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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teddy's Camp by Peter Liptak, Pascal


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun and entertaining, and brightly colored rhyming tale of Teddy's adventures in campland, with striking artwork by Pascal, the famous French inventor, mathematician, physicist, writer, and Catholic theologian. No I'm kidding, that was a different Pascal. I think.

Teddy heads off to camp where he meets a bunch of new friends and has endless days of fun riding horses, paddling canoes (and definitely no canoodling with paddles in case you're worried), swimming, exploring, arts, crafts, and sailing. I'm ready for my nap now! I recommend this as a fun read, and it looks just as good on a smart phone as it does on a tablet computer, so you're covered no matter what you have to hand, if your kid gets a hankering for some camp entertainment. Wait, that didn't come out right....


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Broken Mirror by Cody Sisco


Rating: WARTY!

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

I didn't know this was "the first novel in a sci-fi detective saga"! If I had, the very word 'saga' would have resulted in me avoiding it like the plague, and I would have been right to do so, because I simply could not get into this novel and I discontinued reading it at the end of part one, which was about one third the way through it. keep tha tin mind for this review. I don't read anything with 'saga' or 'chronicle', or 'cycle' associated with it! I'm not a series fan in general, with very few exceptions, but I did not know that when I requested this, so here we are!

This is an alternate universe world set slightly into our future (but dated earlier), and one where the United States is a fractious union of a handful of regions. How this came about as a result of Mrs Lincoln being shot instead of Abraham Lincoln is a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe if I'd read more, or felt more engaged, it would have all become clear, but the way the country was divided-up made no sense to me.

In this world, there's a problem with some citizens. Mirror neurons are thought to enable empathy, allowing us to feel what another person is feeling, and understand it from the inside, but in this world, in people like Victor, this normal brain function is amplified almost out of control. Indeed, some people do get out of control, and are confined in institutions for the well-being of themselves and others. Victor himself constantly lives on the edge of that confinement, although he is free and managing his condition through medication.

His grandfather dies unexpectedly and Victor discovers that the man was contaminated with polonium: the same radioactive metal which was used to assassinate Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in our world. Victor relied heavily on his grandfather, who was working to find a cure for the extreme version of what is, in us, not only a normal, but a required brain function if we're to get along with others. A mirror neuron fires when we perform an action or experience a feeling, and this same neuron also fires when we observe that same thing in others. At least that's the working theory, but there is still much research to be done to understand these brain cells properly.

Again if I'd read more, maybe I would have understood the world better, but after reading some thirty percent I still felt completely lost and had no interest in events in this novel. The story seemed to have no real direction other than flapping in the wind around Victor's wild speculations and erratic behaviors. Wherever it was going, it seemed to be taking forever to get there, and this is just one volume. The idea of reading a whole series, or even just a trilogy of this stuff really turns me off!

The worst part was that I did not like Victor at all. I don't know what it was about him, but he just did not interest me in the slightest. I think part of the problem was that his behavior was too erratic, and his plan to get off his medication and try herbal supplements was just stupid and had no support - not only in our world for real, but even within the framework of his own world, where nothing was offered to justify this medication realignment, save for his own vague feeling of being a bit 'fuzzy'.

I'd have liked it better had he had some real justification, but he didn't (and in real life you'd be a moron to abandon your doctor's prescriptions and go haring-off after herbal cures, be warned!). The problem here though, was that even when the fuzziness vanished, he was still a complete clown, and really seemed no different to me than he was before.

The bottom line is that I had absolutely no interest in him or his problems, and I really didn't care what became of him. After I'd decided I could not recommend this book, I read some other reviews to see if I'd missed something, and I read one which said that the novel "started bogging down about 3/4 of the way through" - well it started way before that for me, and so i was pleased that I'd abandoned it before it got worse.

The characters were not the only problem for me, though. The story dragged awfully, larded with so much extraneous detail that it was boring to wade through it. Nothing seemed to happen except at a glacial pace (it's a series after all, so what possible incentive can the author have to actually move things along?).

There was also too much fluff in it for my taste. All kinds of word substitutions were put in play to try and make the novel seem different and alternate, and these didn't work. 'Mesh' instead of Internet? 'Sono-whatever' instead of audio? They just seemed pretentious, and felt like a lazy way to try and make the story sound cool without actually doing the work to make it cool. All they did was remind me that I was reading a story instead of actually immersing me in the story.

Why were there 'parts' to this novel - especially since it's evidently part of a series? Parts of a part? When I finished part one, I expected there to be a shift of some kind between it and part two, otherwise why set up a divider? But there wasn't! The novel was set in the early 1990's in that world timeline, but part two continued just two days later! There was no jump or shift of any kind, and it was this which constituted the final straw and made me decide that here was a good point to quit reading.

It just seemed so pretentious to have these parts (at least they were identified as 'Part' and not 'Book' which I would have found laughable), but it wasn't quite as pretentious as having each chapter labeled with a dateline such as "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991." Several chapters in a row had this same dateline. Why? It made no sense. I felt like it was a silly conceit of unwarranted self-importance, and this became especially true in chapter 6, where the dateline "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991" was used (as it had been for the preceding three chapters), yet most of that chapter was a flashback, which was given neither date nor a location! It made zero sense!

Here's another example of how silly this was:

Semiautonomous California 24 February 1991

The morning after the funeral...
Well duh! Of course it's the day after! The dateline already told us! So what was the point of the dateline again?! Or conversely, what's the point of specifying it was the day after if the dateline already told us? I got the impression that the author had seen this dateline nonsense done in someone else's novel, and was anxious to copy it without having any real justification for it. Of course I could be completely wrong about that, but I see no justification for this kind of thing in any novel, unless the novel is written as a diary, in which case I wouldn't read it anyway.

