Showing posts with label Dumb-Ass Romance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dumb-Ass Romance. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Love Muffin And Chai Latte by Anya Wylde


Rating: WARTY!

Tabitha Lee Timmons is a thirty-something American living in England. Why she is there is never explained. I guess it's just to appeal to American audiences. For the last year, Tabby has had a loose relationship with a guy named Chris, but that's not his real name since he's Indian. He just uses that name because us idiot westerners can't handle Indian names. His real name is Chandramohan Mansukhani which isn't that hard of a name to grasp, and neither is his family pet name, Chintu.

At the start of the story, "Chris" proposes to Tabby, and she promptly swallows the engagement ring which he had stupidly hidden in the muffin her gave her. 'Love Muffin' is her nickname for him. Fortunately it isn't used often. Chai latte is her favorite drink. I really enjoyed the first third of this book, but then it started to go downhill for me, big time. This was curiously right at the point where I thought it would take off, because this was when she went on a trip to India which was one of the main reasons I picked up this novel.

I never had understood why Tabby was with Chris in the first place, because far more often than not, he acts like a major dick and a jerk, treating his fiancée like she's an annoying a piece of furniture he's forced to live with, yet this seems to impinge upon her consciousness not a whit, let alone make a negative impression on her, or issue a warning that she's with the wrong guy. The two do not live together and have apparently never had sex. He's painfully self-centered and she's tragically ignorant of this fact. His response to her question, "Do you love me" is along the lines of "I guess." That ought to tell her right there, but she's too dumb to see it.

Normally I would be out of there at the first sign of that in a novel. I don't like stories about idiot women - unless there's some sign down the highway that we're just a few miles (or in this case, kilometers) from wise-up-ville. What kept my interest was the quirky humor which ran through the story and which was, I admit, silly in places, but it amused me.

I very much enjoyed that, but it became harder to use that as an excuse to continue reading, when Dev showed up. Dev is right out of trope casting: a muscular hunk of a guy, good looking, mysterious, a bad boy. The problem is that he's also a dick and a jerk, yet Tabby gets the hots for him like she's a fifteen-year-old watching a music video. It's pathetic. I lost all respect for, and interest in, Tabby at this point, and I quit reading this novel about forty percent in.

I have no time for love triangles because they always make the one in the middle - in this case Tabby - look like a dithering idiot. Either commit or get out of the bedroom! I also dislike the idea of this trope hunk. Maybe there is a portion of the female gender who respond to this. I know it's a biological urge and there is obviously a market for it with these novels, but my feminine side doesn't reach that far and frankly, I much prefer the road less traveled, especially in a story like this.

I respect women who are smart enough to know the difference between an idle feeling of lust, and a real attraction on a level deeper than skin goes. That doesn't mean you can't have both, but if you're going to do that, then you'd better give me a real reason as to why this relationship actually is both, and it had better not be you just telling me it's an enduring love while all you're showing me is nothing but the shallowest and most juvenile of lusts.

While there are welcome exceptions (I've read one or two), this kind of romance is all too often that shallow and I have no time for it. It doesn't help to lard up Dev with good deeds which are told rather than shown to Tabby, and this had especially better not be when the author has already portrayed him as a complete jerk in his previous interactions with her.

I cannot recommend this one at all.


Butterfly Palace by Colleen Coble


Rating: WARTY!

Colleen is such a sweet name isn't it? I picked this audiobook up because it purported to be a murder mystery set in Austin, Texas, in the early 1900's, where a serial killer is offing blonde servant girls who each seem to get a butterfly in a glass sphere as a present before they go under the knife as it were. So in some ways it seemed to offer itself as a cross between Silence of the Lambs, and Angels and Insects which was an intriguing mash-up to me. The problem with it was that the first quarter of the novel had nothing to do with tracking down murderers. Instead it was a dumb romance. Even when the murderer showed up, the novel gave him only a few pages and then went back to discussing chenille and tea services. In short, it sucked and I proudly DNF'd it.

Main character, Lily Donaldson, has suffered a degradation of her circumstances. In a prologue, her family farm burns down in Larsen, Texas, and she's forced to move to Austin to seek employment as a maid. I normally skip prologues, but sometimes they're hard to detect in audio books and hearing this one only served to reinforced my already strong feelings about them: they are a complete waste of time, and in print form, a waste of trees. The farm burning, instead of being offered as a boring and overly melodramatic opener, could have been included in chapter one as a two-sentence back-story and achieved the same end. I don't get this obsession which writers have with prologues and epilogues. Cut it out! Cut to the chase instead!

So this book could have saved trees (or in the audio book, fossil fuels in the form of the plastic in the CDs). Shame on the author. Anyway, Lily works for the Marshall family as a maid and has impressed her employer so well that she's assigned as a ladies maid to the bitch daughter of the family, who happens to have set her sights on Lily's ex-boyfriend, Andy, a jerk who abandoned Lily in Larsen and is now living in Austin in much elevated circumstances, and lo and behold! happens to run into lily on day one - or near enough. What are the odds? Well, in romance novels, quite obviously they're better than one to one raised to the power of trite.

So all suspense is lost. We already knew the serial killer would be caught, but at least we had to look forward to him being tracked down and caught, yet the story is less focused on him than it is on Lily's pining for Andy, and her being bullied by her mistress, who finds any contact between her maid and Andy to be objectionable, and on silk skirts and fine hats. This author needs to get her priorities straight. Meanwhile, Andy is apparently investigating the murders, and is leaning on Lily for help, thereby causing her trouble. In short, he's still a selfish jerk, yet she's still pining for him. I have no respect for a character like that.

Clearly the story is going to get these two back together, and make his obnoxious behavior all okay, but to me it isn't, and if I already know exactly how this story is going to pan out, where is my incentive to continue reading it, let alone recommend it, which I certainly do not?


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Princesses Don't Become Engineers by Aya Ling


Rating: WARTY!

I'd hoped to have something better to offer you on Bessie Coleman day. I had been hoping I could review a refreshing novel with a strong female character, but unfortunately, I cannot. Yes, it was going to be this novel, but no, this novel which so promisingly started out, started doubt and then went so far downhill so fast that I almost got whiplash from it.

I'm not a fan of series and this novel is part of a somewhat disconnected trilogy, in that the stories are about different people in the same world, but there's a lot of crossover. The other two are Princesses Don't Get Fat and Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts, neither of which I've read. I'm unable to rate this one positively because of some serious issues I have with it, and while I confess I was initially interested in reading the '...Fat' novel purely out of curiosity since it's not a topic you usually find in books such as these, I changed my mind after learning more about it, and being increasingly disappointed in this one to the point where I DNF'd it at around 75%.

That said, the reason I chose to read this one is that it sounded like it might take a different path from your usual princess story, but in the end it didn't, so why would the '...Fat' novel be any different? I don't know, and I certainly have no faith that it would be. The engineering and steam-punk elements were quite obviously nothing more than sugary frosting adorning a doomed attempt to disguise on the usual stodgy "beautiful girlie princess meets strong, handsome, manly man and falls in love" cake. Those tales are not for me and are the very reason why I wrote Femarine. I had hoped that this one would be in the same vein as Femarine and was very disappointed when I discovered it would not be so.

This novel appears to take place late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, but there are anachronistic problems. Note that this is an alternate reality novel, which has huge similarities to our own reality, but which is also set in a fantasy world. No dates are given, so it's hard to place it on any kind of intelligent timeline as compared with our own. Roller skates were invented (to our knowledge) in the mid-eighteenth century, but were not widely known until early nineteenth, so would skates have been part of the vernacular? Probably not. The wheelchair was in use by the late eighteenth century, yet this story has Princess Elaine inventing it. The same applies to the parachute, which she invents.

She also invents the wristwatch, which didn't show up until the mid-nineteenth century in our timeline, but the real problem with this is that the premise for it failed. According to the story, Princess Elaine was inspired to think of a watch for the wrist because a guy who had been overwhelmed by her beauty (more on that shortly) had dropped his pocket watch and it broke. The problem is that pocket watches routinely have chains attached, so it's hardly likely, no matter how startled by her 'stunning beauty' he was, that it would have ended up on the floor.

None of this would be an issue had Elaine been frequently shown tinkering and inventing from the beginning, but she was not. She was shown only with a penchant for escaping out of her window, which was amusing, but hardly inventive. The stream of inventions which are ascribed to her was becoming ridiculous by about sixty-percent through the book. Not a one of them was original in the sense that it had never arisen in our timeline.

