Brood Of The Witch-Queen

Brood of the Witch-Queen - Sax Rohmer Being a fan of Rohmer's Dr.Fu-Manchu series, I decided to check out another of his pulp works.

Brood of the Witch-Queen seemed like a good candidate; its very name promised adventure and horror! In it, Robert Cairn and his celebrated father, medical genius Dr. Cairn, must fight against the unholy outrage that is Antony Ferrera, a vile and powerful sorcerer resurrected from the dead, and inexplicably adopted by Dr. Cairn's close friend and colleague, Michael Ferrera. There is even a damsel in distress, Myra Duquesne, adopted daughter of Michael, who Robert is hopelessly in love with, and Antony has dark designs on.

On the surface, it retains several qualities I enjoyed in Dr.Fu-Manchu. From the very first page, the reader is instantly plunged into the adventure. Immediately we read about horrors, murders, and supernatural abominations. Rohmer knew what his audience wanted, and he doesn't disappoint. There is plenty of action throughout.

Like the books on the evil Chinese doctor, it all follows an episodic formula, where every few chapters are a new occult outrage by Ferrera, all loosely tied together by an overarching plot.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the specific details that made the Dr.Fu-Manchu books so much fun, Brood of the Witch-Queen is a failure.

A critical problem is that the antagonist, Antony Ferrera, relies on supernatural powers. Fu-Manchu, no matter how far-fetched, was limited to mortal implements. Thus, there was a genuine mystery to how Fu-Manchu accomplished his crimes, and Rohmer was often very clever with his explanations.

That is lacking in The Brood of the Witch-Queen, since the answer each time is "magic!". This reduced my interest in the book a lot, since it effectively eliminates any mystery elements, and makes Rohmer's story, already predictable with its few characters and singular antagonist, even more straightforward. At times, it's even dull, despite all the action.

Moreover, the magic doesn't even possess any consistency or well-defined limits. In an early chapter, Antony Ferrera attempts to murder Robert Cairn in his apartment simply through his ghastly powers. Near the end of the work, despite supposedly growing continuously stronger, Antony now requires Robert to pick up an object he has left behind. Only through this is he able to "focus" his powers and make another attempt on Robert's life.

But even aside from that, the work is very sloppy, as if Sax Rohmer hastily wrote it for a quick buck, with no quality control.

For one, despite possessing supernatural powers, Ferrera is nowhere near as interesting or menacing as Dr. Fu-Manchu. When Rohmer informs us that Dr.Fu-Manchu is perhaps the most dangerous man in the world, we believe it.

After all, Dr.Fu-Manchu possess a small army of minions, huge sums of money, and many other seemingly limitless resources. Additionally, he is the head of a powerful Chinese secret society, and assassinates and tortures key British diplomats. He can kill remarkably easily, through a variety of means. His influence even seem faintly believable; after all, every nation has shadowy power brokers, and at a time when few Europeans knew much about China, who was to say that a figure like the evil doctor didn't exist?

Compare that to Antony Ferrera. He is a lone antagonist. He has no minions. His only resource is money, and not to a particularly large extent, either. Throughout the book, he murders only four people, none of them wielding any particular power. And to commit his killings, he requires time, equipment, and special circumstances! When Robert meets Antony later on in the book, the evil sorcerer is forced to flee, for he is no match against an average human being armed with a pistol in direct confrontation. Moreover, Ferrera is never remotely credible as a villain who could exist.

When Rohmer proclaims him to be the most dangerous man in all of Europe, I simply laughed.

The protagonists are similarly poor. Robert Cairn seems wholly ineffectual and incompetent, consistently requiring his father to rescue him. Compare that to Dr. Petrie, who saved Denis Nayland Smith almost as many times as Smith did him.

And Dr. Cairn is a gruff, amorphous hero with zero personality, a far cry from Smith.

The episodic nature is also strained, as events in one adventure are either contradicted or quietly ignored in a later one. I already mentioned one example above with Ferrera's power, but a particularly confusing event occurs with Myra. After Antony kills his adoptive father Michael through dark magic, Myra enters the room in a trance and proclaims him to be the killer, for which she will never forgive him.

This event is never mentioned again in the story by anyone, and for many chapters afterwards, Myra continues to meet with Antony and loves him like a brother.

Similarly, Dr. Cairn, who witnessed this murder, and pointed out Antony as its perpetrator, is initially reluctant to consider Ferrera evil, or go after him aggressively.

This, despite Dr. Cairn mentioning later on in the book that he knew about Antony's evil origins, and that he "has passed from crime to crime" since childhood. Yet, despite this, neither Michael Ferrera nor Dr. Cairn had thought to stop him earlier? And Dr. Cairn still isn't sure until Antony kills a few more people? It's shabby writing for the sake of plot convenience.

Of course, there are other plot holes. For instance, when Robert Cairn learns from his father that a silk cord Rob possesses is the means by which Antony is projecting his evil energy into his apartment, why doesn't he simply burn the bloody thing? Instead, he does nothing, calmly stays in that haunted apartment, and almost gets killed for his troubles! (Until being saved in the nick of time by his father, as usual)

The most galling is near the end, when, after 200-odd pages of juicy exclamations like

scene of one gruesome outrage in Ferrara's unholy campaign

the drama of evil

A menace, dreadful and unnatural,

Robert Cairn finally manages to discover a likely trail to Antony Ferrera. In light of this unbelievable opportunity to finally put this terror to rest, what is his father's response?

"I will leave the inquiry in your hands, Rob. Unfortunately other duties call me."

Yep, it's not important enough! Of course, the reason for this is so that once Rob tracks Antony to his hideout, he then has to report to his father, and they must survive another attack by Antony's magic that night.

Unfortunately, it's symptomatic of the shoddy manner in which the book is written.

While it bears Sax Rohmer's trademark lightning pace, non-stop action, and lurid events and imagery, The Brood of the Witch-Queen is nevertheless predictable, occasionally boring, and hastily thrown together, with errors galore. I wouldn't even recommend this to Rohmer's fans, of which I consider myself a member.

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1)

Rosemary and Rue - Seanan McGuire October Daye, a changeling (half-fairy) whose life was ruined after being turned into a fish for 14 years in a San Francisco pond, has recently returned to human form and is working as a cashier at Safeway. Unfortunately, "Toby" is called upon to investigate the death of a fairy Countess, Evening Winterrose, and must acquiesce, since Evening cast a curse upon her that will kill her if she fails.

Rosemary and Rue begins well. It's fast-paced and presents a lively setting of fantasy, murder, and action set in modern-day San Francisco. Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, its many flaws become more and more prevalent, as does its lack of creative ideas, all of which were used up at the beginning. The ending especially epitomizes this, concluding an initially promising tale with massive disappointment.

Let's start with the positives.

The book is fast-paced. Aware that she is writing a purely entertaining work, McGuire cuts straight to the action. There are no worthless tangents or lulls in the story's events. The author tries her best to entertain us, even when she doesn't necessarily succeed.

The character of October is faintly likable, if not cool or funny. McGuire tries to make her a tough, sarcastic hero who shoots out one-liners even when death is staring her in the face. She doesn't succeed, in part because of some dire problems with dialogue, and a certain stupidity to the book as a whole and October in particular. (Covered later) But I liked her enough to sympathize when Toby was badly injured, a repeated occurrence during the second half of the novel.

Most impressive, though, is the world-building. The books tells us how faeries hide their true identities with magic (a variety of disguise and costume spells), how their unusual bodies have never been discovered by medical science (thanks to magical beings known as night-haunts), and how they hide their abodes.

There are definite limits to the powers of each character. October in particular, being only half fairy, is relatively weak, and at a major strength disadvantage compared to most magical beings she encounters. I also enjoyed the various fairy races presented throughout the world. There are half-human, half-cats known as Cait Sidh, underwater beings known as Undines, and many others. While I'm aware that most of these are hardly original, and exist in many other works, McGuire meshes them together well. None of them seem haphazard or out-of-place.