So given a novel with a main character I really could not stand, and a story which seemed to be going nowhere slowly, and the pretension in the way it was laid out, this novel was not a good fit for me! It offered nothing to appeal, and while I wish the author all the best, I cannot recommend it for these reasons.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Founding Father's Funnies by Peter Bagge, Joanne Bagge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a day late in celebration of Independence Day. I was otherwise occupied yesterday, and no, that does not mean I was laid-out drunk somewhere! I can't remember the last time I was drunk, but then probably, neither can you!

Why this was titled using the word 'funnies' is a mystery to me because it wasn't even remotely funny. I think it's meant to hark after the Sunday papers "funnies" but I find those tedious, so maybe I should have left this one on the library shelf? Too late! I read it. Or some of it. It wasn't appealing enough to read it all.

It was a series of riffs off of supposed historical, but purely fictional events, describing how the founding fathers did this, that, and the other thing - mostly the other thing in fact. I'm surprised they didn't have George Washingtooth busting his cherry. Actually that might have been funny. You could make jokes about his teeth having a woodie while he wasn't even able to get his pinnace across the Poontang!

I'm equally surprised that idiot Ben Franklin wasn't flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Folks, that doesn't mean he's a genius, it means he's a moron - an idle tinkerer with far too much time on his hands. These days he'd be called a slacker, but because he lived two hundred and fifty years ago, he's labeled a genius? Go figure. But thankfully he was absent - at least in that scenario.

The graphic novel was supposed to illustrate how amusing these things were, but the things were simply not amusing, and while the illustration was competent the emphasis was more on ill than patent, so it wasn't that great. This meant that there was neither the written word nor the fine art to entertain, and this book definitely needed one or the other. In the absence of both, I sure can't recommend it.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Mystery at Lilac Inn by Midred Wirt aka Carolyn Keene


Rating: WARTY!

Having read about the women who fostered Nancy Drew's birth and healthy upbringing (Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak), I decided I wanted to read one or two of the novels. I grew up never having heard of her, and I'd had no desire to read them before. Now I know why: they're really not very good!

Or to put it more kindly, I listened to volume number two as an audiobook, and I found it so bland and dated that I could not listen to all of it, nor did I even try to listen to the second one I borrowed from the library. It was sad, but it was a different world back then, and it's not one I feel a part of. Had I been a juvenile (or lived in the fifties or earlier!) I might have enjoyed it more. This of course takes nothing away from Mildred Wirt's admirable work-ethic or her sterling ability to multi-task and turn in a novel on a deadline while caring for two different ailing husbands (not at the same time!) and a baby! She was much more heroic than ever Nancy was and she deserves a lot more credit than she's had.

The story is about ghostly happenings at an inn, which are quite obviously being staged by villains intent upon some scheme or other. It's also about identity theft long before that became an issue. And of course, it's about Nancy Drew, spoiled-rotten heroine, without a care in the world, who saves the day.

I didn't listen to enough of it to find out what the bad guys wanted. The writing was too bland for my taste and did not engage me, so I cannot recommend it. It's from a different age and I think it belongs there, although very young readers might find it entertaining. Laura Linney read this and did a decent job for what that's worth, but for me the problem with it, in addition to its blandness, is that Nancy Drew is such an institution in the US that people tend to give her a bye when they really should be more critical, and I mean critical in an analytical sense, not necessarily in a pejorative one.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton


Rating: WARTY!

I got this as a wish granted on Net Galley - for which I thank the publisher. I'm not normally a fan of novels that obsess over looks and fashion, because those things are as shallow as the people who focus on them to the exclusion of all else, but this one was more of a dystopian novel where beauty was a magical power given to some to bestow onto others. In fact, it was almost a weapon.

This interested me initially, but by the time I was about three-fifths through the novel, I became thoroughly disappointed as I learned this was essentially no different from any other of the LCD young adult novels I've read and the author was in fact betraying her own premise. Instead of being different, the novel was just the same, and employed the same tropes and clichés, as all the other poor YA novels, the most egregious of which was the triangle between the first person narrator, a 'bad' boy, and a 'good' boy, and it was truly nauseating to read.

In very general terms, the novel was set in a quite well-realized world, with some beautiful writing and elegant descriptive prose, but the more I read, the more this was sadly let-down by some glaring holes in the logic, and some truly nonsensical and clunky inventions. The novel was also far too long. This was caused by a rambling tone in which everything took forever to get underway. This wasn't so bad in the early pages, but the more I read, the less I wanted to be swamped with yet more descriptive prose as another page went by with literally nothing happening unless you count strutting, and preening and posing as events.

Additionally, there is only so much mystery and so many unanswered questions you can heap upon your reader before your reader starts to suffocate, and you need to start offering answers - or at least look like you're about to do so - but by sixty percent in, there continued to be questions, and not an answer in sight. This was deeply disappointing and made me feel, since this is the start of a series, that no real answers would be forthcoming until the final volume of the trilogy or whatever this ends up being.

At one point early in the reading, I'd been prepared to suggest that there's a raft of YA writers who seriously need to read a few books like this before they write any more of their own, but I changed my mind quite quickly. I know this is an ARC, and so is unaccountably sent out for review with no guarantees and insufficient vetting, but this author has a masters, and some of the issues I came across made me despair for our education system. And they had nothing to do with it being an "uncorrected proof" and everything to do with being poor writing or poor word choices by someone who should know better.

While I readily acknowledge that language is a dynamic thing, especially in this era of sound-bites and texting, I think there are some things which didn't ought to change so readily! How many times have I read an author (particularly in YA writing) using 'bicep' (as this one does) when the term is biceps? There is no excuse for this, not even the ever-convenient UPE (uncorrected proof excuse).!

