Showing posts with label Action. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Action. Show all posts

Saturday, April 15, 2017

James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second of three graphic novels I'm reviewing this weekend, and I started out thinking I wasn't going to like this, but it won me over as I read on! It's not your movie James Bond. Luca Casalanguida's illustrations bear no relation to any Bond from the silver screen. This Bond harks back much more to the traditional Ian Fleming Bond (there's even a cover shown towards the back which pays homage to the paperback Bond novels of the fifties and early sixties). It's not exactly Ian Fleming's conception of the character (who Fleming believed should look like a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and himself!), but it admirably fits the bill. That said, it's a very modern story in a modern world, so while it felt like a clean break from the movies in some regards, Andy Diggle tells a story worthy of any screenplay.

There's everything here you've come to expect from Bond: a big plot, continual action, a terrorist on the loose with a cool code-name, subterfuge, assassination attempts, double-cross, daring Bond exploits, and the inevitable cool Bond girl. Bond begins the story in the doghouse. M, in this story not a woman but an Anglo-African, kicks him out to an arms convention in Dubai where he meets Lord Hunt - Britain's biggest arms dealer, and his sophisticated and charming daughter, Victoria, who knows her way around weapons of any calibre!

Unfortunately, Lord Hunt is assassinated, and Bond and the young Lady Hunt are thrown together in pursuit of the villains, so once again, Bond is back in business looking for super villain Kraken, who seems to be targeting the very thing the Hunt weapons manufacturing concern is charged with renewing: Britain's aging nuclear deterrent. Bond is of course led astray, but in the end gets back on track, and saves the day.

Note that this Bond is a violent one, and the artist shows no fear of illustrating that violence. This might have been rather shocking before Bond was rebooted with Daniel Craig stepping into the role and making it more gritty and brutal, but still, there's rather more gore and red ink here than you see in the movies, so be warned of that. Overall, I really liked it, and I recommend this as a worthy read.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies by Joe Benítez, MM Chen, Martin Montiel, Mike Garcia


Rating: WARTY!

This combines volumes one through six of the original comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a beautifully wrought steam-punk world, the young daughter of a friend of Lady Mechanika's is in need of assistance, and the Lady responds. Her father has disappeared on a quest in Africa, and Mechanika sets out to find out what happened. Her quest is lent added urgency when the young girl is kidnapped. Mechanika meets a mysterious guy in London, who offers air transportation to Germany, where the kidnap victim is, and where lies another clue pointing to a specific site in Africa, so they set off there, only to crash in the desert and be taken prisoner by slavers!

Meanwhile in interleaved portions, we get the view from the other end of this quest, where the professor and his assistant are under pressure to decipher ancient scripts and uncover what the villains believe is an unprecedentedly powerful weapon.

The adventure was well-written, fast-moving, and full of action and feisty characters, including the distressed young girl at the start. The artwork was beautifully done and colored. That alone would have been sufficient for me to rate this graphic novel as a worthy read, but what bothered me too much here was what I let slip by in volume one, and it was the sexualization of all the female characters. When the blurb says, "Lady Mechanika immediately drops everything" it really means her clothes, and for me, this is what brought this particular volume down.

I found it disturbing, because Mechanika is fine regardless of her physical appeal or lack of same! She doesn't need to be rendered in endlessly sexual ways to be an impressive character. It's sad that graphic novel creators seem so completely ignorant of this fact. It's like they have this phobia that their female characters are going to be useless and entirely unappealing unless their sexuality is exploited. I'm not sure if this failing says more about the creators or about their readership, but either way it's obnoxious and I sincerely wish they had more faith in women than they evidently do. Do we really want to be writing comics which only appeal to people who see women as sex objects and very little else? Do we really want to be perpetuating a message as clueless as it is antiquated, and which offers only the sleazy equation that girls = sex = girls? I hope not.

This abuse was bordering on being abused in the first volume, but it was nowhere near as rife as it was here, so why they went full metal lack-it in this one is a mystery. Unlike in the first volume, it was all-pervasive here, with full-page in-your-face images of scantily clad adventurers bursting at what few seams they had, entirely impractically dressed for their quest.

I guess I should be grateful that the African woman who joined Lady Mechanika wasn't bare-breasted, but what I most noticed about Akina (other than the fact that she at least had a Congolese name) was that she looked like your typically white-washed model from Ebony magazine, not like the Congolese woman she supposedly was, whose skin would have been darker, and her face broader and less Nordic-nosed-white-westerner than this woman's was.

Why are comic book artists so afraid of showing the real world? Do they think real Congolese women are unappealing? Or is it that they feel they cannot sell the sexuality of a black woman (as opposed to a pale brown one)? If this medium is to grow-up and maintain relevance and meaning, then this kind of bias needs to be dispensed with urgently, because it's bone-headed at best, and racist at worst.

So, despite the appeal of the art in general, and the entertainment value of the story, I can't condone these practices, and I cannot rate positively a graphic novel which is so brazenly perpetrating abuses like this one did.


Lady Mechanika, Vol.1: the Mystery of Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benítez, Peter Steigerwald


Rating: WORTHY!

This gathers volumes 1 through five of the single comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I had a better experience with this one than I did with the second volume of the series, which I requested at the same time as this. The steam-punk world is rendered and colored beautifully, and the story was an intriguing and entertaining one, well told. Lady Mechanika is a cyborg - inasmuch as such things went in Edwardian times. I am by no means a fashion expert, not even in modern times, so I may have this wrong, but the styles didn't look Victorian to me, notwithstanding what the blurb says. That's not a problem, just an observation. I rather liked them as it happens. Joe Benítez and Peter Steigerwald could probably make a living as fashion designers if they ever tire of comic books!

Lady Mechanika is quite evidently someone's creation, but her memory is impaired, so her origins are as much of a mystery to her as they are to us. I am wondering if the guy she meets in volume two (reviewed separately) might have some knowledge of that, but it remains a mystery in that volume, too! Her mechanical parts are her limbs, and her 'title' was given to her by the tabloids. Her backstory isn't delivered here or in volume two, so we don't know how she came to be a private investigator and adventurer. I was interested in this story because of the upcoming (as of this writing) live-action remake of the Ghost in the Shell movie, which is a favorite of mine. I'm looking forward to the new one.

When the story opens, the Lady meets the 'Demon of Satan's Alley' which appears to be some sort of a human animal hybrid and which isn't a demon but which has been demonized by the public. Some crazy guys blunder in and kill it before Lady Mechanika can talk to it enough to maybe find out what it knows of its past - and maybe of hers, too. She's not best pleased by that. Soon she's off adventuring and trying to track down this creator of mechanical melanges. In this regard, the story has some resemblances to Ghost in the Shell, including the overt and unnecessary sexuality.

