Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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 redressed 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!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Daughter of Winter by Pat Lowery Collins


Rating: WARTY!

This book might appeal to the intended age range, but for me it was poorly done, and makes American Indians look like antiquated idiots. That said, it was set in 1849, when everyone by today's standards seems antiquated, but the story itself simply made no sense.

Addie is twelve, and lives in Essex, Massachusetts, where shipbuilding is the line of work every boy wants to get into. Girls have no choice about their lives, and this never changes for Addie. Her father took off to join the California gold rush and almost as soon as he's gone, her mother and infant brother take sick with "the flux" and both die. This is where we join the story.

With Anna fearful of being sent into servitude, so she conceals her family's death and steals a coffin for burying them, from the local undertaker. This is the first problem because this is not an insubstantial theft, and had it been investigated, which it undoubtedly would have been, it would have led directly to the girl who dragged the pine box to her home, yet she gets away with it!

Unfortunately, her continued rejection of the town's people's offers to come visit her mother eventually reveals the truth. Rather than stick around, Addie flees into the woods, looking for 'Nokummus' (the Wampanoag word for grandmother, aka Nokomes), an American India woman who offered to help Addie, but who singularly fails.

As it turns out, Nokummus is quite literally Addie's grandmother, but we have to wade through countless tedious pages as Addie flees home in mid winter, camps out in a lean-to near a shipyard, and all but freezes and starves despite her supposedly having experience camping with her father. I can;t help but ask, since Nokummus was known in Essex and several people knew she was Addie's grandmother, what the hell was the whole story about? Why did this woman not come and live with Addie so everything was okay?

Rather than help her granddaughter, this clueless, selfish, dangerous woman left Addie to her own devices until she was almost dead, then "rescued" her and took her off to a deserted island just off shore, apparently for no other reason than to have Addie find her daughter's grave. Nokummus had thirteen years to find that grave! What the hell was she doing in all that time? Sitting on her idle ass, doubtlessly.

She takes Addie in (and I mean that in every conceivable sense), and poisons her by feeding her some bark gruel so Addie vomits profusely, then hallucinates, and finally and wakes up after a two-day bender deludedly thinking she's communed with the spirits. After this, Nokummus finally lets Addie return home, and moves in with her! The selfish bitch couldn't have done this in the first place and gone on this grave-search next summer? What a bunch of pinto dung!

Nothing is resolved. Addie never moves to the Wampanoag tribal lands and becomes their powwaw. Her father doesn't even return by the end of the novel so all the 'waiting, hoping. crying' for him is a complete red herring. Her best friend John proves himself as big of a jackass as the school bully who picks on Addie because she's a 'halfbreed' and justice is never served on that dick, but John is just as bad save for being more subtle in his prejudices and dick-ness and he gets no comeuppance either so I guess that's fair. The story is a mess and not eve a hot mess since it's set in winter. I think it stunk, and I cannot recommend it.






Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

And I Darken by Kiersten White


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
P89 "...staunch the flow..."! No, it's stanch the flow.
p100 "There was more silk and gold in this single room than in the whole caste at Tigoviste." I think she meant castle!

This book plays rather fast and loose with history but tells a thoroughly engaging story about two children of Vlad Dracul. One of them was a real historical son named Radu the Fair, in this novel known only as Radu, although he is described as being very appealing to women. Vlad also had a daughter named Alexandra. In 1442, he was required by the Sultan to leave two sons as hostages. in this story however, Vlad leaves one son - Radu - and his daughter, who is renamed Lada Dragwlya here.

Radu is gay and resentful of his father for neglecting and diminishing him. He ends up befriending the sultan's heir, Mehmed, and falling in love with him, although Mehmed is clueless as to Radu's feelings and certainly gives no indication that he shares any of them. Mehmed himself starts falling for Lada, but while Lada befriends the young heir, unlike Radu, she has no interest in living in the country she's held hostage by, or in adopting it's Islamic religion. Radu on the other hand embraces it all and is devoted to his religion and to Mehmed.