All of this inventiveness consisted of simply ascribing something to her which already exists on our world, and most of it was very simple - so simple that it did not take a genius to invent it. In fact, it was actually derivative, not inventive: all she did was add wheels to a chair, add a strap to a watch, and so on. Straps and wheels, chairs and watches already existed, she just proposed a "novel" use for them.

The printing press was invented in the fifteenth century, yet she invents this, too! And exactly how she does it is rather conveniently glossed over. She's supposed to copy out a text twenty times as a punishment, and handwriting is specifically mentioned, yet she thinks she can get away with inventing a printing press and printing twenty copies. The fact that she would have had to typeset the entire work beforehand (or represent the text in some other way) is completely ignored, as is the fact that if she did it by typesetting, she would have had to create the individual characters, too! In only three days! So her inventiveness and her inventions felt amateurish at best and cynical at worst.

Either way they were very klutzy, and we're never shown anything in the way of how she develops her thought processes or where the ideas originate. They just suddenly spring up magically, already completely formed and bubbling out of her head, like Aphrodite ejaculating from the foam of Uranus's sinking genitals.

The printing machine ("You asked the carpenter to make an automatic printing machine that you designed yourself?") was an oddity not only because it was not automatic, but because one of the princess's goals was to present an invention at the quadrennial engineering exhibition, and her printing press should have qualified easily, yet no one ever mentions it even as a potential candidate for exhibition. Instead, she obsesses on building a flying machine for the next exhibition, four years on. It seems that this was done solely to allow her to mature those four years, but it leaves a huge hole in her story. Meanwhile the printing press has spread like wildfire and made books available to the masses. It made no sense at all that she had no recognition of any sort for this.

Another anachronism was that, given how advanced some of these discoveries were (steam-power, for example was in wide use), why there would be would-be knights still training with lances and swords? Where were the firearms? Again it felt like the story had been thrown together without any real idea of what kind of world this was, and it made it seem amateur, piecemeal, and disorganized.

One example of poor planning was when Princess Elaine learns of Titanium, and decides it's exactly what she needs for lightweight tanks for her flying machine. Aluminum, which is also known in her world, is far lighter than titanium, far easier to work, and just as suited to making tanks as is titanium. It's in wide use in our world for SCUBA tanks. If Elaine had been anything of an engineer, she would have known these things, and not had to have discovered Titanium by accident from seeing it used as armor by the tournament competitors.

So the story itself was bad in many parts, but worse, there was a shockingly poor use of English. I don't mind the occasional author gaff - we all make them. I find them in my reviews on occasion when I have cause to revisit one, but there was a lot of them here, and many of them could have been caught with a spell-checker and some careful reading of the final copy before it was published. There really is little excuse for this.

Here are some examples:

  • "...the right course of action is to take it up to the king, not resolving to pranks." - should be 'not resorting to pranks'.
  • "...why are we supposed to learn those vocabulary when no one knows about them?" - should be 'that vocabulary'.
  • "She's in the kitchens noe" - should be 'in the kitchens now'.
  • "Francis Wesley, who would and probably already had, delight in reporting every single of her failure" - the mixed verb tense could have been easily fixed by re-wording.
  • "Elaine pulled apart the curtains of her window and stared outside. Outside, Valeria was taking Baby Charles for a walk." Repetitive 'outside' could have been avoided.
  • "Hasn't Samuel taught you that you must show, not tell?" Author, heal thyself! There's far too much tell about Elaine's engineering desires, and no show to speak of!
  • "Elaine sailed into the Dome as though she were on roller skates" One doesn't sail on roller skates, one glides!
  • "There was a pot of oil burning by the door. She lighted a fire in the pot" - if it was already burning, no lighting was needed!

  • "...plus three inches taller. Add the bun on top of her head and she was five inches taller than her usual height. No wonder the servants seemed to have shrunk." This doesn't work! Wearing three inch heels would make the servants appear subjectively three inches shorter, but the two inch bun of hair on top of her head would add no further height to her eye-level, and three inches is hardly sufficient to make the servants all seem to have shrunk.

  • "Own tried to elbow Alfred out of the way." Should be character name 'Owen', not 'own'

  • "...her dodging skills remained as sharp as evet" - should be 'ever'!

  • "...the cylinder was promptly finished..." and "Elaine carried it off...," - note the singular references here, but later we have "two titanium cylinders..." Where did the second one come from?!

The biggest sin, for me, was the nauseating obsession with beauty in this novel. The novel is supposed to be setting out to show that Princess Elaine was more than your usual ridiculous Disney princess, or a pretty royal façade, but the author constantly tripped herself up in this regard by repeatedly drawing our attention to the shallow and the skin-deep. I don't mind a character being described as beautiful as long as she has other qualities, but to obsess on it in the narrative (which is not the same as having a character mention it - although that can be overdone, too) is just stupid and abusive to women everywhere.

If your novel is about runway models or actors, then I can see how looks might play a part, but to make this one of the major focuses of the novel is appalling, especially when the novel is supposed to be about her other traits and skills as evidenced by the choice of title. The only thing you're achieving by doing this, is to instruct your readers that you are a shallow author who values beauty and nothing else in a woman, and by extension, that if your reader isn't beautiful, then she'd better get with the program otherwise she'll be worthless for the sole reason that there's no other trait a woman can have which can compare with beauty. Seriously? I'm not going to reward appallingly abusive behavior like that with a positive review, and female authors who routinely write like this ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, as should this author.

It's not so bad in the early stages, where the princess is only twelve, but as the story goes on, the constant references to how beautiful she is are truly stomach-churning. And hypocritical. Here's what the author says, just over half-way through the novel: "...most people still hadn't seen past her face. They valued her beauty more than her work." Well who is to blame for this? The Princess's admirers, so-called, or the fact that it's the author who has repeatedly bitch-slapped the reader with the princess's sheer beauty - not her smarts or her engineering skills, or any other trait, but her beauty? The overriding importance of beauty not just in the princess but in all young women of nobility is pounded into us from the start of the novel.

Here are some examples:

  • It was unquestionable that the Linderall princess was the most beautiful woman in the Academy
  • Despite a lack of regard for her appearance, [the princess] was still remarkably beautiful.
  • "Your Highness is the most beautiful girl throughout the kingdom."
  • "While her beauty certainly didn't measure up to Elaine's..."

Here's a particularly shameful one:

Elaine grimaced. Part of her was flattered, but since she was used to have people fawn over her beauty, she still genuinely regarded the attention a nuisance. She liked to be admired, but not by strangers. "Well, Her Highness is sixteen already! And she's the most beautiful girl in the world!"
That's not only a grammatical issue, wherein it should read 'used to having', not 'used to have', but also makes her main character look like a female Narcissus. She liked to be admired? How does this even fit the character who has shut herself away in a laboratory for months? The same sad shallowness applies to male characters, too. The phrase "how tall and strong he was" put in an ugly appearance in one form or another more than once. It was as though, if a guy isn't tall and strong, then he's a piece of shit. I'm sorry, but I don't subscribe to that blinkered garbage for men any more than I buy beauty as the sole measure of a woman, especially in a novel which purports to offer a princess with something more about her.

Princess Elaine wasn't always the nicest of people, either. For example, at one point she's approaching André, her unrequited love interest, to congratulate him on his inevitable win at the tournament, when a redheaded girl rushes past her and congratulates him, kissing him on the cheek. Elaine dismisses her with this thought: "that redheaded chit' which seemed especially mean.

Elaine has no idea who this girl is. It could be his best friend, his sister or cousin, or a colleague at the academy, yet she has these inappropriately hostile thoughts right from the off. She didn't seem like a nice person at that point, but perhaps her sour attitude came from the fact that even at sixteen, her servants and her family still conspired to infantilize her, with her brother calling her 'Pumpkin,' and her maid referring to her as 'Little Princess'. It's abusive and annoying. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a young adult novel and not a middle-grade one because it sure seemed like middle-grade even after the princess grew up.

The princess's schooling at the university bore no relation to what university was like in the nineteenth century. It seemed to be based on a twenty-first century high-school model which made it sound ridiculously juvenile. There was too much of this amateur approach, which detracted from the parts of the story I did like - such as the princess's rebelliousness.