There were some technical issues with this as there are with all graphic novels which have not yet clued themselves in to the electronic age. In BlueFire Reader, which is what I use on the iPad, the pages are frequently enlarging themselves to fill the screen which means a portion of the page is curt off, since the iPad screen and the comic book page size are out of whack compared with each other, the comic book being a little too 'tall and slim' for the 'stouter' table format.

This is something I can work with, but whenever there's a double-page spread, it means turning the tablet from portrait view to landscape and back again for the next page. This isn't such a hassle except that the tablet is self-orienting, so the page is constantly swinging around like a loose yard-arm on a boat at sea.

One image was a portrait-oriented double-page spread, and it was so set-up that I could not orient this to view it since the image always swung to the wrong orientation no matter what i did! The only way to actually see it as intended by the creators was to orient it as a landscape, then carefully lay the pad flat and rotate it while it stayed flat; then the image was view-able in all its glory, but this only served to highlight one other problem - the minuscule text. It's far too small for comfortable reading. I know comics are all about imagery, but for me, unless there's also a decent story, all you really have, is a pretty coffee-table art book. It seems to me that artists and writers might consider collaborating a bit more closely on legibility!

This is going to become increasingly a problem as the old school comic fraternity struggles to repel all technology boarders. Personally, I prefer e-format to print format as a general rule, if only because it's kinder to trees, which are precious. The sentiment is especially poignant when we read horror stories to the effect that 80,000 copies of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom had to be pulped because of typos. At 3 kg of carbon emissions per book, that's not a charmed system. You would need to read a hundred books for every one print book to balance the manufacturing pollution of an e-reader against that of the print version, but then your ebook comes over the wire at very little cost to the environment, whereas the print book has to be transported to you, even if only home from the store in your car.

But you can also argue the other side, which is that reading devices employ petrochemical products, and precious and toxic metals, and probably contains 'conflict' minerals which were mined in the Congo (curious given the location for volume two in this series!); however, you can argue that a multi-use device, such as a tablet or a smart phone, can be employed as an ebook reader without contributing to even more environmental carnage than it might already have caused. On the other page, you can also argue that a book never needs upgrading (as countless young-adult Jane Austen rip-offs have conclusively proven), will last for years, and can be recycled when done with. So you pays your greenbacks and you hopes you get the green back.

For this volume, I think it worth reading in any format, and I recommend it if you can overlook the sexploitation which is relatively restrained in this volume.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Caribbean's Keeper by Brian Boland


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"began to peal the skin back" 'peal' should be 'peel' unless the skin is ringing like a bell!
"from where the helo had come from" - too many 'from's! The last one needs deleting.
"Cole treaded in place and watched it" The past tense of 'tread' is 'trod'. Don't you love English?!
"Cole bid his time and made idle chatter with Tony." The past tense of bide is bided, bit bid (and apparently even Google doesn't know this!).

I was invited by Open Road Media to read this advance review copy, and I was glad I got the chance!

The author was actually in the Coastguard, so he knows what he's talking about, which always helps! I have a brother-in-law who is in the Coastguard and have nothing but respect for the job he does - so yeah, call me biased! This novel felt real, and the descriptions were very evocative. The story unfolded naturally. It was credible. It felt like being there in many ways, which makes for a really nice read! Of course, the plot counts too, more-so than the descriptions for me, but that was also appealing and felt authentic. I haven't been to any of the places the author mentions: Curaçao, Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama, and so on, and my experience in Florida is very limited, but there was nothing here that struck me as implausible or dumb.

The story is of Cole (yeah, I know. Hardly my favorite character name, but at least it wasn't 'Jack', in which case I would have flatly refused to read the novel at all!). Cole is a Coastguard operative who gets kicked out for his rather unruly behavior and his disregard for the rules on occasion. Out of work, he drifts a little in Florida and eventually, to make ends meet, starts working on a tour boat. It's hardly his style, but it pays and he gets to room with one of the guys he works with, someone he likes and gets along with.

Over time he notices that this guy Kevin, has something going on on the side and as the two grow to trust each other, Cole finds himself involved in the smuggling of Cubans into Florida. So far so good, but Cole is not only a functional alcoholic (at least that's how he came off to me) he's also an Adrenalin junkie, and the kick he gets from outrunning and outfoxing his old colleagues in the Coastguard starts to be insufficient for him. Like every addict, Cole wants more. That's how he gets into drug-running, but there's no loyalty in that world. You upset the cartel kingpins and they're going to come gunning for you - literally. This is the story of how Cole survived and who he met along the way.

It was gripping and engaging, and just as importantly, it was realistic. It really felt like any and all of this could have happened. It was like reading a good James Bond thriller, and I kept wanting to turn the next page to find out what happens. The book is not too long, not too short, and makes for really easy reading. The ending felt a little bit abrupt, but it was right, and I'd rather have it come to a halt like that, than have the author just write on and on not knowing quite where to stop. Plus it's a single volume as far as I know, so not being a fan of series, this worked well for me. I recommend it for anyone who wants an adventure with a likable rogue (despite his faults) who is in it for the thrills, only to discover that underneath it all, he actually has a conscience. Great story.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Velvet Before the Secret Lives of Dead Men vol 2 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second collected volume of one of the best graphic novels I've read in a long time. Unfortunately it's the start of a series, so I have to pick up more volumes. Had it been a novel, it would have been self-contained in one volume. I'm not a fan of series, but this one was good enough that I am interested in reading more, despite it being a royal pain! Unfortunately, there are no more compendium volumes beyond the second one at this point, as far as I can tell, which is annoying, especially since this series began in 2013. If the author would finish one series before moving on to another, maybe he'd get the one finished in a reasonable amount of time?!

Note that I've read only the compendium issues. Volume two covers original issues six through ten. Since volume fourteen isn't due until January 2016, I'm guessing it's going to be a while before the third compendium is released. Meanwhile I'm going to be looking for individual issues!

The story is set in the past, and has flashbacks into the more distant past, which was slightly annoying, but not too bad (I'm not a fan of flashbacks). This is very much a spy thriller in the mode of James Bond. It's set in Britain, but whereas James Bond has ties, tenuous as they are, to real British intelligence services, this is a secret service with a code-name. Other than that it's very much James Bond.

There are two big differences, both of which I approve. The first of these is that the agent taking the spotlight here isn't a male, but a female, and secondly, this female isn't a 'pretty young thing', but a mature woman. It's like Moneypenny left Bond behind and went on the mission herself, except that this isn't a recent Moneypenny. This is the Lois Maxwell Moneypenny and the novel works the better for it because it focuses on her tenacity, dedication, intelligence, and skill, and not on sexuality. I really liked of all of this.

