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

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 treasonably-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!

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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon


Rating: WORTHY!

Funny - I thought The Shadows was an all-male band! (That's a Brit joke). Frankly this novel came close to being a warty read, but in the end, it saved itself and I consider, while the main character is not likeable - not to me anyway - her story is worth reading, if only from an historical perspective.

I'd also like to note that while these stories have been praised for their realism, this realism extends only so far. Sexual promiscuity, whether hetero- or homo-, carries with it potential health costs, which were just as much of a problem in the sixties (even though AIDs had not reared its ugly head yet) as they have been in every other decade. This novel, though, is very much a summer of love novel (lots of sex and zero consequences), even though the summer of love was a long way in the future when these were written.

So for me, the strength of the novel was not in the realism per se, but in the graphic depiction of relationship problems as being precisely the same for the queer population as they are for everyone else. I think this was Bannon's real strength, showing that gays and lesbians (and everyone in between) are no different from anyone else, and this was in an era where they were widely (and legally) considered deviants and predators by the population at large.

Worse than this, and something these novels also show, is that anyone else doesn't have to deal with also being shamed and made into pariahs for who they love. This is a grotesque fear which has not been dispensed with even now, as we approach the diamond jubilee of these novels. That's the saddest thing about all of this.

There is one more thing: in an era where appallingly misnamed 'honor' killings are still the things which need to be killed-off, but which, instead of dying out as they must, are threatening to spread along with all those who are immature, insecure, and clueless enough to consider women to be property at best and inconveniences at worst, this novel unashamedly shows an interracial relationship exactly as it ought to be shown: where it's about the relationship, and not the skin color of those who are involved in the relationship.

In celebration of Gay Pride Month (which may be June or July - no one seems to agree on it!), I'm reviewing several LGBTQIA novels, of which this is one of three Ann Bannon books I got from my local - and very excellent! - library. Excellent as they are, though, they did not have the first three of her hexalogy, only three of the last four: Women in the Shadows, Journey to a Woman, and Beebo Brinker. The other books are Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman, and The Marriage.

Ann Weldy, who wrote as Ann Bannon, completed the so-called 'Beebo Brinker Chronicles' in the late fifties and early sixties as a means of giving vent to lesbian feelings which she felt constrained from letting loose in any other way. Like this way wasn't brave enough?! Good god! She was married to a guy who didn't approve of these 'sordid little tales', and yet she went ahead and did it anyway and the novels were very well received for their realism in a world of sadly cheap 'pulp' sex novels. She had no idea of how influential these books had been until twenty years later when she separated from a husband with whom she had had two children in a marriage that must otherwise have been barely endurable for her.

Laura first appeared as a student in the very first book, where she was involved in a lesbian relationship with another student - mirroring a somewhat similar but unrequited relationship Ann knew of in real life. In this book, Laura is coming to the end of a two year-long relationship with Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker - a classical butch lesbian. The relationship is diseased and co-dependent, and it's highly destructive, but Laura doesn't seem to have the strength to get out of it, and Beebo doesn't want to get out of it. She claims to love Laura, but in reality, she's a jealous, manipulative, rather psychotic alcoholic, who will do almost literally anything to hold on to Laura.

Laura goes from one bad relationship to another because she doesn't seem capable of recognizing it when she gets a good one. She starts an affair with a woman who calls herself Tris, but who uses Laura just as cruelly as Beebo does. Eventually, and feeling rejected by Tris and fearful of Beebo, Laura agrees to marry Jack, who is gay, but who is tired of "chasing boys" as the author unfortunately describes it. No, he's not a pedophile, but he calls young men boys and he's sworn off them.

In many ways, Jack and Laura are mirror images. He's had it just as bad as she has. He's also an alcoholic, but in order to get over being dumped by Terry, his young stud of a lover, he proposes to Laura who eventually feels weak enough to accept it, and they marry and move in together, and Jack quits the booze. Theirs is a loving but asexual relationship since neither finds the other sexually attractive, although they are quite affectionate.