The first hundred pages of the work are decent. This is when the reader is presented with most of McGuire's ideas, and introduced to the fairy world. The book is at its best here, and it's easy to ignore the many flaws.

Unfortunately, these rear their ugly heads over the last 250 pages, ruthlessly dragging the work down.

Firstly, the book is riddled with plot holes, glaring inconsistencies, and at times, outright stupidity. Toby herself occasionally comes across as dumb. Although she was a private investigator for many years, October informs us that cops are very much like children. I can't tell whether that is supposed to be the mindset of the character or the author shoehorning in her own views, but it's quite foolish, regardless. No attempts at proving this assertion are given, or even a unique perspective; it's presented as logical fact, with the standard cliche about power going to their head.

Also, want to guess what impresses Toby most about 2009, after having been a fish ignorant of the human world since 1995? Which of the many technological marvels was the most amazing? Why, the size of cell phones decreasing, of course!

And at times, October seems downright contradictory. Despite being a tough hero who repeatedly comes across death time and again, she has to turn away when her would-be assassin is killed.

But this is relatively minor. Far more galling are the many logical problems. Keep in mind that I wasn't looking for them, either. A careful reader will pick up on many more.

For starters, why would October's husband and daughter reject her over the phone after she vanished off the face of the Earth for 14 years? Wouldn't they at least be curious about where the hell she had gone to? Considering the police were clueless about her whereabouts, why are they so convinced she abandoned them, and wasn't abducted? And even if they were absolutely certain she left them, wouldn't they at least give a missing loved one the courtesy of a live meeting?

So why include something so utterly illogical? Because it's a contrivance for the sake of a plot point later on in the book. (And I'm sure many others later in the series)

Another contrivance is Evening Winterrose's dying curse on Toby. Why ask Toby? She is a weak changeling with limited knowledge of the current fairy world, having been absent from it for 14 years. There is no reason, especially considering the power we are told pure-blooded fairy nobles wield. She could have called someone far more capable and powerful.

But if she had, there would be no story.

Also, what about the night haunts? What the hell are they, and how do they arrive so quickly to the scene of a fairy death? Can one speak with them?

This is one of the most interesting questions I had as a reader, and it was left unanswered.

Another weak point occurs when October gets shot in the shoulder with a bullet. It almost kills her, and we are presented with considerable details on how she heals. However, not once are we told whether the bullet is lodged inside of her, and whether it was ever taken out! Only many pages later is there a fleeting mention that it passed clean through, as unlikely as that is for a bullet in the shoulder.

And why does October cast an enchantment on a toll bridge, making the worker there accept ordinary grass in lieu of money? This is captured on camera! Wouldn't this alert the humans to the presence of magic?

Perhaps most maddening is when an ally of October gets his hands on an assassin. Instead of getting information on who his employer is, which would solve the entire mystery, what does he do? He kills him.

Even after such an idiotic action, I was wondering why the hell Toby didn't use her "taste blood" ability to look into the assassin's past memories and his employer. It's her main power, after all.

Oh, but she eventually does! It's just 100 plus pages later, near the conclusion of the work, in the nick of time, right before the curse kills her, and after going through several more fights and adventures.

One plot contrivance is bad enough. But doing it consistently is a characteristic of a hack writer.

I was also annoyed by the dialogue in this book. It is shockingly poor. McGuire tries way too hard to make Toby sound cool, and fails miserably. Many conversations are utterly ridiculous and unnatural, and one often walks away with the impression that October is a buffoon and a fraud. One example is the following description of October driving like a maniac upon noticing an assassin in the back seat of her car;

...obviously still under the assumption that we were playing by some sensible set of rules. He was wrong. I like games. I usually win.

Again, McGuire is too desperate to make October seem tough, and by doing so, makes us believe the opposite.

However, even October's dialogue might be better than any of the suave, handsome male love interests. This line by the King of Cats, Tybalt, doesn't sound so bad in isolation;

"Since I don't generally ask questions I don't want to have answered, yes, that would be pleasant."

However, imagine this style of speech over several pages, non-stop. And not only by Tybalt, but from two other major male protagonists. It frequently gets cheesier than softcore porn.

In fact, the ham-fisted romantic subplots in the book is at a comparable level to those in adult films. In what can be best be viewed as shameless pandering, the author introduces us to three hunky, impossibly handsome, dashing, dangerous, and often cruel men. One, Devin, is her first love who she caught cheating with her best friend. Another, Connor, is an old flame married to a princess who is heir to the throne that Toby is a knight of. But it's okay, since that princess is a cruel bitch, and the marriage is one of convenience. Lastly, Tybalt is the aforementioned King of the Cats, and the dramatic complication here is simply that he supposedly despises October. Nice try. You can't fool me, book.

None of these relationships feel remotely real or interesting. If I wanted a vapid, generic love story for horny housewives, I wouldn't have picked up an "urban fantasy mystery".

McGuire strikes out at love, but she is equally bad at combat. It's very obvious that she knows nothing about fighting or even tried to do any research, a problem when your book has action scenes in it.

For instance, here October Daye punches an assassin holding a gun while at a dead run;

I pulled my arm back as I charged, punching the bastard in the side of the head as hard as I could.

Where to even begin? If an assassin has a gun, then disarming him should probably be the main priority. Punching him only to have him easily shoot you makes little sense. (Of course, the assassin doesn't do this immediately, since as soon as he turns around to face Toby, he is attacked from the other side by her friend, and can't waste the fraction of the second needed to squeeze the trigger)

However, there is also the fact that punching someone while running towards them is weak and ineffectual! Try it sometime. There is little power in such a blow. As a former amateur boxer, I can tell you that a punch is only effective when you have your feet set. That way, you can put your entire weight into the strike. Not just the upper body, but the hips and legs as well.

Of course, it would have made infinitely more sense for October to tackle her assailant and make a grab for the gun.

But perhaps none of these flaws are as bad as what the book lacks in its final 250 pages. Ideas. Many of the flaws I mentioned were present in the initial 100 pages, but they were easier to ignore when I was reading about the fairy world. However, it appears that McGuire used all of them up. The final 250 pages play out like a cliched, third-rate knockoff of a noir mystery. In fact, it's hardly even a "mystery". More like a straightforward procedural.

And almost all the weakness of the book outlined above are at play in the dreadful ending. The identity of the murderer makes no sense. He had numerous opportunities throughout the book to get what he was looking for. Hell, most of them don't even involve any further violence after the murder of Evening. This is yet another plot contrivance; we wouldn't have all our potboiler action mystery then, would we?

The final confrontation plays out like the ending of a low-budget 80's action film. Instead of getting close to the villain with guile, October gives him plenty of warning. Instead of immediately shooting him, they talk at length, complete with a cliched evil villain speech.

Finally, there is a revelation, other characters come into play, there is a struggle for the guns, and of course, in the end it's a non-Toby character who kills the mastermind.

It's sad that it ends this way. The book had a solid start, and I was liking it, warts and all. By the end, I largely regretted picking it up, as it had devolved into another poorly-written, mediocre, predictable mess, so common among pure entertainment paperbacks.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose - Alice Munro I decided to read a work by Alice Munro purely because she won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. I came in with modest expectations, since there are many past winners who I'm no admirer of. Sadly, even those were not met.

The book follows Rose, a girl growing up in severe poverty in the small Canadian country town of Hanratty and desiring more. Flo is her hard-working, flawed step-mother, who appears later on, but largely dominates the first third of the book. Each chapter has its own subject and meanders back and forth through time. In general, each new chapter is a chronological step forward.

Early on, when describing the impoverished town of Hanratty, Munro goes for a low-key, philosophical approach. While the writing itself is decent, and there is a high degree of realism, the events themselves are inconsequential and forgettable.