This story continues full throttle from the first one, with Velvet, retired secret agent, who was very much a Moneypenny before she was forced to take up the role of field agent after she discovered she had been set up by someone high up in her own agency. The story jets across Europe and out to the Bahamas and back (another nod to James Bond), with Velvet Templeton having to remember skills and contacts from her field days many years before, and having to tread lightly and seek to forge contacts and even alliances with people from the past - some of whom were not on the same side of the intelligence services as she was. It ends in a cliffhanger since there are more volumes to come after this open, of course. I liked this very much and recommend the series (at least this far!)


Velvet Before the Living End vol 1 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser


Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of the best graphic novels I've read in a long time. Unfortunately it's the start of a series, so I have to pick up more volumes. Had it been a novel, it would have been self-contained in one volume. I'm not a fan of series, but this one was good enough that I am interested in reading more, despite it being a royal pain! Unfortunately, there are no more volumes beyond two at this point, as far as I can tell, which is annoying, especially since this series began in 2013. If the author would finish one series before moving on to another, maybe he'd get the one finished in a reasonable amount of time?! Note that I read the compendium issues. This is volume one, which covers original issues one through five.

The story is set in the past, and has flashbacks into the more distant past, which was slightly annoying, but not too bad (I'm not a fan of flashbacks). This is very much a spy thriller in the mode of James Bond. It's set in Britain, but unlike with James Bond which has ties, tenuous as they are, to real British intelligence services, this is a secret service with a code-name. Other than that it's very much James Bond, including, at one point, the iconic Aston Martin of the Goldfinger movie fame.

There are two big differences, both of which I approve. The first of these is that the agent taking the spotlight here isn't a male, but a female, and secondly, this female isn't a 'pretty young thing', but a mature woman. It's like Moneypenny left Bond behind and went on the mission herself, except that this isn't a recent Moneypenny. This is the Lois Maxwell Moneypenny and the novel works the better for it because it focuses on her tenacity, dedication, intelligence, and skill, and not on sexuality. I really liked of all of this.

Obviously, since it's espionage of this nature, there is a secret and a betrayal. I have no idea what it is, since the story is unfinished at this point! I can say that I loved the dialog, the artwork, and the story overall. It was fun, made all the right moves, was believable and enjoyable, and I definitely recommend it.



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dead Man's Party by Jeff Marsick


Rating: WORTHY!

With remarkable art work from Barnett Scott, and a great story from Jeff Marsick, this graphic novel, volume one of a series, tells an engaging tale which I enjoyed from start to finish (the finish of volume one, that is!). Yes, there is some gore and violence in it, but not over much, especially given the subject matter. I felt like I'd read this story before, but I can't actually recall one with this plot, so maybe it just reminded me of stories I've read or movies I've seen.

There are elements of the first of the Bourne movies here, but this is neither a Jason Bourne clone, nor is it a rip-off. It also has elements of the Dennis Quaid movie D.O.A.. The world's most successful assassin, known as Ghost, returns after his last successful hit, and gets his usual medical check up. He discovers he has cancer and maybe only two months to live. A second opinion confirms the diagnosis. Rather than be taken down by his own traitorous cells, he decides to throw a dead Man's Party, whereby five fellow assassins are to compete to take him down, the successful executioner to inherit all his worldly goods, and more importantly, his mantle.

The problem is, as Ghost discovers, that he's been had for a sucker. There's nothing wrong with him. Someone just wants him taken out. He can't renege on the contract now it's out there, so now he has to take down those five assassins before they take him down. How is he going to do that, when they seem to be able to find him no matter what he does? Is there anyone he can trust?

Tightly told, beautifully drawn, and excitingly laid out, I really enjoyed this novel and I recommend it.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers


Rating: WARTY!

I've read some of the Dresden Files graphic novels before and couldn't get into them. Unlike with his Codex Alera series, which I loved, the Dresden files never got me interested. I tried watching the short-lived TV show and that was a bust, too. So why pick this one? Well, this story gave him an assistant, which I'd never encountered before in this series, so I thought that might be interesting - adding a dynamic that was never there before.

I was particularly intrigued, given what an impoverished situation he was in (your standard clichéd, struggling private dick kind of a deal), how he had even taken on an assistant, but this was adequately explained. The problem is that this is about all I remembered of this story when I came to write this review several days after reading it. That's not always a bad sign, but it's typically not a good one!

In this story, Harry Dresden, a Chicago-based wizard-for-hire, has taken on an apprentice, Molly Carpenter. The blurb describes her as a "new" apprentice", and this is actually the case, I'm informed, because he had another assistant prior to this one, so this is indeed his new assistant. He only took her on to spare her from being slaughtered by the white council. Dresden is apparently planning on bringing down a villain described as a mad sorcerer who wants to take over the city. My question is: why not just run for mayor? Or magic himself into that job?! It made no sense!

The sorcerer is in league with gangster Johnnie Marcone. Will Harry be able to hold his own or will Molly have to hold it for him? I don't know. I got to about 80% in and lost patience with this one. The story wasn't that great to begin with, and I was finding pages missing text - they had empty speech balloons throughout. This was on Bluefire reader on the iPad. Even one such page is bad for a review copy in this day and age, but many such pages? Not acceptable. I had no idea what the characters were saying or thinking, and pretty soon I realized that I really didn't care. It was time to move on to something more engaging - and wordy! I can't recommend this.


Drones by Chris Lewis


Rating: WARTY!

The test of whether a novel is a worthy read is what you recall of it afterwards. You don't need to recall it all in perfect detail, by any means, to know you liked it, but if you recall the overall plot and some fondly remembered details, it did its job. That's the problem I had with Drones - a few days after I read it and came to write this review, I discovered I couldn't remember a thing about it and I realized that I would have to leaf through it to refresh my memory. I do remember I didn't finish it because the story was nonsensical to me and uninteresting. Of course your mileage may differ. I hope it does, but this is my take on it.

This was supposed to be a satire on terrorism, but it fell flat for me. It was really hard to follow what was really going on, and since it mixed 'real life' (the main characters are drone pilots) with 'fiction' (they take a few days off in Vegas and stay at a "terrorism themed hotel"), it was also hard to grasp at first whether there was real terrorism was going on in Vegas, or whether it was just "play".

I know it was satirical, but after starting into this, I really began to find the theme abhorrent, and the action totally confusing. Half the time I had no idea what was going on or how we got to this page from the previous page, and it quickly became tedious to read, and not at all engaging to my mind. I quit reading at around the 75% mark because I had better things to do with my life than to sit through any more of this trying to figure out what was going on. I can't recommend it. If the art work had been brilliant, that might have made some difference, but it was merely workman-like, and while it wasn't bad, it had nothing special to recommend it.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Echo: Collider by Terry Moore


Rating: WORTHY!