Laura becomes pregnant through artificial insemination with sperm from Jack, who is a sweet guy when he's not bemoaning Terry or getting drunk. Actually he's even sweet when he's drunk, but can Laura see what a good thing she has going? Not really. The problem is that Terry isn't done with Jack and Laura isn't done with Beebo, so things get bad for a while, but the ending turns it around enough for me to rate this a worthy read despite Laura's pathetic, limp rag character. It does tell an interesting story although some readers might be put off by the rather twisted actions, particularly those engineered by Beebo, during some of it.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Things I Should Have Known by Claire Lazebnik


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an awesome book by an author with a mouth-twisting last name - which happens to be the Arabic word (zebnik) for zebra as far as I know (but that's only as far as I know)! It's also a book where things could have gone sadly and badly wrong, but the author picked her way carefully through this maze and the result was amaze! For me she put a foot wrong on only a couple of occasions, missteps which I was happy to let slide because the rest of the novel was totally awesome.

Having read so many (far too many, in fact) YA novels which have timidly, like a lamb, followed the rest of the herd along the path most traveled (usually into bland oblivion or itchy annoyance), I live for novels like this, which strike out on their own path, tell their own story, and make it real.

The differences are clear from the start. Contrary to far too many YA novels, instead of starting out as the outcast and the underdog, Chloe Mitchell is a popular girl who is well-liked and dating the school's hottest guy (so she says), so that's a welcome reversal of the usual YA trope right there. In another departure, Chloe's sister, Ivy, is autistic, quite highly functioning, but nonetheless decidedly on the spectrum. What Chloe doesn't know to begin with though, is that the guy she most detests in school, David, also has an autistic sibling, Ethan, and he attends the same school Ivy does.

Chloe is truly torn between wanting to have a life for herself, and feeling responsible for Ivy, and facilitating her having a life, and she manages it well despite feeling put-upon and abused at times. It comes to pass that when Ivy expresses some interest in Ethan, Chloe decides maybe the two could date. Despite being four years younger than her sister, Chloe is very much the older sibling in this relationship, and she nudges Ivy along and arranges for them to meet at a yogurt shop downtown.

When she and Ivy show up, there is Ethan, and with him most unexpectedly, is David. Chloe is confused and annoyed at his presence until she discovers David is Ethan's brother, and has the same relationship with him that Chloe does with Ivy. Suddenly she not only has something in common with the guy she detests, but it's also something of vital importance.

A lesser author might have left it at that, but this author doesn't. She keeps on ramping it up. Ivy, while enjoying, in her own way, her visits with Ethan. has much more interest in a girl at her school named Diana, and rather belatedly, Chloe realizes her sister is gay.

Here was the first misstep in the writing, for me, which is that Chloe then refocuses on finding Ivy a "young, gay woman with autism" which is wrong-headed. Ivy's partner needs to be someone who can be with Ivy and appreciate her for who she is. The partner is required to be neither 'young' nor autistic herself!

Chloe makes a lot of mistakes and typically learns from them, but she never seemed to learn from this one. That she was so wrong about Ivy's sexuality ought to have taught her that she should be more cautious in who she tried to "line up" for her sister in future.

Of course it's obvious what was going to happen, because this novel still has the trope of the girl falling for the guy she initially hates, but here's it's done sensitively and not at all like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, which was very much appreciated.

The relationship between David and Chloe grows naturally and organically, and there's no miraculous transformation. The relationship is troubled and thorny, because David is, but it's easy to see how the two of them are learning to accommodate to each other's ofttimes uncomfortable shape and demeanor as they grow to know each other. That kind of maturity in a relationship is rare in YA novels which are all-too-often puke-inducing, instadore-laden disasters.

This brings me to the second misstep, which is that David, at one point, is described by Chloe as having yellow flecks in his eyes. This is the biggest, most annoying cliche in all of YA-dom. Usually it's gold flecks, but yellow is hardly any better. I despair of YA writers who employ this because I have read it so often it's nauseating, and it smacks of a complete lack of imagination and inventiveness on the part of the YA author.

In the unintentional humor department, I have to quote the opening few words from chapter six which are: "A little before seven" which I thought was hilarious because chapter six is indeed a little before seven. But that's just my truly, hopelessly warped mind. In the intentional humor department, of which there were many sly instances, this line was a standout: "The indoor tables are all occupied by unshaven guys writing movie dialogue on their MacBook Airs, so we sit outside." The novel takes place in LA, so this was perfect and made me LOL.

My two minor gripes aside, I truly loved this novel and I fully recommend it. It was a welcome breath of life in a YA world which has become glutted with the rotting corpses of an endless parade of YA clone novels marching lock-step towards oblivion. The formatting of the ebook needs some work, but I assume that will be taken care of before it's released. In case it isn't, this needs to be fixed: "wish she could stay in in high school forever." (An 'in' too many!). But other than that, this book was about as near to perfect as you can humanly get it.

