton Worm, an ancient legend from which Bram Stoker took his inspiration for his The Lair of the White Worm. Wikipedia informs us that the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy was modeled on Chatsworth House, a beautiful place not far from my home town. It was this very house which was used (for exteriors only) in the 2005 movie.

Austen also has Lizzie refer to other places with which I'm very familiar: Dovedale to which I've also been several times, the Peak District, and finally, my own home town, Matlock (yes, just like the TV show, but we had it first!) which is part of the Peak District.

I think of the two movies, the better one for this portion is the 2005 version, even though it strays way beyond the bounds of canon. In it, a scene was added where Lizzie is looking at some truly amazing sculptures, one of which is a bust of Darcy. Yes, Virginia, men had busts back then, and proud of them they were, too! A non-canonical scene was also added where Lizzie is attracted by some beautiful piano-playing and finds herself watching Georgiana, without knowing who she is. Darcy suddenly walks into he scene and hugs her. He sees Lizzie, who runs, evidently thinking this is Darcy's girlfriend!

There is no scene where Darcy takes a swim in this book, FYI! And there was far more detail than ever I was interested in hearing at the end of this novel, so while I still recommend reading this or another of Austen's works for their authentic period detail, and for Austen's occasional humorous and charming turn of phrases, I have to say that I'm not overwhelmed by her overall talent as a writer. But, overall, I'm quite prepared to declare it a worthy read!


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Rating: WARTY!

In which Emma Thompson proves to be a better writer than Jane Austen!

I was disappointed in this. Donada Peters reading voice did not help, but it was the story itself which did not hold my interest.

When Henry Dashwood dies, Norland Park devolves upon his son John, meaning that his new wife, and their three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, are homeless. Henry had requested that John would take care of his second wife and their family, but he and his wife Fanny soon talk themselves out of giving them anything worth the name.

Fortunately, Elinor's frantic letter-writing campaign scores them a nice home: Barton Cottage, although ti is significant come-down from Norland, it is still a better home than most people can have even today! It's close by the coast in Devonshire, and is loaned to them by their cousin, Sir John Middleton, who with his wife, prove to be jovial, slightly meddlesome, but good-hearted benefactors.

Austen fanatics tend to forget what a life of privilege most characters in her stories lead. They are rich even though they often plead poverty. They are spoiled by having servants run around after them. They live in better homes than most people have even today, and they lead a life of the idle rich. In short, it's snobbery and privilege, and we're supposed to overlook all of that and enjoy the romance! For me the romance is soiled by the grotesque inequality and entitlement.

The Dashwood family is invited to dine with the Middletons often. Through this acquaintanceship, they meet the solid Colonel Brandon, who develops a soft spot for Marianne though she is literally half his age, but her incipient affections are soon lost to Brandon when John Willoughby, a rake and a cad, and dash it all, a bounder, I tell you!, comes into her life, the raffish hero after her sprained ankle.

The couple's conduct is barely this side of scandalous, and the two elder females in the Dashwood household soon suspect that there is a secret engagement in play until Willoughby is forced to leave the district suddenly, and from that point on seems to have forgotten Marianne's very existence.

Into Elinor's life comes Edward Ferrars, bound, it would seem, for the church. She develops a friendship and feelings for him only to have those dashed when Anne and Lucy Steele, cousins of Lady Middleton, arrive, and Lucy confides in Elinor of a secret engagement to Edward. Once again, hopes are dashed (come on, it's about the Dashwoods! what did you expect?) and the man disappears from the woman's life.

On a trip to London, Marianne improperly begins importuning Willoughy with a series of letters, but he ignores all her missives until finally he sends her a curt note returning her lock of hair. An accidental meeting at a ball reveals why: he is engaged to be married to a woman of wealth and substance. He took money over love. As is the wont in these stories, this is all it takes for Marianne to become deathly ill! Clearly the rejection virus has taken her by storm. Cytokine storm no doubt!