They lack the humor or excitement to make them entertaining. This, despite the tales being filled with violence, sex, and vulgarity. I usually love those three elements myself, so I was mystified at how Munro managed to make them so utterly boring. If anything, that might be her biggest strength as a writer.

At the same time, neither does the first third of the work offer keen insight, so anyone looking for an intellectually stimulating account of small-town life will be disappointed. Frankly, I found a lot of Munro's philosophical musings to be shallow and simplistic.

Once Rose moves out on her own, and Flo is largely forgotten, the book becomes a bit livelier. At the same time, while the enjoyment factor goes up, the realism goes down. For instance, certain philosophical observations seem flat-out wrong;

Patrick disliked Clifford without knowing him because Clifford was a violinist; no doubt Clifford disliked Patrick because Patrick worked in a branch of his family's department store. In those days the barriers between people were still strong and reliable, between arty people and business people; between men and women.

Perhaps this was true among the group of Canadian friends Munro had during the period of the 50s and 60s; it certainly wasn't true during that same time in the USSR or the USA, (my birthplace and where I grew up, respectively) based on firsthand accounts.

Moreover, characters and situations go from realistic if exaggerated to buffoonish caricatures.

This is most evident in the description of Rose's husband Patrick and his wealthy family. Take every stereotype about out-of-touch, snobbish, ridiculous rich people you have ever seen in film and television comedies, and it still won't be as absurd as the punching bags Munro puts up. The novel goes out of its way to demean Patrick, making him seem comically inept, pathetic, and insensitive. I have known a lot of rich people, many of whom I dislike. Not one of them is even a fourth as ludicrous as Rose's husband.

Of course, this is by design, since it attempts to justify Rose's many horrible actions towards him and her daughter.

Which brings us to another major problem of the work. While we are meant to view Rose as a flawed and occasionally cruel person, we are nevertheless meant to sympathize with her, and even consider her a fundamentally good, decent individual.

I couldn't do that. In terms of her moral character,she cheats on her husband multiple times. In one instance, she has sex on a park bench while her daughter is playing nearby. She also commits adultery with her best friend's husband, and then justifies it. She cuts herself during her marriage because of supposed emotional anguish, despite starting the fights with her husband.

Then, she has the gall to wonder why, nine years after her divorce, Patrick looks at her with revulsion.


While not quite as nauseating, Rose's taste in friends and ideas makes her seem like a ridiculous idiot. She is drawn to the liberals and pseudo-intellectuals that populated the "thriving" (that's sarcasm, folks) Canadian art scene of the 50s and 60s. She considers them enlightened and just, and her husband Patrick, head of multiple department stores, an idiot for espousing sane, logical, but faintly conservative-sounding rhetoric at a party. I couldn't tell whether Munro was trying to make the endless stream of pompous English professors and hippy housewives Rose finds so cool seem ridiculous, or if that was my own distaste. At any rate, they are still portrayed far better than Patrick's family is.

And of course, in her actual life, Rose can't even follow those values. Munro briefly notes this hypocrisy in parts, but it's never treated as a serious blot on her character. In fact, that's why Munro later has Rose magically becoming a famous and successful actress, through no effort of her own. Rose has zero training or education in acting, and doesn't even have to look for a role without it dropping in her lap. Oh, and did I mention that Rose is not even supposed to be pretty? Well, screw the logic, Rose has to be an independent woman to be sympathetic, goddamn it!

Unfortunately, with me, that failed. I view Rose as both a horrible human being and an eye-rolling idiot. I can't sympathize with that.

The Beggar Maid is well-written, occasionally realistic, and more rarely, even moderately entertaining. (Although never those last two qualities together)

However, long stretches of absolute tedium (despite the vulgar, racy subject matter), an attempt at caricature when Munro had exhausted the initial ideas for the work, and the utterly unsympathetic character of the main protagonist make this a mediocre book at best.

I can't recommend this to anyone except those who want to judge whether the Nobel Committee made another lousy selection this year or not.

Mother Was a Lovely Beast: A Feral Man Anthology (Fiction and Fact About Humans Raised by Animals)

Mother Was a Lovely Beast: A Feral Man Anthology, Fiction and Fact about Humans Raised by Animals - Philip José Farmer I have only read Farmer's story in this anthology, Extracts from the Memoirs of "Lord Greystoke", Tarzan of the Apes's firsthand account of his early life. Tarzan dispels errors and inconsistencies contained in Edgar Rice Burroughs' original stories, (not to mention inaccuracies written by Farmer himself in Tarzan Alive!), and also describes the society that raised him.

These he calls the "n'k", and notes that they are hominoid somewhere between gorillas and humans, albeit closer to the latter, especially with regards to intelligence.

Lord Greystoke/Tarzan describes numerous aspects of their culture, from the precise nature of their language to their sexual mores to their social structure. He also takes the opportunity to mention his confusion at many aspects of human society, and his general revulsion at man's hypocrisy.

Potential readers should avoid this novella entirely if they are unfamiliar with Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, as it assumes a knowledge of the work, and even discusses parts of the first sequel, The Return of Tarzan.

Moreover, the work is likely to be very interesting only for fans of Farmer's interpretation of the Tarzan character. I absolutely adore Farmer's Tarzan, considering him an astounding, unique pulp hero far, far superior to Burroughs' original conception, but I recognize this is not true of everyone.

Even then, the novella had its strong and weak elements. I enjoyed Farmer/Lord Greystoke correcting the "romanticized" version Burroughs wrote. Burroughs is continually described as a decent, well-meaning fellow who only knew part of the real story, and found other aspects of the story either too salacious or morally objectionable to transcribe. These corrections and anecdotes are consistently amusing, particularly when Tarzan describes seeing himself portrayed in the movies!

Greystoke's explanation for how he escaped discovery by the press was downright ingenious. And the real story of his first encounter with eventual wife Jane Porter is a wonderfully funny, inspired deconstruction.

When it comes to the n'k, the parts about social status and sexuality were also clever and entertaining.

However, the novella is a bit weak when it comes to Greystoke's criticism of human society. It's very generic and vague, condemning human society as a whole, but never delving into specifics. While I happen to agree, I don't find it particularly interesting or worthwhile, especially on such a surface, cliched level.

Also, being a huge fan of Philip Jose Farmer, I readily observed that the majority of "Lord Greystoke's" beliefs were the author's own. This is a weakness when it comes to a biography of a fictional character, and drew me out of the work.

Lastly, while I admire Farmer's tremendous amounts of research (which is evident throughout both this and Tarzan Alive), the details about n'k language left me bored. I understand he was trying to tie up loose ends, but it just wasn't interesting.

Overall though, there are far more strengths than weaknesses here. Readers familiar with Burrough's character, and a fan of Farmer's own version of Tarzan will likely enjoy the work, as I did.

Dr. No (James Bond)

Dr. No (James Bond) - Ian Fleming The sixth book in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, Dr.No, is a solid entry in the franchise. There are elements of the work that are particularly strong, and a few that are especially weak. As always, it's important to remember that they were meant as quick, simple paperback reads, not serious novels.

For starters, this is the rare Bond book whose beginning ties in to the ending of the previous one, From Russia with Love. There, Bond had been stabbed with a poison by Rosa Klebb, and was dying as the work finished.

In Dr. No, he has just gotten out of the hospital after a lengthy convalescence, and boss M gives him an "easy" assignment, investigating the disappearance of his friend Strangways and a girl in Jamaica, both members of the Secret Service. (Amusingly, in the film chronology, From Russia with Love is AFTER Dr. No, and of course features a more routine ending, with Bond defeating Klebb with nary a scratch)

I liked this bit of continuity, as it made the Bond story feel more authentic, as opposed to their normally episodic nature.

Also, the story is set in Jamaica, a country in which Ian Fleming lived in after World War 2. As such, he is intimately familiar with it, and his description is far more vivid and picturesque than usual.

