Showing posts with label romance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label romance. Show all posts

Friday, August 11, 2017

Two Will Come by Kang Kyeong Ok


Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Jennifer Park, this Korean graphic novel (and thus a manwha rather than a manga) was the first in a series. It consists of black and white line drawings, often veering towards the type of illustration I most thoroughly detest: the pointy nose, pointy chin, and giant eyes - in short, characters who look not even remotely Asian.

While we in the west bemoan the lack of diversity in our graphic novels (and other media) - particularly in the poor showing of women and people of color, I have to wonder why are so many comic books written by Asians who are apparently afraid to depict themselves in all their authentic beauty. That said, a lot of the art work was very pleasant, some of it truly captivating. But a lot of poses even on the same page were so similar that they could almost have been photocopied, shrunk and moved over a panel or two.

It was also odd though in that there were, interspersed with the main panels, miniatures which looked weird since they were in a small and very simplified style - rather reminiscent of how an old and very formal Asian form of writing might be compared with a more modern, casual, and simplified one. it made me wonder why this was a graphic novel rather than simply a novel. If you're not going to push yourself with the illustrations, and make it a magical journey as well as a story, then why not simply tell the tale in words and omit the pretentious pictures? In this case, I have to say that - with a few exceptions which might have merited inclusion in what would otherwise be a pure text book - they graphic part of this novel contributed very little beyond pretension, notwithstanding artistic merit.

The biggest problem with the book though, was that the blurb completely lied! The claim was that it's a story about a family curse, handed-down over generations because of the slaying of a large serpent that was awaiting going to heaven. Just the day before it was due to leave, Jina's ancestors killed it because they thought it was cursing their family. Don't you just hate it when this happens? You're waiting to go to heaven and someone sticks you with spears and chops off your head? If I had a Band-Aid for every time that happened to me....

Once the serpent saw it would was doomed to die it actually did curse the family, and the curse is that one family member in each generation will slay another family member. We get very little by way of explanation as to how this has played out over the centuries, but now in Seoul in 1999, Jina is the one upon whom the curse falls, but the predictors cannot say if she will be the perp or the victim, nor do they know who the other member of this generation's fated but not feted pair is.

The End.

I am not kidding. That's not the end of the volume, but it is the end of the curse story. There is barely a word spoken of it after the first third of the novel. The rest of this volume is nothing but a tediously slow-moving high-school romance between the girls and this guy from the USA - a Korean emigrant, who has returned for a visit. He looks more like a girl than the girls do, and so the girls naturally all fall for him.

Frankly I would rather watch a cowpat dry. Or even fry, as I first ham-fistedly typed it. So while some of the art was great, a lot of it felt xeroxed, and the miniatures were just plain weird. The story had little to do with the blurb's claim for the most part and the interaction between the two main characters was utterly tedious, blank, flat and uninventive.

Plus, as if all that wasn't bad enough, the story moved at a glacial pace. I optimistically borrowed volumes one and two from the library, but I quit reading volume one at about half way and I skimmed the rest, and I sure am not going to even start volume two. I cannot in good faith recommend this. It was bait and switch, and stunk like baited breath so rank you could cut it with a switch-blade.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means, MK Reed, Joe Flood


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three graphic novels I'll be reviewing this weekend. This one ca,me form my excellent local library and I think it's my favorite of the three. The story is of Jane and Jack. It's illustrated with black and white line drawings by Flood. I was a little disappointed that writers Means and Reed didn't go the whole hog and name her Jill, since she introduces herself with a tumble.
It's not down a hill, but nothing is perfect, right?

Skateboarder Jane has been in town for about a month when she wipes out in front of Jack's soup cart. He supplies a free ice tea (in a bottle!) for her to soothe her injured coccyx. As the two interact more, they end up on a date and start liking each other, even though she's feisty as all hell and he is highly-prone to complete disasters.

Two of Jane's vampire romance-obsessed roommates freak-out when they learn she's dating Jack. Actually the vampire romance thing is pretty much a story all in itself, and I appreciated that; however, suddenly Jane finds herself introduced to the Cute Girls Network (not to be confused with the cukegirls network) - a loose alliance of women who dish out the skinny on guys you should avoid like the plague. Jane hears several embarrassingly gauche stories of Jack's history of bad conduct, but despite these dire warnings, she decides to stay the course.

The story is cutely illustrated and amusingly written, and it tells a fascinating and unusual story. I really liked the character Jane. She was definitely my kind of fictional girl. Jack was hilarious, as were the various roommates of both main characters. This was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of this author's works I've ever encountered and it left a favorable enough impression that I want to read something else by her. I tend to take more risks with audiobooks than other formats, because I'm a captive audience in my car and I'm not fully focused on the audio when in traffic, so I tend to be a bit more tolerant - within limits! - when I'm stuck with this one book until I get back home! In this case the book was easy on the ears as was Karen White, the actor who read this book and who successfully avoided annoying me!

It's set in a fictional North Carolina location called improbably 'Walls of Water' because of the cataracts in the area, but sometimes you have to wonder if the cataracts are on people's eyes rather than cascading down the rocky hills. In this small town lives Willa Jackson, whose family used to be important, but now are just another family, and Paxton Osgood, whose family is still important, from old money, and quite snooty. Paxton's family runs to three generations here, while Willa and her grandmother, who is seriously ill, seem to be the only two of their lineage left.

Each of these two women is crippled in the same way, but for different reasons. They both suffer from chronic inertia, having settled into a rut and being either incapable of, or beyond caring if they ever escape. Willa runs a sporting goods shop, and Paxton despite being thirty, has failed to flee the nest, having made it only as far as the pool house where she currently lives. Neither of these women struck me as being particularly smart, which was a disappointment, although they were not outright dumb, either.

They're the same age and though they were both at the same high school together, they were never friends. Paxton was part of the moneyed crowd, and Willa was the school prankster, although no one knew it was she until the last day of school. The pranks were totally lame, though, so she wasn't much of a prankster. The only thing special about it is that she keeps it a secret for so long, and someone else gets the blame. The person the school thought was the prankster was Colin, Paxton's twin brother, who left town after high school and pretty much never came back until now, and only because he's supervising the landscaping on The Blue Madam - a local landmark building which Paxton is overseeing the restoration of.

It's obvious from the start that Willa and Colin are going to end up together and while this was somewhat boring and had some creepy elements to it, in the end it was a harmless relationship and far better than most YA authors bullshit 'romance' attempts, so I let that slide. Paxton's was a much more interesting relationship.

She's been lifelong friends with Sebastian, but having seen him, back in their high school days, kiss another guy on the mouth, she wrote him off as a prospect (despite having the hots for him), thinking he's gay. While this was a nice pothole to put in her road because it leaves the reader never quite sure if this is going to work or if someone else will come along for one or other of them, it's also the reason why I felt Paxton wasn't too smart. They've been close for some twenty years, yet she never figured out he's not gay, nor has she ever heard of a sexual preference called 'Bi', apparently!

So! Not a brilliant story, nor a disaster, and it did fall off the rails a bit towards the end. The murder mystery part of it is more of a hiccup than an actual plot. If it had been shorter (for example by dispensing with the "mystery" and trimming the drawn-out ending, it would have been better.

I didn't like that Willa was so very easily led by the nose and in effect controlled by Colin. It's never a good sign for a relationship when one party comes into it evidently intent upon changing the other, but as I said, in this case it was relatively harmless, so I let it slide. I recommend this if you like an easy, reasonably well-written, and quite charming story that never reaches great heights, but successfully avoids numbing depths. It has a southern charm and a country living air pervading it and overall, I liked it.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Emma by Po Tse, Cystal S Chan, Stacy King


Rating: WARTY!