Chaise longue is dyslexically rendered into 'chaise lounge'. Now I have come to grudgingly accept this as an Americanism which isn't going away, and normally I would just roll my eyes and read on, but here, in a novel which is explicitly set in a heavily French-accented milieu, I found it inexplicable that the author should resort to the lazy Americanism instead of the French original!

In another instance combining poor writing and bad French, I read what was supposedly a note from Camellia's mother in which she instructed her in the use of a magic mirror (more on the 'borrowing' habits of the author later!), "Prick your beautiful little finger and drop the blood onto the handle, and it will show you what you need to see. I love you, ma petit."

The first problem with this is that it read so false to me to suggest that Camellia's mom would write "beautiful little finger". It was quite literally sickening to read, and it felt completely unrealistic. Maybe there are some idiot moms who would write such flowery prose like this while trying to convey something of vital importance to their daughter, but it made me laugh because it was so bad.

It was not as bad as the wrong-gender French in a novel set in a French-flavored world. 'Petit' is masculine. It goes with mon as in: mon petit. The phrase the author needed here (since the message was addressed to her daughter) was the feminine: 'ma petite'.

I've never seen fleur-de-lis rendered as fleur-delis, which makes it sound like the name of a sandwich shop! After consulting this same novel in Bluefire Reader though, I discovered that it had been rendered correctly as fleur-de-lis, and it was Amazon's crappy Kindle app which had randomly deleted hyphens (and spaces, I discovered as I read on), so this was not the author's fault at all, except in that she and the publisher had placed far too much faith in Amazon not to mangle their hard work. Amazon had, with its usual disregard for literature, once again let them down. This is merely one reason why I have neither time nor patience for Amazon, and partly why I quit posting reviews on Goodreads, Amazon's unholy-owned tributary.

The story itself began as an interesting one. In the fictional Kingdom of Orléans, a tiny subset of young females, known as Belles have special powers known as Arcana. In this story, the Belles, only six of them, are considered sisters even though they are unrelated, and they all adopt the same last name: Beauregard. The first names of the other five are: Ambrosia, Edelweiss, Hana, Padma, and Valeria. I saw a writing opportunity here which was badly wasted. More on this later.

Camellia is the sixth girl and the first person narrator. She bears the name of a flower, but it's an Asian flower, so why she had that name in a French-influenced novel, I do not know. She does go by Camille, but this name, storied as it is in history and literature, has nothing to do with the name of the flower (which is after a guy named Kamel! LOL!). This is why names are important, so this whole naming thing was a bit confused in this novel.

This was one of many things which started tripping-up the world-building for me. To me, names mean things and far too many authors ignore that in their blinkered rush to choose either a trope name, or an overly-exotic name for their character. In this case I wondered if the author had chosen the name like I would do, to represent something, since Camellia is known for the tea which can be made from the leaves, and the oil which can be pressed from its seeds. I guess I'll never know! For me though, I could not hear that name without thinking of a camel which, and this is just a wild guess, is probably not what the author had intended.

On the brighter side, the first person voice wasn't awfully bad in this novel for which the author has my sincerest thanks. I've read some truly horrendously-written first person voice novels. Why authors, particularly in the YA world, are so sheep-like in their addiction to this voice is a mystery to me since it's so limiting and so fake. I guess I'm just going to have to quit reading any YA novel told in first person if I am to escape it.

Anyway, each of these six girls has within her some sort of ill-defined blood-power, which evidently resides in proteins they get from leeches, which begs the question as to why anyone cannot slap a leech on themselves and get the power. We're told the girls are born to be Belles, but we never learn how or why that is so, or why there are so few of them. And why only girls? Maybe this comes to light in a future volume. Although it's denied that these girls perform magic, this is exactly what they do, employing blood-magic to transform people's physical appearance.

This began a host of unanswered questions notwithstanding the world-building and in the end, the weight of all these loose threads began to drag the story down for me. For example, on the one hand science seems to be quite advanced in this nation (they know what proteins are), but there's no electricity to be had. We're supposed to believe that Belles are celebrated and revered almost to the point of being gods, but on the other hand, they're universally treated like slaves. The belles are supposed to be experts in how to mold people, literally, into personifications of gorgeous, yet these people treat them like dirt and order them around, telling them what to do instead of allowing the Belles to do their job. None of this made any sense at all to me.

These powers they have come in three "flavors" or forms: age, aura, and manner, but later there's a hint, which may be just a rumor, that there is a fourth form. This hidden fourth power is straight out of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy.

These powers enable the girls to physically transform other citizens who are known as 'gris' (the French word for gray), and who are dismissed as plain and even ugly, into what is considered the epitome of beauty. The ideas here seem perhaps to have been borrowed from the citizens of Panem, as depicted in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, but whereas the extravagant beauty (so-called!) in Panem was merely a backdrop, here it takes center stage. There are other ideas borrowed from Hunger Games such as the 'post-balloons' which deliver items much like the parachutes delivered gifts to the competitors in Collins's trilogy.

Camellia is one of the six finalists for a position at the royal court. It's her lifelong dream since her mom held that same position, which lasts, inexplicably, only for a year. She travels with her competing 'sisters', who while they sometimes fight and snipe at each other, are like family, but only one of these Belles can take the coveted royal position.

We know it's going to be Camellia, since she's the one narrating the story in first person and you can't tell the reader what's going on if that first person narrator isn't present - unless you want to admit your poor choice of voice and switch to third person periodically, or have major info-dumps to bring the main character up to date about things which happen out of her ken. Thus the weakness of this voice.

What made me truly start feeling nauseous in this novel though, was the introduction of your standard love triangle. I had, when I began reading this, not only hoped, but also genuinely believed that here was an author who was above this sort of cheap shot. Consider my disappointment then when I saw her launch with gay abandon into proving that even she had no qualms about descending to the level of hack YA writers when it comes to asserting that every woman desperately needs to be validated by, in this case, not one man, but two.

