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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch, Burton Silver


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a big cat fan, that is, I am not a big fan of cats, but when I saw this book I had to take a look at it. My conclusion is that either these two authors are either high amongst the most tongue-in-cheek authors ever, or they're dangerously delusional. I shall be charitable and go with the first of those options, mainly because I share their evident opinion that the art world is just as bad as the fashion world for being puffed-up, vacuous, and ridiculous.

Seen in that light, this book, subtitled "A theory of feline aesthetics" is brilliant, and I salute the authors. The tone is pitch perfect, the images gorgeous, and the overall effect hilarious. Cats are not the only animals that paint. By 'paint' I mean daub a surface with color. Chimpanzees and elephants do it, rhinos and meerkats (Google's idiot spell checker wanted to change that latter to 'marketeers' LOL!), raccoons and pigs, goats and lemurs, parrots, and even seals, and not just at Easter (or estrus)!

Employing the word 'paint' suggests a purpose. Do they have a purpose? Clearly it attracts them, but what exactly is going on in their sub-human brains remains to be seen. Something does however compel animals to daub the paint, yet no one can possibly know what's going on in the animals' mind, except, of course, these two authors who deliberate over it and quote references, and have a high old time extolling both art and artist!

I recommend this not only because it's intriguing that animals do this, but because of the images of the artists, which are charming and adorable, and also the art itself, which is inspiring for anyone who, like me, who all to often thinks he can neither paint nor draw. I recommend the book as a coffee table book, a reading book and a guaranteed conversation-starter.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1954, the story begins with two US Marshals setting out for Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane which is housed in an old fort on Shutter Island. On the ferry to the island where the story opens, Teddy Daniels has a new partner named Chuck Aule with whom he has never worked. Teddy is throwing up in the bathroom.

They are sent to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate named Rachel Solando, who evidently murdered her own three children, so the story has all the hallmarks of a locked room mystery. I saw the film made from this novel some time ago and barely remembered it, so my impression was that I didn't like it very much, but I decided to give the novel a go anyway since I'd liked this author's novel Mystic River. After I read this I watched the movie again and liked it, but was not overwhelmed by it.

The novel was good though, and I found that the reader quickly learns that not everything is as it seems here. People appear to be keeping secrets. There are hints that perhaps some radical experimentation is taking place on the island on some of the patients. It doesn't help that real clues are hard to come by, that many of the potential witnesses are literally insane, that Teddy is suffering migraines, and that a hurricane is coming down hard on the island. Worse than this, Teddy has an agenda - to find the guy who he thinks burned down his home and thereby killed his wife, and he thinks Andrew Laeddis is somewhere in Ashecliffe.

It became apparent at a point early in the story that someone was deluding themselves, but I could never tell whether it was going to take the predictable route or if there really was something else going on. It took the predictable route, but that didn't make it any less of a worthy read for me. I enjoyed it and I recommend it.


Theatrics by Neil Gibson, Leonardo Gonzalez, Jan Wijngaard


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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


The Red Word by Sarah Henstra


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 6, 2017

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken


Rating: WARTY!

Another audiobook experiment that failed. I get a lot of these because I tend to experiment more with audiobooks, but I was a bit surprised to find so many in the last batch I tried from the local library! Hopefully the next lot I pull out of there will have more winners than losers.

The story is that this plague of some kind attacks children and kills many of them, but those who are left find they have some sort of psychic power. The story was supposed to lead to a bunch of these kids being on the run with these powers, chased by the authorities, which sounded interesting to me, but I couldn't stand to listen to it any more and I never got that far.

The problem was that the writing was so awfully bad that I wasn't inclined to listen to any more of this, or anything else by this author for that matter! On top of that, it was in worst person voice - that is first person, which is typically nothing save an irritation to me. In this case the reader, Amy McFadden, wasn't so bad, and I would have been happy to listen to her even in first person if I had to, but not with a novel as poorly thought-out as this one was.

I can get with the plague and the deaths, and the arrival of these psychic powers. That's fine by me. What made zero sense though, was that suddenly, without any preamble or lead-in whatsoever, young children are being hauled off to concentration camps and they're being treated brutally. One young boy gets a rifle butt in his teeth, twice, for complaining he's hungry! This was way out of left field because there was nothing to preface this at all!

I'm like, wait, how did this deteriorate so quickly that this is considered to be the way things are now? Of course, in first person, you can't tell a good story because you can only tell what happens directly to the narrator - either that or you have to lard-up your story with info-dumps from other people, or you have to admit you made a stupid and limiting choice of voice and start trashing the story with other first person voices or with a third person which is what you should have used in the first place!