What Lada is interested in is being self-sufficient and reliant on no one. She eventually manages to ingratiate herself with the Janissaries, the mercenaries the Sultanate employs to guard the Sultan and fight the Sultan's battles. They were Europe's first standing army since the Romans. Lada trains hard and becomes a fearless and skilled fighter who few can outmatch. She is, while detesting her captivity and virtual imprisonment, fiercely loyal to Mehmed herself and saves his life more than once. This makes for an interesting triangle, and the complexity and ever-shifting boundaries and perspectives is a lesson to all young adult writers in how to write a realistic triangle (if you must do a triangle).

I noticed some reviewers did not like Radu or Lada. I guess Radu wasn't manly enough for them, and they disliked Lada in particular because she was so fierce and vicious. I recommend these people read about Vlad Tepid instead of Vlad Tepes and family, because clearly a strong female character isn't what they're interested in. Me, I loved Lada warts and all, because I understood exactly where she was coming from. And you know what, there were real life female warriors throughout history who were like her more or less, so she isn't unrealistic at all. I'd sorry such readers want a truly tamed, neutered, domesticated, and lifeless Barbie doll to stand in for a woman, but that's not the kind of woman I want to read about - or to write about!

The book is quite long (some 470 pages) and I normally have no interest in reading books this long about this sort of period in history, yet this one drew me in from the start, and made for an engrossing and entertaining read. I do not know if I want to continue reading it though. By that I mean that this is the first volume of The Conqueror's Saga. I typically do not like series and I flatly refuse to read books which are part of a series described by the words 'saga', 'chronicle', 'cycle' and the like. I only read this because I thought it was a stand-alone, so while I may continue this series, I am not sure I want to at this point. I was satisfied by this first volume, and my fear is that reading another will sour it for me!

That said, this particular volume was a worthy read and I recommend it. I do plan on writing a sequel to it which I shall call And I Coordination....


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks


Rating: WORTHY!

This comic was available online for a short time while it was being created, but now you can only get it from a store or as I did, from my excellent local library. I saw it on the shelf recently, and was immediately attracted to it.

The title was what drew me in. I think it was great and when I looked inside, the story looked pretty entertaining, and it turned out to be exactly that: pretty to look at, and entertaining. It was a fast and fun read, and although there were some issues with the execution, I consider this a worthy read.

Main character Maggie is about to start high school after being home-schooled all her life to this point. Her mom, who schooled her, has up and left the family. This was one issue with the story - there didn't seem to be any real explanation as to why mom left - she just left, everyone accepted it, and no one seems to have any ongoing problem with it. That was weird and underdeveloped, and it made for a noticeable hole in this story. It was one of several. Maggie's dad is the local police chief in this small town (which begs the question as to how it manages to support a large high school!), and his only real involvement in the story is that he has to get his hair cut for his new job.

Taking of weird though, I read one negative review which seemed to be based solely on the odd questions asked of Maggie when she started high school by someone who had no idea what home schooling was all about and so was asking really dumb and ignorant questions. Having been home-schooled herself, this reviewer then made the same mistake the fictional character made, but approaching the issue ignorantly. She took this personally and ranted on and on about it! She simply did not get is that this was fictional - that it was not a prescription for behavior, or a how-to manual! It's simply a fictional tale which feature, briefly, some dumb kid asking dumb questions.

What the reviewer didn't get was that there are, in real life, dumb people who ask dumb questions, or ignorant people who ask inappropriate questions in their ignorance - people whose mind isn't broad enough to encompass something outside of the cozy rut they are in. In downgrading a novel for depicting real life, this reviewer showed that she, too, is in the same kind of blinkered rut that the fictional character had occupied. I found this amusing and those criticisms invalid.

Maggie has several brothers, two of which are twins who seem to be fighting with each other more than ever before, since one of them seems to be seeking some sort of independence or differentiation from his twin, whereas the other seems fine with the way things are. She has an older brother who keeps a watchful eye on her, but in general, her brothers leave her to find her own way through high school, just as they had to when they started school.

Maggie's biggest problem though, is that she's led a very sheltered life and knows no one at this school except for her brothers, whom she now sees have all kinds of friends, including many female ones. She soon partners up with a female friend of her own named Lucy who has a partially-shaven head (for fashion, not from some medical condition). Lucy has a brother, Alastair, and the two are very close (and very close shaven), but Alastair seems not to be liked by Maggie's own brothers. This is made out to be rooted in some big bad secret: that Alastair is a bad person, but this was another plot problem: when the reveal comes, it's really nothing at all, so this set-up fell flat.

