Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers by Mary Roach

Sept. 9, 2014

I wanted to like Stiff. I wanted Mary Roach to be an entertaining writer. Alas, she is not.

She’s judgmental and annoying. She writes too much about too little. She goes on long, pointless tangents.

Most damning of all (for me, as a journalist), are incongruities between what she’s written as either the truth or a semblance of the truth and the truth I’ve read from more credible authors. Meaning, she’s lying or being lazy or a combination of the two.

Once the first hole is poked in Roach’s credibility, I have no faith that her work is not riddled with holes.

At this point, I should put some caveats in my review: I am not easily grossed out. I’m a little bit morbid. While I do not deal with dead bodies extensively, I deal with death and the grieving on a regular basis as a cops and courts reporter for a newspaper.

This appears to be an issue for some reviewers. I did not find the book to be particularly gross.

Show me the money
First, my biggest problem with the book. Roach writes a little bit about the history of the body market, but not that much. When it comes to the modern body market, she writes, a costs $500. Who knows how much it sells for.

That’s it.

One single reference.

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Skinny Bitch gets Hitched by Kim Barnouin

Sloppily and condescendingly written, “Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched” asks the reader to suspend the disbelief, not in aliens or artifacts or magic but rather, in how people act and how the world works.

Personally, I don’t understand the appeal of the “skinny bitch” moniker.

The “skinny bitch,” Clementine Cooper (Clem for short) is a vegan. And don’t forget it, because if you’re not a vegan, well, prepare to be preached at with flimsy arguments and pointless rhetoric.

So Clem, at an improbably young age, runs her own restaurant and is dating the millionaire-owner-chef of a steak house.

So, Barnouin (author) set up the tension for us in the structure. Lest ye be interested in people who make only moderate amounts of money, the aforementioned millionaire boyfriend is, well, a millionaire. Tapping into the shades of money without the sex, submission or anything even remotely fun.

The millionaire (who will propose to Clem, hence the title of the book) has a horrible, horrible mother whom he wants to reconcile with. He is, of course (please, start parading out the tropes so they may strut their stuff on the catwalk) blind to his own mother’s idiocy.

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Irish Girls About Town, an anthology

I figured, I should read more Irish authors and I figured, I should read more female Irish authors. So, I picked this book up, along with a few others, trying to fill a 4-for-3 quota. I read it all the way through.

(I adore short stories.)
These stories are utter rubbish.
Had they been written by men, the book and the authors would be excoriated for being misogynistic cretins obsessed with their own gender. As such, the book is filled with un-ironic slut-shaming, un-ironic figure-bashing, god-awful romance, some staying in an abusive relationship. Almost every single story is about or has a strong component of, why women need a man in their life.
Just one. And he’s the empowered one. He may screw around. She may not.

With that being written, here is a review of each story, in the order they appear:

(Click link to read the rest of the review):

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Professor Kompressor by Nils Andersson

Professor Kompressor gets visited by agents with an agency so secret, they refuse to name it. He makes a series of inventions, visits a foreign country, flies over a bunch of others, and makes a bunch of inventions.
Professor Kompressor under cover (sic) certainly has a little charm, but glaring errors take away from that charm. In short, the book either needed an editor or, a much better one. And a couple of proof-reads. (For the record, the professor is not under the covers, rather, he is undercover.)
The biggest issue is the use of direct quotes. Most style books, and readers’ sanity, dictate the following: If a quote goes over a single paragraph, the end of the first paragraph, and all subsequent ones except for the last, do not have an ending quotation marks. Each quote encapsulated on both ends by quotation marks is supposed to mean the end of the quote: the next should be a different person’s quote.
Example, page 121:

“What are you doing with this battered old car, though?”
“Are you training to become a mechanic?”
“Doesn’t quite match your usual invention, does it? A bit too down to earth”

Because all this dialogue, in a row, is said by the same person, the quotation marks at the end of “though” and “mechanic should be left off, to mark it’s the same speaker. This lack style adherence makes the book much harder to read than it should be.
As a person who works in print, spacing issues equally struck me with chagrin. Indent-long spaces between words in the same sentence seemed like the paginator feel asleep at the keyboard.

(Click link to read the rest of the review):

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On the far side, there’s a boy by Paula Coston

According to the book blurb, this is an “exotic fable for anyone who has ever longed to have, or adopt, a child.”