With line drawings by by Po Tse (aka Lemon Po), story adapted by Cystal S Chan (aka Crystal Silvermoon), and English script by Stacy King (aka Stacy King), this manga version of Jane Austen's Emma failed to please me. The adaptation wasn't bad, but reading it backwards isn't natural for we Westerners, and though I liked a manga version of Pride and Prejudice, I feel that i, like Po Tse, have to draw a line here!

In some supplementary material at the back (aka front) of the book, Po's art is praised for his "uncanny talent," but to me every drawing looked the same. It was hard to distinguish the characters except by their hairstyle, and I have never been a fan of that pointed nose, pointed chin, ridiculously large-eye mangled - er manga - style. It strikes me as lazy, where every face is merely a clone of every other, and the only actual difference between them is in the eyes and hair. After this experience I think this is the last manga of this nature I will read.

I have a few observations on the story, too. This is one of Austen's later novels. It was not her last, but it has been praised for good plotting, yet no one seems interested in saying a word about how snobbish and elitist it is. Yes, I get that this is how society was back then, and Austen is merely reporting it, but this only serves my point. Where is the daring, the invention, the scandalous skirting of the rules? I use the word 'skirting' advisedly because Austen no doubt wore skirts. Her book really isn't much more than a dear diary, is it though, in the final analysis?

The snobbery, even from the "heroic" Mr Knightley, is shameful, and it makes it only more obnoxious knowing that this was the acceptable norm back then. The talk is endlessly of people above their station, and poor matches. Love has no place in this world whatsoever, so where is the romance? It cannot breathe here, starved of oxygen as it is.

Emma is a frivolous, immature, vindictive, interfering and very stupid woman, and not at all pleasant to read about. She fails to grow and learn, yet ends up with everything despite her foolish meddlesome behavior, yet we're expected to condemn characters like frank Churchill, Philip Elton and August Hawkins, who are in reality just like Emma, if somewhat more exaggerated. While I confess I do like the movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, and I like even more the one featuring Alicia Silverstone, I really can't recommend the story of Emma or this graphic novel version of it.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
At one point there's a woman described who is wearing a T-shirt with an inscription on it referring to a breed of dog. Now it's entirely possible given the appalling grasp of good English in this country that a T-shirt could be misspelled, but I'm not convinced this was intended by the author - if it had been, I feel something would have been said about it in the test. The misspelling is of the name of a dog breed: Pekingnese. It should be 'Pekingese'

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

This is the kind of novel which I don't normally like, because in a real sense, it's just an author's trip down memory lane, which is as boring to me as a memoir usually is. Such trips are very personal and not all that meaningful to others unless those readers led a similar lifestyle and are of a similar age - and grew up in the US. In this case, we get a lot of references to 80's culture, but either the author doesn't remember the era very well, or he hasn't properly researched it.

For example at one point, one of the characters is surveying magazines on a rack in a store while waiting for someone, and he mentions that there are articles on the trial of Bernard Goetz, who shot four passengers on a subway rain, and on Gary Hart suspending his presidential campaign because of the smell of scandal. Yes, Gary Hart ran in the 1984 campaign, but the scandal with Donna Rice was during the 1988 campaign, and the shooting by Bernard Goetz took place in late December 1984 after the November election. His trial was in 1986 (with a civil trial a decade later).

All of this took place in the novel during a boring and dumb sequence in which the young boys were trying to get their hands on a Playboy which featured Vanna White, but that edition came out in 1987, so the timeline is wrong if we're trying to encompass all three of these events. This definitely has to be 1987 based on the arrival of the IBM PS/2 computer, so the Goetz reference was the confusing part.

The story would have been just as good with the Vanna White nonsense left out, and the with timeline touches of color omitted. Maybe some people will like that, but for me they were way overdone, and I could have also done without the constant references to music. It was like the author was showing off how much research he'd done, but we know how well that worked! Taht said, there was a point wher eosme of the music references had a purpose, but that was overdone as well, for me.

I say this because for me the story became interesting not because of all the endless, annoying timeline references, but in spite of them. To me they were distractions and irritations and the endless Vanna White obsession cheapened the story. The power of this novel came through the interaction of Mary Zelinsky - a commendably strong female figure, and an unusual one in a story like this - and main male character, Billy. Mary is one of the coolest characters I've read about in a book like this in a long time. I quickly reached a point where I was willing to positively review this based on her alone! LOL! The boys let down the story but she stood above all that and rescued it for me.

One thing which troubled me is how much access to endless ready cash these boys seemed to have and how profligate they were with it. Whenever they needed money they always had it, and lots of it, yet only one of them seemed to hail from wealthy circumstances. That felt unrealistic, but these things are offset by cool stuff, such as when Billy first meets Mary and notices that she has her nails painted with binary digits, reading 01111101010. The problem with this is that they go to eleven! Unless Mary has eleven fingers and thumbs, there's one too many digits! Or from a different perspective, one too few. Binary is based on multiples of two, so whereas decimal - the system we routinely use - goes up in multiples of ten when reading digits from right to left (the number 100 quite literally equals zero units, zero tens and one 'one hundred'), binary goes up in multiples of two, so 100 in binary would be zero units, zero twos, and one four, equaling four in decimal.

Eleven characters makes no sense in terms of translating the numbers to letters, all of which have an eight character code (or would have back then). At best it should be eight or sixteen, or if divided into groups of four, it should be eight or twelve. If she'd had a binary digits on each finger, this would have given the expected eight. As it was I couldn't translate it to any text (I had initially thought it might be her initials).

The decimal equivalent of the binary number we're given is 1,002, and you don't need the preceding zero, so maybe that's a typo. I guessed that it had something to do with Mary's mother - maybe she died on October 2nd? You'll have to read it to discover what those numbers really meant, and to discover that they were used in two ways. There's an old but amusing binary joke for which you have to keep in mind how the numbers are translated (multiples of two). It goes like this: there are only 10 kinds of people in the world - those who understand binary and those who don't!

Assuming the book is printed as it appeared in the ebook format, it's horribly wasteful of trees! It has seven pages to swipe past (or 21 screens, depending on whether you're reading on your phone or on a tablet), and most of this is not necessary. A lot of it is disgustingly gushing mini-reviews and recommendations, which to me are as pointless as they are nauseating. If you already have the book, what is the point of these? Why are they even there?

Does the publisher think that reviewers are so weak-willed that the opinion of others will sway them into liking a book they might have disliked otherwise? Maybe they appear only in the ARC, but to me they're a waste of time. I want to read this and decide for myself; I honestly don't care what others think, no matter who they are! But this is on the publisher, not the author, so it's not his fault. For me, it's yet another reason to self-publish.

The chapters are numbered with stretches of numbered BASIC programming code which is amusing and brings back some memories for me. When you're programming in that style, which is antique, you number the lines in tens not in units, so if you later realize that you missed something between lines ten and twenty, you can add it as line fifteen, and escape having to renumber every line. In terms of numbering chapters, this meant that chapter one for example, began with half-a-dozen lines of code numbered 10, 20, 30, etc., which was a bit of a cheat since it ought to have been numbered in the 100's.

All the other chapters were numbered appropriately - chapter two using 200 and above, chapter three using 300, and so on. I thought that was cute, although the programming syntax on each numbered line will be completely obscure to anyone who has no programming experience and perhaps to many who do if all they know is modern stuff like Java. Even Visual Basic and VB .NET are a different world from those older languages. It was fun though, and about the only memory lane portion of this book that I liked!