It was so pathetic and ridiculous that it told me the author was trying to set this vicious conflict in place without wanting to do any of the work to get it up and running sensibly. It's one thing for an author to slowly ramp-up to this kind of a situation, but to have it just precipitate out of nothing without any kind of rationale or overture made no sense at all to me and this is when I gave up caring about this novel.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tovi the Penguin Goes Trick or Treating by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a bit late for Halloween, but I thought I'd already posted my review. Sorry! This is another in the Tovi series, nearly all of which I've liked (of the ones I've read). I liked this one as well. Not only was it an amusing story which told an interesting tale, and only a wee bit scary, it was also beautifully-drawn and brilliantly-colored by the author herself.

One of the delights is that it was legible on a smart phone so you can access it anywhere, and the double-page spreads, which all-too-often in the non-print version are given short shrift and end-up chopped into individual pages, thereby losing the sweep of the double image, were maintained here, and they looked gorgeous. I fully recommend this, not just for next Halloween, but for any time you want to curl up with your kid and a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy a warm tail!


Goodnight Swampy the Little Monster by Ellie J Woods


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for young children about the problems Swampy's mom has getting him ready for bed. I liked the twist in the tale (not in Swampy's tail!) in that it's Swampy's older brother who steers him right in this story, not his mom. I didn't like that neither dad nor a second mom were in sight, but there are families in that situation, so I guess it worked on that level intentional or not.

The book is clearly intended as a print book, but it worked well on a tablet, and was even legible on a smart phone, so you can get your child set-up to read (or at least look at the pictures) no matter what. I say its aimed at print because on the tablet, the double pages were all separated into singles thereby losing the impact of the double spread. Sad but true.

That said, I liked the story and I think children will too. I recommend it.



Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last Neil Gaiman that I'm going to read. Ive tried several of his mostly with little success. The way this started, I was unsure; then I thought I was going to like it, but in the end it became bogged down with extraneous detail. Props to Gaiman for reading his own work. He didn't do brilliantly for me, but he did okay to begin with.

More authors need to do this, but in the end, even this proved a negative influence in this novel because Gaiman sounded to me rather like a soft version of Professor Snape. His voice has tones of Alan Rickman in it, and in the end I could neither take it seriously, nor enjoy listening to it even as am amusement since, Like Rickman, but far less captivating, his voice had odd pauses in it and strange inflections (and not because it was British!). It certainly did not help that it was in first person, the weakest and least credible voice for a writer to choose.

It didn't help, either, that the story is one long flashback, another tedious conceit for me. Set in the county of Sussex in England, an older man revisits his childhood home and recalls a supernatural incident from when he was much younger. In short, it's an old fashioned wicked witch story, but it was boring when it should most certainly not have been. The problem begins right there, because no one has that kind of verbatim recollection, so credibility for me was lost from the off.

The story is of the guy crossing into another world holding the hand of his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, and I don't thing Gaiman ever uses her name without using it in full like that, which was another source of tedium. She has this in common with the villain of the piece, the melodramatic Ursula Monckton, a wicked witch which the boy brings back accidentally from this other land. i was rooting for Ursula.

We're supposed to believe that this man who is recalling every vivid detail of this event from almost a half century before accurately and relating entire conversations word for word, hasn't thought of this girl with whom he shared this adventure "in decades!" It makes no sense, and neither did this story. I cannot recommend it.


Counter-Clock World by Philip K Dick


Rating: WARTY!

I've decided I like Phillip Dick better when his works are translated to the screen than I do in the original. I don't think I've read one of his books that entertained me, so this is the last of his that I'll be reading. It didn't help that it was read by Patrick Lawlor, one of my least favorite readers.

We're told that "the world has entered the Hobart Phase–a vast sidereal process in which time moves in reverse. As a result, libraries are busy eradicating books, copulation signifies the end of pregnancy, people greet with, 'Good-bye,' and part with, 'Hello,' and underneath the world’s tombstones, the dead are coming back to life." This is a lie.

If time were truly reversed, then people wouldn't come back to life in their grave, not unless they'd been buried alive. Nope. The grave would un-fill, a service would be held, the coffin would be un-lowered from the grave and carried (with cars driving in reverse) to the funeral home where it would lie in state until the body was carried back to the hospital where it would come back to life (assuming it died of old age or of some accident). There it would improve its condition until it was able to return home, or maybe back to a motor vehicle accident which would un-happen. People wouldn't greet each other with "Good-bye," but with "olleh" and they'd part with, "eybdoog." But at least climate change would have a viable solution to look forward to, as would pollution.