I also liked Bond's Jamaican sidekick Quarrel, a tough, fearless, clever man who loves Bond. Bond rarely has sidekicks, with the only other one being Felix Leiter. Yet, I liked Quarrel; while he is two-dimensional, like almost every Bond character (sometimes even the titular protagonist himself!) there is a genuine and authentic aspect to his personality one can recognize from actual life. I wouldn't be surprised if Fleming had based him on one or several of his real-life Jamaican friends.

Also, his death is perhaps the biggest emotional moment of the story, and is referenced multiple times since, most poignantly at the end.

Now, at this point, I will do something I normally avoid. Namely, address something written in another review. (You will see why in a second)

One of the most popular reviews here accused the book of "racism" and "sexism". I expected the first; it's a ridiculous charge lacking any merit, but one that someone bombarded with a lifetime of the Western world's obsession with race could well conjure up. (Amusingly, this charge is not applied to the vast majority of Bond books, where the villains are all Eastern Europeans, but the two that had minorities as villains) And yes, it's especially dumb considering how well-done Quarrel's character is.

But I was genuinely shocked by the "sexism" claim. Not only is it insultingly stupid, but it seemingly ignores that Honey Ryder is easily the best heroine Ian Fleming ever created. (This is why I brought it up)

She is tough, brave, beautiful, independent, and intelligent, without ever becoming a caricature or unrealistic. In fact, as much as I love Ursula Andress (one of the sexiest woman of the 1960s) and her on-screen portrayal, I prefer the book version even more. Here, in her famous scene on Crab Key, Honey isn't just wearing a bikini; she is completely naked, with only a belt holding a knife on it.

It's an important distinction, not just for the comparison to Boticelli's Venus, but because throughout the book Honey is depicted as primal, direct, and unashamed.

Another major difference is that despite being perfect otherwise, Ryder has a badly broken nose, suffered when a white plantation overseer punched her out and raped her as a teen. Honey's response to this is to calmly go to a doctor to make sure she is not pregnant, and then kill the man in a particularly tortuous, slow manner.

Then, upon meeting Bond, and caught in a sudden explosion of violence she has never experienced, Ryder keeps her composure, bravely resisting throughout. Without spoiling it, she also completely outwits Dr. No, a man depicted as an evil, brutal mastermind. This leads to an amusing scene where Bond rushes to save Ryder, only to learn she needs no saving at all, having escaped by her own powers.

Later, she refers to the main antagonist as nothing more than a silly man.

I could go on with further examples (I also like how sexually aggressive she is, so different than most submissive Bond heroines), but suffice to say Honey is one of the coolest, best heroines I have come across in the entire action/adventure genre, nevermind just the Bond series. She is brave, tough, and intelligent while still being distinctly feminine, instead of a macho male character given a different set of genitalia. (Like most movies and book that want to create a "badass" female lead and fail at it miserably)

However, the book also suffers from several flaws.

For one, the Bond books have always featured a hearty dose of action, but it is rather limited here. The first physical confrontation involving Bond occurs about halfway into the book, and is sparse even from then on.

But even worse is that the action scenes are usually nothing to write home about. They aren't described especially well by Fleming, being neither vivid, gripping, nor particularly exciting.

And while I enjoyed the mystery of Dr. No, his interesting appearance (far different than in the movie), and amusing backstory, his actual battle with Bond is quite brief. It's not the only Bond story to do this, but in those cases, the villain is usually introduced much earlier. Here, very soon after Dr. No is finally revealed, he is vanquished.

Overall, it's a solid work for fans of Bond or pulp action/adventure in general. It features the best Bond girl, a very well-described setting, and a neat sidekick. If only there was more and better action...

Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler - Henrik Ibsen, William Archer Hedda Gabler, through the events of the play, is an exploration of the mental state of its title protagonist, a disillusioned 29 year-old woman who has decided to marry a boring academic she has no love for, Dr. Tesman. The daughter of a powerful general, she is cruel, demanding, and deeply unsatisfied with her life.

Inter-weaved into the plot is Eilert Lovborg, a rival academic to her husband who used to have a relationship with Hedda. He is a recovering alcoholic who has penned a brilliant manuscript thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Elvsted, a married mother who sees in Lovborg her sole reason for living. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows is Judge Brack, a man with designs of his own on Hedda...

The play is likely a favorite among literary types who love to write thousands of words on the significance of every detail. And of course, there are no shortage of interpretations for every character and what "Ibsen is trying to say", no matter how far-fetched. Yet, being open to multiple interpretations is not the same as being intellectually deep.

Frankly, this is a predictable play. While a few details are surprising, the ultimate fate of Hedda and the other characters is telegraphed very early on. In fact, all the events of the story are rather straightforward.

The themes are all executed and conveyed excellently by Ibsen, but it's a lot more simple than it is profound.

Yes, it explores middle-class dissatisfaction and the headspace of its characters. However, unlike A Doll's House, it's not as interesting. One reason is how unrealistic and ridiculous the character of Lovborg is, whose interactions with Hedda underlie the whole play.

Without spoiling it, his personality changes dramatically for very little motivation except that the play requires it. The other non-Hedda characters are fine, if caricatured. They serve their respective purpose, and don't undergo major transformations for plot convenience. And Hedda herself is a genuinely interesting, unique character.

From what I have read, Ibsen wrote the play very quickly, in a span of a month or two, starting out with a concept of Hedda's personality and nothing else. That's the strongest part of the work, but it's a shame he didn't spend more time on the plot.

Overall, this is a worthwhile, solid play. Its lofty reputation aside, it has too many holes and not enough strong points for me to call it "great", though.

Night Watch (Discworld Novels)

Night Watch - Terry Pratchett Unlike most Discworld novels, Night Watch has a far more serious tone. This often occurs at the expense of humor, and frequently goes as far as being sad or tragic. It was a risky experiment on Pratchett's part, and while it largely succeeds, it's not quite up to the level of his best work.

We follow Sam Vimes, the leader of the City Watch (Ankh-Morpork's police force), and now a Duke who is second in power only to Lord Vetinari himself. However, while chasing after dangerous criminal Carcer, an explosion near the Wizard's University sends him back in time roughly thirty years.

He comes upon Ankh-Morpork when it is being ruled by the evil despot Windor, the Night Watch is a mixture of incompetent and corrupt, and revolution is brewing. Not only must he make sure nothing goes horribly wrong at this volatile point in history, but he also has to contend with arch-nemesis Carcer, who is even more dangerous in the past.

Make no mistake; this is still an engrossing, fun read, with plenty of action, Pratchett's usual witty observations, and excellent characters. However, I struggled with the lack of comedy. It's the main ingredient in the Discworld novels, for all the other things Pratchett does well.

At times, the book still succeeds even without humor. Although Pratchett only lightly touches upon politics, he does so effectively. At one point, it's mentioned that the sadistic Captain Swing's decision to ban citizens from having weapons only had the effect of massively aiding criminals (who, by definition, don't follow such laws!), while punishing decent, law-abiding folk.

Mostly though, Pratchett confines his remarks to human nature. And at its best, they are intelligent thoughts about the state of mankind. I particularly liked the following quote;

it wasn't that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.

However, once we are done with the philosophical ruminations, we get to the events of Vimes' adventures in the past. While exciting, without the seasoning of humor, they're a little too simplistic and predictable. This is accentuated by there being no thrills or surprises in the conclusion of Night Watch, unlike the best Discworld novels.

Indeed, we are presented with a slightly sanctimonious ending that I saw coming from a mile away, and don't particularly care for.

Overall, it's a fun read worth checking out for any fan of Pratchett. However, don't expect as much humor or imagination, although the more serious approach occasionally works.