The story - finally, yes I'm getting to it! is that Billy has his own Commodore 64 computer which was all that and a bag of chips in its day, but he realizes that it's an amateur machine (and was half-way through its lifetime in 1987) when compared with the brand new PS/2 which boasted the power of IBM behind it. He's into programming games, and his school work is suffering because of it. When he learns, from Mary, of a competition in which he could win the IBM computer, he starts seriously working on his game, but his program is sluggish.

He turns to Mary for help and discovers that she is better than he is at programming, and she delightfully knows the names of some stellar female forebears from the earliest days of computing: Dona Bailey, Jean Bartik, Fran Bilas, Margaret Hamilton, Brenda Romero, Marlyn Wescoff, and Roberta Williams. The two begin working together and this is where the story really took-off for me. The time they share is quite wonderful, and you can see them growing towards each other. Call 'em software moments if you like!

These parts are written well, and make a refreshing break from the ridiculous instadore encounters typical of YA literature. This is only bordering on the young edge of YA and is more akin to middle-grade, but the romance is handled in a very mature and realistic fashion which is at times truly magical, such as the time when the lights go out in the back of her dad's store where they meet to program, and the two have a few moments in total darkness and close proximity. This was beautifully written.

Of course, you know there are going to be potholes in this road, and at one point the story got too dumb, and I feared I was going to have to rate it negatively, but after that part, it turned around again, and really settled back into a pleasing cadence. I liked the way life imitated art towards the end when Billy was trying to get back with a rather distant Mary.

She has a secret that juvenile Bill has been blind to, and her behavior is less than exemplary, but in the end, they both come to understand each other at a deeper level, and realize that there is more to them than juvenile attraction. I really liked the ending and it was this, and Mary as a character, which were what made me want to positively rate this story. I loved the way it worked out, and how well the Billy-Mary interactions were written. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

A January Bride by Deborah Raney


Rating: WARTY!

I got his audio book because it sounded like it might be interesting, but the story was so badly told that it wasn't worth the listening, and I gave up halfway through. This is evidently part of a series "A Year of Weddings". How January got to be number two in that system is a mystery, but this story was definitely number two, trust me.

The plot was farcical. Two people never meet initially, communicating instead through a series of notes, each thinking the other person is older than themselves. The woman, Maddie Houser, is a novelist who is working on a romance novel "A January Bride" (and becomes one? I don't know). The guy is the owner of the inn where she's staying temporarily while renovations are carried out to her house. The artificiality by which the two are kept apart was tedious and served no purpose other than to keep reminding me that this was a badly-written novel.

Plus there were religious overtones to the story which spoiled it for me. I didn't expect to be reading fantasy! These people are putting their faith in a god who robbed one of them of his spouse prematurely, yet they're supposed to believe that it's all for the best? If this god wanted the two of them to get together, why did he not put them together to begin with instead of putting the guy with someone else, and then tearing her away from him? I have no faith in a capricious god like that. A god which would do things like that, to me, is at best juvenile and at worst, an outright evil god.

The best thing I can say about this story is that it was short, but it was so poorly-written, artificial in the extreme, and boring, that I couldn't even stand to listen to all of it even as short as it was. I can't recommend it based on what I listened to because there was no romance here, not in the best tradition of the word.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict


Rating: WARTY!

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

While I applaud the sentiment to write a book about Einstein's first wife, I have to say I was disappointed in the result. When I requested an advance review copy of this novel, I had initially thought it was a biography of her life, and I was very interested to read it, but it turned out to be a novel: a highly-fictionalized account of her life and as such, I think it did the real Mileva Marić a disservice. Note that her name is pronounced like Me-levv-ah Marityu as far as I can tell, but I'm not Serbian so caveat lector!

The first problem for me was first person voice, which is rarely a good voice in which to tell a story. It’s far too self-important, self-indulgent, breathless, and "YA" for my taste. It makes the mistake of imbuing a real person with thoughts, feelings, and opinions that were not hers and in this case, which are in fact alien to her, shaded as they are by modern American thought projected over a century backwards onto Eastern sensibilities. A good example of this appeared very early when I read, "Mama gifted me..."! That took me right out of the turn-of-century Switzerland into modern USA, and it wasn't the only instance of totally modern idiom pervading these pages.

Another problem for me was that first person also says something about the main character's sense of self-importance, and it felt wrong to imply that someone as evidently retiring as Mileva would promote herself with a book like this one. Not that she actually did in real life, but the suggestion is there in the writing: I, Mileva, did this! I, Mileva thought that! I, Mileva, am baring my soul to the world, and it didn't honestly feel like her to me. Not that I'm an exert on her by any means. I know only what I've read, but it felt inauthentic.

I had no choice but to try to overlook that and read on, ever onwards; however, in the end I couldn't make it to the end. I made it only sixty percent of the way through before giving it up as a bad job (which was before Einstein gave up the marriage as a bad job!), so please keep that in mind when reading this review. And please don't assume the arrogance or the impertinence to tell me that I can't review a book when I haven't read it all. Yes, I can, and the proof of the Slivovitz is right here!

Another problem for me was the author's gushing cheerleading for her main character. Mileva Marić was indeed a remarkable woman who beat the adversely-stacked odds of her time. She deserves a book, but she was not a superhero or a goddess, or even a towering intellect, and it does her no favors to pretend that she was! I'm not in the habit of reading introductions, forewords, prefaces or author's notes, but in the case I did skim the preface material and in my opinion, the author exaggerated her abilities to an embarrassing degree.

I read that she was a "brilliant woman" and if that was meant as a metaphor for the light she shone as an achiever in an age where women were pretty much condemned to exist only in the long shadows cast by men then I’d agree, but I rather suspect it was meant in an intellectual sense and I don’t see any evidence for this. Yes, she was smart. Yes, she achieved a lot which most women did not even imagine, let alone dream of back then, but does this equate with true intellectual brilliance? I don’t think it does. At another point I read: "Mileva Marić, who was a brilliant physicist in her own right" and I had to ask: "By what criteria?" On a point of order, she never actually was a physicist, despite her equaling Einstein's grade in physics in at least one exam!

What went wrong academically is hard to say. Mileva seemed to have experienced a roller-coaster ride with her math scores. Prior to the university, she passed final exams in 1894 with the highest grades, including those in math. She was an excellent student, who would no doubt put many modern students to shame, so it’s a bit of a mystery what happened with her diploma efforts. After she quit the academic world because of her pregnancy with the mysteriously vanishing child Liserl, she never really pursued her studies again.

She did not, contrary to popular opinion, contribute intellectually to Einstein's "miracle year" work nor to his later work. She never published any papers. In contrast, Einstein continued his work long after they separated. Correspondence between Mileva and Albert talking of "our work" referred not to work for which Einstein became known and for which he won wide acclaim and awards, but to the work they were doing as students on their diploma dissertations, which happened to be on the same topic.

This is not to demean Mileva Marić at all. She was a very capable and distinguished student by all accounts, and a smart and remarkable woman, but "brilliant"? I think you’d have to carefully define your criteria to make a statement like that because I also think that it demeans her far more to present a misleading view of her life than it does to tell the plain and simple truth about her which is quite remarkable enough.

In this light, I have to question the beginning of the novel which represents her erroneously arriving in Zurich as a naïf about to start on her higher academic life, when in fact Mileva was well-traveled before then, and had actually been living in Zurich prior to this. Nor was this her first exposure as a woman in a male institution. She had attended the all-male (until she arrived - albeit as a private student!) Royal Classical High School in Zagreb (a city I've visited myself and loved), and she'd subsequently attended the Girls High School in Zurich. After that, she began studying medicine at the University of Zurich. So no, she was not in any sense new to this "civilized" world, nor to this city, nor to this university!