Actually I was quite willing to let Dick get away with that for an interesting story, but there the problem lay: it wasn't interesting. In the end he has some good ideas, but as a writer he's really rather poor. It turns out Dick is just another of these pedantic authors who comes up with a wacky idea that might just work, and then spoils it completely by weighing it down with leaden philosophy and juvenile religious claptrap. Yawn. Check please, I'm done here.


Mila 2.0: Renegade by Debra Driza


Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 in a series, which was not known to me when I picked it up, otherwise I would have put it right back down. It looked interesting from the blurb (but doesn't it always?): an android on the run. Count me in! Why they don't call the female ones gynoid, I don't know any more than I know how there can be such a thing as a female android - or even a male one for that matter since they are robots and incapable of reproduction (one assumes!). I just did not get along with this novel at all though. The blurb online says it's "Perfect for fans of I Am Number Four and Divergent" which would have turned me off at once had I read that on the back of the book.

So Mila is on the run from General Holland and Vita Obscura, whoever they are. She's hanging with a guy, who to credit the novel where it's due, is not your usual type of studly YA male, although he does sport the ;laughable name of Hunter which is one of the go-to names for YA novels. The two of them are supposed to be looking for a guy named Richard Grady who is evidently someone who can tell her about how she came to be, but neither of them is smart enough to get that he is undoubtedly being watched and she will be captured as soon as she shows up in his neighborhood.

This was the biggest problem. Mila is dumb and she's obsessing on Hunter and none of that made any sense, but the dumb part was what really got me. She's too dumb to know that these people who are trying to track her might be using her own Internet searches to pin down where she is. I can't stand reading novels about dumb girls, and YA is replete with such novels. If she starts out dumb and wises up, that's one thing, but to be dedicatedly dumb is a huge turn-off for me, especially when the novel spends more time focused on how pretty Mila is than anything else.

Not for me. Not for me to recommend.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ghost in Trouble by Carolyn G Hart


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known this audiobook was part of a series I would never have picked it up, but as a one-off (as I thought it was) it sounded like it might be worth a listen, and I tend to experiment more with audiobooks than other formats, so I decided to give it a chance. In the end I decided I'd rather hear the sound of synthetic rubber on asphalt than listen to any more of this in the car, before I turned it back in to the library! LOL! The southern belle accent of the reader turned me off as much as the amateurish writing.

The problem with writing supernatural tales is that you really need to come up with some sort of intelligent framework in which to set them. It doesn't have to be cast-iron reality by any means (because it can't be!), but it does have to make some sort of sense. None of this did.

All the author has done is exactly what far too many unimaginative and blinkered authors do when they tell tales like these: they take our real world and simply translate it to a ghostly one, and make no other changes, so Bailey Ruth (this is the Bailey Ruth series volume 3) and her husband Bobby Mac (barf) are still married and leading exactly the same life they led on Earth when they were alive, except that sometimes, while BM is out fishing in his boat, BR goes back to her home town to solve a problem, in her role as a volunteer for the heavenly department of good intentions! Barf. BR is a moron. I'm sorry, but she is. She knows the rules (don't be seen, don't be heard, and so on), yet she continually breaks them not because circumstances call for it, but because she's simply too dumb to follow them.

I don't get her mission, either. In this story she's supposed to be trying to prevent a woman she disliked in life, from being murdered. We're supposed to assume that BR is a decent, likeable person (although she was tedious to me) and therefore if she doesn't like this woman she's supposed to be protecting, then this woman is not likeable, so where is the justification for her mission? Why not leave her to her lot? Besides, can't this god in her heaven not control things with his divine powers? Can he not protect her? Why is BR needed at all?

There's no explanation for this, except that in the Bible, one thing we're shown repeatedly is that god is incompetent and can't get a thing done without a human to help him. Need commandments? Better have Moses hike up the mountain to go get 'em 'cos they can't be delivered any other way. Earth flooding? Better get Noah to build the ark and round up the animal feed because no god is going to lift a finger to help. Need to get everyone right with god? Rape a virgin and sacrifice her son on a cross because the divine mind can't think of any more intelligent way to do it than brutally and bloodily, as his history in the Old Testament proves. You know how the story goes.