The redoubtable Brandon once again mans-up to expose Willoughby's unsavory character (his aunt has disinherited him after the discovery that he had impregnated and then abandoned Miss Williams, Brandon's teen ward). Meanwhile, the idiot Edward will not break-off his engagement to Lucy Steel even under threat of disinheritance and is consequently disinherited. His brother Robert takes his money and his fiancee, and so Edward is left free to be with Elinor. Marianne conveniently falls in love with Brandon, and all is well.

Yeah, it was like that. I think this one is the worst of Austen's efforts, so I cannot recommend it.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sayonara, Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi


Rating: WARTY!

The original Japanese of this book was translated into English by Michael Emmerich, but frankly and honestly, for all the sense it made to me, I may as well have gone with the original language because I got nothing out of it that I could not have got from simply staring at the (to me) incomprehensible Japanese symbols. Actually, I would have been better off! At least the Japanese characters would have been beautiful to look at!

The book provided absolutely no hook, door, access, or invitation whatsoever to get into this story and I'm guessing that's because there was no story. It's like walking through an art gallery which displays only bad paintings, all by different artists, on different subjects and in different styles and periods, and trying to make a coherent story out of them (and by that I mean something other than a history of bad art!). The paintings have no connection whatsoever other than that they're all paintings. Well this was all sentences, but the words had no connection. It was pretentious nonsensical garbage and I ditched it in short order. If this review clues others into the way the wind is blowing, and helps you avoid mining something so unseemly, then the warning from the weather vane to avoid this vein will not have been in vain!


Shopgirl by Steve Martin


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 27, 2017

But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was a complete fail for me. It was not even a hot mess - it was a cold and poorly congealed mess which had no plot. The blurb tells us that "Eden is the only person who can get through to Jasmine, but is she brave enough to face a world that’s bigger and more magical than she ever would have allowed?"

I hate blurbs that ask the question which everyone in the entire universe, even non-sentient species, already knows the answer to: will she succeed in reclaiming her love? Of course she will. Will he get his man? Of course he will. Can the kid escape the evil villain's clutches? Of course the kid can. Why ask such dumb questions? Publishers in general just don't seem to get it: they continue to insult potential readers with lousy covers that have nothing to do with the story and with dumb questions in the blurbs. The flowers were not even roses. Publishers need to insist that the cover designer actually reads the freaking book before they start work. Please, publishers: treat us with some respect. We do not have to read your book. There are literally millions out there to read, so please be honest about the book, use a cover that actually has something to do with the story, and don't ask ridiculously juvenile questions in the blurb. It's tiresome, and we deserve better than that.

Questions like that tell me that whoever wrote the blurb thinks that potential readers of this story are gullible at best, and complete dumb-asses at worst. This is the very last book I shall ever request that has such a question in the blurb; I don't care how attractive a read it sounds. I shall avoid such books on pure principle in future, but funnily enough, that wasn't even the biggest problem with this blurb!

This book is the second in a loosely-connected series. I did not know this at the time I requested it, otherwise I would have bypassed it completely. I am not a series fan, but fortunately this read as a stand-alone. The only reason I went against my better judgment and requested it is that I discounted the "Hey dumb-ass listen to this!" blurb because I thought there would be a worthwhile underlying story: 17-year-old Eden Jones, herself fresh out of a short coma, is the only hope of reaching Jasmine, aka Jaz, aka Vasquez, as Eden names her, after the kick-ass woman in the Aliens movie.

I though it would make for a great story to have one ex-coma victim trying to reach another even if there were some supernatural elements, but the author all-but completely abandoned that idea in the pointless pursuit of yet another juvenile YA absurdist "love" story. Eden could have been such a strong character, but instead of that we got, once again, a female author of a YA story turning her lead female into a limp wet rag of a love-struck juvenile chasing Joe, Jasmin's best friend, like a bitch in heat. I've seen this exact same story a score of times before and it always makes me nauseous and it make me ditch the novel immediately as I did this one. Can YA authors not find anything original to say? If not, quit writing.