It is more accurate to understand, this is a book about a pedophile who desperately wants a Sri Lankan boy.
I have no idea if the author was entirely conscious, or conscious at all, of how strongly this theme permeates, then pulsates, through the book. I doubt she was much aware.
This pedophiliac desire of the main character/narrator is masked as the aforementioned longing to have a child of one’s own.
When one reads the text, the desire is clear. This is not the desire to have a child. This is the desire to have a child to have sexual relations with. Specifically, a boy. It’s creepy. Reverse the gender rules and one would not even hesitate to cast stones or see the pedophilia for what it is.

Make it end
The book is bad for a variety of reasons. I will admit, Paula Coston is not a terrible writer. Her prose is palatable, just, her content is not.
At 374 pages, the book goes on and on and on without any, actual, discernible point. I wish Coston’s editor, assuming she had one, would have stepped in and asked her to tighten the book up. There are so many scenes that have no discernible point. So many pointless plotlines. So much pointless writing.

(Click link to read the rest of the review):

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Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Despite all the praise “Half a King” has been receiving, I found it to be sorely wanting.

My tendency is to blame it on being a young adult novel, something I only realized after I finished the book. That’s not fair to the genre.

“Half a King” is really half a novel.

It’s a mediocre start to what promises to be a series of some king, although what that will entail is unknown.

When it comes to the fantasy part of “Half a King”, there’s almost nothing at all. There’s writing of Elfen structures and some religious talk of the time between now and then, when the gods were shattered. There’re also some plotlines of the coming of a monotheistic movement.

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Dr. Vigilante by Alberto Hazan

The concept is ripe for a novel: doctor uses his access to patients, and trends, in the emergency room to carry out a war on the male criminal elements in the big apple.

The inherent tension in the idea would, seemingly, be enough fodder for a brilliant story. After all, it’s about a doctor who hurts people, and then proceeds to treat the people he’s intentionally harmed. A doctor violating his oath.
Dr. Vigilante does not live up to the lofty concept. It lives up to the pretension of a rich, hunky doctor living in New York City, who is written as a toned-down version of Batman.
The pretension, along with the terrible stereotypes and blatant sexism built into the plot, into the characters, even into the setting, helps drive this book down, down, down.

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The Night Searchers by Marcia Muller

I don’t normally subscribe to the Marxist camp of literary theory, but this mystery novel grated on my sensibilities until finally, after I finished it, the grating turned into a salient realization:
The Night Searchers is a screed, beckoning the top 10 percent to piss on the bottom 10 percent. The wealthy to lord their wealth and privilege over the poor. Not the super-wealthy, just the normal-wealthy.
I realize this is a vulgar thing to write, but it is an unfortunately true approximation of the book, its themes, its characters, its setting, etc.
We have Mrs. Sharon McCone, private detective, living in San Francisco and married to a man who runs some sort of similar agency.
Both are filthy, stinking rich. Multiple houses in multiple locations. Fancy sports cars. One house in San Francisco, with its bloated rents pushed higher by the likes of McCone. Two other houses, sitting unused, unneeded by them. They have the privilege to waste. (The reader, I suppose, is supposed to laude these marks of the main character’s wealth.)

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The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

Another reviewer is entirely baffled as how this book has such incredible reviews. I fall into this reviewer’s camp.

The light in the ruins only has a single redeeming quality: the female, post-war detective attempting to solve the series of murders plaguing an aristocratic Tuscan family.

The female detective is great, and she holds great potential. This is not a vehicle for her. Nor is The Light in the Ruins a vehicle for anything.

There’s some sporadic narration by the killer, which is entirely clichéd, boring and pointless. There’s the primal serial killing done in the name of revenge. There’re Nazis, and the people allied with them and there’s the resistance and some ruins and a weak love story.

Really, there’s nothing worth writing about and there’s nothing worth reading about.

Really, the writing is weak and the emotions are boring and the plot moves so slowly as to be worthless.

This book was received, free of charge, from the Goodreads First Reads program.

On Goodreads

Ghouls Rush In by H. P. Mallroy

Book Review: Ghouls Rush In by H. P. Mallroy

With a name like H. P. Mallroy, with both her first and middle names obfuscated, one would think she would at least try to live up to the paranormal credentials she is, admittedly, inadvertently throwing out to the world.

Alas, alas, alas, she does not. Rather, she offers up a repetitive, lackluster and ultimately boring romance that isn’t really a romance, but more a story of never-quenched lust dressed up as romance.

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