But back to her physics credentials! She was not studying to be a physicist. She was training to be a teacher which is why she became a student in a teaching diploma course where she shared a class with five other students, all male, one of whom was Einstein. She never taught, having failed to pass the final teaching diploma examinations because of poor performance in math. Twice! So to suggest she brilliant and perhaps some sort of contributing partner in Einstein's work is misleading at best. They no doubt discussed some of his thoughts on those topics, and perhaps she helped him with his studies (as perhaps he helped her) in school and later with research, but to intimate that she was some sort of equal partner in his scientific life is not true. She herself never made any such claims, and there's no correspondence from her or to her indicating any such thing. To suggest otherwise is to detract from what she actually did achieve which was praiseworthy enough in itself

I also read that "Mileva was forced to subsume her academic ambitions and intellect to Albert’s ascent" and again I had to ask, where is the evidence for this? She dropped out to raise a family, but was she forced? Was this Albert's dictum? I don't think you can argue a good case for that. I have to wonder why an author would do this to Mileva. Are we to take home from this the idea that her ambition to raise a family (if that was her ambition) instead of pursuing a career in science was abnormal or beneath her, or that she was pressured and browbeaten into it? That she had no alternative? She took a final while she was pregnant for goodness sakes! She was not being dictated to or subjugated by anyone, and to suggest that she was is an insult to her. It's also an insult to anyone who's raised a decent family, male or female, and especially to women back then, and especially as a single parent - at least in the early months.

Mileva's withdrawal from academic life for anything other than illness was through her first pregnancy. Their daughter was named Liserl. What became of this girl is a mystery, but the best guess is that she died, possibly from scarlet fever when she was still an infant. While pregnant, Mileva failed in her second attempt at passing her diploma and gave up on her PhD ambitions at that point. It would seem clear that she was not forced into anything. It seems from the available evidence that she was not academically up to pursuing what she had initially aimed at, and she gave up that pursuit in favor of pursuing a family, which is an equally worthy endeavor.

So what bothered me most about this novel was the inconsistency, On the one hand we're being told she's brilliant and was somehow prevented from pursuing academics, but on the other we're shown an air-headed girl who can't focus on school-work because of her giddy obsession with Albert, which has her mindlessly blowing money on a trip to be at a village near him and sitting around, too distracted to even read, and doing nothing but wait in the desperate hope he will come visit! I resented this picture of Mileva and I found it demeaning. Brilliant people of course can be giddy, but this isn't math: there is no Commutative Law here. You cannot equally argue that if truly brilliant people are giddy, then giddy people must be smart!

The inconsistency (that serious student was somehow robbed of her career) falls apart when we read, "It didn't help that I kept drifting off into daydreams about the trip to Como..." I found it insulting to Mileva that she purportedly had such an adolescent crush on Albert that it was affecting her schoolwork. Personally I cannot credit that; not with a woman like this one, but even if it were all true, it still flies in the face of what's said elsewhere about her being brilliant and being a strong student. I'd believe those latter two traits long before I'd believe the rather vacuous starry-eyed version of Mileva Marić with whom we're far too frequently presented here. We get too much of this with poor maligned Mileva: "Stomach fluttered" (location 825 on Kindle), "stomach churned" (841), "stomach lurched" (1132), "Stomach fluttered" (1191), "stomach lurching" (1252), knot in my stomach hadn't untangled (1303). Seriously? At the same time we hear nothing of Albert's inner feelings. It felt biased at best, genderist at worst.

I wanted to like this and view it favorably, but I can't in good conscience approve of such a young-adult, even 'Harlequin romance' version of a woman who stood out in her own time as different for a variety of reasons. This was a woman who was strong, self-possessed, competent, and dedicated to her chosen aims, whether academic or family. I think her life is remarkable and it think it should have been much better served than it was here - or at least than it was in the first sixty percent!


Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Butch and the Beautiful by Kris Ripper


Rating: WORTHY!

This novel proved to be every bit what I'd hoped for. It was such a pleasure to read. Thanks to the publisher and author for a chance to get in on an advance review copy! That's not to say that it was all plain sailing. I had a couple of issues (when don't I?!), but overall it was fun, entertaining, well-written, and very engaging. I didn't even mind that the ending was entirely predictable, because that was kind of the point!

This novel is part of a loosely connected series known as "Queers of La Vista," and it's set in a fictional California town. I haven't read any others in the series since I was unaware the series existed until I encountered this volume. Given that we're told more than once in this novel that the gay community in La Vista is small, it's a bit of a stretch that we already have five novels in derived from it! Like Pianosa in the Joseph Heller classic Catch-22, is highly unlikely to be able to accommodate all of the activity depicted in the series, but it's no more of a stretch that a TV crime show has a murder rate that exceeds Chicago of the prohibition era, either, so I'm not going to worry about that!

All the volumes in the series twist their titles from US TV soap operas: As La Vista Turns, Gays of Our Lives, One life to Lose, The Queer and the Restless. As I said, I haven't read these, but only two of them, including the one I'm reviewing, are about female relationships if we're to judge a book by its cover (which I normally don't!). Jaq and not Jill, but Hannah, meet at a wedding and immediately get the hots for each other. Neither is looking for a deep entanglement, but they had no way of knowing where this would lead.

The fact is that they click immediately, but since Hannah is going through a divorce - and not a pretty one - the prospects for this interaction don't look too rosy. The story follows them as they navigate a slightly thorny path through the relationship, through the well-meaning intentions of close friends, and through issues which try to steal time from the relationship even though they are not a part of it: such as Jaq's teaching duties and high-school relationship issues, and Hannah and her ex's fight over selling their house.

There was a bit of a Nora Ephron vibe to this, but this isn't your parent's Nora Ephron as the next paragraph will confirm. It did have that upbeat, liberal, well-to-do aura about it, though: people who were well-off enough to not have a worry about where the next penny would come from. As I said, I've not read any other of the stories, so I can't say if they are all like this. I hope not, because it would be nice to find a story in this series about a less well-off couple, or one which doesn't have such an easy trajectory to follow. Maybe that's just me!

Issues? I mentioned them so let's look at one more (the first was the improbability that all of this was going on in such a small LGBTQ community). I was not happy with the fact that these two fell into bed after knowing each other for an hour and proceeded to have unprotected sex. Yes, reality isn't quite such a turn-on I know, but I would have expected that both of these people would have been more grown-up and responsible, and a bit more cautious than they were. They are not teenagers, after all. The problem for me was that they didn't even mention risks, let alone discuss them or take precautions! Yeah, not sexy, and sexy is what this novel aims at - and gets there, be warned. It's very graphic and explicit, and it does not pussy-foot around (so to speak). There is liberal use of four-letter words and depictions of lesbian sex, but I would have preferred a note of caution to be sounded at least, even if it wasn't satisfied.

Having just published my own LGBTQ novel, it was fun to read a different story - a contemporary one which was written so well, and with such good humor and a positive vibe. It was an easy read and a rewarding one. The characters were wonderful, and based on the overall story and the quality of the writing, I recommend this.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"She came to sit by the bed of a dying man despite her own infirmary." ("infirmity" was needed here. The guy was already in the infirmary!)
"Is so, you give them too much credit." ("If so" was needed here)
"I hear a great many things people do not intend me to her." (intend me to "hear" was needed)

Sawbones is perhaps not surprisingly, a common title. Don't confuse this one with Sawbones by Lawrence BoarerPitchford, which has some similarities, or Sawbones by Catherine Johnson which is a rather different kind of story, but set in a similar period, or with Sawbones by Stuart MacBride, which is a completely different kind of story. Frankly, given the way the main character is treated, and in rather graphic detail, the title for this one perhaps should have been Sabines!