This is not the last in the series, but it is the last which my local library has for loan. Now I have to dig up the last two volumes or preferably find the entire series, which I believe is available in a single volume now.

I recommend this whole series - at least this far, and I have to add that it's hard to believe it will fizzle when it's been so strong so far. We learn that Ivy has a young, sick daughter - to add to her many other facets. We also learn something of a bombshell about her - or at least we see it hinted at - at the end. We also get a new and deadly assassin hired to take out Julie, and the return of a character who "died" in an earlier issue - Hong. Somehow, he is resurrected, and turns into something out of a fifties B horror movie - The Mummy meets The Creature From the Black Lagoon, or something! We also learn what HeNRI's end game is - they don't want Julie dead so much as want her armor so they can put it into a collider and smash the substance at itself in order to create a black hole.

Terry Moore's understanding of how dangerous black holes are has a huge black hole in it. A black hole does not have infinite gravity. It has only a fixed amount which is, as with all gravity, proportional to its mass, so if you create a black hole the same mass as a tennis ball, it's going to have no more gravitational pull than does a tennis ball. In order to destroy Earth, you'd have to have a truly massive black hole which you can't generate in a particle collider because the masses of those particles are minuscule. And you can only collide particles - not alloys, so I have no idea where he got this physics from - or worse, where HeNRI got it from. The fact is that if their understanding is so disgracefully flawed, then they're no threat at all!

But I was willing to let that slide for the fun of the story and the excellent way it's told. I can see this making a fine movie, if it's handled right, and if so, I would definitely pay to see it.


Echo: Desert Run by Terry Moore


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume Three of this six part (30 issue) series was another winner for me. It opens in the crater blown into the desert highway by Julie in defense against the vagrant dude. Thinking he is dead, Julie also thinks Dillon is dead - or near to it, and she hauls him off in the truck, but unaccountably stops short of finding as hospital and hugs him, thereby healing him. This, she did not expect thinking of herself solely as a weapon. Ivy meanwhile visits Julie's home and finds a box with something intriguing inside, but we do not learn what it is.

It's in this volume that we learn that Julie's new suit isn't just the Plutonium alloy, but also contains some of Annie, Dillon's supposedly dead girlfriend. Now Julie starts feeling what Annie felt, and thinking what she thought. Is this the start of a meld, or a takeover? Julie doesn't know. Ivy, now embarking on a phase of this relationship that is less chasing down Julie and more getting to know Julie and becoming highly suspicious of the secret agency HeNRI. When Ivy learns that Julie healed Dillon, she realizes that she has an off-label use for Julie for herself.

The story continues to thrill and intrigue, art work continues to please - what's not to recommend?


Monday, September 7, 2015

Echo Atomic Dreams by Terry Moore


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume two of this six volume series starts out right where volume one left off. Dillon the ranger and Julie the super-girl are hiding out in a desert motel, ostensibly protected by some of Dan Backer's motorcycle group. Dan is ex military and is highly suspicious of what's been going on in those desert military bases. What none of them know is that the vagrant who shared Julie's plutonium rain experience is a religious nut-job who thinks poor Julie is the harlot of Babylon. The Bible has a HELL of a lot to answer for.

When Vagrant Man shows up at the motel - how he tracked her there is a mystery, but I have an idea of my own - there is a showdown that leaves sand turned to glass, and Dan's biker boys dead. Julie and Dillon are once again on the run across the desert.

Meanwhile Ivy has tracked down Julie's sister Pam, who is in a psychiatric institution, and she calls Julie and tries to talk her into surrendering to Ivy - who promises protection. Doing this will implying, intentionally or not, a threat of something happening to Julie's sister isn't the best way to engage with Julie's benevolent side, but before this can be resolved, Vagrant Man arrives, and all that's left after that encounter is a crater in the desert, which is how volume three begins.

Once again we have interesting characters who change and grow, particularly Ivy who is slowly coming to a realization that this isn't your normal person-tracking job. The art work continues to be simple but not simplistic, and it was very much appreciated; it's clean, definitive, and illustrative - everything you would want in a graphic novel. I do not require color, indeed, it can sometimes ruin a story, so this wasn't an issue for me. I recommend this volume as part of this complete series!



Echo: Moon Lake by Terry Moore


Rating: WORTHY!

I found this in the library and liked the first volume so much that I went right back and got the next three, which is all the library had. Bless that library! I was hoping that this is the whole set because this was initially issued as a relatively short run of individual (and indie published) comics, and later collected into sets, but it turns out there are six of them, each containing five of the original issues: Moon Lake, Atomic Dreams, Desert Run, Collider, Black Hole, The Last Day. How he got it to be exactly 30- issues is a bit of as poser - that's like writing a novel and deciding it's going to be exactly three hundred pages long regardless of how you tell the story and whether it naturally ends on page three hundred! However, as I write this I'm half way through and I can't fault it for being too fast or too drawn-out.

The art work is excellent, but note that it's black and white line drawings, no coloring involved. Once in a while the text is too small, which is a pet peeve of mine, but other than that, I can't fault this at all, so it all came down to the usual test, for me: whether the story was any good, of course. For me the story is the most important thing, with art being secondary, and this story did not fail me.

The main character is Julie Martin, typically curvaceous as comic book females are, but not improbably so. I liked her sister better - she was drawn more realistically and looked pretty damned good, especially since her personality was adorable. And in the end that's what overcame the skin-deep appearance of these female characters - they were realistic, all three of the main ones.

Julie is a down-and-out photographer whose husband has ditched her for reasons which were not exactly clear to me. She's not happy with this, but she's just about dealing with it, and trying to work on her photography portfolio. Evidently her starboard-folio is already completed....

This is how she happens to be in the desert in the south-west (note that North America sports many Moon Lakes!) when a new flying suit is tested - one that bonds to the skin. It's being tested by a woman Named Annie, and the air-force considers the test to be a success and orders the destruction of the suit, with Annie still in it. This causes a literal rain of particles which come down rather like hailstones, but which are soft, like they're made from modeling clay. They cover Julie and stick to her skin, and to her truck.

'

She evacuates the area quickly, but soon discovers these hailstones are, in a way, alive. They begin to flatten out and stretch, and cover her skin, eventually forming a breast plate - literally. It covers her neck, upper chest, and breasts rather provocatively, like a prototype designer swimsuit top. It's not like a piece of metal armor - it's more like a thin coat of chrome. The doctor who Julie visits cannot remove it, and actually is injured by it. Julie is tossed out of the ER as a prankster.