The reason I found this so totally obnoxious here is that the whole basis of this book, so I'd been led to understand, was that it was ultimately to be an indictment of the shallowness of the beauty and fashion industries which are an appalling bane on the lives of women, and particularly young women, everywhere. These women are told that unless they're rail-thin and gorgeous, they're pretty much useless and have nothing to look forward to. That's what fashion and cosmetics are all about: telling you that your face is ugly and must be disguised if not covered with a beauty mask, and your clothes are trash and must be replaced regularly with these which we will happily sell to you, assuming you can lose enough weight to fit into them.

The sad fact is that nowhere did I see any evidence of any indictment. Even if that is still to come though, say in volume two or three, or even if it curiously took place upon the very page after I quit reading this novel, my question is: how is it to the benefit of young women (talking of getting the skinny) to rail at the cosmetic industry on the one hand whilst simultaneously undermining their independence by asserting confidently that your YA female is utterly worthless unless some guy adores her? It was sick quite frankly, hypocritical at best, and a sorry betrayal of women everywhere at worst, because here. the author is telling us that Camellia is so comprehensively useless that she needs male validation.

These purveyors of barefoot, pregnant, and in the bitchin' kitchen were Rémy the studly, upright bodyguard, and Auguste, the standard trope YA bad boy. As for Rémy, there was no reason whatsoever for his existence. There's no threat to Camellia, unless you consider someone putting old rose petals in her bathroom to actually endanger her life. So why does she need a permanent 24/7 personal bodyguard - except of course to put her into close proximity to one third of the triangle?

This was done so clunkily that it was truly pathetic. I mean it was farcical in the extreme. Poor Rémy never even gets to sleep - I am not kidding - he's on the job all day and night every day and every night. It was absurd. And how did his sisters ever get into the palace? Do they have a 'bring your sister to work day' for palace guards? The writing had gone from sublime to substandard at this point.

Auguste was even less explicable than was Rémy. As is tediously trope in this lower class of novel, Auguste shows up out of the blue, putting Camellia in danger, having no respect whatsoever for her, and being far too 'chummy' and familiar. In what is the vomit-inducing trope for these novels, she does not reject him out of hand as anyone in her position actually would were the story true to its roots and framework. Instead, she gets the hots for him immediately. Evidently the camel is in estrous. All-bluster continues to stalk the camel - and yes, that's exactly what it is, but the author wants us somehow to think this is playful flirting and courtship. Well there's a humongous bot-fly in that stodgy ointment: he's one of the three suitors for the princess.

Yes, there are guys in real life like Auguste, so this was not the problem. The problem was Camellia's reacting like a bitch in heat to his advances. It was her complete lack of not only morals and propriety, but her total disregard for others. Despite the fact that she knows he's Sofia's suitor, she sees absolutely nothing wrong, neither in his behavior nor in her own! If this tells me anything about her, it's that she's a moron and certainly not someone worth knowing. much less reading a whole series about.

Despite the fact that she could get fired for associating with him, Camellia is so profoundly stupid that she just swallows everything Auguste says. She purposefully flirts with him when she's not endlessly describing what are evidently Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterflies stomping around in her stomach.

The biggest fail though was that on one occasion, the stalwart Rémy was right there with her, her bodyguard, yet he did nothing whatsoever to break-up her flirting with Auguste. He's guarding her because of dead roses, yet here is a guy hitting on her right in front of him - a guy he doesn't know, and one who could be concealing a knife, yet he says not a word. That's how completely useless he is. even if the guy was not a threat to her life, he is a threat to her career and reputation. Rémy cares nothing for that? The name derives from a Latin word meaning oar, so it's hardly surprising Camellia's up the creek without a paddle.

Auguste is quite literally nothing save overly familiar and worse, controlling, and comes with not a single thing to recommend him as a viable suitor for Camellia, let alone for Sofia, yet never once does a single thought enter her pretty little head that what she is doing is not only mean to Sofia, but also self-destructive to her own career aspirations. Never once does any thought along these lines enter her empty head! That's how clueless a character she truly is, so maybe I was wrong: maybe she's one of the tiny minority of co-dependent women who actually do need a couple of guys to validate her.

This is entirely the wrong lesson to teach young women: that your ideal lover is a guy who has no respect for women, who never balks at risking Camellia's job or reputation, or at getting her into trouble, who is controlling, and who has no respect for the fact that he is potentially betrothed to Camellia's employer, The fact that this author is, on the one hand supposedly calling-out the cosmetics industry, yet on the other, is actively undermining the independence and self-determination of women is a disgrace, and I have no desire whatsoever to read any more of this novel or to read anything else by this author. I cannot recommend this by any measure.

If the author had been serious about her writing, and really wanted to make a go of this, then what she ought to have done is kept it to a single volume, told it in third person, and switched between the perspectives of all six Belles. That, right there, would have been a story worth reading, but instead all we got was a silly little palace love triangle about a vacuous girl, and it's a story that has already been done to death a billion times over.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Generation Zero Volume 2: Heroscape by Fred Van Lente, Diego Bernard, Javier Pulido


Rating: WARTY!

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

In my review of the first volume in this series, Generation Zero done by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, and Andrew Dalhouse, which I reviewed favorably, I concluded, "There has a to be a story, otherwise it's just pretty pictures" and I'm sorry to say this second volume fell into that trap. There was a story after a fashion, but it was so confused and confusing to me that I could barely follow what was happening.