The third issue was the ghost. Maggie sees this ghost of a woman in the cemetery, and the ghost comes and looks at her face to face, but it never says a thing to her no matter what she says to it. Maggie cannot figure out what it wants, and that's how the story ends: the ghost drifts off down a cemetery pathway and disappears, and we never do find out what it wanted or why it was haunting Maggie. This was a disaster.

That aside though, the story itself was fun overall, and interesting, and it featured a lot of idiosyncratic activity and events which amused me greatly. So overall, and despite three big issues, this writer/illustrator of this black and white line-drawing comic still managed to make me rate this as a worthy read! See? It can be done!


Friday, September 22, 2017

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, John Green


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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


The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North, Erica Henderson


Rating: WARTY!

I picked this up at the library thinking it might be playful and fun, but it turned out to be another waste of perfectly good trees.

Squirrel Girl is someone I never heard of before much less know her origin, so I thought this might teach me something about her. All it taught was how dull of a character she is. In the end it was really just silly and the artwork indifferent. I've seen other Marvel comic books like this which put a minor character out there and draft in major Marvel super heroes to give it some cachet, but I have to say this was the most cynical of those and has pretty much cured me of wanting to read any more comics about minor Marvel characters!

It begins with some people trapped in the head of the Statue of Liberty surrounded by robot dinosaurs, which the Avengers are fighting. Inside the people make up nonsensical stories about Squirrel Girl which were boring. That story just fizzles out with no resolution (at least not one that showed up during the fifty percent of the book that I could stand to read) and we're suddenly into several other stories, none of which are related, with bizarre new characters appearing and disappearing.

I decided this was probably heading for the trope ending where Squirrel Girl wakes up after a dream, having eaten a betel leaf or something, and I honestly had no interest in learning any more about her. Based on the fifty percent or so that I read, I cannot recommend this.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Phones Keep Us Connected by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, Kasia Nowowiejska


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great little children's book about the history of phones, including how they work, and how they've been developing and changing over time. It's done in a simple (but not too simple!) and colorful way that will allow any child of the appropriate age range to understand it.

It includes simple instructions to make your own phone (the cup and string method!) and ways to experiment with your design to see if your 'improvements' make it perform better or worse. I think this is a pretty darned good book to get your kids interested in science and experimentation as well as educate them about a small, but ubiquitous piece of technological history. The book is diverse and fun, and nicely done. I recommend it.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mind Games by Kiersten White


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read and enjoyed very much. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read the sequel even though I am not much of a reader of series, because the first book was so good. I am pleased to report that this (an advance review copy, note) was very much up to the standard of the first.

In this story, Vasilisa Petrovna decides she wants to travel rather than be confined in one place, especially since it is a place where she is disliked and at risk of being labeled a witch. The frost prince, Morozko, who effectively created her in the earlier novel, building on the young and gifted child that she was at birth, objects strenuously to her plan, but unwilling to bow to anyone, she forges ahead with it anyway.

On her journey, she encounters a village which has been burned by bandits who have abducted several girls, and Vasya decides that she's going to retrieve them. This in turn leads to her joining the prince's party from Moscow, which is hunting these same village-burners, and she becomes a favorite of the prince. The problem is that he thinks she's a young man, not a girl! And that scandalous situation isn't the worst thing which happens to her by far. And no, this novel is not a romance except in the very old fashioned sense of the word, I am thrilled to report!

I have to say this got off to a rather slow start for me. I do not read prologues or introductions or what have you, but the opening chapters felt like one, and I wasn't sure what they contributed to the book, but as soon as we left that part behind and joined Vasilisa as she sets off with her magnificent horse Solovey in the depths of a Russian winter, everything turned around for me, and I was engrossed from that point on. I loved that magical Russian folklore characters pop-up unannounced every now and then, some of them important to the story. They make for a rich and charming read.