The oddest thing about the school was that not a single person showed any deference to Elaine. Don't get me wrong here. I feel that this is how it ought to be! I have no tolerance for upper class privilege, but this story was about that very thing, so in the milieu of the story, while she was a princess royal, people were not only talking to her like she was a commoner, they were treating her like one. Even the teachers had no respect! They called her by her name instead of addressing her as 'Your Highness'. Again, I'm all for that, but in the context of this story, it felt ridiculous and amateur. The story felt more like fan-fiction than ever it did a professional novel.

In addition to that, Elaine is repeatedly shown as spoiled, inconsiderate, lazy, and privileged without a thought for people less well off than herself. This is startling because André is not privileged. If she cared for him so much, then why would she not spare a thought for others like him? Again, she's not a nice girl.

This whole affair with André felt odd. Usually the problem in these YA princess romps is that the love isn't love, it's what I call instadore, and it fails because it's not real and doesn't even feel like it might be real. In the case of André it was slightly different: there was a long time for them to get to know each other - four years to be precise, but this entire period is skipped over by the author, so we experience nothing of their interaction with each other apart from two brief, too brief interactions very early on. What this means is that this "love" felt just as bad as if it had been instadore, because it had no history for us to follow and it made Elaine look immature and stupid.

Based on this observations, and despite liking this novel in the beginning, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. In the end, it would seem the engineering idea was really no more than a flimsy veneer on top of a story that does nothing to buck tradition. The very reason I gave up on this in disgust at 75% was that the author started channeling Austen and not in a good way - it was Austen at her most maudlin worst.

In an exact parallel to the portion of Sense and Sensibility where Willoughby happens upon Marianne after her injury and speeds her home on his horse in the pouring rain, Elaine gets injured in the pouring rain and is carried by André who was evidently stalking her. She immediately starts sneezing, like rain gives people cold viruses and the virus peaks instantly!

I would have had no objection if someone had ignorantly remarked "You'll catch your death of cold" because there are stupid people. What I don't have time for is stupid authors. For an author to actually subscribe to the brain-dead notion that getting soaked in a rain shower gives you instaflu is monumental horseshit and a disgrace for a writer to buy into. This kind of moronic writing is par for the course in the majority of asinine YA "romance" novels though, I have to admit.

Elaine's dash into the deadly 'flurain' was to collect her flying machine invention, which she;d left up on the roof, and which consists of two titanium cylinders for compressed air, a leather harness to strap it on, and an engine. What? An engine. That's what I thought you said. Excuse me, but what does the engine do? I have no idea, and apparently neither does the author. It doesn't compress air, because she had to land when the air tanks run low. There was no mention of propellers, so it;s not that. How the thing worked is a mystery. Why it needed an engine is a mystery. Where she got the compressed air is a mystery, but there it is: yet another cockeyed invention from someone we're told is a genius but who we;re shown is a rip-off artist at best, and a clueless time-waster at worst.

I don't buy it, and you shouldn't either. Spend your money on someone else's novel! This one is trashy and derivative, clueless and cheap, and I actively dis-recommend it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reinventing Mona by Jennifer Coburn


Rating: WARTY!

I was thinking that after reviewing Becoming Zara back in July 2016, and now having read Reinventing Mona, all I need do is find a title like Uplifting Abigail, and I'll have the whole span of the alphabet pretty much covered; however, I think I'm going to retire from reading this kind of novel having struck-out twice. To coin a baseball metaphor, since I'm not having a ball, I'm going to take a walk! Frankly I haven't had a lot of success with novels which have a female name in the title. I'm beginning to think they're bad news bears all around.

This was unabashed chick lit and my inner chick wasn't impressed. I don't mind the genre if it has something positive and interesting to offer, but when it gets deep down in the dumb, I'm outta there. That's what spoiled this one for me. I was initially impressed and interested in Mona, who is an engineer undergoing an early midlife crisis. It's not often we have women portrayed as engineers in fiction, and it's something I welcomed.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a genre of chick lit where the main female character doesn't own a cupcake shop or a coffee shop, but instead is an engineering consultant or a mathematician, or a biochemist or something? Must we confine our females to trivial or clichéd occupations? Come on authors! Why take the easy route of wallowing in someone else's tired genre and way overused trope party when you can strike out on your own and create a compelling new genre that celebrates diversity in women's occupations instead of similarity, and which celebrates smart instead of dumb, imagination instead of rote, and energy in the form of something novel instead of same old story?

Unfortunately, the revelation that Mona was an engineer was all we got. It was all downhill from there. Offered a generous lay-off package in a downsizing, Mona jumps at it and decides she's going to change her life around. All well and good, but instead of say, starting her own engineering business, she reads a male chauvinistic column in a magazine and buys into macho guy Mike's bullshit, hiring him as a consultant in how to be a guy's ideal chick. I am not kidding you. This is how pathetic Mona is. She isn't a person. All she is, is a walking need for a guy. Not even walking. Limping.

She evidently doesn't have a mind of her own and notwithstanding her hard-earned engineering degree, she apparently has zero smarts. This is not merely my opinion - it's what Mona shows us through her every action. She ignores her friend (about whom I have some agenda suspicions, but also whom I would trust more than this guy), and she swallows everything the guy tells her while ignoring everything her best friend tells her.

The problem is that her goal isn't to win over Mike or anyone like him (although it's obvious from the start that this is where the story is going even if you didn't read the blurb). No, her goal is to win the love of an accountant (Adam) whom she's known forever, and who is Mike's polar opposite and Mona's inane girlhood crush. We're never given an reason why she hadn't pursued Adam before now if he's such an attraction, nor are we told why she feels she needs to turn her whole life around in order to get him. But he stupidity did give me a great idea for a novel (well, maybe not great but good enough!), so my time in this one wasn't all wasted.

For someone who has lived a subdued, even monastic life thus far, Mona really isn't going very far out of her comfort zone and someone is holding her hand the whole time. The truth is that she's failing to direct herself and make her own mind up, and instead, merely taking direction from someone else as she has done all her life evidently.

Instead of dating Adam and finding out what they have in common, she takes Mike's advice which is to take a short stripper course to learn how to tease and please, and to hire Mike's kid sister to go shopping and buy come-on outfits. She also goes jogging. The problem with all this is that it's all outward. She literally does nothing to change herself inwardly which is precisely where her problem lies. Her best friend even complains about this and Mona lies that she is changing herself inside and out, when all she's actually doing is to have herself conform to one guy's puerile image of what a woman should be and frankly, this was sickening to read.

When she finally feels like she's "good enough" to keep Adam's attention, she still doesn't let things happen naturally. Instead, she engineers (yes, I guess that schooling was good for something) fake situations in order to try and impress him. Without asking if he's interested in heavy metal music, she claims she has tickets for Ozzfest, and then has to pay a thousand dollars on eBay to buy some. Not content with that, she hires an actor to play a fictional ex heavy metal boyfriend without discussing with him how he will play the role. He overdoes it and she looks like a moron, and none of this is remotely funny.

Having learned nothing from this disaster, she then hires another actor to fake a heart attack at the zoo so she can step in and do "CPR" and impress Adam. Again, she comes off looking like a moron. Not surprisingly. It was at this point, where she was being ever more stupid, clueless and brain-dead, and the so-called humor was face-planting in its own ass that I quit reading. This novel sucked. If you're going to write a self-help novel can you not make it smart and uplifting instead of demeaning and pathetic like this one was?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr


Rating: WARTY!

I read ten percent of this, and gave it up because it was so bad and so trope-ridden. There is nothing new here, nothing unexpected, and it has nothing to offer. Some American writers can do a Victorian London well, but too many cannot, and this one cannot.

I'm tempted to say that the steampunk element is muddled with everything but the kitchen sink, but in fact I think there actually is a kitchen sink. It has fairies and werewolves and on and on, and the steampunk seems to be entirely confined to clockwork servants, so that really isn't any steampunk either, to speak of. In short it was a very confused effort.

The main character has nothing to offer to the discerning reader. The one hope of saving this - the fact that Eliza inherited her father Henry's 'condition' - is entirely predictable, but unfortunately brings nothing, unexpected because instead of making Lizzie truly bad, as was the original Edward Hyde, this author makes her cutesy and gelded. Lizzie Hyde turned out to be a complete disappointment. Eliza is the usual antagonist Victorian female in YA steampunk novels, and that's not a good thing. She predictably has the hots for the snotty, obnoxious, and overbearing main male character, who happens to be a werewolf. I don't read werewolf stories, so for me this was the last nail in the coffin of an already deathbed effort.