It didn't help that even on a decently-sized tablet computer, the text was rather small, and impossible to read when it was shown as white on pale green, so I didn't even try reading those portions. The odd thing was that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything for skipping them. I will welcome the day when graphic novel writers recognize that you cannot continue to short-change the ebook format unless you want to irritate your readers at best, and piss them off so much that they refuse to read any more of your material in future, at worst.

Generation Zero is a group for kids who were experimented on by private military contractors in Project Rising Spirit, aimed at producing 'psychic soldiers'. This never made sense to me and it wasn't explained why kids were chosen rather than trained soldiers for this experiment, but I was willing to let that go since most superheroes have highly improbably origin stories. Now the kids are free of that, they're intent upon fighting back.

The problem is that the story was all over the place and entirely unsatisfying because none of it made any sense to me and it never seemed like it was going anywhere. It was never clear what was happening or what the Gen 0 crew were trying to accomplish. There were several characters chewing up the scenery and achieving little else, include Black Sheep, who was a super villain posing as a superhero. She was so far out that she was really irrelevant even as she tried mindlessly to kick everyone's ass. To me, she was far more of a joke than ever she was a threat.

Overall, this story felt like the old cop-out story killer: it was all a dream! I liked volume one, but I could not get with volume two and I can't recommend this graphic novel series anymore.


The Great Divide by Ben Fisher, Adam Markiewicz


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is a post-apocalyptic story that really had no story, let alone a beginning, a middle, and an end! It's set in a world where the trope 'comet hits the Earth and humanity goes haywire' is called upon. The result in this scenario is that when one person touches another, one of them has their head explode and the other gets their memories.

The idea is absurd. If their head explodes, how do the memories, which were just destroyed, get transferred? What memories?! But this wasn't the only issue. It didn't help that even on a decently-sized tablet computer, the text was rather small, and in some instances literally impossible to read even when I swiped the screen to zoom in.

At intervals there was what looked like it was supposed to be an image of a computer screen, but the text was so blurry that it was a nightmare to try and read, and I quickly took to skipping those pages unread. The odd thing was that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything for skipping them. I will welcome the day when graphic novel writers recognize that you cannot continue to short-change the ebook format unless you want to irritate your readers at best, and piss them off so much that they refuse to read any more of your material in future, at worst.

The one who gets the memories is supposed to also get their skill-set, but this isn't explored, and it doesn't work. The trope fails because just knowing how to do something isn't the same as having had the experience of doing it. This is where The Matrix fell down, when Neo said, "I know Kung Fu". You might know the moves in your head, but your body sure as hell doesn't know how to execute them, and your muscles and limbs are simply not up to it without being properly trained. It's what's often referred to as 'muscle memory' although there's actually no such thing.

But that wasn't the problem here. I would have been willing to let that go as I was in The Matrix, but in this case, there was no story! It was one all-but endless road trip punctuated with random stops to pick up random people who themselves made no sense and who contributed nothing to the story which was, despite the road trip, paradoxically going nowhere. It made no coherent sense and the end simply fizzled out with no explanation and no resolution. I cannot recommend this one.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Cutie meets Mr Lizard by Felicia di John, Terence Gaylor


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The first in a planned "Cutie's Big Adventures" series, this story is about a Chihuahua named Cutie, who lives in the desert and is just finding her legs as a little adventurer. She also lives up to her name! In her first trip outdoors, bored with her puppy chow and looking for some excitement, Cutie sneaks down the tree outside the upstairs window. If the cat can do it, why not the dog? No argument from me!

Cutie heads out and meets the lizard family, who seem to enjoy eating ants. As hungry as Cutie is, she isn't that hungry. She returns home and enjoys her puppy chow after all!

I liked this story, and Terence Gaylor's 3D-effect artwork and fun, colorful pictures were cute as a button that's really cute, and has a button nose. The story by Felicia di John is simple and easy to understand for young kids, and teaches a lesson that maybe the grass isn't always greener - especially in the desert! I recommend this one.


Prym and the Senrise by PS Scherck, Sheng-Mei Li


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a simple story which I was unsure about when I began it, but which I ended up enjoying immensely even though it’s written for a younger audience than I represent. I felt the story was slightly lacking in 'magical' although now I think about it, I have a hard time trying to define what I mean by that, and I'm not going to let vague feelings get in the way of a positive review for a story that well deserves it. The writing was engaging, and Sheng-Mei Li's artwork was a joy - one I would have liked more of.

The characters were delightful, and interesting, even though the story has its roots in established mythology of supernatural and fantasy characters. I had never heard of the Steigens, so this was a fun and new revelation, and I liked how they were represented. They're a sort of underwater fairy people, who live in the deeps and are related to vampires in that they cannot be exposed to sunlight on the surface, or they will suffocate.

This limitation does not please Prym, who has heard tales from her fishy and mollusc-y friends Daeggar and Seffy, that the senrise is the most beautiful thing, full of joy and color. Prym, who loves colors, cannot get the idea of watching a brilliant senrise out of her head, and so she sets about learning how it is she can get to see one.

I loved Prym, who is sensible despite her adventurous streak. She's a strong character who is possessed of self-confidence and derring-do, and she starts her quest in a library, which is admirable. And she succeeds, not by machismo, but by thoughtful approaches and inventive solutions.

There were a couple of minor issues with the text. I read, "...an arrow of pure energy would appear, knocked and ready...." An arrow is 'nocked', not 'knocked'. This is a common error and no big deal; most people probably wouldn’t even notice it. The other issues is more of a pet peeve of mine rather than an outright error because I've seen this done so often it’s actually becoming an accepted part of the language, but to me a book is 'titled' - not 'entitled'. Entitlement is something different entirely. Or is it tirely?!

