Category Archives: Uncategorized

Review: The Good Sister (Sally Hepworth)

The Good Sister starts off slowly – to be perfectly honest, it starts out slowly for the first third of the book. However, if you hang on, the rest of the book will definitely be worth your attention.

Rose and Fern, fraternal twins, grew up with a sociopathic abuser of a mother. Fern, who clearly is autistic (most likely Aspberger’s) is protected both in her youth and in her adulthood, by Rose. Fern of course lives a fairly regimented life until she finds out that Rose cannot get pregnant. Fern decides she’ll show her love for her sister by having a baby for her. The narrative is provided from the point of view of Rose, via her journal, and Fern, via her simply living her life.

That’s the basic storyline, and it doesn’t really take off until Fern has to start varying her routine, given that her routine has not thus far allowed her to do things like go and dates and such. We also find out that Rose is not quite the doting and caring sister we think her to be based on the opening of the book.

There’s a lot to like in this: it’s a psychological thriller, without a doubt, has some good twists, and has one of the main characters afflicted with a condition without taking that character into some weird place, which happens all too often. The writing is good, and there are no major plot holes. If the front end was a tad speedier, I’d give it five stars, but it still is a solid four star read.

Thanks to St, Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Last Exit – Jenny Lu #1 (Michael Kaufman)

The Last Exit features two main characters:on is Jen Lu, a cop in a near-future earth where climate change has ravaged the planet and the Russians appear to have taken over DC(?) but we still have a President and Vice resident. The other is Chandler, an AI implant in Lu’s head, who only “lives” for five years.

The world of this future has those in their late 40s and early 50s having a good chance of contracting mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in this work, changed slightly to become the acronym ROSE). The top scientists have decided it’s because there are too many old people, so the official policy becomes this: a child can receive the treatment for ROSE, but only if their parents decide to exit when they reach their mid 60s. The policy, of course, tends to result in a lot of elder abuse, with parents at time being abused by their children because the parents don’t want to exit. The mega-rich, naturally, live by a different set of rules – they neither have to exit, nor do their children lack for the treatment, should they need it. The adults who seem to live forever are called Timeless, a strata unreachable for the usual day to day population.

Lu hears rumors of something called Eden – she isn’t sure if it’s a place or a treatment, but keeps running into mention of it, usually at murder scenes. She mentions it to her boss, but he tells her to stow it and focus on her job. But with Eden popping up again and again, she can’t help but poke into it, despite the warnings from her boss, and despite the shadowy figures, including a rep from BigPharma, of course, who meet with her precinct to warn of a counterfeit treatment that causes people to age like progeria on steroids, leaving them dead within three days. Conspiracies galore!

The AI, Chandler, seems to be a route through which the author can get to the reader without it being infodumpy, and it does work to an extent. There were a couple of times when I wondered how it could have seen anything if Lu just scanned past something. These were minor issues, though.

Overall, it isn’t a bad mystery, and while the social justice stuff is here, it is not completely in your face, so if you’re of a more conservative bent, it likely won’t be too preachy for you.

Three and a half stars out of five, rounded up to four.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

 

Review: The President’s Dossier (James A. Scott)

I almost added my nonfiction-scams tag to this one in addition to tagging it as a thriller, as the book is clearly based on the Steele Dossier. If you are not from the US, or do not follow US politics, the Steele Dossier (in this book, renamed the Ironside Dossier) reported on Russian involvement during the 2016 elections in the US, favoring the Republican candidate.

In The President’s Dossier, Max Geller, who previously worked for the CIA in its Moscow station, has been fired from the Agency after he offers anything less than praise for recently elected President Ted Walldrum (which anagrams to Mr Lewd Adult, something I found amusing and fitting, given the real life person he’s modeled on), dumped by one girlfriend only to take up with another who works so much they barely see one another, and even with his credentials is unable to find a new job three weeks after his dismissal. He wonders if the Agency is waving people away from him. This “Duh!” moment is one I will have repeatedly for Max throughout the book, even though he is supposedly a superspy.