The saddest thing about this is that no one actually cared about Jasmin, a character who had been built up in Eden's mind at least, to be heroic, bad-ass, and worth learning more about. The more we learned about her the more interested I became, but Eden and Joe abandoned her in short order, so they could flirt and kiss, and smoke cigarettes. Yeah. Smoking In a YA novel. Smoking is bad for you and for those around you, and I know people do it in real life, but that does not mean that we, as writers, need to give it cachet.

And while all this was going on, Jasmin was about to have the plug pulled on her, yet nowhere do we see any sense or compassion or urgency from Eden or worse, from Joe. They came across as shallow and selfish. He refuses to let them pull the plug, but he seems completely unmotivated when it comes to even exploring, let alone finding a way out of this for Jasmin. She was completely subjugated to their own juvenile "romance".

At that point I began skimming the book to see if the blurb had lied completely and it pretty much had. It was once again bait and switch, because I skimmed a whole bunch more pages after the halfway point, and all the two of them did was talk about contacting Jasmin, visit a psychic, smoke cigarettes, and flirt and kiss. No. Just no. These people were boring and simply not worth reading about. There was nothing new here, nothing different, nothing worth pursuing. I cannot recommend it.


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

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

Other than the language being rather too modern, there was nothing overtly wrong with the technical writing of this story other than the usual issues with Amazon's crappy Kindle app mangling the formatting. Publishers need to quit using Kindle format and go with Nook format or with PDF. I detest Microsoft but even Word format is better than Kindle.

My problem with it was the introduction of a farcical and completely fictional relationship with a slave. That sounds racist on the face of it and I certainly do not feel qualified to compete with the President on that score, but this story was set in 1739 in South Carolina (just five hundred miles from the source of presidential shame!), so hopefully you can see the problems arising already.

The problem isn’t even the relationship with the slave per se, but the fact that this story is about a real-life person who had no such relationship. To put it baldly, the author is lying to us about what this woman did. I know, all authors of fiction are liars! It’s at the very heart of what such writers do, but here, there is no reason at all to justify willfully entering this pitfall, and there are clear and valid reasons to avoid it.

Elizabeth Lucas, who went by Eliza, and later by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, was a far-sighted, pioneering, and successful businesswoman who succeeded when it was almost entirely unknown for a woman, and especially not a teenager, to be in charge of not one, but three plantations, let alone flourish in those circumstances.

Eliza did marry someone she loved, yet this author cheapens even that real romance by putting it on the back burner while she turns her main character into a sleazy stalker, chasing a guy named (when she knew him as a child) Benoit Fortune, and then by Ben Cromwell as a grown man. The "relationship" ends not when Eliza starts acting in character, but only when the author kills off Ben (based on a real historical event when a slave drowns after a boat sinks).

This whole affair simply defies credibility not only from what this author herself writes, but from what I’ve read about the real Eliza. To suggest that she would have behaved in this way towards any man - regardless of who he was and whether he was black or white or anywhere in between - is farcical. Way to besmirch an upstanding woman with a storied list of accomplishments!

It beggars belief that a female author would do this to a female character, but it happens all the time in YA literature, and here it is again. In making this grave mistake, the author cheapens a very real life which needs no ornamentation to be outstanding, yet in true tradition amongst young adult authors, we have yet another main female character being hobbled in fiction with the asinine "need" to be validated by a man. Eliza Lucas deserves a far better tribute than to have her entire life wiped out like this and that’s why I do not consider this novel to be a worthy read.

The story is arguably racist too, since of the three people who betray Eliza (yet more fiction it has to be said), two of them are black, and both of those were deliberately invented as far as I could tell, purely for the sake of having them betray Eliza!