Vasya is at her core a particularly strong female character, independent and not tied to any man, nor will she chase any. This feisty independence appeals to someone like me who has read too many trashy YA novels where a woman can't be a woman unless she's validated by a man. There's none of that here: Vasya will not be reigned in by anyone. She's strong, but vulnerable at times. She is almost fearless and she tries to do what she thinks is right, although it is not always the wisest course for her or those around her.

But there is a point where Vasya's gender deception is uncovered. You know it's coming, but even so it's hard to see her fall so fast and so hard, just when her life had been perking up. She's every bit up to the challenge, though she's confronted with some difficult choices and some obnoxious male figures. Despite all this, she remains strong and valiant, and I really loved the way this story went and how she made it through these obstacles without selling out.

This was a gripping and entertaining story about an awesome female character of the kind we see far too few of in novels, so yes despite my aversion to series, I should like to read more of her in the future, but for now this satisfies admirably! It's a worthy read, and I recommend it highly.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Bunny Drop Vo 2 by Yumi Unita


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

As for this, I recommend it.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book One by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack


Rating: WARTY!

Hack is an appropriate name for one of the creators of this, but it would have been more appropriate had he been the writer instead of the artist, although the artwork was kind of meh and muddy.

The story is of Sabrina the teen witch (Sabrina Spellman? Really?)as far as I can tell, but really, who knows? it actually wasn't about her but about Madame Satan (Really?), so bait and switch right there. It begins with a prologue which I skipped as I do all prologues.

The author included it in chapter one, but labeled it a prologue! Since it was part and parcel of the chapter there was no quick way to tell when it ended, I skipped the whole chapter. That wasn't enough for this writer though, because he then went into another prologue in chapter 2 and larded the story with endless flashbacks. I quit reading it about half-way through because it was so tedious, so larded with trope, and so uninteresting that it was a waste of my valuable time.

We have this woman who supposedly hails from 'Gehenna, capital city of hell', yet she's draw so pathetically that she is a joke. When she's not a joke she's so quaintly cute and cuddly that she completely belies the told-not-shown origin story. There was nothing chilling about this volume except in how many tropes were hauled out of the farcical Catholic church playbook. And Salem was tiredly tossed in there, too, like there wasn't enough cliché already.

This author needs to save up some money so he can get a clue at some point. There was so much exposition that this should have been a regular book instead of a graphic novel and then it should have run to only one copy to test out a new printer and discarded into the recycling immediately afterwards. It should never have been published.

You know there was a time when a person obsessed with drawing naked or semi-naked young woman and liberally spraying the scene with blood for the sake of it, would have rightly been consigned to an institution, for some much-needed medical treatment. Those days are long gone, but that's no excuse for this adolescent bullshit portrayal of endless exposed female curves, as though this is all women have to offer, at the expense of actually illustrating a story, so I guess Hack is appropriate after all.

Even after reading half the book I still had no good handle on what the hell this un-hellish, non-hellion was supposed to be doing other than vaguely pursuing revenge, so there really was no story to follow despite the panel after panel of expository yellow boxes. And once again the text was so small it was at times hard to read. Fire Jack Morelli and simply use print for the text for goodness sake! What is this, the 1930's?

The artist seems to think that 'chilling' means drawing amateurish juvenile faces on the main character with skulls for 'eyes' and bared teeth under transparent lips. This is a woman whom we have seen initially only naked and from the rear, and who seems to have been modeled on Anna Nicole Smith. If he had modeled her on Anna Nicole Smith as she must now be - skeletal - it would have been more chilling than this laughable effort.

Both of these guys need to get that an actual story requires more than a buxom woman posed provocatively in every panel in which she appears. This is just puerile and exploitative and needs urgent recycling.



Friday, September 1, 2017

Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this one because first of all it was not remotely connected to Sense and Sensibility. I got the impression that the author had only promoted this 'stretcher' (as Samuel Langhorne Clemens might have couched it), to garner for herself some of Jane Austen's cachet. If the book had been put out honestly, it would likely have sold far fewer copies than however many it did sell by dishonestly using Jane Austen to promote it.