I thought this book was lost and muddled, contained far too much of the squalid London and nothing in the way of interesting or engaging characters or steampunk contrivances. The ever-changing voice was a major irritation: Lizzie gets first person, Eliza gets third. I cannot stand first person voice unless it's done exceptionally well, and this was not. In short, it's an all-around fail and I can't recommend it.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a bit late with these last two, but what the Noël! I think yule find the reviews worth reading as long as I don't carol on about them....

Since both of my parents hail from Yorkshire, I thought this might be an interesting read. In fact, it simply wasn't. Even though the story was short I didn't read it all, so I can't comment on the last half of it, but the first half could have been set literally anywhere it snows, from Yorkshire to Yakutsk, from Canada to Chile, and it wouldn't have made any difference, so why 'Yorkshire'? I don't know!

Sometimes when people are obsessed with writing a series, even a loosely packed one like this, they become so enamored of their "brilliance" in picking the catchy titles that they're blinded to the fact that they have to write a story which fits the title, and it has to be a good and realistic one if you want me to read it.

Even if that hadn't been a curious factor in this novel, the story itself was so predictable and ploddingly uninventive that I literally couldn't stand (nor sit!) to read it. The characters were neither inviting nor intriguing, and the story went nowhere that hasn't already been trampled by the feet of countless writers into chill and unappealingly scruffy pack ice. So what was the point of one more flat, cheesy, Christmas cookie-cutter romance? I submit it to you that there is none to be made.

It's the so-trite-it's-shite city girl versus country boy, rich versus poor, helpless versus capable story we're read a billion times before. There is literally nothing new here. Once more we have a girl on the run from a bad romance, because you know that all women are cowardly and weak, and they routinely flee to a new city when a romance goes bad. Curiously, they always seem to arrive in perfect time to immediately fall in love with either a complete stranger or an old flame (ELO! It's either real or it's a dream there's nothing that is in between!), whereas in reality, a woman like that would be a total moron or a limp rag of a person who is of no use to anyone.

As if this isn't bad enough, there's the sorry fiction that every woman needs a Saint George to rescue her from some dragon or other. The fleeing whimpering woman has to be saved and validated by the perfect guy - who can be either simple and country or a billionaire, but who must be a complete stud-muffin in all other regards. excuse me while I barf. This book had no redeeming features whatsoever and I cannot recommend it.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher


Rating: WARTY!

This book was obnoxious, and I DNF'd it about a third of the way through it, because the main character, Logan, was totally ridiculous. If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews liked it, I would have avoided it like the plague. I don't think Kirkus ever met a book it didn't adore, so those reviews are utterly meaningless. If I'd known it had won an award, I would likewise have shunned it. Books which win medals and awards rarely meet my approval. They're far too pretentious and "literary" for my taste. This one wasn't really either, but it was still a disaster, well worthy of some literary medal or award. I'm unlikely to ever be offered one, but I promise you if I ever am, I shall flatly refuse it.

If this novel had been published thirty years ago, then some of it might have made a little sense (but still have been unforgivable), but to publish in 2009 and take the trope route main character Logan Witherspoon "just didn't know" is farcical. Any author who does this these days is clueless. The term 'gender dysphoria' was coined in the early seventies and while it took it's time entering the lexicon, other terms applicable to this situation were in wide use. Even people living in podunk towns know something of the LGBTQIA community, so Logan's extreme ignorance was a joke, and not even a funny one.

At any time there are always plenty of jerks and dicks who aren't fit to be anywhere near, let alone in the company of, the LGBTQIA community, but allowing this, Logan's complete ignorance about the topic simply wasn't believable. His 'extreme prejudice' reaction when he learned how Sage came to be the person she is was just plain stupid. It's not possible for the character we had been introduced to at the beginning of the novel to have become that extreme so precipitately by a third the way in, and even if we swallow his ejaculations for what they were, then it's simply not possible to believe that he could ever have erected himself from the sad depths in which he'd so comfortably wallowed. Logan was a dick, and that's all there is to him.

He was also a manic depressive going from high to low at a speed too fast to measure accurately with the technology we have today. Everything was extremes for him, and his behavior was entirely ridiculous and quite literally not credible. The way he behaved towards Sage was obnoxious, and his constant 'I' this and 'me' that made him seem even more self-obsessed and inflated than he would have been in third person. It was depressing to listen to his constant juvenile whining in an audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne, whose voice was way too John Green for my taste, which made the novel even worse.

Sage Hendricks wasn't much better, frankly. It's perfectly understandable that she'd be nervous at best and terrified at worst of her secret getting out, and to her credit she does try to steer Logan away from it, but at the same time, instead of adhering to their agreement to be friends, she proves something of a tease, and definitely leads him on. In some ways I can understand her behavior, but in other ways, it was inexcusable.

On the one hand, you have to allow that it's her business and no one else's, and if he truly cares for her he should accept her for whoever she is, but on the other, we don't yet live in a society where a mtf transgendered person is the equivalent of a biological female. Apart from the issue of pure acceptance (by society as well as by any given individual), there's also the issue of why people form relationships, and one reason is to have children. Clearly (until our medical profession advances dramatically), it's problematical to enter into a relationship with a guy when he doesn't have all the facts at his disposal. there are biological females who cannot have children either, so this situation is no different. If a couple are getting serious, then it's important to be completely honest with each other about what can be expected.

That said, this was another high school story and I cannot take high-school romance stories seriously for the most part. Or any YA romance for that matter. Very few of them are remotely realistic and most are so badly-written as to be a sorry joke. While there are some people in that age range who are commendably mature and who can realistically enter into a serious relationship with a reasonable expectation of it working out in the long term, most people the age of Sage are not sage and those like Logan are hollow at best and clueless at worst.

The rather tired premise for this story is really ripped off from Romeo and Juliet. Logan is pining over his lost love Rosaline, er Brenda (Brenda, really?), but then is suddenly overcome by his lust for new girls Sage. Admittedly, she plays a lot harder to get than does Juliet, whose morals I've always suspected, quite frankly. In this case, he's the Capulet and she's the mountebank. When she finally comes clean and reveals that she started out life with a Y chromosome in place of the other X, his reaction is laughable. The fact that he does take off like this, thinking the most horrid things about her, almost punching her, and using the most unforgivable names about her made me only realize that even if he were to come around later to her point of view, it would be such a pile of fiction that it wouldn't be worth the reading. That's when I gave up on this worthless piece of pretentious (I changed my mind!) trash of a book. And what's with the frigging title? Almost Perfect? Not by a long chromosome. And what's the betting that the cover model isn't remotely transgender?


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Evelyn After by Victoria Helen Stone


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"She smile sheepishly" (smiled, not smile)
"Evelyn dug hem out of her drawer and put them on" (them, not hem)
In chapter 22, third paragraph beginning "Evelyn found herself strangely disappointed..." is repeated as the fourth paragraph.

I had mixed feelings about this book, which started out strongly, but seemed to come unraveled rather quickly. In the end it was a disaster. Around sixty percent in I really wasn't feeling it at all, and I kept hoping it would turn around, but it went further south by eighty percent. I should have quit but I foolishly didn't and the ending was the worst part of all. It read more like bad fan-fiction than a professional novel.

The book was replete with routine flashbacks (chapters were labeled 'Before' or 'After', but I didn't always notice that on the Kindle version on my phone, and so sometimes the text was a bit confusing, although I admit in those cases it was my fault). The problem with flashbacks in general though, is that they bring the story to a screeching halt and I am always immensely resentful of that. Sometimes a flashback can serve a useful purpose, but usually to me they merely indicate laziness or incompetence on the part of the writer. In this case the flashbacks were unnecessary and should have been dispensed with. What little they revealed that was not about stalking and that was not boring could have been woven into the story

My biggest problem however, was with the main character Evelyn (a name apparently is pronounced the British way, as three syllables as in Evelyn Waugh). I really did not like her at all. She was far too self-serving and whiny. I don't think it's impossible to enjoy a novel whose main character you don't like, but I do assert that it's much harder to do so, and Evelyn kept making things worse by behaving stupidly, or irrationally, or obnoxiously. She isn't someone I would want to know. She's two-faced at best and a low-life at worst.