The air force is now trying to recover all the pieces from the explosion, but can find less that 30% of them. They discover that two people were in the area - a vagrant, and Julie. They just don't know the identity of these two people two begin with. A woman with the cool name of Ivy Raven, who is an expert at tracking down people and reading crime scenes - this woman is observant and sharp - is called in to find Julie, but she isn't told the whole story.

There are several interested parties, including a park ranger named Dillon Murphy who is the boyfriend of Annie, the original test pilot. He eventually encounters Julie when the army try to arrest her, and end up all knocked out due to some explosive power of Julie's breastplate which evidently triggers when she's stressed. Now she and Dillon are on the run with Ivy in hot pursuit.

I wasn't thrilled that Julie had to end up with Ranger Rick (or Dill) - yet another woman in distress who evidently can't make it without a guy to validate her, but the characters were written realistically (they even have realistic names! LOL!), and behaved appropriately, and there was no ridiculous love at first sight, so I let that problem slide in this case. Plus, it's Julie who actually gets them out of various scrapes with her "super-power", so this balanced out. Overall, I rated this a worthy read and I was looking forward to volume two at the end of this one.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Going Through the Change by Samantha Bryant


Rating: WORTHY!

This novel is different! Four women who are going through menopause discover that they've developed super powers! Is it the menopause, or is it the alternative medication they've been taking - all of which comes from the same source? Or is it a combination of both? Or neither?!

This novel was original, gorgeous, and a true joy to read. It's the kind of novel which makes you comfortable with going through all the crappy novels that Amazon unloads cheaply, because you know that if you persevere, you'll find one like this once in a while - a diamond in the rough as they say - and it makes it worth reading the crap just to get to it.

Patricia O'Neill, who is a lifelong friend of the herbalist, Cindy Liu, seems to be growing scales on her skin. Jessica Roark discovers that she can fly - or at least float. Helen Braeburn learns, uncomfortably, that she can create fire - and survive it. Linda Alvarez changes, rather abruptly, into a man - although how that's considered a super-power is a mystery This man does have unusual strength, but what kind of message is this sending - you can only be strong if you're a man?

That's about the only negative thing I have to say about this novel. That should have been re-thought. Aside from that, and other than that it needed a final spell-checker run through before letting it loose on Amazon, I have no complaints at all. Waiting is not spelled "waitign" and every spell-checker knows that! And it should have been "while the early birds were still sleeping", not "before the early birds were still sleeping," but those are all I noticed and they're relatively minor quibbles.

Some might find the build-up a little slow, but for me, the story moved intelligently and at a fair clip - not too fast, not too slow. People behaved like people - not super-heroes(!) and not like dumb movie action "heroes". These girls grew into their powers as you might expect someone would and as we grew to know them. The whole story was smartly plotted and written. I'm fully behind it! If the author wants a beta reader for volume two, I'm right here and available! I recommend this story for originality, freshness, good writing, and realistic female characters (within the super hero context!), who live and breathe. I'm not a big fan of series, but once in a while one comes along and I can say, honestly, that it's great work, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ryder: Bird of Prey by Nick Pengelley


Title: Ryder: Bird of Prey
Author: Nick Pengelley
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
One of the Russian phrases at the start of chapter 21 didn't render properly in Adobe Digital editions. In place of characters or spaces are two boxes with an 'X' in them (page 104 of ADE version)
Page 141 (end of chapter 30 "...when'd he'd" should be "when he'd"

The Ayesha Ryder series is a highly fanciful cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones, with some Dan Brown tossed in for good measure. It's evidently set in an alternate universe - an assessment with which the author may disagree, but I have to disagree with him on that score in return: this "world" is so fanciful that it's honestly not realistic. In it, the Israelis and Palestinians are living in a shared nation, and air travel is by Zeppelin, to name two of the unlikeliest differences between this and the real world.

Although there are three books in this series out now, this is only the second of these stories that I've read. The first one by-passed me somehow. You can read them as stand-alones as long as you remember that you may find yourself missing some of the references if you do. I was favorably impressed with volume two, Ryder: American Treasure, but this third outing simply failed to make the grade.

The first problem showed up early, and it's that Ayesha Ryder is really Mary Sue! She can do no wrong, although she's always inexplicably suspected of (or blamed for) wrong-doing by someone each outing. I was impressed by her in the first one I read because she was not the trope white American. She's Palestinian, which is a refreshing change, although she was also a terrorist, so how an ex terrorist came to be, in effect, working for the British government is a mystery to me (which may or may not be covered in volume one - I don't know).

In this edition, we meet Ayesha hanging out with the British Prime Minister, who in this world is female and gay (although that latter characteristic isn't widely known). With the two of them is the Prime minister's secretary, who is female and bisexual as well as being a BDSM devotee. Or addict, more accurately. All the villains in this series are far more oddball than ever they need to be, which to me makes them more of a joke than a threat.

Ryder and the other two take part in an archery 'contest' trying out a replica English longbow. The PM can't even pull the string. The secretary, Bebe Daniels, handles it expertly and hits the bull's eye roundly in the middle, but Ayesha of course, splits Bebe's arrow with one of her own. This was where this book and I began to part ways in terms of it retaining my favor. It's quite okay, you know, to have your main character screw up on occasion. In fact, it's preferable to having her be Mary Sue, Handmaiden of Perfection, as she's depicted here.

Very shortly after this, the Prime Minister is reported to be dying of polonium poisoning, and Ayesha is the main suspect, being sought by MI5, the police, and Special Branch, and if the deputy PM Noel Malcolm has his way, the British army, too. Ri-ight! Here's where we encounter another departure from the real world. The prime minister seems to have surrounded herself with traitors and scoundrels, which is simply not credible. Yes, there may be a mole or a turn-coat on a team, but here it's like every edition of this series turns up yet another traitor at the gate. I simply could not credit that the government would be shot through with such people in the highest positions, especially someone like Malcolm, who's completely delusional.

In the deputy prime minister's case, he wants to break-up the United Kingdom and shed England's ties to the WTO, NATO, and the European Union. He also wants to force upon Scotland the independence it turned down just a few months ago, and force upon Northern Ireland a subjugation to Eire, which NI has consistently - and oftentimes literally - fought against. It's simply not conceivable that the prime minister, who is against all this, would have as a deputy someone who is diametrically opposed to her core beliefs.

By this time I was about a quarter the way in and I was already losing interest in what had, by this point, become a classic British farce, populated with grotesque caricatures, but incredibly it was about to become yet more farcical! The next thing we learn is that the Maltese Falcon (of Dashiel Hammet Fame) is not only real, but contains a second-rate Dan Brownian clue-cascade leading to the lost sword of Harold Godwinson (King Harold of the Battle of Hastings fame. The deputy PM is of the opinion that if he can only find the sword, it will magically convince everyone that he's right and England will be freed of its shackles! Drool much Noel?