Set in the early 1870's (as near as I can gauge), this tells the story of Catherine Bennett, a prideful and prejudiced medical doctor who had a modest but thriving practice in New York City until she was made (by the victim's wife) the scapegoat in a murder. Fearful that she will not get a fair trial given the wife's powerful connections, she takes a rather cowardly way out and flees to Texas posing as one Laura Elliston, and making her way via Austin to a wagon train heading out to a newly-founded town in Colorado.

She never makes it out of Texas. After a savage attack by Kiowa or Comanche (it's unclear), she finds herself the sole survivor and also in charge of a wounded cavalry officer who came with his men belatedly to the rescue of the wagon train. It's rather sickeningly obvious from this point on that she has her love interest. That was one of my problems with this novel: events are telegraphed so far in advance that it's no surprise what happens to her and therefore no spoiler to give it away.

Another issue was that it's in first person which is the weakest and most irritating voice in which to write a novel, and it's completely unrealistic in this case given what brutality the author forces on this woman at the hands of men. It's simply not credible that she could tell this story the way she does. Initially, it made sense what happened to her, given her gender and the period in which she lived, and I was appreciating that this was a strong woman and looking forward to learning about her, but that rapidly fell apart after she ran away from the crime she never committed. From that point on she became not stronger, but weaker and more stupid, and the sorry plaything of a cavalry Lieutenant, subsuming her entire self to him.

Her protestations of moving on alone in her desire to be a doctor were so vacuous, especially given that you knew they were never going to happen, that I felt I was reading a young adult novel at this point. I'd have actually enjoyed the story if she had gone on alone, but we have to have all of our women validated by a guy in these tales don't we, otherwise how can she be a real woman? Her credentials as a doctor were called into question when she kept rambling on about "...trying to staunch the flow of blood" when she really meant "stanch," which is something that young adult writers of today do not know, but which a doctor would have known back then.

The male interest is Lieutenant Kindle, presumably because you could read him like an open book. He ought to have been named Lieutenant Nook (as in nookie) given his overbearing and single-mindedly physical approach to her. At one juncture, she outright tells him 'No!' (in one form or another) on four separate occasions and still he will not leave her alone. The fact that she was partly drunk and emotionally compromised offered no barrier to this guy whose name, we're told, is William, but which ought to be Dick. He sickened me with his non-stop pressing of himself upon her.

Having saved his life, you'd think this would have made him offer some respect, or show some deference, but instead he seems to have fallen victim to some early form of Stockholm Syndrome and he stalks her until 'she can't refuse him anymore', and has his way with her. The relationship at this point had become so co-dependent that it turned my stomach and I almost quit reading. But they get it on in a library, so I guess this made it okay for him to become a tenant of her Wildfell Hall. When they discuss "Laura's" previous sexcapade, Kindle actually has the hypocrisy to say, "He took advantage of you."! I am not making this up. But "Laura" is a hypocrite too. After repeatedly dissing and dismissing men, she says, “I refuse to believe men do the things they do for no reason other than they can.” Why would she say that when she's made is quite clear that she thinks they're the lowest of the low anyway?

Yes, this is the book "Laura" was reading, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I had to question this. The novel came out in 1848, so it seems highly unlikely that it would have found its way into a library in a remote (and new) Texas fort by 1870 or so. Who knows? Maybe it's possible. This is fiction after all, but I found it even harder to believe that the "reading room" at this remote fort would have been so well-stocked with books that "All available wall space was taken up by floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books." While the US was quite literate (if you were white) by the 1870's, it beggars belief that a library in a remote fort in The South would be so well stocked, especially so soon after a (not so) civil war.

Purely because of her work on saving Kindle's life, "Laura" is made the acting head physician at Fort Richardson in North Texas, where Nook, er Kindle, is based. This is definitely not where she imagined her life would take her, and especially not into his own house where she lodges upstairs on the pretense that he's more safely out of the way of infection in his own room than he is in the hospital, and she can take care of him. The hell with the rest of the patients! How bizarre is that? What about their risk of infection?

Bizarre is how this novel struck me, time after time. At one point "Laura" visits the bakery in town "...where a fat woman was setting out loaves of warm bread." What? Yes, you read it right. Why was it necessary to describe this woman as fat? Well this was a first person PoV, so we can take this as "Laura's" bigoted attitude to everything and everyone, but all this served to do was to make me dislike her more. Another problem I had was with her blind hatred of American Indians. In a way, it was understandable that she should have some PTSD from her experience, but her hatred was so rife and raised so often, it became quickly obvious that the next thing which would happen would be that she has an interaction directly with the Indians, and that it would not be a pleasant one.

This marked the second point at which I felt I really needed to ditch this novel. It was only, it seemed, the unintentional humor which was what kept me going at this point. For example, "Laura" thinks this of the overly amorous Kindle: "It'll give you the big head." I'm sure what he was doing to her did give him a big head, but I really didn't need to know that! Obviously she didn't mean it that way, but this phrase was just so in the wrong place.

"Laura" simply doesn't seem to understand men. She repeatedly downgrades men to nothing save vain idiots, then she falls for Kindle! What's worse than this though, is that at one point she thinks this of another army officer: " It beggared belief Wallace Strong would prefer an ignorant dreamer like Ruth to a strong, intelligent woman like Alice." Why would she think this given how often we learn of her opinion that the men around her are exactly that shallow? It made no sense for her to have this opinion given everything else she's expressed about men, who were evidently only one step above 'them dad-blamed redskins' to hear her talk and think.

She isn't very smart either. She repeatedly fails to appreciate how precarious her position is even when someone other than Kindle is obviously stalking her. This is another episode of telegraphing exactly what's going on, but it takes "Laura" forever to figure it out. I'm usually bad at this, but even I figured out exactly who this guy was long before she did.

Our doctor isn't above slut-shaming either. Of a prostitute, she thought this: "She would lay with multiple men out of wedlock but she would not swear on the Bible. It always amazed me where people drew their moral line in the sand," and this was from a woman who wanted to be treated like a man, yet who has no problem being subsumed as " Mrs William Kindle" when discussing marriage, and who herself has already had one lover 'out of wedlock' and is about to take another? I simply did not get her character at all. It seemed like the more I read, the further she strayed from the woman she appeared to be when the novel began, and none of this straying was into interesting, engaging, or even pleasant territory.

The oddities kept on coming. At one point Kindle is teaching Laura to shoot, a sadly clichéd way for a writer to get her main male character up close and personal with her main female, but the issue here that I found interesting was the plethora of bottles which were available in the middle of nowhere for her target practice! We're told the soldiers out on this patrol are allowed a tot of whisky each day, so no doubt some bottles came from there, but unless they're getting drunk each night, I doubt there would be crates of bottles for her to shoot up. Maybe they actually were getting drunk each night. This would certainly account for their poor performance during what happened later. It would not account for how you can tie someone to a horse when you "...rode through the night without stopping." Those Indians certainly do have powerful medicine!