One day, a man named Bowen appears at the bar where Max spends his afternoons, carrying a briefcase of money. He offers $10 million (USD) to Max to verify the content of (and thereby sources for) the Ironside Dossier, so named because of the British MI6 intelligence officer who put it together. As someone obviously not a fan of Walldrum, Max has no issues signing a contract – with a Panamanian entity Bowen represents, which should have been another flag for Max – and taking the job.

Max also receives a call from Rodney, his old boss at the CIA, who knows Bowen has been to see him (another red flag) and dangles some reward in front of him. He also gives Max some gear, including an identity and a satphone.

I was suspicious, and Max should have been as well. Max makes some calls to have other people get all sorts of arrangements done – travel, gear, surveillance, etc. In fact, he doesn’t seem to do much work himself of any sort that is not either walking into a place under a forged identity, sometime lifting documents or thumb drives from people, sleeping with Jill Rucker, who Bowen assigned to Max as a cutout (i.e., someone between Bowen and whoever he represents and Max), or getting kidnapped and subsequently rescued by other members of his team. There are also operational failures that are unforgivable – Max gets other people killed because he fails to think things through. As just one instance, he doesn’t even seem to consider for a moment that perhaps Ironside is under surveillance by the Russians.

After being kidnapped, rescued, then rescued again in the same chapter, and now being hunted by MI6 in addition to the Russians, Max and crew head to St. Petersburg (Russia), to verify some items in the dossier – specifically, the loans and money laundering, and what I refer to as the “peeing with prostitutes” thing, all of which are in the real Steele Dossier. There is a nice setup with lookalikes that allow Max and Jill to leave the cruise ship they were on and not reboard it, giving them a head start on Russian intelligence.

After some time and activities in St Petersburg, the action moves to Moscow, where they contact a group known as Omega, who are working toward a future where Putin is removed from office and the oligarchs prosecuted for looting the country. In one of those more fantastical scenes, Max and Rucker impersonate FSB officers, enter a bank where one of the Omegas works, and retrieve thumb drives from a worker there. But Max, having not entirely thought it out, is seen by a security guard. That leads to a shootout and various deaths, and they’re now on the run again, chased by Zaluda on behalf of the Russian intelligence service.

One thing that had me scratching my head was just how easily Max and Rucker managed to move from country to country. At no point were they ever questioned about their identities, held up at Customs, or anything else. They either simply traveled as themselves, without facial altering, under forged identities, or impersonated (in one rather unbelievable instance) a man and woman who looked very much like them, who just happened to be part of a flight crew of a Russian plane leaving for Paris.

Every now and again, Max asks himself some questions: about the timing of his firing, and why, about his current girlfriend, about Bowen/Panama, about his old boss offering him the same job, and so on. Never does he actually delve into any of it, even though this entire job could at any point result in his death or the deaths of members of his team. He is suspicious of Bowen, and (finally) of Rucker, sending her to Mexico City, away from the rest of the team.

Panama was next on the list, where they verified, somewhat loosely, the loan/money laundering items by breaking in to the 13th floor of “Walldrum Tower Panama” and seeing that the floor was incomplete and showed no signs of any work in progress – even though the entire floor of condos had been purchased by Russians. Max is, once again, caught while snooping around and is rescued by another member of the team. It’s in this portion of the book that the manner in which money is laundered via loans and real estate investing/purchases is explained fairly well by one of the characters to Max, in layman’s terms – so, also, to the reader, since Max should presumably know at least the basics. There’s a showdown between Max and Rucker, from whom he forces the truth, after she shows up very angrily in Panama City.