The book worked both on the smart phone and on a tablet in a Kindle app, although the cover was broken inexplicably into about fifteen pieces on both devices. The rest of the artwork looked fine, especially on the tablet. One odd thing I noticed on both the tablet and the phone was the appearance of strange capital letters such as 'P' and 'H' apparently randomly in the text, such as at location 81, where it read (or red!): P"You know what I said...", at location 159, where I read, "...a skull Pthat looked...", and at location 180, where I read, "Cold hands Phad wrapped...".

There were several instances of this kind of thing. In the iPad they were red letters, on the phone they were the same color as other text (white on black by my choice because it saves the battery!). Part of the problem in my opinion is Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app which cannot handle anything that contains pictures or fancy text with any reliability at all. Barnes & Nobles's Nook does a much better job in my experience.

I don't know where the 'P's and 'H's came from, but the red 'I' at location 6 appears to be a drop-cap from the top of the page. It was missing from the start of the chapter, which began, "n the farthest reaches...' rather than "In the farthest reaches...". The 'I' which should have been up there was several lines below, between "In the beginning," and "there was only one magic creature". Weird, but that's Kindle for you. This is why I detest Amazon. The book was viewed on an iPad in the Kindle app and on an LG smart phone in the Kindle app.

But hopefully these issues will be fixed before publication. Or you can play it safe and buy the print version! I checked this out in the PDF version in Adobe Digital editions on my desktop computer and it looked beautiful there. The text looked (I imagine!) exactly as the author imagined it, and the images in particular were gorgeous, especially the one of Prym watching the sunrise. That needs to be a screensaver or a wallpaper!

In conclusion, I recommend this book for a fun read for younger children. It's great fantasy tale, well told, and even adults can enjoy it, especially if they're young at heart.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I requested this from Net Galley because it sounded interesting. I've never read anything by this author before, so it was also a chance to explore a writer who is not new to writing, but who was new to me.

I have to say up front that I'm not a huge fan of first person voice novels, which automatically puts private investigator stories off limits since pretty much every author in that genre seems obsessed with writing them exactly the same way as every other author. This means of course that once you've read one you've effectively read them all.

These old soft slippers of stories doubtlessly appeal to a certain segment of the population who like to slip them on regularly, but it's like those authors have never considered that it might appeal to a larger audience if they could only find the courage to break the mold. I know it's always easy to play it safe, but I'd have appreciated this one a lot more had it not done so.

I've never read anything by this author before (and seriously doubt I will again), and the blurb made it sound like this might be interesting, assuming I could get past 1PoV. I'm always game for a good story involving a strong female lead, so: an author who might be able to carry a first person story and not make it irritating to read? Potential strong female character? Maybe this wouldn't be so bad? Those were my hopes going in.

Let me begin by saying that I did appreciate that the first person PoV wasn't as annoying as I feared it would be, although it did still kick me out of suspension of disbelief on occasion, and it did still annoy me from time to time. The main reason for that is that 1PoV is always about 'me' (the story-teller) all the time. You cannot get away from 'me': Hey lookit me! Look at what I'm doing now! Pay attention only to me! Now I'm doing something else! Look now! Annoying.

I honestly don't know how people can swallow so much of that. I'm amazed that they can, but herding animals can be habituated to anything, so I guess the same principle applies here. The real problem though is that it's the weakest voice in which to tell any story, let alone a PI adventure, because nothing can happen unless the 'me' is present to witness it! How unlikely is that? The only way to overcome that severe limitation is to have more than one first person voice which is even more annoying, or to have boring info-dumps periodically so the first person narrator can catch up on things which happened when they were not there. Again: annoying.

The amusing thing here was that the author openly admitted what a mistake it was to have limited herself to this voice because she added third person PoV 'mini-chapters' periodically. I quickly took to skipping those because I found them to be thoroughly uninformative and worse, they were nothing more than info-dumps which repeatedly stalled the story while contributing nothing materially to it.

This novel was not quite ready for prime time, which in some ways is understandable since it was an ARC. There was a spelling error of the kind a spellchecker will not find: "reversals that left a bade taste" where evidently 'bad' was required instead of 'bade', and having someone say, “Thus his interested in Baltimore, New York, and Louisville" when the 'his' should have been 'is', or alternately, the 'interested' should have been 'interest'.

There were occasional punctuation issues, such as, for example, a period missing at the end of a sentence, or a question mark (example: "He was taller than Capps, but who wasn’t.") and so on. This could use another read-through before publishing, but we've all been there and all missed something before publication, so these were no big deal for me. Other than that, it was generally well-formatted and in technical terms, well-written. The problem with it for me came from mired-in-the-mud trope and cliché. The farce was strong with this one.

Far from take a road less traveled, the author instead apparently made a checklist of tropes and clichés from the genre which must be included, and she checked off every one:

  • First person voice? Check!
  • Quirky name for female PI? Check! (It's Sunday Night which is too absurd by 100%)
  • Thorny PI or with troubled history or both? Check!
  • PI likes typically male sport (baseball in this case)? Check!
  • Quirky pet? Check!
  • Too much focus on, and detail of, ordinary everyday activities in life of PI? Check!
  • Has relative or close friend for backup? Check!
  • Has previous career in military or police? Check!
  • Has questionable record in previous professional career? Check!
  • Masochistic PI likes to suffer? Check!
  • Drinks beer like a good old boy? Check!
  • Investigation seems to be going one way; then it gets turned around and goes in another way entirely? Check!
So nothing new here then. I was truly sorry to see that.

There were also some writerly issues creeping in, such as having a character say, “Against whom?” No one says that in real life unless they're being very pretentious, or are an English teacher or an old-school actor, but I see writers using it all the time in character speech because they can't stop themselves! Personally I think 'whom' is long past its sell-by date and ought to be tossed out altogether. If writers want to use it in the narration, that's one thing, but to have real people actually say it is entirely another, and this is another problem with first person voice: the narrator is the one actually saying it!