Secondly, the story itself sucked. Daphne (15) and Gabby (17) Rivera live in Texas and get along about as well as the Aggies do with the Longhorns. Actually they get along worse, which is to say not at all. So far we have two sisters, but neither of them is remotely like Marianne and Elinor. The author completely misunderstood where Austen was coming from when she characterized her leading ladies in this travesty.

Daphne is obsessed not with romance as Marianne was, but with marriage. Gabby is not the long-suffering and wiser older sister, but a bitch, period. Neither is remotely interesting nor do either of them have the depth or appeal that Austen's leading characters so reliably do.

These girls are supposed to be Hispanic from their father and Caucasian from their mother, and not the pasty girls the cover artist moronically depicted. Normally I don't talk about covers because unless they self-publish, authors have little to no say in the cover they get stuck with, and once again this was predictably a complete fail from Big Publishing™ with the cover artist not having the first clue of the content of the book as usual. All we got was the girls legs - like there was nothing of any more interest much above that - and the legs looked like they belonged to nine-year-olds, not mid-teens. And they were white enough to be a pair of Swedish girls (au pair?!). They were definitely not Hispanic, not remotely. And why were the girls Hispanic anyway?

I can see the point of it, if they were then presented as sheltered young women, from a traditional Catholic family, thereby mimicking Austen's characters in that they were not very worldly and subject to being taken advantage of, but other than their last name, there was nothing Hispanic about them and they were certainly not remotely sheltered. On the contrary, In the long, sad tradition of YA "literature" these girls were so generic as to be bland to the point of disappearing into their background. I got a third of the way through this, and even that was being way too generous to the author of this insipid pile of crap. I'm done with both this novel and with Ziegler as an author of any interest at all.


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!


The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a long (and slightly draggy in places, but otherwise) excellent novel which went in somewhat unexpected, but nevertheless entertaining directions.

In the antique port of Malacca, which has slipped out of Dutch influence, but is still under the sway of Muslim and British presences, young Pan Li Lan learns that she has been chosen as the ghost bride for the unexpectedly deceased Lim Tian Ching. There is some suspicion over his death, and Li Lan is not interested in a relationship with this man, even a ghost one. She'd much rather be involved with his cousin, Tian Bai, who is now the family heir, but the Chings and the Pans were once close, and now that Li Lan's father has made such a mess of their family finances, they need this relationship to keep them on an even keel.

Li Lan is further dissuaded when Lim Tian begins to visit her in her dreams. She becomes stressed and ill, as is the wont of young girls in those times, and she finds herself visiting the astral plane where she seems to have become trapped, unable to return to her body. Here she encounters Er Lang, a mysterious man who is investigating the afterlife of the Lim family because of suspected corruption. He and Li Lan become allies, and with his promise of helping her to return to life, and his need to uncover this corruption, they begin working together.

I am not a believer in any afterlife at all, but I do enjoy a good story about this kind of thing, and this one was inventive and original enough to keep my interest, even as it became a bit slow and irritating from time to time. The afterlife depicted here had several facets. One of these was merely the ghosts haunting the real world, but Li Lan discovers another, one where the living do not normally get to visit.

This next phase was purely a ghost world, which was modeled on the real one, but in which there were only ghosts - no solid people at all. That world, which was bleak and confusing, was to an extent was made possible and supported by burned offerings: you burn a paper house, and one appears in the afterlife for the person to whom the offering was dedicated. The more elaborate and realistic the burned offering is, the better the quality of the one in the hereafter - so even in the afterlife, the rich have it better! I guess Jesus lied with that "camel through the eye of a needle" shtick, but it's a great pitch if you want to rip-off the gullible and pull in some cash. Christian churches have been pulling this same trick for two thousand years!

But other than that, it was just like the life they left, and it made me wonder what was the point? The story tried to explain it as a way-station - a transition between the substantial life on Earth and a more spiritual one afterwards, but it was supposed to be only a way-station prior to judgment, yet even here, there was corruption, and the dead could lead and life of luxury for some considerable time, evidently buying-off the judges so judgment never came.

It made for an interesting read, but life wasn't roses there by any means. There were bull-headed demons hunting Li Lan, and ravenous leathery flying creatures which feasted on meat and would eat people caught out in the open. I have no idea what that was about since this was supposed to be before they were judged! Some of this made no sense, but overall, it was a fun story, inventive and interesting, and it made for a worthy read. I recommend it for anyone who is interested Asian fantasy, and ghost stories that are off the beaten track.


Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster


Rating: WARTY!

This was a seriously misguided effort and a reminder that the acronym CYOA not only means Choose Your Own Adventure, it also means Cover Your Own Ass! All the author did was to take Pride and Prejudice, add a Dashwoodhouse of Sense and Sensibility and Emma, and then hobble the reader so that if they actually tried to have their own adventure, they would die. Period. Usually horribly. No exceptions.

I did take exception, especially to her racist abuse of Romany people - who are portrayed as villains in one sad ending. The author has contrived this so that if you stray from the Austen cannon at all, you will fail, one way or another, and usually with extreme prejudice. Only if you know Austen (and associated trivia) by heart, can you 'succeed' and then only by rote, so where is the choice in the "Choose"?

There is none, because if you don't choose her way you're screwed! A more intelligent and enterprising author would have developed Austen-homage endings where you might have ended up with someone unexpected and happily so or by making poor choices remained a "spinster." Where the necrophilia came from is a complete mystery. Just know that this author does not want you to be happy unless you follow her prescribed plan.

The author also demands that you keep elaborate track of your scoring in several areas of (so-called) achievement (and for no apparent reason other than that she likes to make her readers suffer and waste their time). The only purpose she apparently has for this demand is to kick you in the shins at every opportunity by dunning you for your hard-earned points every time you turn around.

The book was a mean-spirited take on Austen and arguably a form of mental abuse. It completely lacks literary merit, since there's essentially nothing in it other than the all-but block quotes taken directly from Austen. There's nothing fresh, original, imaginative, or even inventive on offer here, just a cynical rip-off of Jane Austen. That itself is nothing new. The bookshelves of the world are replete with those.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kiss Him Not Me by Junko


Rating: WARTY!

In Japanese this manga was called Watashi Ga Motete Dōsunda or, What's the Point of Me Getting Popular?. Superficially it purports to tell the tale of a girl who loses weight and suddenly finds herself popular, but in reality it's just another Shōjo designed as teen female wish-fulfillment and as such it's actually harmful because of the 'fat-shaming' attitude employed in it. There's nothing wrong with having a healthy fantasy life as long as it's kept in check (or untethered in creative writing or other art forms!), but the author went about this entirely the wrong way. There are ways of addressing issues or over- or under-weight in characters and this one was a fail in my opinion.

In the story, Kae Serinuma is a fujoshi - essentially a geek - who is into gaming, and who is also obsessed with male homoeroticism, picturing selected boys she knows, as being in gay romances in her fantasies. Since all the boys look like girls in these drawings that makes for rather interesting pairings! There are four boys in her life: Igarashi, Mutsumoi, Nanshima, and Shinomya, and only one of them might have had any real interest in her when she was overweight. Now they all do for sure, This is pretty shallow and she needs to reject them all with the potential exception of the guy in her gaming club, but she does not, despite the protesting title. She seems not so much enamored of them as she is enamored of their attention.

Where I had the real problem with this though, was after an accident where she's dinged by one of the players in a sport she's watching. Serinuma is knocked to the floor, and goes home after a brief recuperation at school. The next morning (or perhaps some unspecified time later - it was hard to tell), when she wakes up she has lost all her excess weight and then some. Not only that, her eyes have grown to huge proportions, her chin (which though prominent) never was a 'double' chin, has shrunk almost to nothing, her hair has become rich, thick, healthy, long, and shining and healthy, her head has shrunk or her facial features have expended to fill the whole face instead of the tiny center portion, and and her wardrobe has fantastically changed from baggy sweats to short, pleated skirts and tight sweaters.

Moreover, her legs have grown long and slim, and her breasts have miraculously tripled in size. In short, instead of a oval shape, she now has an hourglass figure. These factors combined are not the usual outcome of weight-loss, so one has to wonder if this is an illusion or wishful thinking, but by the end of the novel her appearance had not changed and all four boys desperately wanted to date her.