Thus, a pell-mell chase for the sword is on, with Ayesha and some dude from the library at the institute where Doctor Ryder (Doctor Jones much?) works, directed by a clue in the Maltese Falcon, and descending into London's catacombs to find clues in Æthelred the Unready's (aka Æthelred 2.0's) grave which supposedly directs them to king Harold's grave. The problem is that none of this really was very well done or very gripping. This novel was not as well put together as Dan Brown's efforts, and he's hardly a sterling example.

Another major issue was that of American influence in British governmental affairs. The depths to which it supposedly runs in this story is simply not credible. Rather than turn out to be an enjoyable and mature yarn about spying and intrigue, this turned out to be more like the Spy Kids movies, which were fun as far as they went, but hardly to be taken seriously.

The one thing that kept me reading for a while was that I have actually been to the site of the Battle of Hastings, and to the ruins of Battle Abbey which stand hard by it, but Pengelley's fantasy that Harold's body is discovered intact and as well-preserved as if he just died is nonsensical. This is in a porous sandstone cave close by the salty ocean, and we're expected to believe everything has been preserved for a millennium? That's reality leaving on the bus over there.

The truth is that there are the remains of a headless and largely legless man in Bosham church which is a likely candidate for Harold's actual skeleton. He was reported as being dismembered after dying in the company of his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine at which point, and having no leadership remaining, the English, who were on the verge of winning not long before, finally collapsed and William of Normandy became England's new ruler. It was the last time England was successfully invaded. And no, the story of the arrow in the eye is by no means verified, and may well be due to a misunderstanding of the graphic novel known as the Bayeux Tapestry!

One of the most annoying aspects of this novel was the random flashbacks. Most of these were Ayesha's (to her Gaza strip past), but there was also one for the CIA operative, Danforth. This took the novel to ever more ridiculous heights, whereby we have Zeppelins flying over the Taliban. how absurd is that? They have rockets. The author apparently didn't think for a second about what a monstrously tempting and easily assailable target a gigantic Zeppelin would be to someone with a surface-to-air missile at hand.

I began routinely skipping these flashback chapters because they really contributed nothing to the story and were, frankly, really annoying interruptions. They felt like nothing more than padding (without which the novel would have drifted perilously close to the sub 200 page arena, I might add). It's never a good thing when the author includes paragraphs and worse, entire chapters, which actively encourage readers to skim and skip.

At about 70% of the way in, at the start of chapter 38, this novel became far too ridiculous to continue reading, even by its own standards. Ayesha is at this point in an ancient underground hall where equally ancient tombs are preserved, yet she starts a gunfight whereby damage galore is inflicted upon the ancient artifacts - and this woman is supposed to have earned herself a doctorate? If she had any smarts at all, she would have fired on these people before they got down the stairs, not afterwards where they have all kinds of room to maneuver and places to hide. At any rate, it was too laughable to continue, and I quit reading right there. I can't recommend this cartoon.


Monday, March 2, 2015

The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer by Laxmi Hariharan


Title: The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer
Author: Laxmi Hariharan
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Errata:
Page 30 "Once upon at time it was amongst set many similar..." should be "Once upon at time it was set amongst many similar..."
Page 36 "...it's both Panky and my choice..." should be "...it's both Panky's and my choice..."
Page 88 "...Vikram is turns around..." should be "...Vikram turns around..."
Page 133 "reincarnate" should be either "incarnate" or "reincarnated"

Ruby Is an Indian woman living in Mumbai (which the author insists upon naming Bombay in this story). Mumbai is the biggest city in India (and eighth in the world) in terms of population, and its average temperature year round, runs between 70 and 90 (21 and 33) degrees. It's hot in many ways, including being a boomtown and business center, as well as having a great deep-water port.

Ruby Iyer is a young professional who lives in a bungalow which she shares with a guy named Pankaj ("Panky"), her best friend. One day when heading in to work, Ruby is knocked off the platform onto the electric train tracks and has 10,000 volts run through her, which she survives with no more than a Lichtenburg tree (an electrical branching pattern, rather like a tattoo) on her shoulder to show for it - at least externally. Inside, it's a different matter. Inside, Ruby feels the power of electricity and anger which she can barely control at times.

Note in passing that people tend to confuse volts with amps. 10,000 volts all by itself means little without knowing the amperage and the resistance. Humans can survive high voltage, but anything above a few milliamps for very long, and you're doomed! But that's by-the-by. Ruby tries to go to work the next day (this is after three days had gone by when she was unconscious in the hospital), and she fails spectacularly.

At the station, waiting on the morning train, standing alongside a guy she shared an autocab with, she sees the same guy who pushed her onto the tracks pushing another young woman in the same way. Ruby saves her life and then not wanting to deal with the publicity (or the police officer heading her way), she runs - stealing someone's motorbike.

She gets an anonymous text message to go to the Sea Link ferry and against her better judgment, finds herself driving down there. She finds a guy high-up off the ground, looking like he's going to jump. Next thing she knows, she's climbing up there trying to talk him down, and then diving into the water after him when he slips and falls. Suddenly she's being pulled from the water by the same guy she shared the cab with. What's going on here?

I admit after some seventy pages of this I was intrigued - drawn in by the oddity of events and by the sheer feistiness of Ruby's character. Now here's a great potential for a strong female protagonist thinks I, but there's also a male interest. Is this going to continue to show her as a strong independent woman, or is it going to go right down hill faster than Ruby plummeted into the ocean? Are we going to see her buried under the protective mantle of a validating guy just as the ocean covered her? I hoped not, but unfortunately soon, there soon came signs of plot failings.

Here's a writing issues to consider; how do you approach pet names when writing a story set in a foreign culture? Can you just employ Americanisms and have it work? Or is that going to rudely throw people out of suspension of disbelief? I ask because this author had Ruby refer to her pal Panky as "Pankster" from time to time. In the US, we understand that, because it's a very American thing to do, but unless she's really saying "Pankster" in her own tongue along with whatever else she's saying, what does Pankster mean? It would sound exactly the same in Bambaiya, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, or whatever language she's speaking, but would it mean the same thing it means in the US?

Is there a local language equivalent, and if so, why didn't the author use that - because we wouldn't understand it? I don't buy that. In the first hundred pages or so, the author does a great job of bringing us into the culture without making it sound like a guidebook or a lecture, so why this? I don't know. English is widely spoken amongst professionals in Mumbai, so maybe they speak English to each other and there's no problem here?