So that's the technical writing portion of the review dealt with. Now onto the story itself! It didn't work for me because it revolved around a kidnapping of a young girl. The problem with this is that there was absolutely no rational whatsoever for kidnapping the girl, and even less to keep her alive. There's some vague hand-waving about using her for leverage, but it fails because there's nothing to leverage.

The bad guys are terrorists, so the kidnap victim is completely irrelevant to them. The terrorist leader is utterly ruthless and has no compunction about killing children, yet the one thing he threatens to do - kill the child - he never does.

The sole reason for this is of course so the PI can heroically rescue the girl at the end, but this makes the story so unrealistic as to be more of a joke than a thriller. I don't mind somewhat improbable events occurring in a novel if there's some sort of justification for them within the context of the story, but to just randomly have things be 'just-so' for the sole purpose of facilitating the PI cracking the case and saving the day makes the story look poorly written.

It didn't get any better when the PI takes a shot to the shoulder. There is a dumb gunfight in which, like Han Solo in the original film, she doesn't shoot first even though any realistic PI would have done so. She waits out the potential assassin who is in her hotel room. She waits for an ungodly amount of time, and never once thinks to call the police. Dumb. Worse than this, a host of other hotel guests go past her and see she has a gun, yet not a single one of them calls the police either! Double dumb. She's hit in the shoulder and gets a prescription for painkiller, but she never fills it! This doesn't make her look tough. It makes her look stupid.

If there was some valid reason offered for not getting the script filled - like she was in a prolongued chase, or there was no time to get to the pharmacy for some other reason, that would be one thing, but there's nothing! She has lots of time and nothing pressing, and she's out on the streets a lot. It would have been the simplest thing in the world to drop in to a pharmacy, get the script filed, pop a pill, and fix the pain, thereby making her more effective at doing the job she was hired for, but she never does. This doesn't make her look strong, it makes her look dumb or clueless. But not to worry! The entire injury seems to magically go away in short order, and isn't mentioned again - not in the portion I read, anyway.

What killed this novel for me though, was when the 'ruthless' villain kills one of two followers to try and get the PI off his back, but he delivers the other one to her trussed-up as a prisoner. Why didn't he kill that one? It turns out that the only reason he didn't dispatch her as well, is that she had a vital clue to impart which enabled the PI to track down the villain. This was so ridiculous that I quit reading the story right there, at about 75% in. I could not enjoy it when it was written so poorly, and I certainly couldn't take it seriously. I expected a lot better than this from such a seasoned writer. I cannot recommend this novel.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski


Rating: WARTY!
Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Femme by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Journey to a Woman by Ann Bannon


Rating: WARTY!

Ann Bannon strikes out for me in this, the third of her novels I've read, but the fourth in her opera. The problem with it was that it was the same story I'd already read twice before from this same author in different volumes! Here, in a nutshell, is why I don't read series. There was nothing new or original here. It added nothing to her oeuvre. it read like she had taken a template used in the two other novels of this author's that I've reviewed, shuffled the name cards, and re-dealt the pack, letting those names fall where they may. All she succeeded in doing was to present her main character, Beth, the college love interest of Laura, as one more in in a long line of Beebo Brinker's disposable bitches.

Beth's sitch is that having conveniently disposed of her cake in college, and married Charlie, she now whats to eat said cake. In her frustration, she's pretty much whoring around and abandoning both husband and children. She's supposed to be some sort of heroic figure for this? The sorry fact is that she's a whiny piece of trash.

She has no self-respect and she chases after a dance teacher named Vega, which is exactly what happened in one of the other two volumes (but with the name changed to something equally exotic). Beth lusts after Vega's ethereal beauty until she discovers that Vega is physically scarred from surgery, whereupon Beth can't ditch her fast enough - and this after declaring her undying love for Vega. What a complete jerk.

Failing there, she eventually throws over her husband and goes sniffing after Laura - the woman she rejected in college in favor of Charlie! When she's rejected by Laura, she takes up with - you got it - Beebo - the lesbian garbage pick-up of Greenwich Village. The whole story is insane, pathetic, lousily-written, and a disgrace to lesbian literature.


Uninvited Ghosts by Penelope Lively


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a very, short story from a collection titled Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories. It's playful and sweet, and slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Marian and Simon Brown have moved into a new house with their parents, and the family is so worn out they all troop off to bed, which is when the first ghost arrives from out of the chest of drawers. The children order it to leave, but it argues that it's lived there longer than they and so has precedence! The next night, there are two ghosts and the third night, three ghosts along with a ghost dog which has ghost fleas and scares the cat!

The ghosts won't leave. The children get a chance to visit with their well off Uncle who has a beautiful home and a nice TV, and they lure the ghosts into taking a trip with them but the ghosts won't stay. They prefer to be around children, and that wouldn't be so bad if they didn't appear out of nowhere and try to help with homework, or sit on top pf the TV, dangling their legs in front of it, or if one of them didn't suck peppermints and leave the smell lingering so their parents thought the children were sneaking candy into bed!

Fortunately the whole thing is resolved as the ghosts fall in love with a neighbor's noisy newborns, both of which calm down considerably when the ghosts begin paying them attention. eventually, Marian and Simon manage to persuade the ghosts to move a few doors away to the neighbor's house, where the children are pacified and peace and quiet reigns in the Brown house! This story was gorgeous and delightful, and I recommend it.

Penelope Lively has written about thirty children's books and a host of adult novels as well, so no doubt there is much more to mine there.


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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


Incarceron by Catherine Fisher


Rating: WARTY!