This sounded far more like wish fulfillment than ever it did an honest attempt to write a realistic, thoughtful, and honestly engaging story. But is this type of manga ever intended to be realistic? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose?! Maybe that's so, but this was all wrong for a host of reasons.

First of all, this shallow 'they like me now I'm anorexic and infantilized' is an awful thing to do to a woman. I expect it form some male authors, especially far too many of those who draw graphic novels, but there are different levels of 'fat' and they have all kinds of 'cute' names with which to euphemize them (BBW, chubby, corpulent, full-figured, matronly, plus-sized, portly, robust, rotund, and so on), but the question is not whether a person is overweight so much as whether they're healthy.

Clearly carrying too much weight, and eating poorly and getting no - or too little - exercise is a recipe for medical disaster, but you can be unhealthy whether you are under-, over-, or even at optimal weight, and you can likewise be healthy even when you might appear overweight to some overly-critical eyes. So the real question is over your health, not your weight per se.

In this novel, neither was the issue. The issue we're presented in (literal) black and white - and without a shred of supportive evidence - is that not only does no one love a 'fat' or 'dumpy' girl, but no one even notices her. As it happens, Serinuma is fine with this because she lives largely in her fantasy world anyway, but when she magically (and that's the only term employable here) morphs into 'a total babe' - as a frat boy would (and evidently these schoolboys do) perceive her - she makes no analysis whatsoever of her situation, and never once (not in the parts I read) harks back to how she was or makes comparisons or even tries to understand what happened. This tells me she is so shallow that it doe snot matter whether she is overweight, or a superficial model agency's dream applicant, or anywhere in between she's not worth knowing because there's nothing worth knowing about her.

I had wondered if, by the end of this volume, she might wake up and find she has dreamed this whole thing, or much better yet, that her knock on the head caused her self-perception to change, and everything that happened afterwards was because of this, not because she had literally physically changed. In my opinion, that would have made for a far better, more intelligent, realistic story, and a worthy read but I guess I shall have to write that one.

Women have hard enough time being blasted perennially with commentary from all manner of sources, most of them not even remotely medical, and most of them ads, telling her that she's ugly, fat, her hair is nasty, her clothes suck, she needs more high-heeled shoes, and she is useless in bed. Every time she passes through a supermarket checkout aisle, she has this blasted at her on the one side from women's magazines written by women it shames us all to report, and on the opposite side of that selfsame aisle, she is blasted by fattening snack foods, candies, and sugar-laden sodas. is this a problem? You bet your ass it is. Literally.

It does not help at all to have a manga written by a woman telling women this same thing. It's Junko food, and women need to stop letting authors like this one feed it to them.


Friday, August 4, 2017

My Dead Girlfriend: Vol 1 by Eric Wight


Rating: WORTHY!

Another graphic novel with a weird-ass title! How could I not?!

In this one, Finney Bleak's outlook on life is...well...bleak. All of his relatives died unusual deaths and usually early ones, so he feels he has nothing to look forward to, especially when he's abandoned by mom in a cemetery of all places. He's raised by ghosts who already have ghost daughters named April, May, and June, and of course he attends high-ghoul. While surviving Salamander Mugwart (one of the local witches named Glindas), and growing healthily with the aid of ghost mom & dad, Finney eventually falls for a girl named Jenny Wraith, but she fails to show up for their second date!

Finney thinks she didn't like him. He doesn't learn that she was on her way to see him when she fell down a well and died. He discovers this much later when ghost Jenny shows up at his cemetery, announcing she has been his guardian angel for some time. Now wants to resume their relationship rather than see him take off with another girl!

Initially, he thinks there can be nothing between a body and his incorporeal love, but when she leads him in (cor!) real love, he gets with the program! Great story, interesting graphics, and a fun read. I recommend it. Note that despite being titled Volume 1 A Tryst of Fate, there are no other volumes - kind of like Mel Brooks's History of the World, Pt 1.




The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan


Rating: WARTY!

This fiftieth anniversary edition was not impressive to me. It was larded with prologue and afterword and introduction, all of which I ignored as usual. I had heard of Anna Quindlen, but not of Gail Collins. They're both journalists just like Friedan, so this was hardly a broad spectrum we got on it anyway.