Plus, given what happened recently in Las Vegas, are there not more important missions - assuming god is so helpless that missions must be undertaken? Is it not more important to send someone out to prevent a child being abused or kidnapped than to prevent some obnoxious woman from dying? Where was someone like BR when psychos opened up with machine guns and automatic weapons on innocent people out enjoying themselves? It's nonsensical. If abortions are so bad, why not send BR on a mission to get all these unwanted children adopted? I guess her god can't be bothered with that.

This author's concept of daily life in Heaven is not only just as nonsensical, it's antiquated. If you want comedy, Lucille Ball is still doing her shows in heaven! Seriously? Why would she? For the last decade of her life she wasn't doing her show, so why would she restart it when she went to Heaven? And why Lucille Ball? Is the author unaware of the scores of other TV comedies and comedians that have been and gone in the intervening period? Or is she simply too idle to look them up? Would no one want to watch any of those people? It's the same with cooking. Your cookery is taught by Julia Child and the same rationale applies here, too. It's a case of the author going with what she knows, and I know the knee-jerk advice is to write what you know, but in this case it backfires big time.

Stephen King was a teacher before he became really well-known as a horror writer. He never met a shy schoolgirl who could control objects with her mind. He never saw a vampire, or uncovered an alien spaceship, and he never drove an evil 1958 Plymouth Fury. Should he have confined himself therefore to writing only about teaching? 'Write what you know' is asinine, Write what you want, is my advice. But think about what you're writing or you're going to end-up with crap like this on your hands.

So in short, this was tedious, primitive, poorly thought-out, badly-written and nonsensical, and I cannot recommend it.


The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. It sounded interesting from the blurb: a girl who idolizes Ingrid Bergman growing up in the era of McCarthyism, and from a cloying Catholic background, discovers, hey, guess what? No body is perfect!

Things start coming apart in her perfect life when her idiot parents decide she's subject to bad influences at her prestigious Hollywood school and hypocritically send her to a Catholic girl's school where she's going to be brainwashed that there's a loving, long-suffering god who quite cheerfully condemns people who piss him off to hellish suffering for all eternity. Yep.

Her father is a Hollywood publicist who happens to be in charge of Bergman's account, so when it comes to light that she's having an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and later is having a child by him, the witch-hunt starts, aided and abetted by this same Catholic church which on the one had teaches people to love their neighbor and turn the other cheek, but on the other slaps people it dislikes in the face with a tirade of abuse, recrimination, and rejection. They still do this today. Hypocrites.

The truth is that this 'scandal' lasted only four years before Bergman was working for Hollywood studios again. Just four years after that she was presenting an academy award in Hollywood, so this 'end of the world' scenario in which Jessica - the first person narrator - is wallowing is a bit overdone.

Worse than that, it makes Jessica look like a moron that she is so slow to see consequences of actions and how things will play out, despite spending some considerable time with her new best friend at the Catholic school, who knows precisely how things will pan out and spends their friendship trying to educate Jessica, who never seems to learn to shed her blinkers.

I started out not being sure, then starting to like it, then going off it, then warming to it, then completely going off it at about the halfway point when it became clear that Jessica was an idiot and showed no sign of improvement. It's yet another first person fail, and worse than this, the story is framed as a flashback so the entire story is a flashback apart from current day (that is current day in the story) bookends. I do not like first person, and I do not like flashbacks, so this was a double fail for me, although Erin Spencer did a decent job reading it.

There were some serious writing issues for a seasoned author or a professional editor to let slip by. I read at one point that Jessica was perusing an "Article entitled..." No! There was no entitlement here. The article was titled not entitled! At another point she wrote: "verdant green lawn." Since 'verdant' means green grass, it's tautologous and a good author should know this. 'Verdant lawn' works, as does 'green lawn', but not both! The part of the story where Jessica is required to see Sister Theresa, the head of her school, is larded with heavy-handed foreshadowing. I expect better from an experienced writer.

Jessica wasn't really a likeable person. I read at one point: "he was a year younger and an inch shorter" which made her sound arrogant, elitist, and bigoted. How appalling is it that she should think like this? Too appalling for me. I didn't want to read any more about her, because I didn't care how her life turned out.


The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very slim and very uninteresting volume. I am sure it would have been quite the ticket in the later eighteen hundreds, when Bierce was at his most prolific (not that these particular stories were published in Bierce's lifetime, but by today's standards, they leave a lot to be desired and I cannot recommend them.

I didn't read them all because they were not interesting to me, but the ones I did read all seemed to be the same story re-dressed with a few changed details and trotted out as something new. One trick pony describes it well, I think.