Every Family is a Little Nuts by AJ Cosmo


Rating: WARTY!

On balance I've liked this author's children's books, but I didn't get the point of this one! I mean, yeah, obviously it examines a slightly dysfunctional family, but it never seemed to go anywhere, and there really was no happy resolution, which some children might find rather disturbing.

If there's one thing children definitely need, it's the feeling of security. The story in general was not awful, and the illustration was charming, but the poor squirrel, Wally, really didn't seem to get any satisfaction and I think this is a mistake.

The story involves some unspecified holiday with gift giving, so from a religious festival PoV, it's quite neutral, which is a good thing, but Wally seems to get buffeted around without going anywhere, and has tasks put on him without seeming to garner any satisfaction from them or from a sense of helping or duty. None of this is really pursued, so the opportunity to teach some lessons here seemed wasted to me. I get that life isn't fair and there is no expectation of a reward, nor should there necessarily be for helping people, and children at some point need to understand this, but even this lesson seemed to become lost in the welter of activity and disconnected events. I can't recommend this one, but I do recommend this author in general.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a full-cast audio production of a graphic novel I reviewed positively back in February. Noelle Stevenson is of Lumberjanes fame - a graphic novel I did not like at all. Nimona is altogether different, but I'm not going into any detail here since you can read that in my previous review. here's I'll just comment on the differences between it and the audio.

I wanted to listen to this because it struck me as odd that there should be an audio version of a novel written in a format that is known primarily for appealing to the visual! At first, I was annoyed. This audiobook succumbs to one of my pet peeves about audiobooks, which is that there is music. There are also sound effects. After a while I learned to tolerate all of this, but I was never completely happy with it. Full-cast is listed on the audio itself, but not on the cover, which mentions only three people: Rebecca Soler, Jonathan Davis, and Marc Thompson. They did do a good job, though, once I had got used to the voices.

Soler - who could actually play Nimona very effectively if the story ever got made into a movie - truly gets into her character and does a great job, and the other two, one of whom, I assume, does Ballister Blackheart, and the other Ambrosius Goldenloin, deliver beautifully. I recommend this version - it's very short, of course, but if you want some delicious villainy and intrigue delivered direct to your ear, then this is a great way to get it.


Ellen's Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, Daniel Minter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a story of marriage and slavery, and emancipation and tradition, which was nicely illustrated by means of block-printing by Daniel Minter. Before slaves had any freedom, they could marry by means of "jumping the broom" together. After emancipation, they were able to legally marry and feel finally free from having their family torn-apart if a slave owner decided to separate a couple form their children or from each other.

it's vitally important we never forget how evil we have been in the past because the surest way to descend into that criminal behavior again is to forget it. This book is a sweet and non-preachy way for younger children to learn of the way we were, and must never be again.


Hattie & Hudson by Chris van Dusen


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a charming, fun, and colorful children's story, with beautiful images, and it's all about inclusivity. Hattie likes to go out on the lake enjoying nature, and one day she meets Hudson, who is what's typically described as a monster - a huge, aquatic creature reminiscent of something from the dinosaur era - but he's not dumb and he's very gentle. Hattie starts forming a friendship with him, but inevitably, other people find out and suddenly there's a panicked mob. Hattie doesn't know what to do. No one will listen to her protests on Hudson's behalf, but she comes up with a cunning plan with Hudson's help, and with some very neatly orchestrated choreography, the two of them manage to win over the town.

This is a great little story about how love and friendship can overcome fear, and I recommend it.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Bad Heir Day by Wendy Holden


Rating: WARTY!

This was a lousy story I got because it was discounted (now I know why!) at a local bookstore (aka the mother ship) and because the blurb outright lied! To whit: it made it sound like a to woo, when it was actually twaddle! I'm done reading anything by Wendy Holden.

The main character is not only one of the most weak and limp and dish-rag characters I've ever read about, I think she actually is the most weak and limp and dish-rag character I've ever read of. She cannot for the life of her stand on her own two feet, being in constant and dire need of a man, even one who treats her like crap, or a female "friend" who tells her what to do all the time because this girl is too brain-dead to figure anything out for herself. her friend then rewards herself for directing the film au revoir of this character's sorry life by making off with her fiancé! Yes, she purloined the love of her friend's loins.