The real life Eliza was sixteen when her father (in the British Army and with ambitions of becoming governor) returned to Antigua, where Eliza was born. Since Eliza’s mother was rather sickly (in more ways than one as depicted here), and since he had no older male children, he left the rest of his family behind in South Carolina, with Eliza in charge of his holdings, and she did a sterling job.

When other planters were focused on rice (this was before cotton became a staple - ironically it was the year Eliza died, 1793, that the cotton gin was invented and cotton replaced both rice and indigo as the 'slave crop' of choice), Eliza recalled the indigo plants of her childhood years. Obtaining seeds (and later producing her own seed crop) and experimenting over the next several years, she and her enslaved workers succeeded in showing that indigo could be produced at a profit. From there on out, production and sales sky-rocketed. Until those cotton-pickin' bales killed it all.

Eliza married her neighbor Charles Pinckney when his own wife died, not caring that he was several years older than she. This was the real romance, and they raised children together, descendants of whom live on today. That’s the real story and why the author felt that real and true story lacking, to the point where she needed to screw it up 'Mandingo style' remains a mystery. I’d recommend reading a biography rather than this disrespectful, sensationalist, and insulting fiction which I cannot recommend.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Park Bench by Christophe Chabouté


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Jamie Ford's novel ought to be required reading for any YA author who is thinking (god forbid) of including a love triangle in their story. This is a tour-de-force of how to do it right if you must do it! Not that this is a YA novel by any means. This is a novel for grown-ups who appreciate intelligent and beautifully-written stories.

It was a charming historical story of an immigrant to North America, coming from a tragically impoverished background in China. It begins in about as depressing a manner as is possible, with a wretchedly poor and starving Chinese mother forced to suffocate her baby daughter and leave her son, appropriately named Yung (although in Chinese the name means brave or perpetual, both appropriate to the character), in a cemetery, for pick-up by an "importer" who transports Chinese children to the US and delivers them into servitude.

The story is told from two alternating perspectives, book-ended by world fairs, Both perspectives are held by the same person, who goes by Ernest despite this not being remotely like his Chinese name, which he takes as his surname, modifying it to Young. The 1902-1911 portion covers his early days traveling to the US and settling in Seattle, and the 1962 portion covers his twilight years where the love of his life is suffering senile dementia evidently brought on by a misspent youth. Here he is married with two intriguing daughters who are leading their own full lives. One of them is a reporter who is interested in his story, and it is this link which keeps us tied to his origins in the US.

I kept reading in reviews written by others that this is based on a true story, but no one goes into any detail as to exactly what it is that's true, so it felt like these reviews were merely parroting what others had written! Here, for the first time, it can be publicly revealed! The truth is that I can find no reference to the truth or consequences of this story on the author's blog which is, I am sorry to report, far more interested in promoting the book than in conveying anything of interest about its historicity, nor is there anything in the book itself to indicate what might have inspired it.

According to http://old.seattletimes.com/html/television/2010080063_kcts17.html there actually was a baby exhibition and one infant, apparently named Ernest, was offered in a raffle, but no one claimed the winning ticket, so the story of an eleven-year-old being raffled to a whore-house while very loosely rooted in real events, seems to be pure fiction.

The 'Author's Note' (which I typically never read anyway) in my ebook copy was blank, so it was of no use in illuminating the 'based on a true story angle'. This web page https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2010/1/29/red-light-history-0210" reveals some details of Seattle's intriguing red light history, but in it, the Tenderloin seems to be the name of a district rather than the name of a specific house as is depicted in the book.

So my best guess (and this is only a guess) is that the truth of the story lies in that it depicts real events (such as world fairs and morality battles), but that none of the details of the Tenderloin (as a bordello), or Ernest, or Fahn or Maisie are true in the sense that they tell any real and specific person's story.

They are true in that god-awful things happened to people in those neighborhoods, but quite honestly this story rather whitewashes the sordid side of a working girl's life in depicting the elegant and refined 'House of Flora' while sweeping under the carpet the bleeding raw open nerveiendings of most imported children's truth in the prostitution business (and it was, and still is, a big business). It also makes no mention either, focused as it is on the Asian-American experience, of the American Indians who were also there.