The whole gang then moves back to the US, their job complete: mirroring real life once more, they’ve verified the Ironside Dossier. Bowen says Max has not completed it, because the sources are not named. Max refuses to name them, pointing out that Bowen only contracted him to verify the details. It occurred very late to Max that maybe, just maybe, Bowen was working for the Russians, trying to get Max to name names attached to the items in the dossier, which would have resulted in a (longer) hitlist for the Russians.

There’s more shooting, a showdown with Rodney, and then, of course, the nonsensical bureaucratic issues that plagued the real Steele Dossier. I won’t give away the actual ending, to avoid spoilers, but it sets things up nicely for Max and his crew if they should go on other adventures that are very noisy and leave a trail of bodies everywhere.

The writing is fine, and the book speeds right along between different milieus – in fact, there’s very little downtime that we actually see, versus hear about. There’s also an annoying motif where this sort of thing happens:

Character: (says something in code)
Spyspeak: (explains what Character just said)
Character: (says something in code)
Spyspeak: (explains what Character just said)

We get it, spies speak in code, but it would have flowed better had Max just explained it once he got off the phone with whoever it was.

The beginning and end of this shadow reality: there is a dossier, it was adjudged to be predominantly true, and the conclusion was reached that the Russians did interfere with the 2016 US presidential election. The middle part is one account of how the investigation of its content could have gone, and despite the items that bugged me about Max and how some of the story was conveyed, I’d say it isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

3.5 out of five stars, rounded down to three for the issues mentioned.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Idea of the Brain (Matthew Cobb)

I picked this up because I’ve always had a fascination with the brain – how can this person understand rocket science, while this person is better at literature, and how do people view (and/or value) these rather divergent types of development through their own lenses?

If you’re after a very detailed, rather academic sort of book examining the ways people throughout history have viewed the brain, this is the book for you. It comes across as a bit dry, as many overviews of anything do, but it does not stray into the weeds to become completely unreadable. You do need to be ready and alert to read it in order to understand the transitions and shifts of thinking throughout history about the organ that allows us to think.

If you’re a citation kind of person, this is also for you: as with other academic type books of this nature, there are loads of materials one could go find and read, if one were interested in continuing to delve into neurology and the general history of how we view the rather precious blob that sits inside our skulls.

Four stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Perseus/Basic Books for the reading copy.

Judging

“The writing was superb, and for those who say no I ask you a question “Do you have a degree from a university in English? Have you written a novel? If you answered no to both question well you are not qualified as a professional to discuss writing.”

That’s an actual quote from someone to another party who didn’t like the book they were reviewing, but that the commenter liked quite a lot.

And it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. You do not need an MFA, nor do you have to have a published novel  to review books and pass judgment on the writing in a book, just as you don’t need to have played professional football (or to have played football at all) to know that a not-so-stellar quarterback – which, alas, Jax has had over and over and over again – throwing downfield back across his body is a bad idea 99% of the time.

Let me tell you this about writing: there are no rules for the art of writing. But there are rules about the craft of writing. These are two very different realms.

The art of writing may take you to the point of creating your own universe, or only having left handed people in your book, or deciding time is a useless construct.

But the craft of writing means you need to get these things across to people in a manner they can understand, and in a manner that jibes with the world you’re in. Did you write a high fantasy novel? If so, having someone tell another person “Later!” as they’re leaving is poor craftsmanship, and a break in the mindset of the reader.  Did you decide in your literary novel that you were not going to identify any characters, ever, in dialogue, leading to confusion on the part of your readers as to who is saying what? Bad idea. Does your thriller have saidisms absolutely everywhere, with people intoning, muttering, spitting, without them every just saying something – or with people “intoning gravely” or “muttering resignedly” or “spitting angrily” versus “saying”? Not good.

What you do need to do: use grammar properly. If you think you must write in the dialect of one character, don’t do it every time the character speaks, and don’t do a wall of text from that character in dialect. When the character first speaks, sure, do the dialect thing. Then let it go, as you’ve planted it in the mind of the reader. Readers are pretty smart. They’ll get it.