At this point I did quit reading. There wasn't much left to read, but to be honest I could not bear the thought of reading any more. I wish the author the best of luck, but I cannot recommend a novel like this one.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Meantime Girl by Sindhu S


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"Anjali blinked, allowing a sigh wander past her sneer" should read "...allowing a sigh to wander past..."
"The entire blame will to be on you" should lose the 'to' and read, "The entire blame will be on you"
The 'to' from the previous example belongs here between 'gotten' and 'her'!"The arrogance of Siddharth’s editor had gotten her"
"got along famously well with her son’s wife, and kids, than with her own daughter." should read "...better than she did with her own daughter."
"Her fingers, creased from the bath, slipped grandma in her musings."? "...reminded her of grandma's fingers..." maybe?
There's an odd speech quote at the end of stifling unease.” which should not be there.
There's an entire paragraph repeated. It begins, "When the first bell sounded minutes later, Anjali stood in the orientation hall..."
"Lunch chocked her" should be "Lunch choked her".

This is a novella which started life as a novel. Where the rest of it went, I don't know, but I think the author was smart to précis it. It would have been a bit of a trial to read a full-length novel in this style. Written in 2012, this novel by an Indian author and set in India, tells the story of a doomed love affair between the young, rather impetuous Anjali and the older, married Sidharth, who is frankly not worthy of her. It takes her a long time to realize it. The novel is very widely spaced between paragraphs, so it's actually even shorter than you might think from the page count.

The story read more like a poem than a prose novel and it was charming. English isn't the author's first language, and it shows in the way this is phrased, making for writing that is by turns endearing and confusing! The more I read though, the more I got into the rhyme and reason of it, and I found it to be quite exhilarating and really warmed to it, especially after I'd read the ending. I don't know if I really liked either of the main characters. Sidharth definitely not, but at least Anjali wised-up and took charge, and began to take serious responsibility for the way her life had gone, and that made it worth while for me.

In addition to the sometimes amusing phraseology, there were some intentional moments of real fun, such as this part:

"What can I do? God’s will,” the maid said picking up the laundry basket.
“Did you hear that, Anju? She just called a prick God.”
I laughed out loud at that one.

Overall I think this was a worthy read and I ended up liking the story. I have a soft spot for India though, so your mileage might well differ!


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Paulina & Fran by Rachel B Glaser


Rating: WARTY!

I hate to end my 2015 reviews on a negative note, but this novel wasn't at all what I'd hoped for from the blurb. OTOH, what novel is? Very few of them, to be sure. Rest assured that it's as far from "an audaciously witty debut" as it's possible to get. So Rachel B Glaser and I be unhappy with her effort. It started out interestingly enough, but there was a current underlying it which was obnoxious, and it quickly began to trudge and stumble.

I'd hoped it would get sanded down and become a lot more smooth as the story grew, but the ever-dragging story never did grow wheels, and so the rough edges prevailed. I made it literally half way through - to the end of chapter eight before I gave up on it. It was boring, repetitive and uninventive, and there were no characters in it that I liked. The most obnoxious characters were the titular ones and in that same order, too.

The story is apparently set in modern times, but there are weird anachronisms, so maybe it was set in the past and I missed something which explained this, because there were two mentions, one of a Walkman, and one of a Discman, featured in it despite the novel being published in 2015. It was very confusing. The novel does cover a decade, and of course the Walkman name is still around, but the Discman name belongs to the eighties, so while it's possible these referred to modern devices, this didn't alleviate the confusion.

The reason it didn't is that if this was indeed a modern setting (even from the last ten to fifteen years), then all of these people were complete morons in having routine, unprotected sex with multiple partners, and yet not a single one of them ever considered, not even for a second, that there was anything wrong with it or dangerous about it.

The main character, Paulina, was one of the most uninteresting, self-absorbed, bitchy, and obnoxious characters I've ever read about. She had no redeeming feature whatsoever, and was totally uninteresting to me. She and her co-dependent, Fran, were art students, and the author managed to make even that tedious to read about. Fran was a complete wallflower. Neither of them deserved any sort of decent relationship or any happiness, so it was nice to see that they were getting none. Why anyone would be remotely interested in either of them even as an acquaintance, much less a friend or a lover, was a complete mystery.

Some reviewers made mention of this as reminiscent of a Woody Allen movie - and they did not intend that in a positive light. I agree. It's like post-Annie Hall Woody Allen, when his movies were not even remotely funny, and just became a rambling, self-absorbed mess about unsurprisingly clichéd tropes. I refuse to recommend pretentious and tired drivel like this, which some Big publishing™ editor evidently and mistakenly considered to be a work of art.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Happy Marriage Volume Two by Maki Enjoji


Rating: WARTY!

This was volume two in a series. I noticed it in the excellent local library and decided to give it a try even though it's not my usual fare, so I picked up the first two volumes (it looks like it runs to maybe half a dozen volumes, but the volumes were not all there, so it was hard to tell. It's a Josei (mature romance) manga about an arranged marriage, but it's not quite what you might think at first glance. Normally I wouldn't go in for this because I'm not a big romance reader. Unless it's done expertly, which tragically few are, it's boring to me. Also I am not a fan of this style of manga, where every character, male and female looks exactly the same and the only way you can distinguish one form another is by clothes and hairstyle. They all have insanely large eyes and ridiculously pointy chins. This one also had issues with assigning the speech balloons - sometimes it was entirely unclear about who was saying what.

Those problems aside, I enjoyed this first volume. The girl, Chiwa Takanashi is far too much of a wuss for my taste, and both of the characters seemed to be as simplistic in their behavior as they were in their art work. over the course of volume one, they seemed to be growing more complex, but over volume two, it was obvious they had not grown at all. They were just as incompetent and stupid in relationships as they had been before they married. Their attitude is juvenile and rigid, especially Hakuto's, and worse, he evolved into a complete jerk and a monstrous control freak, and Chiwa became a passive, compliant lamb. This came to a head in the last chapter of the volume, where she finally decides to get out from under Hakuto's thumb and take a job at a start-up run by an old friend from college. Hakuto refuses to accept her resignation, and then browbeats her college friend into withdrawing his job offer (some friend), and Chiwa completely falls into line with this scheme of imprisonment and control. I'm sorry, but I don't want to read about a slave girl - a woman who is nothing more than a toy doll for a man. I sincerely hope that Japanese women are not like this!


Happy Marriage Volume 1 by Maki Enjoji


Rating: WORTHY!

This was volume one in a series. It's a Josei manga about an arranged marriage but it's not quite what you might think at first glance. Normally I wouldn't go in for this because I'm not a big romance reader. Unless it's done expertly, which tragically few are, it's boring to me. Also I am not a fan of this style of manga, where every character, male and female looks exactly the same and the only way you can distinguish one form another is by clothes and hairstyle. They all have insanely large eyes and ridiculously pointy chins. This one also had issues with assigning the speech balloons - sometimes it was entirely unclear about who was saying what.

Those problems aside, I enjoyed this first volume. The girl is a bit too much of a wuss for my taste, and both of them seemed to be as simplistic in their behavior as they were in their art work, but as the story played out, they started to fill out, growing some character and some foibles, which made it interesting. Each volume has four 'chapters', and the author (who is also the artist) added in some amusing comments here and there about the story and the development of it, and some things she had thought of which were left out, which made it more interesting for me.

Despite some issues, I liked this volume and I recommend it as a worthy read. I can't say the same for volume two, however!


Monday, November 2, 2015

Succubus by Richelle Mead


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Succubus Blues by Jim Behrle.

Georgina Kincaid is a succubus living amongst humans in a world where paranormal creatures exist side-by-side, but hidden - your standard paranovel. Though she is an immortal, Kincaid prefers to live amongst humans, dressing and behaving like them. It makes it all very convenient for the author, who clearly has to do no supernatural world building!