Having said that, there were quite a few technical problems with the text, including instances of two words run together, such as at the bottom of page 91 where it says "Handis" rather than "Hand is". A run-through with a decent spell-checker would catch many of those errors. There are other errors a spell-checker won't catch, such as when an AK-47 is identified on page 108 as a machine gun it's not. It's an assault rifle.

What about those plot failings I mentioned? Well, without wanting to give too much away, the most outrageous one was an incident in a train station where Ruby had the opportunity to take down or even take out the bad guy and she failed to act. I have no idea what that was all about except, of course, that it permitted the bad guy to escape and the story to continue for another 150 pages!

Things went significantly downhill after that for me, though, and I couldn't finish this novel. It became far too cartoonish. Some random guy launches an attack on Ruby in her home, and immediately afterwards, she's invited to visit the bad guy at a nearby hotel. Now maybe the guy with the gun was merely going to escort her to the hotel, maybe not, but either way it made no sense. He never said he only wanted to take her there, and she went anyway. The only thing this accomplished was a bout of blood and gore.

Ruby arms herself with a machete, which she pretty much consistently refers to as a sword, from that point onwards. It made no sense, especially since Vikram the cop said he was going to stay with her so he could get the bad guy, and as soon as his back is turned she runs off alone, no back-up, to try and rescue Panky.

It's at this point that we're expected to believe that simultaneously with the city all-but shutting down from multiple bombings, and with the power out, there's a fashion show going on at the Hyatt??? People are packing into one of the stations which was blown up just a day or two before - to go to work?!! There's this chaos going on and the army isn't called in? There's no curfew imposed? It's like all this is going on, and yet life continues in the city unaffected. It made no sense.

The story was told in first person PoV which usually doesn't work. In this case it wasn't too bad to begin with but it did begin to grate on the nerves after a while, especially since Ruby was hardly a nice person. I wasn't rooting for her. I actually liked the bad guy better.

If Ruby had shown some smarts instead of being a dick who routinely steals other people's property (mostly transportation) and who has no idea how to call for or rely on back-up, and shows no evidence that she even understands what cooperation is, let alone how to engage in it, with the cop who saved her life more than once. She's just not a likable protagonist, and that coupled with the absurd events the further I read into this story, was enough to convince me that I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

It's very depressing, actually, because the author shows signs of a real writing ability, yet she has a character like this in a setting that is, for once, in some place other than the USA, and it just gets wasted and squandered. I felt very sad and disappointed in what seemed to me to be a badly wasted opportunity.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Pentecost by JF Penn


Title: Pentecost
Author: JF Penn
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

You'd think a novel with 'Pen' in the title penned by a writer whose last name is Penn would be a novel made in heaven, especially if it's about religious nut-jobs, but it wasn't to be. More like 4F.

This novel is about Morgan Sierra who is a psychologist resident in Oxford, England. She was, at one time, a soldier in the IDF - the Israeli Defence Force. When a stone is stolen from a nun who is murdered in Varanasi (aka Benares or Kashi) in India (I am not making this up!), this somehow connects to Morgan, and she becomes the target of Thanatos - a cult of the deludedly religious (OTOH, what religion isn't?!) who are evidently chasing after the 'stones of power'. Her involvement also brings in her sister and niece, who are kidnapped. Fortunately, this weak woman is saved by a trope macho military guy who happens to be a member of a secret society named 'ARKANE', especially not when his name is, absurdly, Jake Timber! Really?

I can't even remember how I got hold of this novel and it sat there for ages without me feeling any great urge to pick it up. I started it more than once, but I absolutely could not get into it. I don't like stories where the main female character is presented as tough and independent, but immediately needs a guy to rescue and validate her. I didn't read all of this by any means, so I can't speak for how it all panned out. Maybe things turned around, but I simply could not get into the novel at all, so I can't offer any sort of recommendation.

I don't see how a huge secret of 'power stones' (seriously?) would lay dormant for 2,000 years, so the underlying plot was farcical to me to begin with. Worse than that, there seemed to me to be nothing here but trope - the tough female, but motivated solely by 'female motivations' - her sister, her niece - her mothering instincts.

Not that there's anything wrong with that per se, but why is it that when a male hero is in play, his motivation is typically patriotism, duty, military loyalty, training, and bromance, but when a female becomes the main character, the criteria change completely? Can a woman not be patriotic? Can she not feel comradeship with her fellow men/women? Can she not be motivated by duty? Does it always have to be rescuing her mom/sister/niece/nephew/child? And vice-versa for the guy.

I think this is one of the strongest reasons why this was so tedious to me, and why it didn't pull me in or invest me with any interest in these people. They were, essentially, non-entities. It seems like the plot had a life of its own, and any random characters could have been plugged in to fill the character slots, so there was nothing special about the characters who happened to be attached. There really was nothing really new or notably original in the part that I read, and since the characters were unappealing, I found no point in continuing to read this and certainly no need to pursue an entire series about such pointless and uninteresting people.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Modesty Blaise: The Night of the Morningstar by Peter O'Donnell


Title: Modesty Blaise: The Night of the Morningstar
Author: Peter O'Donnell
Publisher: Souvenir Press
Rating: WARTY!

This is the eleventh in the Modesty Blaise series, and perhaps it suffers for that - or rather, perhaps my take on it suffers for that, but I could not get into this novel at all.

I almost quit reading it after the first couple of pages, which rambled on interminably about stuff which failed completely to engage my interest; then it went downhill from there. I read so little of this that I can't even tell you what it was about other than that Modesty is apparently trying to wind down her criminal business and retire, and someone wants to keep it going.

Blaise began as a newspaper comic strip in 1963 and then transferred to novels, which perhaps explains some of the caricature nature of the writing. Several movies have been made. That's how I got into this. I saw My Name is Modesty and I loved it. The movie is reviewed elsewhere on my blog. I can't say the same about this novel. Maybe at some point I'll dig out the first in the series and give it a try, but I make no promises, not with so many good books out there calling like sirens trying to draw me in!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Alpha by Greg Rucka


Title: Alpha
Author: Greg Rucka
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating: WARTY!

Alpha is written by Greg Rucka who has an article on strong female characters, but you won't find any strong female characters here. All the females are appendages to the men, because this is a macho military man kind of a novel. After I read this, I decided that I probably had to visit the improbable characters populating his comic books to find out what he thinks a strong female character should be, and I wasn't impressed there, either.

This novel reads like a rip-off of a movie I saw some time ago about the take-over of a theme park by thieves or terrorists, but I cannot for the life of me recall its name. I guess it wasn't that great, huh?! I've searched on Amazon, on Netflix, and on the Internet, including IMDB, but I've failed to dig up the name of the movie I saw, and IMDB doesn't identify Rucka as the writer of such a movie or as a movie based on anything he wrote.