Mogworld

Mogworld - Yahtzee Croshaw Because his books are so fun and accessible, many people who read Terry Pratchett's Discworld end up thinking "hey, this isn't so hard! I can write something like this, too!"

They ignore just how truly difficult and impressive Pratchett's work is. It's chock full of memorable characters, surprisingly deep and innovative fantasy ideas, and wry observations about humanity, all while being deeply funny, AND flowing exceptionally well. Accomplishing all that is an exceptionally challenging task, no easier than writing a great work of serious literature.

If you don't believe me, look no further than Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's Mogworld, a book inspired by Discworld that is utter shit.

There are three elements to a book; its ideas and philosophy, entertainment value, and lastly, how good and articulate the writing is. Whereas Discworld excels in each category, Mogworld fails them.

With regards to ideas, Mogworld is an MMO which alternates between the point of view of characters within the game and that of its programmers. There are standard MMO quests to complete, the typical broad stereotypes, and the main characters grow sentient and realize what is going on. No character is particularly intelligent or even interesting, nor are there any unique fantasy ideas. It's all very rote and predictable.

As far as entertainment value, writing humor is damn hard, and Yahtzee is not up to the task. He goes for the cliched, low-hanging fruit (players are dumb and mindless when it comes to completing quests! Quests are repetitive! NPCs are illogical!), but presents it in too clumsy and ham-fisted a manner, killing any laughter.

Lastly, the writing is simply atrocious, and made me wonder if the book was edited at all. There are frequent spelling and grammar errors, bits of cringe-worthy dialogue, and laughable attempts at simile and metaphor. Yahtzee's description of a sunrise is more amateurish than similar attempts in many fanfics.

And that's what Mogworld reminds me of; a fanfiction by a huge Terry Pratchett fan. And far from the best one, too. Were it a free fanfic posted online, I would be far more generous in reviewing it as such. But when you decide to release it on Amazon and charge $10, I will take it seriously and judge it by the standards of quality fantasy novels. And this falls pitifully short.

On a personal note, when I read the book I was a fan of Yahtzee and his video game reviews, and I won't lie; I lost respect for him after completing it.

For someone who talks so much shit about lazy writing in games, and ruthlessly criticizes developers for making generic, substandard games for money, Yahtzee seems remarkably unconcerned about releasing an awful mess of a book (easily worse than any game he has reviewed) to make a buck off his fanbase.

The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story

The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story - Bob Holly, Ross Williams The Hardcore Truth highlights two of the most important elements in a wrestling biography. Honesty, and related to this, balance.

The first quality makes the book worthwhile, and the second makes it one of the very best in the sub-genre, right up there with Jericho's and Bret Hart's memoirs, despite all its other flaws.

The book covers Holly's entire life, from his difficult childhood, to his time as a welder, amateur race-car driver, and bar-room fighter in Alabama to his remarkably long run in the WWE, almost 15 years, despite never being a top guy. He discusses everyone from childhood favorite Pat Patterson (who he later threatened to beat up in front of the locker room!) to CM Punk. While non-wrestling material is usually boring filler in such books, that's not the case here. Holly's tales about street fights, racing, and surprisingly, his relationships with women and daughter Stephanie were all genuinely interesting.

There are numerous road stories of traveling with other wrestlers, many of them funny, if told clumsily.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Holly is a lousy author. In fact, he isn't really a writer at all. He narrated his stories to co-writer Ross Williams, who then recorded them. The language and presentation is generally poor, although better than at least one wrestling autobiography I have read. (That would be Bischoff's horrendous Controversy Creates Cash, which I also reviewed on here, published by WWE Press)

Still, passages like the following can be damn jarring;

I decided I was going to go to work, do everything I could as quickly as I could, and then haul ass out of there to go straight to the show. I thought I might get fired but I didn’t care. It was a regular house show and a lot of my favorites were there, including “Playboy” Buddy Rose. The next day, I didn’t get fired but I definitely got in trouble. It was absolutely worth it.

Also, Hardcore Holly has a well-known reputation for being a bully and an asshole, beating the shit out of younger wrestlers if he felt they weren't up to snuff, had done something to offend him, or simply to test them out.

The book didn't change my impression of that. I still think he was wrong to beat up Matt Cappotelli. And yet, I gained something else from reading a book; an understanding and appreciation for the man.

While I still disagree with Holly's actions, and don't buy his self-justification, he isn't entirely wrong, either. Yes, his beating was relatively light compared to many of the difficulties of being a pro wrestler for a living. Yes, clowning around in a wrestling ring is disrespectful and unnecessary.

As wrong as it may sound, there has always been a place for old-school, hard-ass workers like Bob Holly in pro wrestling, and that's not an entirely a bad thing.

And that leads me to the book's two major strengths. Firstly, there is Holly's honesty.

While wrestling autobiographies are supposed to be intimate, tell-all memoirs, much like shoot interviews, over the years shoots become the new works. Far too often, wrestlers are too scared to be completely honest, for fear of pissing off a potential future employer. This was a major problem in Jericho's second book.

That's not a concern for Holly, who is largely done with wrestling, and shoots from the hip. However, this also doesn't mean everything Holly writes is the truth.

In a few cases, he is almost demonstrably wrong, like his claim that Shawn Michaels went from an asshole to a saint after converting to Christianity. There are countless backstage incidents that contradict this, and even Holly's own book later casts doubt on the claim, when he mentions him and Triple H hogging the spotlight in the mid to late 2000s.

But despite this, Holly is unflinchingly honest, even when the truth reflects poorly on himself. He is completely forthright about his steroid and pill usage. While Hardcore Holly never touched a sip of alcohol, and avoided the bar and late night scene so many wrestlers succumbed to, he used the steroids to improve his position in the company, and the pills to control the daily pain pro wrestlers suffer from their injuries.

This is a valuable trait for the book, but it's even better when paired with balance, something I have never seen as clearly as in Holly's memoir, Jericho's and Hart's books included.

It seems that most pro wrestlers, who have spent their whole lives telling stories of "good guy" versus "bad guy", also perceive reality as such. Invariably, everyone they discuss either gets effusive, glowing praise, or else is the biggest asshole imaginable.

The Hardcore Truth is a refreshing contrast. With virtually every person Holly discusses at length, he mentions both positive and negative traits. It's nice to read a discussion of Bret Hart or Rick Flair that isn't one-sided.

And Holly even extends this courtesy to people he despises. Triple H is the big villain of the book. Holly never fails to details his selfishness, dishonesty, meanness, back-stabbing, spotlight hogging, and mockery of wrestlers that looked up to him. Holly also has inside knowledge that Triple H buried him to Vince McMahon, lobbied hard to get Holly fired, and did his utmost to extinguish any career push he received.

And yet, despite that, Holly also admits that Triple H is one of the best in-ring performers in the history of the business. He goes further, calling him a "smart fucker", mentioning his genuinely excellent grasp of the entertainment form, and even details several times where Triple H acted decently towards the talent.

It's impressive to maintain such objectivity when examining something so near and dear to one's heart, and I was shocked that Bob Holly, of all the wrestlers who have released books, pulled it off the best.

Robert Howard, performing as Bob Holly, is a tough asshole who can be a bully and take advantage of people. But he's also a diligent, extremely hard worker who fit well into his particular industry, was never purposely malicious, and is astonishingly level-headed and objective.

Most importantly, he has a damn good story to tell.

The Return of Tarzan

The Return of Tarzan - Edgar Rice Burroughs After reading the original "Tarzan of the Apes" earlier this year, I was eager to see what the first of the many sequels was like. What I found was disappointing.

Tarzan is back, and must continually do battle against vile Russian villain Rokoff, who starts off blackmailing his own sister, but upgrades to murder based on the plot requirement. Tarzan encounters adventures on the open seas, in France, Morocco, and various locations in Africa, including the lost city of gold, Opar.