I'm sorry but this novel sucked, period. It was unrelentingly lousy and unapologetically unrealistic. The girl (whose name isn't important because she isn't important) wants to write a novel, but instead of actually writing a frigging novel which is what an actual writer would do, she goes to work for a bitch of a woman who is actually a complete caricature (as are pretty much all the characters in this story come to think of it) more à propos to a Disney animation than a novel that purports to be telling an credible story. That is to say that Cruella would have been a more realistic name than Cassandra. It needles to say that the novel never gets written. But then these novels that novelists perennially write about never do, do they?


The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


Rating: WARTY!

Here's is my vow never to pick up another book which has such a pretentious title: The Sun is Also a Star? Yeah, and your ass is also a black hole. Deal with it.

These books typically win awards for which I have absolutely zero respect because the books winning those awards almost universally suck like a black hole. See how I worked a pretentious cosmic perspective into my review? Anyone can do it. 'The Sun Also Causes Causes Cancer' will be the title of my next novel, and I hope it wins one of these 'literary' awards for no other reason that then I can flatly turn it down and tell these clueless dicks what I think of these pretentious awards for pretentious novels. or maybe I'll accept it so I can give the money to a writing program that teaches prospective novelists how to avoid-like-the-plague writing trash like this?

This book was awful. I made it through only about 15 percent, it was so bad, and that was only because I was a captive audience in a car at the time. I didn't even get to the instadore. You know what I'd really like to read: a book like this, but which highlights how wrong illegal immigration is instead of very effectively brushing it under the carpet of "a better life in America" and trying to present it as some sunny, polished, life-affirming, noble existence. No, it's a crime!

Hey, guess what?! Jamaica is already a part of the Americas! Yes! They were already there and too stupid to know it! Nowhere is the criminal element (yes, it's a crime to enter a nation without proper permissions) touched on here. If it had been, I would have taken a somewhat different view, but it was not.

I get that they're hoping for a better life, all of us are, but these people in this novel were not children from some African war-torn nation. They were not some oppressed minority from China. They were not women being abused in some unenlightened Middle East nation. They were from Jamaica, mon, which has been undergoing an economic surge for over a decade. This novel was published last year, meaning the author either hasn't done her research, or she simply doesn't care to.

This doesn't mean they were comfortably-off by any means, but to write books like this is not only an insult (in this case) to Jamaica, but also an insult those who are in a country legally, having gone through the tedious processes, and filled out the endless paperwork, and been through the interviews, and become solid and productive 'citizens' even if they're technically not citizens.

Where are the award winning books about those people? Let's get away from this ennobling glamorization and mythology of the 'honorable' illegal immigrant and deal with it realistically (and I don't mean the way a certain business president thinks it should be dealt with either!).

Instead of that, what we have here is a badly-written story about immigrants who are not only illegal, but who are also living on stolen identities. And this author has them not in a holding cell, but living at home, and running around freely! The voices the story was told in were multiple, all of them badly-done by the multiple readers of the audiobook, and not a one of them sounding remotely interesting or realistic. I did not like, nor did I care for any of these characters, and like I said, that's after only fifteen percent. This book was garbage, period. I'm done with this author.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round by Richard Thompson


Rating: WORTHY!

This book had the feel of a compendium of daily and Sunday newspaper cartoons, but it apparently isn't. It is a collection, loosely linked, of cartoon stories of Alice, the four-year-old feisty daughter of the Otterloop family, consisting of mom, dad, and her older brother Petey.

In the same way that Calvin and Hobbes was written more for grown-ups than ever it was for children, this is too, because the language skills and mental processes of the four-year-old crowd Alice hangs with are completely unrealistic, but they are amusing, while the mostly line-drawing artwork (some is in full color) is very rudimentary - very much cartoon style.

In some ways I can see that books like this are pretty pointless because they count completely on you buying into the standard lifestyle of your standard, white, well-to-do, American family, as though the fifties was not a by-gone era. In other ways, taking a look at things from a different perspective is never a bad thing - unless that perspective comes by way of falling off a bridge or high building or something painful like that!

So while I found this amusing, I got the book on clearance. I would never have paid ten dollars for a book like this. I do consider it a worthy read, but I also consider it worthy of borrowing rather than buying unless you can get a discounted copy as I did, or a cheaper electronic version. Good luck with that last option, since the e-version is only about a dollar cheaper than the print version. How that works is that the print version comes from China. You'll have to make up your own mind about whether you want to send your money there.