Likewise, make sure your continuity is good.  Unless you are specifically writing third person omniscient, don’t go into all the characters’ heads. And even if you are, don’t head hop in a single paragraph. Don’t switch from first person to third person in the middle of a paragraph or chapter. This is confusing. Don’t change from present tense to past tense in the middle of the book unless you are moving to something that has happened in the past. If you have a character named Stan at the beginning of the book, don’t start calling him Dan somewhere in Chapter Six. If Stan has dark, shoulder-length hair, don’t make him blonde with a buzzcut three chapters later unless you show us this or at least explain it.

And don’t – DO NOT – wade into your one or two star reviews and tell someone who disliked your book that they’re stupid and obviously don’t know what’s going on in the world. That’s a one way ticket to be put on peoples’ “Never Read” list.

DO write your book. DON’T make it boring.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

Sleepytime

The alternate title for this post is: when wordpress is being A Idiot, as wonkette would say. As I’ve told people from time to time, sometimes I’m astonished any of this works at all.

At the moment, WP is not allowing me to upload from its own interface, which means I have to crank up filezilla and upload stuff manually. It isn’t difficult, but it surely is annoying.

I should probably warn everyone that there will be an abundance of chicken and bee related rambling and photos in this here blawg over the next few months. In a bit over a week, my brother – very handy with all sorts of tools and building stuff – will be up and will be helping to build a chickshaw for the mobile layers. Well, let’s be honest here: he’ll be building it, and I’ll be filming it, and “supervising”, trying to stay out of his way.

I’ve probably mentioned that the layers will be separated: one group in the existing coop, ranging in the chickenyard, and the other group in the chickshaw, which I’ll be moving around to areas that will benefit from their scratching and pecking and (of course) pooping. I must have put out of my mind the sheer amount of poop chickens – and chicks! – produce. I changed the pads in the brooder and cleaned out and refilled their water, and when I went to check on them for the last time today, there’s poop all over the place. Ah, well, this is what you get when you choose to get closer to your food.

My plan is to get the NOC stuff done early, hit up Tractor Supply for some bedding material for these girls, and get them some pine shavings in their brooder. That should both absorb more and knock the smell down a bit. What can you do? They’re no different than any babies, human or not: eat, drink, sleep, poop.

I had mentioned to Stacy the other day, after getting the chicks reset with clean everything, that I hate seeing people buy dyed chicks or rabbits for their kids for easter. A rabbit might be cuddly, but they are both livestock, and I wonder just what the heck those people do when that cute, fuzzy little chick grows up into something resembling its evolutionary ancestor. I have a suspicion that they just kill them and discard them, or just abandon them in a field or yard or something, because they’ve become too annoying to care for. Don’t do that, folks: if you know you don’t have what it takes to care for any livestock you get, whether it’s chicks and bunnies, or bees and goats, don’t get them, please. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to care for a chicken or rabbit, but don’t put yourself into the situation deliberately, knowing what you know about yourself.

Medium-sized rant over. I’m putting some kind of sleep thing down my tube at the moment, and we’ll see if this is the golden ticket to dreamland. And yes, the original version of Willy Wonka is much better than the remake, just as the version of A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim is the definitive version of that movie. Period.

We’ll end on that note today. Until next time (and until I can wrangle WP to do its jerb), peeps: be well.

 

 

A seed for every season

I’ll be going through seeds today and planning for next season. A lot of things are older and 2015 was a disastrous season for many reasons, one of which was poor germination rates. I’ll be tossing a bunch of things to go into the compost pile (where, no doubt, the things that fared poorly in the nicely tended beds I slaved over will germinate and grow into healthy, thriving plants) and ordering fresh seed for the coming year. If you have any special requests – Gabby​, I already have ghost and datil peppers on my list  let me know in some manner and I’ll add them to my list. I’m paring down the varieties this time, or at least intending to. There’s no telling what new shiny thing will catch my interest as I start going through the seed catalogs.