While the first book was poorly-written from a technical perspective, with an especially rough beginning, it also had a vivid sense of adventure. Many of the scenes were genuinely thrilling and exciting, and Burroughs had a knack for introducing dramatic complications that made the work a page-turner.

Only in a few places does the sequel possess the same imagination and adventure as the original. The majority of the work feels rushed, simplistic, and poorly written. At times, it's insultingly predictable, as if it was written solely with children in mind.

Time and again, Tarzan encounters a villain that is described as "somehow familiar". In every single case, it's Rokoff. This becomes comical after the first three instances.

With the exception of Tarzan himself, Rokoff and every other character is a thin, predictable caricature. They can all be described in a single sentence, and their actions never surprise.

What feels especially ridiculous are the absurd, contradictory lengths to which Burroughs goes to in keeping Rokoff alive. Tarzan, the "savage ape-man", who killed scores of men and beasts without a second thought in both books, continually lets off the antagonist with nothing more than a warning, even after the man continually tries to murder him.

While the book might have little in the way of intelligence or writing quality, it is fast-paced, and constantly features fighting and intrigue. The action is dull, if plentiful, for most of Tarzan's adventures. The book finally picks up during the second half, when Tarzan finds himself back in Africa.

There, through several chapters, the reader is treated to the sparks of imagination and high adventure so much more common in "Tarzan of the Apes". There is also intrigue, with incomplete information and a race against time confounding the protagonist, much like in the original.

Unfortunately, the reader's only reward is an absolutely awful ending. Burroughs ties every conceivable loose end together, while cheating the reader of the one thing he looked forward to most.

While a few parts of the book are sure to entertain fans of adventure novels, it's a weak effort overall, and a poor sequel to Burroughs' original Tarzan of the Apes.

Eric Bischoff: Controversy Creates Cash (Wwe)

Controversy Creates Cash - Eric Bischoff, Jeremy Roberts Near the very beginning of his memoirs, Bischoff explains his hatred for wrestling books; "most are bitter, self-serving revisionist history at best—and monuments to bullshit at their worst." I completely agree.

"Controversy Creates Cash" itself is a perfect example.

However, unlike similar works of questionable veracity, it's even more poorly written and edited, while lacking the funny anecdotes that are a staple of the genre.

"Controversy Creates Cash" is a complete autobiography. Bischoff starts off describing his early childhood in Detroit, his jobs as a landscaper, karate instructor, frozen meat salesman, and briefly, fashion model. Then, he moves on to his lucky break working for Verne Gagne and the AWA before moving on to the job he is most famous for, president of WCW.

During that time, WCW eclipsed the WWF in popularity from 1996 to mid-1998, and then crashed so catastrophically that it was bought out by WWF in 2001.

The first striking element of the book is how atrocious the writing is. Not only are there frequent grammar and syntax errors, but there is constant word repetition and clumsy, amateurish description. Even on the factual side, the editing is horrible, containing both basic mistakes and uncertainty in Eric's own recollections.

I'm not sure who should be blamed for this more, Bischoff or his ghostwriter.

On the editing front, wrestler Kevin Wacholz is referred to as "Nails", when his actual wrestling name is "Nailz". In a more egregious example, Japanese legend "Jushin Liger" is referred to as "Justin Liger". The "Steiners" are misspelled as "Stemers".

Passages like

It was miserable. I was pretty miserable, too.

The company sank into in a downward spiral.

But I did notice her instantly. She was hot. Really hot. And this was in a room full of very attractive people. (Four sentences to convey less information than most books do in one)

Anyway a lot of those guys who made it big later on came from the AWA and made it big in Minneapolis first. (Yes, there is a missing comma)

I think after Barry had accumulated a number, of wrestlers, he got greedy. (Yes, there is an extra comma)

Beginning of paragraph; I got a big kick out of working with him.

End of that same paragraph; He got a big kick out of it, and I got a big kick out of it.

are just a few of the many horrid examples in the book.

In terms of entertainment, the work also disappoints. Bischoff has no ability for recounting humorous events he has experienced.

A good example is a short section entitled "Pranks". It mentions that wrestler Johnny Grunge drove David Crockett's car to a place where the latter couldn't find it. Perhaps a funny story if told by someone else, but in Bischoff's case, there is no set-up (the first couple of lines tell us immediately what happened), and absolutely no punchline. Instead, the last line reads

That said, he was pretty uptight, and a guy like Johnny Grunge stealing his truck—well, it was pretty funny.

If you say so, Eric!

Another terrible example of teasing a non-story was this section;

I said earlier that I wasn’t going to talk about some of the crazy shit guys did backstage, and I’m not going to start now, but working with Kerry Von Erich was interesting. He was a lunatic. Kerry was definitely “Kerry” in quotes.

Readers hoping for ribald road stories and ribs (practical jokes in wrestling lingo) will find nothing here.

In other instances, Bischoff seems unwilling to share what he knows, even though he alludes to the problem, or even devotes an entire section to it. For instance, he mentions that he was asked by Brad Siegel, the head of TNT, to give a job to his niece Emily Siegel. After Bischoff did so, she ended up being a headache, and was somehow connected to wrestler Scott Hall, who was suffering from substance abuse issues.

Are we ever told the precise nature of the relationship? No. Do we learn any specifics about how she was a headache? No.

Instead, Bischoff simply ends the section there, offering no more details.

But what about wrestling information itself? That insider knowledge that made many readers, myself included, pick up the book in the first place?

Sadly, this is the area where the book is the absolute worst. Throughout "Controversy Creates Cash", Bischoff has a very clear antagonist. Those damn dirtsheets. (Insider wrestling newsletters)

Apparently, people criticizing him on the Internet are the most evil adversaries he has ever dealt with. They are a constant throughout all 400 pages of the book; any time that Bischoff details a creative decision, he pairs it with an insult at all those idiot dirtsheet writers.

In some cases, the insults are juvenile;

It’s amazing how an industry that has grown as large as ours was influenced so adversely by what is nothing more than a group of nerds who probably couldn’t get or hold a job doing anything else.

or

That’s one of the reasons the parasitic life forms that call themselves writers and editors have been able to make a living off dirtsheets.

In other instances, they are deliciously ironic, like when he insults Wrestling Observer founder David Meltzer;

The problem is, those 35,000 words are grammatically incorrect, run-on sentences that read like a fifth-grader wrote them.

By the way, I have read Meltzer's works, and despite being an Internet newsletter, not an edited, published book, are far better written than Eric's autobiography.

Why is Bischoff so hung up on these guys, anyways? Why does he care in the slightest? For a self-anointed pro-wrestling visionary, isn't their criticism utterly inconsequential and irrelevant?!

When he's not attacking dirtsheet writers, Bischoff is constantly justifying his actions and crediting himself on being a fantastic wrestling mind, even when it's clear a decision was wrong. Look, I don't deny that Bischoff had some good ideas, but his portrayal is one-sided in most cases.

For instance, as soon as he was made president of WCW, Bischoff prides himself on making every employee count the number of pencils they used. Since when is being an uptight skinflint a virtue? In books on business leadership, such decisions are usually treated with scorn, as they have the effect of lowering morale while reducing expenses by a miniscule amount.

In other words, a major cost for very little benefit.

Bischoff feels that under his regime, WCW went from a boring, antiquated product to being hip, young, and sophisticated. While there is a certain degree of truth to that, notice the contradiction when he justifies giving wrestler Hulk Hogan complete creative control over any booking that affected his character;

So if there was a jump ball, and the parties couldn’t agree, I bet on Hogan. Hogan had a better track record, and fell in line with the look and feel our company needed.

Is this a joke, Eric? A wrestler in his late 40s who defined the mid-80s era was the best person to define the "look and feel" of a wrestling company in the late 90s?

The worst self-aggrandizing bullshit comes when he credits himself with the creation of the Degeneration X stable in competing company WWF.