The story begins with her discovery that her husband Gary has been having an affair. I don't blame Evelyn for this but there are things she could have done, but failed to do, which would have improved her lot. She's whining that the baby fat she has from the birth of her son is a problem, yet it's been seventeen years. She could have shed it if she'd put her mind to it. She whines that she gave up on her art, when the fact is that she has never needed to work. Her husband is a highly paid psychiatrist, and she could have worked on her art projects all day long, but she chose not to. She dug this hole for herself and didn't even realize she was in one until things went sour in her marriage.

There is another much more serious issue which I don't want to get into for fear of giving too many spoilers, but this issue is worse and Evelyn's reaction to it really turned me off her. When she confronts Gary over the affair, he claims it's over and that he wants to put this behind them and get on with their life together, but while Evelyn claims she forgives him, it's clear she does not. she claims she still loves him, but it's clear from her behavior that there is no love there, and there hasn't been for a while.

This kind of thing made her dishonest at best and a liar at worst. She refuses to let Gary back into her life even though they continue to share the same house. Her motive is ostensibly that she cares too much about their son Cameron to break-up her marriage, but her behavior isn't conducive to a reconciliation - it's quite the opposite - so her behavior and her stated aim were completely at odds. She claims she doesn't trust him, but she believes everything he tells her, and never once questions his account of the more serious event. Not too smart!

I don't get why her husband stays with her. He has no reason to want to be with her whatsoever, yet he hangs around putting up with her crap like he's totally dependent upon her. His character made no sense whatsoever, and the "big twist" at the end, about about what really happened came as no surprise even to me, because it was so patently obvious. Once again, Evelyn ain't too smart.

Worse than this, she turns into a stalker, both of Juliette Whitman, the sylph-like diminutive blonde her husband was unfaithful with, and that woman's husband, Noah, with whom Evelyn herself has an affair. This isn't just cyber-stalking either; she literally spies on these two people, and harbors the most abusive attitude towards Juliette, referring to her repeatedly as a whore, yet she never describes herself in those terms no matter how many times she goes at it with Noah. The sex scenes were quite well done, but the joy of those is tarnished by the fact that I really was starting to dislike Evelyn before they began, and they were juvenile.

Abandon' scarcely begins to describe this couple's approach to getting it on. At one point I read, when Noah offered to get a condom: Evelyn shook her head. "I have an IUD.", but no IUD is going to protect against venereal diseases, and neither of them stops for a second to think about this. She knows who Noah is, and evidently assumes he is clean because he's been married to the same woman for many years, but she has no idea if he's been faithful, and she knows for a fact that his wife has had at least one affair, so she has no idea what Noah's sexual health is, and he hasn't the faintest clue about hers, yet they go at it like rabbits without a hint of discussion regarding health. The only concern is that she might become pregnant (which is possible. She's only forty-one after all).

I never did get the back and forth over going to see a therapist about fixing their marriage. Evelyn mutely chides her husband over dithering on it, but when he pursues her about it, she reveals (to the reader, not to him) that she has no intention of going to one because she considers the marriage to be over! But the author herself forgets what the status is of their therapy plans. At one point in chapter eleven, and later in chapter nineteen, then again in chapter 24, Evelyn discusses with her husband the prospect of choosing a therapist from a list she's prepared and given to him. He says he likes the first one on the list, but then in the next chapter, he's saying he got her list, like they've never discussed it before. Later still, in chapter thirty, they're still harping on this. It made no sense at all!

When Noah abruptly breaks it off with Evelyn purportedly out of guilt, after their weekend "retreat" - or more like a weekend advance - she coldly dismisses him from the hotel room with every overtone of finality, but then she frets over why he's not calling her or sending her a birthday greeting? She's a moron. he feels so little guilt, evidently, that he goes at it agian with her as soon as she calls him to remind this guy whom she threw out of the hotel, that he forgot her birthday! No, I'm sorry, but no. Why should I want to read about a callous and selfish bitch like this, let alone empathize with her?

I'm sorry, but that's exactly what she was. Over the course of the story She turns into a creepy stalker, which is really where she's being going this whole novel. That's her only growth. She's vindictive and selfish, and gives precious little thought to this son she's supposed to be protecting. She helps cover up a serious crime and feels no guilt whatsoever about it. In the end she gets away scot-free with her behavior and is in fact rewarded for it. No. This novel is not worth reading, and I felt resentful of the time I wasted on it hoping it would improve or that there was some big moral lesson coming. Neither option happened.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Out On Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler


Rating: WARTY!

This is a LGBTQIA story set on a college campus, where Francesca Annamaria Bellisario (who naturally goes by 'Frankie', because she's queer, of course), a self-described pansexual (which does not mean she only has sex with cooking pots), is leading a dangerously promiscuous life. While 'sex' is clearly in her sexicon in bold letters, 'safe' certainly is not. Why anyone would become involved with her is a mystery, but college students are not necessarily the smartest rats in the maze - which is why they're at a learning institution, after all, isn't it? The question is, are they going to get the education they expect, or something else entirely? The target of her lust, as she dallies with everything in between, is Samara Kazarian who rooms with one of her friends. This is the story of their "courtship" and it was a huge fail for me.

I know college students are supposed to have an improbably over-sized libido according to MTV and other jock mentalities, but only half of this couple was that kind of person, The other was supposedly a smart, conservative, closet lesbian who you would think would show a lot more common sense than she does. That was one of the problems, We were frequently told how things were, but never shown.

The story was, essentially, a lesbian wet-dream with zero characterization. If we're to go by these lights, all that queers in college ever think of is sex, sex, and more sex, and that's the entirety of it! They never think of homework, or coursework, or hobbies or interests. They never expend any time in conversation which doesn't involve going to sports games or having sex. For me it was completely ridiculous and wholly unrealistic.

Frankie is purportedly an artist and truly dedicated, yet we get none of that here. The closest we come is Sam's examination of one of Frankie's pictures at an exhibition, but then it's gone and we get nothing more. Why make her an art student at all? There is of course no reason except that if she's an artist or an actor, we can stereotype her more? The story felt inauthentic from top to bottom, especially with the inverse slut-shaming (what would you call that? Slut championing?!) that's indulged in with Frankie, who can do nothing wrong. Slut championing is equally as bad as slut-shaming itself is, especially when it seems to be dedicatedly mischaracterizing all queers as promiscuous and shameless. And the idea that a retiring virgin and a slut-champion can find common ground and do it so quickly and effortlessly had to be a joke.

The only relationship Frankie and Sam had was sex. The only value Sam offered for Frankie was, judged by the writing here, a sexual one. She was better than masturbating, it seems. Frankie cared only about the depth of Sam's skin, and her ass and legs, and how beautiful she was. We never got anything which suggested that she liked Sam as a person, much less as a companion, or truly valued her for anything other than lust. That's what turned me off, paradoxically, because that's all there was to this relationship. If that's all the consenting parties are looking for, then it's fine, but I don't particularly want to read about those people, and I certainly don't want to read a bait-and-switch-hitter novel which pretends it's offering a great romance, yet delivers only carnality and literally nothing else but trope.

The saddest thing is that for all her supposed smarts, Sam never once considered discussing venereal disease with Frankie, despite knowing full-well that Frankie would quite literally screw anything on two legs and human (although despite her proudly self-proclaimed pansexualism, all Frankie ever really did was go after or lust after girls). I didn't expect a pages-long dialog about sexual responsibility by any means, that would have been boring, but the fact that not once was it ever so much as even mentioned in the 60% of this novel that I read, was shamefully irresponsible.

There was literally no exposition either. The entire novel was pretty much conversation, all of which centered on Frankie's adulterated lust for Sam. It was truly sickening, and I could not continue reading it when I fully-realized that this story was never going to mature or change. I sure as hell cannot recommend it. If you want a dumb sex romp, then this might be for you, but don't go into this thinking there's anything loving or romantic about it, or that there's a great relationship story here. There isn't.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

One Night In Venice by Bella Donnis


Rating: WARTY!

This begins a pair of (very negative) reviews of short, appallingly badly-written "lesbian" stories!