That said, it does tell a fine tale of how some things might have been for those who got lucky. Ernest is raffled off from his orphanage and ends up at Madam Flora's Tenderloin house of pleasure, where heartbreakingly young prostitutes, most of whom we never get to know, are taught refinement and who 'come out' on their sixteenth birthday, their virginity sold to the highest bidder, whereinafter they take their place as a regular "Gibson Girl" purveying their skills to whichever rich and influential men select them for the night. There may well have been houses of this nature, but my guess is they were few and far between if they existed at all, and most of them were like the one we hear all-too-briefly about from one of the female characters.

But for this novel, that's not the point. The story is about one such fictional house where Ernest, for the first time in his life, paradoxically finds happiness and a family in the good-natured people who live and work there. He makes two close friends: the tomboyish Maisie, and the exotic Fahn, neither of whom is yet 'out'.

The trio bond charmingly, and despite the immorality pervading their every waking moment, they remain innocent between themselves, with nothing more than a stolen first kiss to count as a sin. Since we know from the 1962 portion of the story, that Ernest ends up with one of them, the question, and the author hides it well (or at least he did from me!), is which one, and what happens to the other one. I normally dislike flashbacks, but here they worked perfectly, and were integrated exceedingly-well with what I considered to be the main story set back at the turn of the century.

Since my blog is primarily about writing, I have to say that the writing in general here was very good - well-done and engrossing. There were some parts where it seemed to bog down a little, but overall it was great. I noticed only one or two writing oddities. The first was this phrase: "decked out in a dark black suit" I guess dark black is really black! LOL! "Decked out in a dark gray suit" would have sounded better, but that's a very minor quibble. The only other thing was that author seemed too enamored of this word form, because there were two other instances which felt wrong to me, where the word 'deckled' put in an appearance.

This actually is a word. A deckle is a book press used in hand-made books, and by association has come to describe the rough edge of the open side of the book. I hate those, as it happens because it makes it hard to turn the pages, but the author uses this word in the form of something being 'deckled' with lights and this seemed entirely wrong to me. Decked would have made more sense, or if he'd used deckled to describe the rough ocean surface rather than the lights on the boats floating on it, it would have made more sense. He uses the same word again when he writes, "fairy lights that deckled the storefronts." I think this was wrong, too, and arguably more wrong than the boat lights, but like I said, it's a minor quibble that reasonable people can disagree on if they wish!

That aside, I really liked this book - the way it was written, the pacing, the story, the relationships and the characters. No book is perfect by any means (especially not my own), but you really can't expect a better read than this, told elegantly, paced well, organized beautifully, and with a bitter-sweet tale to tell of a world where women are commodities and rich men can buy pretty much anything they want and it's considered normal, but sometimes if you want something enough, and you are willing to truly love it and bide your time, perhaps you can get it without your acquisition being sordid and demeaning and with it bringing you the Earth instead of costing it to you. I recommend it as a highly worthy read.


Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James


Rating: WARTY!

Written as a rather presumptuous sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (which originally had the title "First Impressions"), this audiobook fell flat for me. I was not too keen on the reader, Rosalyn Landor's voice. Although it wasn't awful, it just never felt right, but much worse than this is that this novel felt nothing like an Austen novel.

Perhaps James never intended it to emulate Austen at all, but even so, it felt like she wasn't really trying. It felt like she had this idea for a crime set in nine-teeth century England and, realizing it wasn't very good, decided to usurp Austen's cachet to sell it. She certainly didn' usurp anything else of Austen's. Virtually the entire book was tedious exposition, There was none of Austen's wit and humor, none of her trenchant observation oe social commentary, and wher were her conversations? Nowhere! I don't believe Darcy and Darcy (nee Bennet) had more than half a dozen words to exchange with each other in any conversation. And what about sex? Austen's works were filled with naked, rampant, explicit, life-shattering, illicit passion, but here there was not a whit of it!