In this take, a terrorist threat aimed at the fictional Wilsonville theme park a thinly disguised Disney knock off, comes to the attention of government agencies, so Jad Bell, a master sergeant in some special forces outfit or other, is recruited as deputy safety director. Another of his team is working as a security employee. There is a third person, a CIA operative, also working there, but the park's management has no idea that it's a target, nor that there are undercover operatives implanted at the park.

When the terror does strike, it's in the form of a couple of dozen guys who set up a dirty bomb. It turns out they were hired by a US government politician who wanted to literally scare-up funds for defense, but the terrorists take that and run with it, and then demand that this same guy pay them over again what he already paid, otherwise they really will detonate this bomb. It's up to Bell and his team to rescue the hostages, take out the terrorists and defuse the bomb. In short, your standard macho bullshit.

The complication is that Bell's wife is in the park with his deaf daughter, taking a tour which magically happened to be on this self-same day, of course. The daughter, Anthea, does seem to be a strong woman, but she's marginalized, Bell's ex wife (it's always the ex in these stories, isn't it?) is a complete moron. In the first part of the novel, Bell pretty much outright begs her not to visit the park, but he can't tell her exactly why, and so this dip-shit chooses to completely ignore the advice of her terrorist-expert husband. Later in the story, she bitches him out about getting her into this and putting her daughter at risk! What a frickin' numb-skull!

Generally this novel is well-written and I certainly had no trouble maintaining interest in it, but once in a while there was a "Wait, what?" moment. At one point, Rucka writes, "...judders to a sudden, sharp stop." I'm not sure that makes sense. Judders is a word, although it's not one I like. The problem as I see it is that "judders" implies at least a small amount of time for said juddering to happen, which seems to be at odds with the "sudden, sharp stop" portion of the sentence. Maybe it's just me, but I would never have written that. It just sounds too weird to me.

I have no idea, even having read this novel, what the 'Alpha' title is all about, unless it describes the guy on the cover holding his gun like it's a loaded automatic metal dick....

So overall this was not quite a disaster, but neither was it anything memorable, new, inventive, or original and, as I said, it's strongly reminiscent, if not a rip-off, of that movie. So in short, I can't rate this as a worthy read. Others have done far more with less.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer by Janni Lee Simner





Title: Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer
Author: Janni Lee Simner
Publisher: Cholla Bear Press (website unavaiable)
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This review will be shorter than my usual ones because this is a very short novel, and it's new, so I don't want to give out too many spoilers here. Let's talk about the importance of names and titles! This novel is a classical example of picking the right name for your novel in my opinion. It was originally titled Secret of the Three Treasures, which is very tame. It's almost hard to believe what a quick switcheroo can do, but now we have the magnificent title Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer - can you believe that? I think that's leagues ahead of the original and really catchy. I probably never would have read this had it retained its original name. I'm not one for going on much about covers (unless they really tick me off), because authors typically have little to do with their cover (and all-too-often little to do with their title!), but this cover is also wonderful. It amplifies the title perfectly.

This is yet another novel where I fell so in love with the title that I couldn't not read it! Of course, as I've discovered with other novels, a great title doesn’t guarantee a great read, but I'm always optimistic that a writer who can come up with a title like that can also write a novel like that, and unlike my previous experience with such a title, this novel kept me on-board to the very end.

I did get tripped up by the very first sentence. The author amusingly writes a short paragraph at the start of each chapter in italics, as though Tiernay truly is an adventurer. I loved this, but the very first one confused me. At first I thought it was written badly, but after I’d run it through my mind about four times employing different emphasis, pauses, and speeds, I realized it’s perfectly fine. Maybe it was just me, but I’d be a wee bit worried having a novel, even one with a brilliant title, starting out with a sentence that it takes a reader three or four passes through it before he gets it! Here's the sentence in case you're interested in seeing if you're sharper than I am!

Tiernay west stalked through the forest, silent as the great cats of the African plains, deadly as the fabled Royal Assassins of Arakistan.

Now when I read it, it seems perfectly fine to me. I think it was the juxtaposition of 'forest' and 'plains' which tripped me up initially; then my mind was so focused on that, that I couldn’t grasp the rest of the sentence!

I am so in love with Tiernay Markowitz (from which you know it’s only a short hop to 'West'). She's an admirably feisty and determined young woman. She wants to be an adventurer, and to take after the hero in the novels her dad writes. Not that she sees dad much these days, since he and mom have split up. Now she has to deal with the new man in her mom's life, Greg, who seems like a nice guy, but who doesn’t seem even remotely interested in adventuring; nor does his young son Kevin - at least, not at first. I loved Tiernay's long-suffering mom, too. She was the perfect combination of feistiness herself, and of face-palming patience in the face of her daughter's aggressive self-confidence

Acting on information received (by eavesdropping on a nearby table at the restaurant where they ate lunch), Tiernay learns of treasure! This treasure could even be in her home town. Admirably, she heads to the library and discovers a really interesting book about her ancestors, and what should drop out of the book but a short, handwritten note, which mentions not one, but three treasures! Tiernay is on the job, and next she does some Internet research. Yes! She uses the library and the Internet! She researches. She doesn't have things miraculously drop into her lap (apart from that one note!). She doesn't have magical powers. She isn't 'the chosen one'. She's not part angel, part demon or whatever, she's just a regular ordinary child who refuses to be hobbled by others' perceptions of her age and gender and so becomes extraordinary. In short, she's how every main female character should be. How hard is that? Why can more authors - especially female ones who write about females - not get what Jannie Lee Simner has grasped so firmly in both hands?

Tiernay is the kind of daughter I would have chosen, had I had one to choose. She's smart, fearless, indomitable, and completely adorable. She's not afraid to go out on a limb, even under the derision of others. She's always optimistic, she sticks to her guns (even though she carries none!), and she selflessly plays it out to the end. There's rather more than a handful of YA novelists I could name who could learn how to craft a strong female main character by reading this novel, let me tell you! I recommend this novel without reservation not just for the appropriate age group reader but for anyone who likes a good yarn, and for any writer who wants to know how it should be done.

I'm not a big fan of series, but once in a while there comes along a character who has earned the right to be in a trilogy or series, and Tiernay "West" is definitely such a character. I'd like to see more of her. I'd also like to see an adult fiction about the grown-up Tiernay, perhaps where her life didn't quite turn out to be the adventuring existence she had envisioned as a child, where she's in an interesting but relatively mundane job (maybe she's a tour guide, so at least she gets to travel) and then, quite by chance, something pops up on her radar and leads to a rollicking adventure. Yeah. I want to be a beta reader for those stories!