Kincaid is also a shapeshifter, and can appear however she wants. She can even emulate clothes, although she prefers to dress in real clothes rather than sport the appearance of them. I guess I don't know how that works exactly, because at one point when she's running late for work, she shifts into clothes in preference to actually getting dressed, yet later, a guy with whom she has casual sex is unbuttoning her shirt and fondling her breasts through her bra. How is he unbuttoning something that's technically a part of her? That would be like unbuttoning your skin! It made no sense, but I don't think this novel is intended to make any sense. It's seems like it's really just Urban Sexual Fantasy (USF). The F can also stand for 'frustration' or other things.

Moving right along, and in keeping with the 'she's really a human' theme, Kincaid works as an assistant manager at a book store in Seattle, known as Emerald City Books. She lives in an apartment, and she carries on a perfectly ordinary life , so other than being a succubus (and there are even issues with that as I shall discuss), she is in actual fact exactly like a human in every way, except that she acts like a teenager rather than her own apparent age.

Given that this is an introductory novel - the prologue to the 'chapters' which will form the volumes of the series if you will - it offered very little information (other than an annoying flash-back-story) about why she is the way she is, why she chooses to live like this, and what, exactly is expected of her by the forces of evil, so all we're left is to conclude that the author did this purely out of laziness, giving her a character - who is completely human in all regards, and whose only paranormal facet is that she can (indeed must) have endless unprotected sex with no consequences. It's not like it wasn't well thought-through, it's like it wasn't thought at all. That said, and for as exceedingly light and fluffy a read as it was, it ended up being enjoyable despite numerous plot holes and issues. It's as if Nora Ephron wrote an urban fantasy movie. Read it on that level and you'll be fine.

One problem is the same one we see in endless paranormal - particularly vampire - stories. Kincaid is a couple of thousand years old, but absurdly acts as though she's a teenager, and she's unaccountably ignorant, after two millennia, about the paranormal world in which she lives. It makes no sense. Clearly Mead had to explain her world as she went along, but to have her main character do it in a way which makes her look like a complete ditz does this story no favors at all.

I know Mead can write adult characters, so I don't know what was going on here. Maybe a paranormal rom-com is what she was aiming for. Kincaid's paranormal "job" - although she never seems to do it or get paid for it in any way, is capturing souls for Jerome, her demon boss, who's barely demonic at all. None of this is explained - it just is. Why there has to be a balance, and that the forces for good tolerate - and even pal around with - the forces for evil makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, nor does it make sense that the evil side is perfectly ordinary - there's no evil going on here at all. The closest we come to evil is the actions of this novel's villain, and his behavior makes so much sense that he's not actually a villain from what I saw. He's actually doing the work the bone-idle angel ought to be doing - in this novel's framework. The fact is, however, that angels aren't actually fighters-against-evil at all, they're merely messengers - mythological email - stolen by Bible writers from the Greek Hermes (and copied in the Roman Mercury). I liked the bad guy!

Kincaid doesn't exude any sort of evil. In theory, she has sex with people and their soul goes to hell presumably, but she also has sex with people where nothing happens to her lover. How does she differentiate? I have no idea, and Mead offers no help whatsoever. When the story begins, its framework seems to indicate that sex out of wedlock is sinful; but then that's religion for you! This is contradicted later in the text however, where Kincaid ruminates that while sex out of wedlock was sinful in the past, the world has moved on, and it's no longer considered a sin because everyone is having sex outside of marriage. This made little sense and implies that if everyone began murdering and raping, then this would no longer be considered sinful either!

From the way this novel is written, I was left with the consolation that I'm fine with the idea of going to hell - if there is such a place and I'm condemned there. Can you imagine spending eternity in heaven with the same partner? I'm not talking about a paltry sixty years of marriage. I'm not even talking about a mere lifetime. I'm talking about ETERNITY wedded to one person, and you can't even experiment sexually with that one person?! I'd rather be in hell with the raunchy crowd any day, especially if it's for eternity. But maybe that's just me!

The writing is technically fine - a minor issue or two here and there but eminently readable, despite being first person PoV, which I normally hate, but which in this case was engaging as opposed to nauseating. There are plot holes galore, but this is routine for a paranormal novel, and there were some quirks which caught my attention, such as when Kincaid remarks to us in chapter ten that some guys she introduced shook hands "guy style" and then the very next chapter she shakes hands herself. What is that? Girl style? I don't get how her shaking o' the hand was any different from the way the guys did earlier. If there is one, Mead failed to clarify exactly what it was and made her character come off as being hypocritical or clueless - and this isn't the only time that Kincaid is portrayed this way, I'm sorry to report.

Because she's a YA writer at heart, Mead had to have a love triangle. On the one breast is Roman and on the other, Kincaid's favorite writer, Seth Mortensen. Kincaid bounces between these two (not literally) and also between them and her casual (and oft frustrated) sex partner who works at the bookstore. Some negative critics have called Kincaid out on this, intimating - if not outright declaring - that she's a slut, but hello: SUCCUBUS! I think they clean forgot that this was a paranormal novel and Kincaid relies on sex for sustenance, being a vampire of the venereal. That's understandable however, because despite the novel being replete with angels, demons, vampires, imps, hybrid human-angels, and so on, there really was no paranormal stuff going on at all in this novel! I mean almost literally none at all.

The big deal here is that there's supposedly a slayer in town who's slaughtering immortals, and is apparently a threat to Kincaid herself, although neither she nor we are ever told why. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that, but given that Seth is new in town and Roman is new in her life, it immediately struck me that either one of these could be the villain, and the remaining non-villainous one would become her love interest as the series progressed. And as it progressed, the relationship with Roman became about as clichéd and trope as you can get, so my money was on him being the new immortal villain in town. He was Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way! He was tall (Kincaid is evidently very short despite her shape-shifting ability), chiseled, commanding, dominating, irresistible, and a perfect lover. My question here was: how is this possible given that she's a succubus?! This loaned more support to my feeling that he was the troublemaker.

It also made me wonder what the heck the point was of making Kincaid a succubus at all if she was completely overpowered by people like Seth and Roman. At one point she is "terrified and thrilled" by how close he is, and we're constantly reminded that she's like a lovesick teenager around him. Is she not the dominant succubus she's supposed to be? How is a mere mortal able to make her feel that way? This was yet another reason to believe that Roman and/or Seth were more than human. By this point we'd learned that immortals of a certain level can mask their immortality so other immortals cannot sense them. Was Roman doing this to hide his true nature? This begs the question as to how effective a succubus can be when potentially anyone can overpower her in this way!

When they went bowling together, Mead sadly resorted to the boring trope of having Roman (who sports the boring trope of gold flecked eyes) get behind Kincaid and show her how to hold the balls, leading to an intimate level of physical proximity. It was as sickening as it was pathetic to read, precisely because this trope has been done to death. In fact I didn't read it - as soon as I saw where it was going, I skipped several paragraphs. This could have been a cheap Harlequin romance novel at this point. I would have thought someone as inventive as Mead could have come up with something original, but she struck out in the lanes.

In an amusing section where Kincaid is bantering with a couple of vamp friends, we learn that she has to use far more energy to change gender than she does to merely 'remodel' herself. We don't learn why. We also learn that she requires even more energy than that to emulate a different species. None of this is explained in any way at all. We don't know why she literally assumes the physical form of the thing she's emulating as opposed, for example, to merely mimicking the outward appearance of it. If she quite literally becomes the subject, then what happens to her own self? Does she literally lose her mind? If so, how does she get it back? If she doesn't (as she clearly doesn't) lose herself, then how is she assuming the exact form of her subject in any meaningful way? We're left in the dark. Maybe future volumes flesh this out - as it were!