I was having a little bit of trouble deciding on a good ebook to get into, which is sad, given how many are available to me! In fact, it's downright pathetic. We're spoiled rotten these days with the riptide of ebooks out there. But the plenitude is also the penury given how sorry some of these books are. Yet despite the rising tide of ebooks promising a bounty to anyone who casts a wide enough net, I still managed to haul in two really awful (or is that offal?) ones. This was the first.

This one, fortunately given how things turned out, was free on Amazon (and available on B&N which is where I got it - I always check alternates before I buy from Amazon). So I opened it to find it was only twenty eight pages! This was actually its best feature, but truth be told, I couldn't even finish that much, it was so bad! It felt more like it was one of those book teasers, which isn't a bad idea and which is eminently suited to ebooks. You know, one of those shorties that lures you in and persuades you to buy the full length version? I don't do that, but you can't blame an author for that when competition is so tough. This though, it turns out, is the whole thing - not an intro, but the entire "novel" (as far as I could tell).

It's about this woman whose boyfriend dumps her via a text message when she's in Venice, waiting for him to come out to join her. It was this idea - that she finds herself cruelly ditched and somehow falls into a relationship with a woman - which intrigued me and persuaded me to take a look. The trip was supposed to be a foursome; now it's a three's-a-crowd situation. She only became acquainted with this couple through her AWOL ex, so the other woman is someone she hardly knows, but she's kind to her, even though the guy - a friend of her ex - is ham-fistedly cruel.

The problem is that the writing is so clunky and the interpersonal dynamics so lacking in credibility that I quickly became convinced that I would not even be able to make it through twenty-eight pages of this. I was right! I quit on page twenty because it was awful. 'Subtle' and 'leisurely' are two words which have quite obviously been struck from this author's lexicon (always assuming they were ever present in the first place).

The unsuspecting reader is smashed brutally and repeatedly over the head with a hyper-sexed woman who seems to harbor absolutely zero grief for the demise of her relationship, and who is ogling the other girl like a dog in heat. I'm surprised there wasn't a description of her tongue lolling out dripping saliva. She's all-but humping her friend's leg. If a guy behaved like this it would be sen as entirely inappropriate and the guy would be rightfully termed a dick. So what does that make this woman? A clit? Somehow that doesn't seem to carry the same deprecative weight. Why is that? Because guys can be dicks but women can't be clits?! If that's not sexist, what is?!

Abandon hope (and seek hops!) all ye who enter here looking for romance! There is none to be found in these pages. Yes, we're seeing the friend be kind to the main character, but what she gets in return is pure, adulterated lust. It's all about how beautiful she is, how hot she is, how perfect her "tits" are, how sexy she is, how great her hair is. There's not a single solitary word about what's beneath that depth of skin. We really hear nothing of the kind of friend she is or might be, about whether she's reliable or trustworthy, or whether she has integrity, and would make a decent companion. Nope, it's all sex and only sex, which is nowhere near enough for me to want to read a novel, or even a short story such as this.

The blurb says, "Warning: This lesbian erotic romance story contains extreme graphic and sexual content, specifically lesbian sex and should not be read by those under the age of 18." Seriously? Lesbian sex is extreme? LOL! Like no young adult has ever has such thoughts - and even activities?! Besides, if it's aimed at adults, then why is it written at the level of young adult or even middle-grade in parts? And I take exception to the word "erotic"! There's no eroticism here; it's all crude, juvenile sexcapades and that's all there is. If that's your cup of tea, then by all means quaff deeply, but with lines like "I scrutinised her firm buttocks," it sure as hell ain't mine.

The real problem with this when you get right down to it, is that it's not a novel. It most closely resembles an old telegram, because everything is telegraphed. Everything is so glaringly obvious. There is no subtlety here. Obvious, that is, to everyone but the main character, who is so profoundly stupid that despite her leering, salivating, Shylock-like obsession with pounding the flesh of the only other female character in the entire book, she completely fails to realize that she's bisexual. I'm not a fan of novel in which the author goes out of her way to demonstrate how stupid her main character is. And yes, there's a difference between lesbian and bisexual which this author doesn't seem to get. However, since sexuality it not a binary scale but a sliding one, I'll let that...slide!

This stupidity and crudity is what turned me off the novel completely. What had attracted me was that this was a Brit language novel, which may cause some readers a headache or two unless they are British or at least an Anglophile, but that was nowhere near enough to offset the shabby writing. The panting, tongue-lolling dog into which the main character morphed was more reminiscent of a lame rip-off of Kafka than ever it was of Austen. There was nothing romantic, sensual or subtle here at all. I cannot recommend this. It read like a "lesbian" novel written by an inept male author, and I'm truly sorry if that's insulting, but I gotta call it like I read it!


Monday, September 19, 2016

Teenage Mermaid by Ellen Schreiber


Rating: WARTY!

This is one of those novels where an older writer writes for a younger age group without changing any of her personal preferences or prejudices! Thus she sounds dumb at best and stupid at worst. This is written in worst person voice, which is first person voice, a voice I detest, but it's actually twice as bad here, because we have two alternating stories and the first one, where the guy is rescued by the mermaid, is straight out of the Tom Hanks/Darryl Hannah movie Splash which preceded this novel by some two decades. It was juvenile even for the intended age range, and frankly I expect better from an author whose very name in German, means writer! I managed two chapters of this before I DNF'd this DNR.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Haunted on Bourbon Street by Deanna Chase


Rating: WARTY!

This novel sucked. It's about Jade Calhoun (I should have quit reading right there!) who is an "empath" in a world where everyone, without question, completely accepts all the new-age mumbo-jumbo. Jade moves into a new apartment in New Orleans for no good reason (she's from out of state), and encounters a ghost which apparently doesn't have a pleasant agenda. She immediately calls in a guy recommended by a friend who uses scientific equipment to try and record and measure the ghost. Why the empath can't do this for herself is a mystery. She's a friggin' empath! What use is she?

I'm guessing the real reason is to make sure she has lots of encounters with Kane (I should have quit reading right there, too!) who runs the strip club under her apartment. From the moment of their first encounter, Jade turns into a bitch in heat whenever Kane is around and it was so tedious, it was pathetic. Get a room already. Oh wait, she has one! But it's haunted! Oh god how will they ever make it through this???? Who the hell cares? And do I want to read more of this crap in a series? "NO!"

The thing is, despite Jade calling for help and being unaccountably terrified of this ghost, the blurb tells us, "...it's up to Jade to use her unique ability to save" her friend Pyper (yeah, I should have quit reading right there, too). I'm really sorry, and I apologize to all women named Piper (or variants thereof), but I simply cannot take that name seriously, not at all. I just can't. But there you have it. If it's up to her, why did she bring in the science boys? Filler? Or fill her?

The blurb stupidly asks, as do all blurbs beginning with 'When' ask, "...she'll need Kane's help to do it...Can she find a way to trust him and herself before Pyper is lost?" I'm guessing the answer to that question is "Yes!" but it ought to be "NO!" and all of these characters ought to die horribly in a ghostly holocaust.

That would have unarguably been the best ending for this, and if it had happened that way, I would have rated this five stars. As it is, it honestly gets no stars. The one I gave it is only for the fact that "no stars" is not an option (Goodreads can't average it!); it just looks like the reviewer forgot to check how many stars it earned, and it doesn't count for squat. That's why I don't do stars as such. Either the novel is worth reading or it's not. It gets five stars or one, and to cut to the (Deanna) Chase, this one is definitely not worth reading.

I did love that if you write out the title and the author's name you get: Haunted on Bourbon Street by Deanna Chase - like it's the author who's doing the haunting. That was the best part about this novel.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd paid attention to the blurb, I would never have read (or more accurately, listened to) this novel. The blurb on Goodreads begins, "John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park." They quite evidently have no idea whatsoever how that prospect would turn my stomach. I detest John Green's novels, and thought that Rowell's Fangirl was a truly sad disaster.

This novel, OTOH, has no relationship whatsoever to any of those pretentious and flatulent piles of drivel. I don't get why Big Publishing™ is so intent upon demeaning their authors by rendering them into clones of other authors. How insulting can you get? This is why I self-publish, and that may rob me of a few advantages, but anything is better than putting up with that crap - with having insulting and misleading blurbs that treat readers like morons, and having someone else effectively own your property at least in terms of how it's presented to the public. Screw that for a game of tin soldiers!