Apparently, the only reason this occurred is because he fired wrestler Sean Waltman, who then went over to WWF, and told his buddies in the Kliq, Shawn Michaels and Triple H, that they could make a killing with this group.

Oh, and on top of this, the entirety of WWE's Attitude Era, including Stone Cold to the Rock, was nothing more than the WWF copying what WCW started.

While I don't dispute that the massive competition at the time benefited the WWF creatively, Eric takes the lion's share of the credit for ideas he had absolutely no part in!

As legendary manager JJ Dillon once noted about Bischoff, his greatest gift is his ability to promote himself. Small wonder, considering he has been a salesman in one form or another all his life.

Throughout all this, however, there is one genuinely positive element of the book. I am in complete agreement with Bischoff when he mentions the AOL Time Warner merger, and that it meant an annoying level of oversight to his every decision. Idiot corporate suits who knew nothing about wrestling (and in fact, couldn't even tell Eric when it was on, since they never watched their own product!) would dictate to him a plethora of creative decisions. Including many things Bischoff could and couldn't do.

While there are ways to deal with such people, and it didn't completely cripple WCW to the extent Bischoff claims, it was indeed a major handicap, and certainly not his fault. I agree with him there.

However, Bischoff also blames or defends decisions that were entirely his fault.

For instance, he is still in denial about the Pillman debacle, where Brian Pillman basically tricked Bischoff into releasing him from his contract so they could fool the dirtsheets. (Taking advantage of Bischoff's mania)

He also takes zero responsibility for WCW's revolving door of head bookers, as they went from Bill Watts to Ole Anderson to Dusty Rhodes to Ric Flair to Kevin Sullivan in a span of just a few years. Everyone starting with Ole was appointed there by Bischoff.

Meanwhile, Bischoff does his utmost to utterly discredit and insult most of his political enemies.

The major source of his hatred is Bill Watts, followed closely by Jim Ross. In both cases, Bischoff is highly unfair and one-sided in portraying both men.

Yes, Watts was old-school and rigid, but he did make money as a booker back in the day, and had a great understanding for constructing matches, if not their presentation. This would be more acceptable if Bischoff at least had anything new to say about either, besides the standard belly-aching about them being old, antiquated, and mean to him.

Yet, it's also noteworthy to consider all the episodes Bischoff conveniently avoids discussing in his book.

There is no mention of the disastrous Fingerpoke of Doom, the awful Hogan-Warrior PPV, or skinny actor David Arquette winning the WCW world championship.

The first two events happened under Bischoff and were massive blows to WCW. The third event was booked by Vince Russo, but should have been enough to convince Bischoff to fire the guy when he returned.

He also does an impressive job of white-washing the truth when discussing Bret Hart. Eric mentions Bret Hart becoming injured and then retiring a few years after signing with WCW, but never mentions the nature of that injury.

That's because the injury occurred from a very stiff head kick by the face of WCW, Bill Goldberg. Goldberg was Bischoff's crown jewel, and he decided to push him to the moon despite the former football player being very "green" (new and inexperienced) as an in-ring performer.

The result was that Goldberg injured a bunch of opponents during his wrestling days, (he broke Mexican wrestler La Parka's ribs with a "spear", essentially a football tackle) but none more famously than when he scrambled Bret Hart's brains.

Can't have the truth reflect badly on himself, though.

Most sickeningly, Eric refers to Ed Ferrera as a "good guy". Nevermind that he was a Vince Russo flunky (who even Bischoff heaps scorn upon), this is the brains behind the disgusting "Oklahoma" gimmick.

Essentially, Ferrera thought it would be very funny to dress up as and mimic former WCW commentator Jim Ross, who was then working for WWF. Ross suffers from Bell's Palsy, which means he has temporary facial paralysis and occasionally stutters. Ferrera decided to mock this disease ruthlessly.

Now, it's one thing to make fun of rival wrestlers. That's a time-honored tradition that often generates increased interest. But making fun of rival commentators serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. And making fun of an unfortunate medical condition one has no control over is detestable.

I know Bischoff hates Jim Ross, but condoning Ferrera's stunt is reprehensible.

In conclusion, Bischoff's autobiography is not only a self-serving, revisionist monument to bullshit, it's also deathly dull and pathetically written.

Olalla

Olalla - Robert Louis Stevenson Olalla is an engaging, well-written work of Gothic horror. We are introduced to a sympathetic narrator, a soldier recovering from a wound, and the exotic setting where he seeks to recover. . Namely, a dilapidated castle set against the Spanish mountains.

There, we meet the equally decaying family line that takes care of the home; a simpleton, amicable son named Felipe, the sensual, idiotic, and child-like mother, and lastly, the mysterious Olalla, who we don't meet until later in the story.

All the ingredients for an exciting yarn are present. Unfortunately, Stevenson takes it absolutely nowhere. It's almost as if he had half of an idea for a great short story, but finished writing without ever coming up with its conclusion. There is an interesting mystery along with a predictable love subplot, but both ultimately go nowhere.

The ending is especially unsatisfying, proving no real punchline, resolution, or point. I don't mind vagueness in a horror work that is up to a reader's interpretation, as long as we are a presented with meaningful events and a significant ending, qualities which something like "The Turn of the Screw" had, and "Olalla" doesn't.

That's unfortunate; the writing is good, the characters and concepts are intriguing, but ultimately, it's a dud.

The Witch of Portobello - 1st Edition/1st Printing

The Witch Of Portobello - Paulo Coelho The Witch of Portobello is the first novel I have read by Paulo Coelho, and I completely understand why he has sold tens of millions of books worldwide. Additionally, I never want to read him ever again.

See, Coelho is a master in the art of pseudo-philosophy. Rather than presenting an interesting story, unique characters, or entertaining passages, he offers reams and reams of empty, abstract mumbling. Now, I like abstract thoughts when done right. The problem is that Coelho's musings are either painfully shallow, exaggerations, flat-out wrong, or mere tautologies.

Here, he follows the spiritual journey of Sherine Khalil, self-nicknamed Athena, as she goes from gypsy orphan to rich Lebanese girl to aimless university student to divorced baby mama to successful real estate maven (no details of her work ever given, of course) to spiritual deity/cult leader.

As I was reading the work, and thinking about who would buy into such simplistic, meaningless crap, an image came into my head. Back when I lived in Los Angeles County, there was a certain type of woman I kept meeting. She would be in her early twenties to late thirties, and call herself an "actress" while relying on money from her parents, boyfriend, or if she was really enterprising, waiting tables.

She was into yoga, "spirituality", liberal politics, "alternative medicine", and various diet fads. Not all of those are bad qualities, certainly, but this is precisely the type of naive, idealistic, hypocritical person this book was aimed for!

The main character also shares many similar qualities with these women, right down to a love of fashion, dancing, and make-up. (Which doesn't clash at all with her spiritual learning) And of course, a general distrust of all that complicated math and science.

There is even a failed marriage and raising a single child by herself to humanize her.

Another central character, who is revealed to be an even more powerful and charismatic spiritual medium, Andrea McCain, is a famous American actress in that same age range!

What wonderful opportunities for our reader to Mary Sue herself into the story!

Reading through The Witch of Portobello, I can well imagine our LA ditz stumbling across such wondrous pearls as "love simply is. No definitions. Love and don't ask too many questions" and her eyes dilating from satisfaction. Nevermind that almost all of these are trite phrases that offer no real insight.

However, even with the pseudo-philosophizing and pandering, I find several aspects of this novel particularly unforgivable;

1. The text is a composition of epistolary notes written from different characters, including a 74 year-old male English priest, a 37 year-old American actress, a 57 year-old Armenian landlord, and many others.

Problem is, they all talk and think in exactly the same way.

This is an error forgivable in a first-time writer (even a classic like Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" suffers from this), but for someone who has been a professional for 15 years, and published numerous bestsellers?