The novel was very predictable and will disappointment many people from its lack of paranormal activity. Kincaid makes no sense as a succubus, and it's sad that we have to be told how funny and smart she is without seeing any evidence of either, and it's disappointing that she's so juvenile - not even acting her apparent age, much less her succubus age, but despite all of this, I actually liked the novel, and I can't tell you why. I think maybe it was because I read this as a YA novel even though it ostensibly isn't. it works better if you pretend it is. It was, as I indicated, a light, fluffy read, and maybe that's why - you can close off the analytical part of your brain, and just go with it for the light, brainless fun. Some parts were really engaging, and fun, others not so much. In short I felt the same way about his as I did about Vampire Academy - but after reading two or three volumes of that series, I gave up on it because it became too stupid, so while I'm willing to go on to volume two here, I'm not offering any guarantees about staying with the series beyond that.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

If Wishes Were Husbands by Lucy Shea


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not one for romance novels, but this one appealed to me because of the whimsy of a fantasy coming true. I didn't even know it was set in Britain, which was a bonus to me, but which I think was a mistake to omit from the blurb. This book is written by a Brit author, and non-British readers are likely to find themselves rather lost in the lingo (and not lost in the lino as I initially typed! LOL!).

Rachel Gosling is forty and a dreaded 'spinster' - but here, spinster can mean two things - the other meaning being one who spins stories. The fantasy husband she makes up one day at the hair-dressers and elaborates upon that night when out for drinks with some acquaintances, becomes disturbingly real when she arrives home later, and finds her fantasy husband in residence. He's everything she desired, and she panics. After realizing he's not some burglar or home-invader, she decides her best friend Sheila is having her on, but Sheila denies all knowledge of Darren.

She orders the guy out of the house and then goes to bed, only to wake up the next morning, naked and lying next to naked Darren, her wished-up husband! By lunch time, she's accepted him completely and whole-heartedly bought into her own fiction. Or has she? With her whole heart? Darren has memories of their life before her wish: real memories of courting and proposing and marrying. Those are memories which Rachel doesn't share.

As this 'marriage' continues, Rachel starts to fully appreciate the relevance of admonition: "Be careful what you wish for." Clearly her wish needed to have been defined to a much finer degree than she'd ever thought it did. To be fair, though, when she made it, she didn't realize it was going to come true. Now it seems that she's stuck with it. Or is she? Can she wish it away as readily as she wished it to be? Or is something else going on here?

There are some choice comments by the author in the voice of her main character, such as this one: "I didn’t want to be the one who enabled her to open the brown cardboard box of iniquity" which struck me as hilarious, but maybe you had to be there. On the other hand, there were multiple screw-ups in the text, which would have turned me off this novel had it not been so entertaining. Examples of these are: "pair of dogs on heat" which seems to me that it ought to read in heat, but maybe they do say that in Britain. Worse examples were:
"/like déjà vu" the slash mark appears to need erasure, and the period at the end of the previous word removing
"terra firmer" should obviously be 'terra firma', although I liked the other version
"begge the receptionist" should be 'begged the receptionist'
"I maybe claiming" which should be 'may be claiming'
"two feather boars" should be 'two feather boas
"I wouldn’t need to think about." should be 'I wouldn't need to think', or 'I wouldn't need to think about it'.
"selotape" should be 'Selotape' - it's a trademark.
"The conservation was turning into the beginning of a scientific essay" should have been 'conversation'
"my brain had been effected" should be 'my brain had been affected'
The author is also a bit repetitive using "chef’s hats on toothpicks" both in chapter 8 and in chapter 17, although this is a minor issue.

Overall, though, I loved the way this went and especially the way it ended. It was an entertaining story and kept me interested and provided a satisfying read. I recommend it.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Smoke by Catherine McKenzie


Rating: WORTHY!

This novel, which is outside of my normal range of choices in reading, is a story set in a small town in a fire-risk area where a brush fire has started which has the potential to threaten the whole town. It has a claustrophobic feel to it, with the town seemingly isolated, the fire bearing down on it, and an ongoing quest to find out how the fire started under way even as the fire is fought with increasing numbers of people and growing amounts of equipment. The two main characters are Elizabeth, a woman who, despite her youth, has a long experience of dealing with brush fires in a professional capacity, and Mindy, a slightly older woman. Mindy has suggested using the funds her group collects annually for the local ice hockey team, for the fire-victims instead, since the hockey team doesn't need it. In particular, she wants to help an old guy named John whose house has burned down completely, but before long, John becomes a suspected arsonist.

I'm sorry to say that we get the trope routine of having the main character describing themselves by looking into a mirror. In this case it's Elizabeth who is a green-eyed redhead. She speaks in first person PoV, which is actually quite palatable for once, but this is interspersed with a third person perspective from the PoV of Mindy, and later, from the PoV of another character. The writing was technically very good (especially since this was an advance review copy), with very few appreciable errors or issues,

Presumably the few that were apparent will disappear in the actual published edition. For example, I read, "...who'd read To Kill a Mockingbird one too many times..." wherein both the title of the book and the first word after the title were italicized, which made for an odd read! Another was "...with a whole in her heart" which should have read "...with a hole in her heart." A third was "He gently removed my shirt from my finger gently...." Note that this may sound weird here out of context (it sounds fine in context), but the issue is that 'gently' appears twice. It was evidently an editorial change where the original 'gently', whichever it is, failed to be erased. I do that often!

Another example was "...I'd of thought you knew that by now." I know people say this instead of saying it correctly, or at least they sound like they're saying this, but I don't think that gives a writer free reign to write it like that when it ought to be "...I'd have thought you would've known that by now." One more was " Aren't nothing you can do about it." Presumably that should be " Ain't nothing you can do about it." One last example was where the phrase, "The Daily’s offices" was used. The 'l' and the 'y' were unaccountably italicized whereas the rest of the word was not!

One problem I had was the extent of Elizabeth's involvement in the investigation. Yes, she knew her stuff when it came down to interpreting the beginning of the fire, but she was neither a professional (no longer) nor a police officer, so even though she worked for the local DA, it seemed odd that she was so involved int eh minutiae of the investigation. But that's no big deal.

On the positive side, the really nice way in which the first person PoV is done, as well as the integration of this with a third person perspective, works well and tempts me to bring this to the attention of other publishers and writers and tell them in no uncertain terms: "See? It can be done! Follow this example." In general I liked the way this story unfolded. Some might find it a little slow, at odds with the urgency of the spreading fire, but for me, it wasn't rushed and it didn't drag. It felt normal and natural and that's a really pleasant thing to encounter in a novel, especially one with drama and self-recrimination laced through it.

Elizabeth and Mindy knew each other at one point, but are no longer speaking. It takes a while for the story behind that to unfold. Mindy starts out feeling a bit unappealing and slightly useless. Elizabeth starts out in the beginning of a divorce from her husband of ten years. How much of their feelings are real and how much is smoke? That's what this novel explores, and the extent to which people's lives are tangled and twisted around one another is what's really at the heart of the story, adding to the claustrophobia and the feeling of being trapped in something you don't even understand, let alone know how to get out of. The feeling exists at so many levels in this novel it's a wonder the author managed to keep hold of all the threads! But she did.

I have to say that I didn't like the ending (one character who needed a come-uppance gets none), but it was appropriate to the way the rest of the novel was written, so even though I rather disliked it, it was what the novel demanded. I recommend this novel, It's not your usual drama. I can see it becoming a movie or a TV mini-series. Hopefully it will be a movie, because while TV can do subtlety better than a movie, it rarely gets this kind of story right!