I prefer to focus on the actual body of the text, and that was rather too verbose. I had to keep reminding myself that this was fifty years out of date and things have changed dramatically, but even with that in mind, it was hard to find very many diamonds in the slag. Friedan seemed not content to raise an issue and cite a few examples and let it go; she had to keep slamming the reader with stories which sounded, after the first couple, to be very much the same thing over and over again - which in itself validates what she was saying, but quickly became tedious with all those repetitive details!

I readily admit that my frustration with much of this book may well be that we are, at least theoretically, much more enlightened now than we were then, and so it felt like flogging a dead horse, but that horse is still a nightmare for far too many women, so this is about the only remaining reason I can think of for reading this - that we do not forget how bad things were, and in not forgetting, we ensure they never happen again. That and its historical value. These beefs with the text are not to say that Friedan did not have a point. She did, but I found her text dense and obscure - more like a litany of complaint (if valid complaint) than anything which offered hope of a real solution, but that said, a solution can only arise after the problem has been identified.

The worst part about this book for me though, was that it was so appallingly elitist. Friedan seems only to care about middle and upper class women like herself, and the 'great unwashed' be damned. Their experience - poor people who no doubt had both spouses working perforce - were largely ignored. Although I cannot pretend to speak for them (or I could but it would be fraudulent!), I rather suspect that spouses of color back in the fifties and sixties had little or nothing in their experience which they could employ to relate to the women on whom Friedan was so tightly focused, and this was despite Friedan frequently mentioning civil rights!

The book blurb, with laughable hyperbole, describes it as "Landmark, groundbreaking, classic" and no, it wasn't. It goes on to add, "these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of 'the problem that has no name'." I was surprised it did not mention the name Friedan gave it, but it's probably better that it didn't, since Friedan's title makes absolutely no sense. I remain unconvinced that she even knows what 'mystique' means (and no, it's not an X-Men character!). Her sobriquet made no sense to me and she never actually defined it, leaving it to the reader to distill some meaning from reading this five hundred page tome. Good luck with that.

Another group that Friedan ostracizes are those women who can both afford to and choose to stay home. This is a perfectly valid option, yet Friedan would rob women of it, becoming part of the problem by trying to dictate women's choices in the same way she was complaining men and society were doing! What a hypocrite. I read about half of this book and gave up on it. I can't recommend it because there are better books out there than this one, which in my opinion does not deserve the street cred it seems to have garnered for itself, and which I think it has accreted only because it was an early one and a high profile one, and not because it honestly left the home, got a job, an earned its status!



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq by Rosalind Miles, Robin Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

YA authors an graphic novel writers could learn a lot from an awesome book like this, about depicting strong female characters. Full of detail, it relates the stories of scores of women who were warriors, most of them in times when women were not considered capable or emotionally up to it, let alone being strong, independent and fierce.

Even with the detail it offers, it also includes references for further reading. The book is divided into sections for different types of female "soldier" in the broadest sense. It offers war leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Margaret Thatcher, actual combatants such as Molly Pitcher, Lily Litvak, and Tammy Duckworth, spies like Belle Boyd, Virginia Hall, and Noor Inayat Khan, and reporters and propagandists such as Martha Gellhorn, Tokyo Rose, Anna Politkovskaya. It also has a section on women whom we in the west could not consider heroic: women suicide bombers, and despite the success (for their cause) of female suicide bombers, women in the Middle East are still in a fight for equality, respect, and fair treatment.

The accounts are a mix of general overarching stories supported by very many detailed accounts of individual women. There is a bias towards white western women, but then this is where the best documentation resides, and even there, some of it was biased against women or largely erased or considered not noteworthy! Women can't win no matter what color they are, but hopefully that's undergoing what will become a permanent change now.

Despite this there are many women of color included as well as rather obscure women where documentation could be found, and the stories cover ancient history (Greek and Roman) through modern (Iraq War). The authors are not afraid to tell it how it is even if it does not make the woman in question look exactly pristine. While there seems to be something of a bias in World War Two accounts to British and American women, and in more recent wars to American soldiers, there is something for everyone here, and it all goes to prove beyond any question that women are every bit the equal of men, no excuses, no qualifications, no more lies and bullshit.