This novel stands apart from those others in many ways, and I did like Rebecca Lowman's narration (refreshingly this was not a first person PoV disaster) but in the end, it proved to be no better that he volumes to which it's been compared. I think the author's problem was that she could not make up her mind what the hell kind of a story to write, and tried to make it all things to all people. As such it was a serious fail and ended-up ill-serving her original purpose, which evidently was to show that people with disabilities are really just like the rest of us. Well duhh! The problem with her approach was that instead of showing us two challenged people who were otherwise just like the rest of us, she chose to show us two people who were really, in the final analysis, jerks. They were unlikable, irresponsible, clueless and ill-fitted to decent sociable society. Ironically, it frequently seemed like they were made for each other

Matthew is in many ways worse off than Amy. He has a richness to his OCD that's worthy of Howard Hughes, intent upon a disturbing level of personal hygiene and an inexplicably paradoxical compulsion to touch and count things he passes. The saddest thing about his condition isn't that he has it, it's that he's had it in this school system for years and no one has offered him a lick of help for it. The teachers in the school are quite obviously morons who ought to be fired. Matthew's mother is hardly better. That was one of the problems - the novel takes place in a bubble formed by Matthew and Amy, like the rest of the world doesn't exist. Absurd!

Matthew finally does get a species of help in the form of Amy, who has the questionable idea of hiring fellow students to be her companions at school in place of her regular adult companion/facilitator. This leads to her opening up and living a life quite unlike she has before, and it also brings herself and Matthew into regimented proximity. That's not to say it's all plain sailing, though; much of it is painful and ailing.

This idea of using fellow students gets her what she wants in terms of making 'friends' although the value of the friendship is highly dubious, but as other reviewers have pointed out, the author fails to explain how these people substitute for her adult aides who did a heck of a lot more for her in terms of caring and personal hygiene than ever the students do. It's like the messy little bits are swept under the carpet, but it really wasn't that which bothered me. It was that the real dysfunction of these two characters wasn't OCD or cerebral palsy (what an awfully antiquated name that is! Can medical science not do better than that to describe this condition?). The real dysfunction here was that both Matthew and Amy were unlikable jerks who treated each other shabbily on Matthew's part and appallingly on Amy's. And this is a romance? No!

The latter honestly did not deserve anyone like Matthew who, as mis-focused as he was at times, at least wanted to help her. She just used him, and despite the author telling us repeatedly how smart Amy was, what she showed us all-too-often was what a complete dumbass Amy was. I didn't like either of these characters and gave up on a novel that had started out so well and then fell apart. I cannot recommend this.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A Koosis


Rating: WARTY!

Note: this is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Resurrecting Sunshine was a real disappointment for me. I felt like it was a bait-and-switch story and I got the lesser half of the deal. The titular character, Sunshine, aka Marybeth, is being cloned, and she had a major story to tell, yet we never get to meet her at all. All we get is Adam's perspective, in first person, which can be tedious, and Marybeth never got to tell her story. In fact, she got shorted badly and I resented that.

The story is set about a decade into the future and is all about the adolescent yet juvenile Adam, an emancipated and emaciated spoiled-rotten seventeen-year-old, self-pitying drunk, who is one of the most tediously self-obsessed, self-centered, and monotonously whining characters I've ever had to put up with in a novel. The first person PoV, which is nearly always worst person PoV, did not help at all. He was nauseating. After about sixty percent of the novel, I began skimming because I could not stand to listen to him and I resented the endless, uninformative flashbacks. I found myself wishing that Adam had died and Marybeth was telling the story. As a resurrected clone, it would have made for far more interesting reading.

More than one person has rudely tried to impose upon me the assertion that you cannot review a novel if you haven't read it all, but those people are not only crass, they are delusional. I read sixty percent of this one and skimmed the rest, and it not only did it never improve, it never went anywhere I didn't expect it to go. I rest my case.

It was utterly predictable in pretty much every major facet, so there were no surprises at all. Except one: I was surprised that I never got to meet Marybeth, but having met Adam, I was left in no doubt as to why she killed herself. He was insufferable. And yes, it's no spoiler to reveal that fact, because like several other things in the novel, such as how Adam and Genevieve would end up as an item, and what her story was, it was so predictable, and it was quite obvious that "Sunshine" had rain in her life despite the author's inexplicable, yet extreme reticence in revealing that obvious information.

Adam was the guitarist in a four-person band of which Sunshine was the star. All of the others are dead, and so it's Adam who's approached by a rather secretive organization that's intent upon cloning loved ones. He's told they can bring Marybeth back, and they need him because her memory record, which they had taken when she was in the hospital, is corrupted in part. He knew her better than anyone, and he can help fix the omissions.

This was one of several issues for me in a novel that was far more fiction than science. Yes, we could technically clone a human. Whether it's ethical or advisable is another issue, but this cloning was glossed over so thickly that it stunk of varnish. How did they get her cells? How did they record her memories?

Growing an embryo into a seventeen year old girl in a few weeks or months? It's too much. Recording memories? I found it hard to believe they'd been able to get access to someone like Sunshine and record her memories as she lay dying or dead without anyone finding it strange or questioning what they were doing. There are ways to explain this, but it never was explained - it was simply a given. And never were the ethics of this shady business seriously questioned. The second instance of this memory mapping is even harder to explain, and so it goes unexplained, but I can't go into that without giving away a rather large spoiler, even though it became obvious what was going on well before the author revealed it.

I really like a good cloning story and this one started out quite well, and at least the story took off quickly, which is always a plus. Problems arose for Adam as soon as he arrived on the Island of Doctor Morose. He's missing booze of course, the islanders seem to think there are ghosts at the clinic, despite all the secrecy - or perhaps because of it - and even as he pines for Sunshine, he's forming a relationship with another young girl there, whose name is Genevieve. This was another sad case of instadore in YA "literature" and it was one more sorry aspect to this story. Adam isn't fit to be in a relationship with anyone and Genevieve is a moron if she thinks she's in love with this dick after a few troubled weeks.

As for Sunshine, despite being the titular character, she's conspicuous by her absence. She's been cloned, Adam is told, but not yet fully matured. In the story, the clones undergo an artificial maturation process (which the author amusingly calls 'aging', like the clones are wine or cheese!), so he isn't allowed to meet her until they've finished calibrating his mind and retrieving his memories. The idea is that Adam will recall memories of Sunshine and these will themselves be cloned and used to fill the gaps in the clone's mind - suitably altered to make them look like her own memories rather than his. How that will work goes unexplained. The author hasn't specified why this is necessary - why they couldn't, for example, simply tell her she's lost some memories.

This was one of the major problems because the author seems to have a poor understanding of how memories are made and stored. Or is it that she has a great grasp of it, but chooses to ignore it for the purpose of this fiction? I don't know. I can't remember accurately! LOL! Seriously though, there's this fiction in fiction that the mind is like a computer hard drive constantly recording everything, and that whatever is stored there can be recalled exactly as it was when first stored - it never changes. This is completely wrong. Human memory is much more like stew than it is like a hard drive, with memories constantly mixing with and flavoring others.

Memories are modified every time they're recalled, and what's stored in the first place isn't an accurate record of what you experienced. Most things your senses encounter are filtered out, and only what your mind considers crucial to your survival is stored. Even our definition of survival is different these days from what it was when we lived on the Savannah in Africa. This laxity in our memorizing is why eye witnesses are the worst kind of evidence in a court case, and our poor understanding of memory is why jurors so idiotically put so much stock in what an eye witness says. It's not possible to pull up your entire past because it simply isn't there to be pulled up, and what is there isn't authentic, so it actually wouldn't matter if the clone is deemed to have false memories! Our own "real" memories are false to a disturbing degree!

One question I kept asking is "Why make her a clone?" She could have been be a ghost or a twin sister and this story would have been largely the same, especially since she never got to actually tell her story. All we ever got was Adam endlessly going back into his recollections and "interacting" with Marybeth in holodeck simulations right out of Star Trek. I felt cheated.

At first this wasn't bad and it was actually integral to the story, but when it went on and endlessly on and on and on, it turned me right off the story. It became boring, tedious and unengaging. Even if Adam had been a guy worth reading about, and he wasn't, it would have been mind-numbing with the monotonous flashbacks. The truth is that Adam was a complete dick, and I loathed him. At one point he even alienates Genevieve who has been inexplicably patient with him. He pisses her off so much that she refuses to hang with him or speak to him, and I can't blame her at all. She's a smart woman! Or she was until she has a brain fart and returns to him.