One of those assertions in that last paragraph might be a gross exaggeration. But then so was this entire novel.

I guess marriage really changed Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam, because they were nothing like the characters Austen created. In 1803, they have two sons (of course - why would we ever want to see the kind of daughter Elizabeth's genes could produce and her nurturing raise?). The Darcy's are readying for their annual ball when Wickham and Lydia show up for no rational reason since they're never welcome at Pemberley although they do visit Jane and Charles who live next door (in an English country gentleman sense, that is). This seems to have changed from when Charles chose to live near to Meryton. If there was an explanation for this, I missed it.

James evidently thinks Austen fans are morons because she pads her novel hugely with infodumps taken bodily from Pride and Prejudice - and curiously form other Austen novels. She also seems to think her readers need a crash course in nineteenth century English law, because we get more of these dull and lifeless areas of knowledge than ever we do of interactions between Lizzie and Fitzie, which is what I assume most readers were looking for. No one cares about Wickham and only a moron would believe he is the guilty party in a story like this.

The plot has Lydia arriving in hysterics declaring her beloved Wickham, now a national war hero having excelled himself at shooting the Irish, but unable to hold down a job upon being demobbed, to be dead! It's a lie! A damnable lie, madam, and a slanderous one at that! George isn't dead, but his army buddy is, and George, in most un-George-like fashion, seems to have implicated himself in the crime. The rest of the book takes an unconscionably long time to actually deliberate over the crime, although perhaps deliberate is an appropriate word to describe the plodding tone.

The ridiculous book blurb on Goodreads (and such are one reason I no-longer post reviews there) claims: "Conjuring the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mark Darcy." Who the frack is Mark Darcy?! The librarians (so-called) on Goodreads are utterly useless and should be summarily fired. Wickham would do a better job, believe me. The blurb also claims that it is "combining the trappings of Regency British society" Hello? The Regency period was when the Prince Regent (who would become George 4th) took over from his addled dad, which was from about 1811 until 1820 when Geo 3.0 died. 1803 was squarely in the Georgian period, morons. Fire those libelousarians!

I am done with this warty novel. It SUCKED, and will never read anything else by PD James. As one review of the TV series put it, the only crime here was one against decent literature! Oh, and Will Bidwell did it. If James had had the courage to have Lydia commit the crime, then I might have rated this a worthy story despite its flaws, but James is quite clearly not a good enough writer to attempt something like that. Do yourself a favor and watch the TV show instead. It will not, I guarantee, be as good as the classic Ehle-Firth masterpiece, but it might give you the fix you crave. I haven't seen it but I've heard better things about it than I have about the novel which inspired it.


The Princess in My Teacup by Sally Huss


Rating: WORTHY!

Sally Huss has almost consistently turned out, in my experience, works of originality, upbeat attitudes, educational in equal measure with colorful and bright, and with fun rhymes to boot. Thus one merely continues her proud tradition.

One could argue here that this is aimed at white female audiences, and plays heavily into the Disney Princess syndrome, which are negatives, but we cannot have every book flooded with every type of person and every kind of wish for our children. There simply isn't room. One simple theme, well-presented with one simple message is fine, and it's up to parents and guardians to seek and pursue diversity by buying (or checking out of the library) a diversity of books! It's really not rocket science! Please don't always expect all options to be covered in one short children's book!

This little girl begins seeing a princess in reflected surfaces: a cup of tea, a bowl of soup, a filled bathtub, and so on. The princess always wants her to do something. The things she wants her to do are always aimed at helping other people: befriending them, being nice to them and thoughtful of them, and each time she does this, the girl helps and thinks she's seen the last of the princess, but the princess never leaves her. I think perhaps you know why. This was delightful, short and easy read, and I recommend it.