I should have followed my very first instinct which was to put this book back on the shelf. I just could not get into it at all. I got maybe twenty percent in before I gave it up as a bad job. Life's too short. The audiobook reader, Kim Mai Guest (a guest reader?!) was actually pretty good. Except for this one dumb voice she did, which I hope I'll never hear again, I'd listen to a different book read by her, but the story itself was bloated and confused, and the 'big reveal' was telegraphed from the beginning - the prisoner who has lost his memory is, I'm guessing, the prince who supposedly died. Boring!

You know I've often wondered how these readers of the books for the audio version feel about the books they read. Do they hate some of them, but can't say because it might jeopardize their prospects of being hired again? As readers only for our own personal entertainment, we can ditch a book that gets boring, but if you're hired to read a book, you have to stay with it until it's done satisfactorily. That, to me, would be torture!

So the story here is that Incarceron is a living prison. I don't know what that means - where it's actually some kind of living thing, or merely an advanced AI. It would seem to be the latter, and it appears to have taken pity on Finn, the flat and whiney male protagonist, by freeing him from his cell, but all this leads to his imprisonment in a larger and unprotected environment which is still a prison, so how is this doing him a favor? Finn initially wakes (we're told in an info-dump) to find his memory lost and himself incarcerated in a cell that appears to have no door. He gets food handed twice a day through a slot, and his 'waste products' are removed the same way.

One day a door which had been invisible in the wall opens and he gets out into a seemingly endless, straight, white tubular corridor. He follows it in one direction until he's too tired to walk. When he wakes, there is food right by him, so maybe Incarceron is helping him, but the description which started out quite interestingly, got lost in bad writing, as he whines (endlessly) about his wandering for days unsure if he was even moving

His evacuation of waste products seems to cease at this point, because he could tell if he was back-tracking by finding evidence where he'd previously urinated or defecated, yet none of this is covered, nor does the writer explain how he knew he was going in the same direction every day since he apparently left not even those markers. What if he got turned around in his sleep and went back the next day over the same ground he covered the day before? We'll never know because this author evidently never even considered this.

It was at this point that I quit reading, out of a complete lack of interest in any of the characters. There was the inevitable female counterpart to the male (because gays and transgenders never do end up in dystopian stories for some reason, I guess they're smarter than the cis population....). She was the warden's daughter and she was on some quest or other that I simply could not for the life of me make heads or tails of. There was some mysterious Lord (or course) who was evil evidently because he was overweight. There were robot rats which spied on people, even on the warden's daughter. Why rats? Why not drones? None of this made any sense at all and it feels like such a huge relief that I do not have to follow this story anymore!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Love is Love by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

In this, the last of the so-called Beebo Brinker Chronicles (and it's a good thing they were not actually called that, otherwise I would never have read them!), the author ends the series by taking us back to the beginning - to when Beebo first arrives in New York City and runs into another of the regulars in the series: Jackson Mann. After a slightly distrustful start, Jack, who is gay, takes Beebo under his wing and even arranges for her to get a job as a "delivery boy".

Beebo begins to come out of her shell, and to accept herself as a lesbian, but she has two dicks to deal with. One of these is the husband of the woman for whose Italian restaurant Beebo delivers, and the other is Mona, a bisexual woman who is independently wealthy and has nothing to do with her time, but to be abusive to people and even outright vindictive when she feels slighted - as she does with Beebo after an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Beebo is just 18, and fled her small farming-community town in Wisconsin after the gossip about her became too much to bear. Her real name isn't Beebo any more than Ann Bannon is the author's real name. Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker is outstanding in more than one way, not least of which is that she wears her hair closely-cropped, and refuses to be feminine, wearing trousers and taking a very masculine role. She's also tall and muscular.

Jack conducts her around the local gay scene and at first Beebo is mildly disgusted in a lesbian bar, but she cannot get those images of women dancing together out of her head, and she's finally persuaded to accept her true self. After the badly-mismanaged non-relationship with Mona, Pete, the Italian husband, puts her onto Paula, an ex of Mona's.

Paula turns out to be exactly what Beebo wants and needs, but it's not plain sailing because Beebo once again proves as vacillating here as she had in Women in the Shadows - or as she would later be in that volume! Once she's made a pizza delivery to the New York home of a Hollywood star, Beebo cannot get "Venus" out of her head, and when Venus tempts her with an offer of employment on her trip to Hollywood to film a new TV show, Beebo drops everything, including Paula, and takes off like a bitch in heat.

The story was great until this point, but it goes downhill somewhat once Beebo gets to California, with rather unbelievable stories of the press's great interest in Venus's private life. It seemed entirely incredible to me. Yes, the press is shamefully like that now, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad in the late fifties and early sixties.

This doesn't mean there were no scandals and it doesn't mean that no-one's career was ruined, but it felt too much to take seriously, especially since Venus wasn't exactly a premier A-list star, and there was nothing at all to lead the press to believe that anything 'untoward' (as they would deem it), was going on. This is the early sixties, after all, and while the US was (and still is) extraordinarily conservative, this "scandal" seemed too much to believe.

None of the entertainment media had even seen Beebo, much less knew she was a woman, much less knew she was having an affair with Venus. The only thing they had was a rumor from some unknown gossips in New York City (Obviously, Pete and Mona) about an affair. There wasn't anything to get the rumor rolling! It was not credible that this would happen as fast as it did and to the extent that it did.

But it does happen and the upshot is that Beebo comes running home to Paula, who of course accepts her and takes her back! It's all lovey-dovey, but clearly it means nothing given Beebo's later history, so it's really hard to understand what Bannon thought she was doing with this story. It's especially hard to understand, given that this is really exactly the same story that was told in Women in the Shadows, where Jack plays the role of Paula, and Beebo becomes both Mona, and Venus! That said, however, the early part of the story was told well and with great feeling if a little over the top here and there, so I recommend it as of historical interest.