It's embarrassing and lazy. Also, this is magnified by having so many narrators, and all of them diverse.

2. The editor's notes and character explanations are insulting. There are explanations for "Scotland Yard" and Athena informs a huge group of supposedly well-educated individuals that the Hagia Sofia is a really beautiful mosque she once saw. (As opposed to say, one of the most famous and important architectural marvels in history)

It makes me think that perhaps Coelho is aware that his audience isn't of a particularly scholarly bent. I'm almost surprised he didn't include an explanatory note for "Holocaust".

3. Multiple facts in the books are flat-out wrong, and often embarrassingly so.

Honestly, nothing beats the following passage on page 51;

" "What do you mean by the Vertex? In mathematics, it's the topmost angle of a triangle."

"In life too it's the culminating point..." "

When I first came across this, I did a double-take. I then went back and read the passage several more times, to make sure I was seeing right. Once I did, my first emotion was sincere pity for Paulo Coelho.

Here he is, in his mid-fifties, and no one had taught him as a child that a vertex is simply a type of point, an intersection of two lines!

I think that before teaching me about life and existence, Paulo should learn the basic knowledge I mastered as a seven year-old.

Particularly laughable is that he thinks a vertex is an angle, and uses "topmost" to refer to geometric objects possessing no orientation. What the hell is the "topmost angle" of a triangle, exactly?

Then, after pity subsided, I became further perplexed. Okay, perhaps Coelho is painfully uneducated, but couldn't he at least do a few seconds of Internet research? Especially when the "Path of the Vertex" is an important theme, and he screws up its image and basis from the start?

And what about his editors and proof-readers? None of them were smart enough to catch this egregious error?

I could go on. On page 217, Coelho uncorks an extended metaphor comparing human society to a colony of ants (how original) that demonstrates a complete ignorance of etymology. It's not like anyone forced him to use this example. He chose it himself.

And the parade of idiocy in discussing Chernobyl on page 206 could fill an entire review by itself.

Having so thoroughly trashed the book, why am I giving it two stars instead of one? Well, in his defense, Coelho can write. He has a distinct, clear voice, and his work is fast-paced, even if the scenery it's traveling through bores. On a technical level, aside from the previously mentioned problem with narrators, he is a solid writer.

Unfortunately, the content is simply garbage.

Silas Marner (Enriched Classics (Pocket))

Silas Marner - George Eliot Silas Marner is primarily a character study of its title protagonist, a weaver who lives completely alone in Raveloe village. Only his hoarded gold keeps him company and provides any joy in life. However, Marner's life and personality change when the gold is stolen and is replaced by something else.

This is the very definition of a stodgy old classic. On the one hand, Silas Marner is well-written and demonstrates decent knowledge of human society, behavior, and motivation. Unfortunately, very little of consequence happens in the story, and none of the characters are particularly interesting, the title protagonist included. George Eliot is also fond of excessive philosophizing, with her observations being both dry and uninteresting, if plausible.

A major element of the story is the village of Raveloe itself. We are introduced to Squire Cass and his two sons, the Lammeter sisters, Ben and Dolly Winthrop, the elderly pastor Macey, and many others. Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly interesting. Yes, they're all written realistically enough, but there's nothing special and engaging about any of them! They're simple village people, with few character quirks and boring lives.

The same is true of the action within the story. A few major events intersperse the drudgery of common description and exposition. All are depicted soberly and resolved without any particular intrigue or complications. Yes, Silas Marner reads like a realistic tale, for which I will give it credit; it's just one that lacks any bite.

I found myself comparing Silas Marner to the works of Charles Dickens, perhaps the most famous and celebrated of the Victorian era authors. Now, I hate Charles Dickens. Don't care for his works at all.

And certainly, Silas Marner is more cerebral and less melodramatic than Dickens's output, which is a positive. However, even the works of Dickens, as overloaded with excessive description as they are, present a more vivid and exciting world than the one that Eliot offers us with Raveloe. There is far more action, intrigue, and meaningful events that occur in Dickens's novel, even if his characters are less realistic and more melodramatically theatrical.

I also found myself comparing Silas Marner to one of the last books I read, Tarzan of the Apes. There is no question that George Eliot is many times the writer Edgar Rice Burroughs was. In fact, to compare the two is an insult to Eliot. And yet, I far prefer the work of the pulp fiction writer to that of the famous Victorian novelist.

While sometimes poorly written, Burroughs managed to present a colorful world full of adventure, unique characters, and secrets which cause intrigue and aren't discovered for long periods of time. Eliot, while writing it all very well, presents a drab and colorless world with no adventure, realistic yet simplistic characters, and secrets that are resolved in the soberest manner possible.

Yes, I realize Silas Marner is supposed to be a touching human drama about a man's love for his daughter and how it changes and enriches his life. Unfortunately, in such a dull world, it's hard to either empathize or connect with the narrative.

I would only recommend Silas Marner to serious fans of Victorian literature. I hear that even among Eliot's own work, Middlemarch is far livelier.

Tarzan of the Apes

Tarzan of the Apes - Edgar Rice Burroughs Before delving into the review itself, it's important to note several relevant biographical details about Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The guy was not a writer. At the age of 36, he was a life-time loser who had failed at every job he had ever had, including ranch hand and pencil sharpener. His own father had fired him.

Then, one day he read a work of pulp fiction in a magazine. Despite having no writing credentials or experience, he felt he could do better. And unlike a million other people who had thought this, Burroughs did precisely that.

The beginning of Tarzan of the Apes, dealing with the protagonist's parents, is very rough. It's shoddily-written, dull, and filled with childish cliches. The ship mutiny opening was so bad, I seriously considered dropping the work. I'm glad I didn't.

Because once the story begins centering around Tarzan himself, it picks up. Burroughs had some genuinely amusing and creative ideas, and at its best, Tarzan of the Apes is an incredibly thrilling tale of adventure.

Tarzan's battles against apes, lions, and a tribe of African cannibals are all vivid and tense, with a real sense of high adventure. While his writing ability is poor, Burroughs made up for it by creating an exciting world filled with lost treasure, savage beasts, evil and dangerous men, and of course, its larger-than-life hero Tarzan. Tarzan is a "noble savage" who ruthlessly kills wild animals and wicked humans, but is also a perfect gentleman towards Southern belle Jane Porter.

Tarzan's interactions with Porter's group, especially his unknown identity, introduce some suspense and complexity to the work. However, it's difficult to sympathize with them, especially her father Archimedes Porter. While he is supposed to be a likable, absent-minded professor, I saw him as a greedy, dangerous idiot who ruins his daughter's life with his irresponsibility, is perfectly willing to sacrifice her to a brute, and comes very close to causing the death of her and their entire group.

That's the limitation of Burrough's non-Tarzan characters; they are all one-note caricatures, even Tarzan's mentor and close friend, French officer Paul D'Arnot.

I had initially picked up the book because Tarzan was the most beloved childhood character of Philip Jose Farmer, one of my favorite writers, and I wanted to find out why. (Farmer's own series of Tarzan works are even better)

I got my answer. While hardly "great" literature, I highly recommend Tarzan of the Apes for any fans of the pulp genre. Just be ready to brave a poor start.

Pagoo

Pagoo - Holling C. Holling,  Lucille Webster Holling (Illustrator) I recall having to read this as part of my fourth grade science class.

As a book popularizing science, it's not very good. One learns precious little from this book about crabs or aquatic life. The book mentions Pagoo's molting and search of food, but that's where its level of "science" begins and ends.

However, as a literature story, it's also quite poor! There is no real conflict or excitement to the story. Instead, Pagoo goes through a banal series of parts of his life, which the author probably crossed off like so many check marks. It feels like a series of chores more than anything.

While there was nothing obscenely bad about the book, and I generally like titles that try to get kids interested in science, there was absolutely nothing good in it either. Even 2 out of 5 stars ("okay") is being highly generous.