Friday, June 2, 2017

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon, Johanna Hantel


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a subversive book designed to encourage children to read by telling them how to get out of reading, or to make it look like they're reading when they're really not. Of course, to learn all these tips and tricks, the kid has to read the book!

The book is bright and colorful (imagery by Johanna Hantel), but there are no illustrations in it; just a lot of words, but not too many. The words are funny too, and the ideas are amusing, so it would seem to me that this book will admirably serve its purpose, and I recommend it.

You can get a really good look at the interior here: http://www.hqtrs.co/i-hate-reading. It's more of a look than I'd feel comfortable giving to anyone about a book of mine (that was this short), but it's there if you want to take a look! or at least it was when I first published this.


A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi


This is another audiobook experiment which started out strongly, winning me with its improbable events, Indian mythology, and dry humor, but which in the second half of the book, particularly the finale, became so lost and bogged-down in endless exposition and irrelevant descriptive prose that it spoiled the entire story for me. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the initials of the title, which spell out 'A Cow'!

The author's name is Roshani Chokshi which sounds wonderful, but when the audiobook opened, I discovered that the author's name has been so Americanized that it's lost all of its charm, being pronounced Row-shnee Choke-she, which doesn't sound exotic at all, and even sounds abusive: choke she?!

While I can't judge a book on the author's name any more than I can on the cover, I have to confess to disappointment that so rich a heritage has been so badly diluted. Indian names tend to be pronounced as consonant/vowel pairs, so Roshani would be Rho Sha Ni. The 'a' is long and the 'i' is pronounced as 'e', so in Indian, the name would be like Row Shaa Nee. Obviously it's a matter of personal taste (and it's her name to do with what she will, after all!), but to me that sounds so much sweeter than Row-shnee. Schnee is the German word for snow!

Let's move along! In the novel, Gauri is a warrior princess of Bharata, who is imprisoned for reasons which were never clear to me. I listen to audiobooks while commuting, which means I miss things on occasion, as I'm more focused on traffic, as necessary, than I am on listening, so I readily admit this may well have been explained, yet never made it to my conscious mind. It's not really important. Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is from a neighboring, but hardly friendly nation. Each sees a chance though, of recovery of their inheritance in the other, and so they form an alliance.

If they are to form a team and enter the Tournament of Wishes, then he will need her fighting skills, and she needs his deviousness. The victor gets a wish, although how this works if the victor is two people was not clear to me either! Do they each get a wish or is it shared? The fact that neither of them ask this question to begin with makes me doubt the smarts of either of them, but the story was initially interesting as they navigated the world of mythical creatures and entered the competition.

Unfortunately, while it was fun in parts and interesting in others, the author rambled on far too much about things which seemed to me to be irrelevant and which id nothing to move the story along. I was looking forward to an interesting and eventful contest, yet the contest itself fell flat for me. Either that or, through driving, I missed the best bits! But when I was about eighty percent into the book I became tired of the endlessly rambling tone, and I DNF'd it. I decided that overall it isn't a worthy read, despite some really good bits, because it was slow, tedious, and boring in far too many parts.

In terms of the reading, it was very pleasant, I have to say, to listen to reader Priya Ayyar's voice, which was charming and told the story, such as it was, well. I would listen to her again, hopefully reading better material. Her only misstep that I noticed was when she read "Boughs of an impossible tree" and pronounced it 'bows' of an impossible tree! Language matters. So does pronunciation! Authors - and readers - neglect this at their peril! Overall, I can't recommend this one.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Crazy, Wonderful Science by Mary Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

I've had some good success with Mary Lee's children's books. I've not been a fan of all of her books that I've read, but certainly most of them, and this is another winner, not least of which because in a world where women are far too often taught - by everything around them - that shallow beauty is all important, and without it, you're nothing (yes, YA authors, male authors, romance authors, etc, I'm looking at you) this book has the guts to put young girls and science together.

It's a book in the Mia series, and this time Mia is interested in what she can do for her science project. She has several options, and if you read to the end, you can discover two of these which your own daughter (or even son!) can do for herself. Mia makes her own choice as your child can make theirs. The book was fun, easy reading, well-written, and very colorful. I recommend it.