There were too many of them which were rooted in darkness and icy chills blowing hither and thither, and on purportedly scary footsteps, strange marital discord, vague descriptions of bad things happening, and one line conclusions. It really became too tedious to read them after the first three or so.

I found myself skimming a couple more and gave up on it as a bad job about half way through. Maybe other readers will have a different experience, but this was definitely not for me, despite my liking An Occurrence at Owl Creek, which was why I picked this up in the first place. Ambrose Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1914 whilst covering the revolution there, and was never seen or heard from again. I think his own story told as fiction would be a lot more interesting than this collection was!


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!


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.


The Helmet of Horror by Viktor Pelevin


Rating: WARTY!

Having listened to, and enjoyed, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by this same author, I turned to this short story and was severely disappointed, It was trite, boring, poorly read by a cast, and tedious. I have now been turned off looking for anything else by this author.

While I appreciated this unusual take on the myth of Theseus, where people are locked in rooms and have access to the outside only via computer screen and a device which translates their spoken words into texts on screen that others in a 'chat room' can see (call it 'Theseus and the Monitor'), it was simply uninteresting.

These people were able to talk and see their speech and see responses in real time on screen, but the system X'd out any personal details they gave. Their screen names were preassigned and seemed to make no sense, but the story wasn't remotely engaging. I had no interest in their Internet or in any of the characters, and I simply didn't care who they were, why they were there, or what would happen to them. The parts were so poorly read that I gave up on it despite it being so short, because life is also short! Far too short to waste on something which doesn't grab and hold you from the off. I can't recommend this based on the half to two-thirds that I struggled to get through.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Monster at Recess by Shira C Potter


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This story, by the author of The Friendly Monster (anyone spot a trend here?!) was very short (only 13 pages), and it had a bit of an abrupt ending, but it had heart, and I liked it. It's aimed at kids who are just beginning to read with confidence by themselves, and tells the tale of Sophie (the name means 'wisdom'!). It is a text-only book - no illustrations.

Sophie is in elementary school and she isn't happy there. Everyone seems the same to her, stuffy and dull. Even the name of the school is Grey Stone Day School, and she seems to be the only one who stands out with her red hair. Worse, people are mean to her and she doesn't know why. Sophie is a bit of a day-dreamer, and she eyes the monsters from the school next door - a school which shares its recess yard with Sophie's school - with envy because they seem to get along and have fun, but her school has a fear of monsters and this is why they do not share their recess time.

Sophie however, finds a colorful hat - just like the ones the monsters wear - and she's determined to return it to its rightful owner, even if it means braving the monsters at recess. Well, you know what Robert Burns said? "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley" or as we know it, go sideways! Unlike in her own school, the monsters (most of them anyway) celebrate difference, not conformity, and Sophie starts to feel like she fits right in.

I had two views of this story! On the one hand I liked it and I liked that it showed Sophie learning that you do not have to fit in to be happy with yourself; it's OK to be different. On the other hand, I wish that Sophie had done something about the bullying in her own school instead of running away from it! What to do, what to do? The book also depicts her breaking some rules and lying to a teacher, but on the other hand the teacher isn't doing anything to control the rampant meanness, and is in fact mean herself, so what choice does Sophie have?

There are different ways of dealing with problems, and running is certainly a valid one in many regards, when there seems to be no alternative and no one to turn to, but I would have liked to have seen Sophie address that; however, she doesn't run very far, just towards friends who will accept her. So is that really running?

On the other hand, I didn't like that the bullies got away with their meanness while it was Sophie who was portrayed, indirectly, as the monster (because that's who she hangs out with). I would have liked to have seen that addressed, but one step at a time: Sophie does show bravery in stepping out at recess when only the monsters are playing out there.

I think this is a great start to a book, or perhaps a series, but it felt like it was missing a bit here and there. If it were to turn into a series which shows how Sophie faces the problems and deals with them, this would make a great story. But Rome wasn't built in a day (some parts of it, like the Colosseum, just look like it was!), and I consider this a worthy read for young children, especially if it's used as a discussion springboard to address how a young child should deal with bullying and with people who just don't want to be friends.

The book references a website, www.heartlabpress.com, but the site isn't really up-and-running as of this posting. Not that I'm one to talk! LOL! I still have some serious work to do on my stuff, but writing has been calling to me of late far more strongly than dressing up websites ever does, so I can't blame an author for that! I wish Shira Potter all the best with her stories.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harry’s Spooky Surprise by NGK


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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


Ghosties by Gerald Hawksley


Rating: WORTHY!

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