In the end I felt mugged of the story I'd been promised - or at least the story I felt I'd been promised from the blurb and the title, and what I got instead wasn't nearly as entertaining as what I'd expected. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot in good faith recommend this one.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Girl from the Sea by Shalini Boland


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"Prising my fingers off the edge of the boat" should be "prying"!

This was an advance review copy from Net Galley for which I thank the publisher.

Mia comes to consciousness lying literally in the littoral on the south coast of England, cold, wet with saltwater, and with a woman and a dog peering at her. Soon there are police and an ambulance, and Mia is in hospital. She remembers nothing about herself, not even her name. She doesn't recognize herself in the mirror, nor does she recognize her boyfriend when he comes to pick her up. Later she doesn't recognize her mother or younger sister. She remembers other things, such as how to row (she was passionate about rowing on the river by her house), and she remembers how to drive, how to use a computer, and so on, but anything personal has gone.

It's counter intuitive, I know, but the author gets it right. You'd think you would recall things which were very personal to you or which were lifelong - such as your family and your name - but retrograde amnesia really can do this to a person. Retrograde refers to memory loss of things past - memories which are there, but which you cannot access. Anterograde, in my view the worst kind, refers to new memories - you can't move new memories into long-term memory and so each day begins anew for you, with precisely the same memories you had the day before - rather like Drew Barrymore's character in the movie 50 First Dates

My problem with this novel wasn't with the medical aspects of it, but with the fact that to me, this was another case of a female author doing serious disservice to her main female character. I don't mind stories where the main character starts out weak, and/or stupid, and grows stronger and smarter. Unlike many reviewers I don't even mind stories where the main character doesn't change or grow. There is story-telling to be had there.

What I don't like at all is a story where the main character becomes weaker or more stupid as the story goes on, and this story was one of those. I don't like stories where the character isn't true to herself, and so acts out of character for no reason. This story was one of those. I like even less stories where the main character is female and becomes totally dependent upon a man to validate and save her. I can't understand why so many female writers do this to their characters. What this meant was that while this story started out as an intriguing mystery - what had happened to this woman - it quickly deteriorated into a bog-standard harlequin romance, in which I have zero interest. The only thing missing was the bare-chested man on the cover.

The story quickly deteriorated into a romance, leaving the mystery in the back seat, and Mia began behaving more and more stupidly, and it was out of character. She was supposed to have been a teacher not long before, which is an admirable thing to make your character, but nowhere did we see her teaching skills come to the fore, which begged the question, why make her a teacher if you're not going to use it? She could have been a wait-person, or middle management, or a car mechanic and the story would have remained exactly the same.

The second problem was Mia's stupidity. Her memory wasn't the only thing she lost. She also lost her wallet and her house keys, but despite being in some fear,she never once (not in the 80% of this I read) considered cancelling her credit cards and changing the locks on her house. Stupid. yes, she was undergoing something horrible, but she had every motive to act and she failed. Worse, the police failed to advise her to do this.

Obviously what she went through was horrible - and hard to imagine (which I suspect is part of the problem with the writing here). I mean it's easy to say now what I would do in those circumstances, but if I lost my memory, how would I recall what I'd decided I would do?! LOL! That said, Mia could have been presented in a lot better light than a wheedling, tearful and tediously weak character who has impulsive sex a fails to consider whether she might become pregnant from it.

Worse than that, she acts stupidly on many occasions, way beyond what you might expect from someone who had been through what she went through. She acts with the impulsiveness of a child, without forethought, despite living in a certain amount of fear which is very understandable and which you'd think would compel her to act more cautiously and sensibly. She proves herself to be consistently weak and easily-manipulated even as she's purportedly asserting her independence and self control. Clearly what we're shown is at odds with what we're told.

As soon as Mia appears to be growing out of this dreary inertial lethargy, she immediately submerges herself back into it at the mercy of Jack - a complete stranger - someone she barely knew when she had her memories and now literally doesn't know at all. Despite being screwed-over by her boyfriend and by her family, she inexplicably and inexcusably trusts Jack. What this means to the reader is that just as Mia is beginning to find herself, she completely loses herself again! The blurb for this novel asks, "When you don't even know who you are, how do you know who to trust?" yet Mia seems to have no problem falling all over Jack, and he comes to tiresomely dominate her thoughts pretty much to the exclusion of her real troubles.

I detest the name Jack as a character in novels because it's WAY-THE HELL over used as your heroic bad-boy type, and its time authors started to use their imagination and come up with a new name instead of jack-ing off every time. I flatly refuse to read any novel where the main character is named Jack and I'm moving speedily towards avoiding novels which have any character named Jack unless it's a very minor one.

Despite having some seriously harrowing episodes, Mia fails to visit the amiable doctor who saw her in the hospital. She fails to report things to the police until she's pretty much forced to. She fails to see what a complete dick her boyfriend Piers is, until he forces her to see it. When she reviews her financial records, Mia discovers she's fabulously wealthy, yet never once do we see any indication that she gave anything to charity, not even simply for tax purposes. Instead she's evidently squandered the money on clothes. This tells me only how disgustingly shallow and selfish she is, which actually explains a lot about her behavior after her accident. The truth is that Mia never left the sea. She's still metaphorically being buffeted around, just as she was before she beached! It's sad.

In short I came to really dislike and then quickly to detest Mia, and I lost all empathy with, and sympathy for her as her behavior continued to descend into the moronic. I gave up on this at about eighty percent in because I couldn't stand to read any more of this woman careering down the track towards a train wreck. I wish the author all the best with her writing career, but based on this, I cannot in good faith say it's one I want to follow.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Haunted by Meg Cabot


Rating: WARTY!

Read really annoyingly by Alanna Ubach, this novellette sounded interesting from the blurb, but it turned out to be yet another irritating first person PoV, which is worst person in practice, and it honestly had nothing to do with ghosts, not really. You could have taken the minimal presence of ghosts completely out of the picture and had very nearly the same story: a sixteen year old has literally nothing on her mind than boys.

Tiresomely, there's the trope bad boy that the mc falls for, and the standard issue best friend. Often I find I like the best friend better than the main character, but such was not the case here, so this story didn't even have that going for it. I actually didn't like anyone. I know this is a part of a larger world, none of which I'm familiar with, but that doesn't alter the fact that we had a weak and uninteresting main character, and a story which had nothing new to offer and not a thing to recommend it. I have no need now to read anything else in this world, nor anything else by Meg Cabot (and yes, it's ca-bot, not cab-oh, so there isn't even anything unexpected there).

Susannah Simon, the protagonist, is dating a ghost - she and other special snowflakes like her can physically interact with ghosts - but like I said, the ghosts may as well have been ordinary and very retiring people for all they contributed to the story. All that was left was your stereotypical and clueless high school girl in love, which is tedious, uninventive and done to death. Meg Cabot needs a new shtick, and she's not alone amongst YA authors in that respect.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Machinations by Hayley Stone


Rating: WARTY!

erratum:
"I walk like I belong her0e." That zero clearly doesn't belong! Did the machines put it there?!

Not to be confused with Machinations by JS Breving!

I should have listened to the blurb! It told me right there that it was "Perfect for fans of Robopocalypse" - a novel I detested! I had hoped that this wouldn't make the mistakes that one did, and my hope was rewarded in a sense, because this novel made a whole different set of mistakes. I made it only twenty-five percent through it before I gave it up as a lost cause.

I know people might decry giving up at that point, offering forlorn and misguided claims that if you don't read it all, you can't be sure it won't win you over, but I'm sorry - I can. I've read scores upon scores of books and if one doesn't get me by the time the first quarter is over, I know for a fact that it's not worth wasting more of my time on, not when there are still scores upon scores of other novels out there which are just begging me to turn that first page so they can grip me and thrill me.

The first problem was first person (and it's evidently the start of a series, I'm sorry to report). This is nearly always the wrong choice of PoV for a novel, and I cannot for the life of me understand the OCD which causes so many writers, particularly young adult and new adult authors, to be so irremediably addicted to this voice. It is so limiting and so irritating because it's all about "me" all the time! Hey lookit me! Lookit what I'm doing now! No, pay attention to meee! It doesn't help at all when the narrator is the self-obsessed, incurious, whiny and retiring wallflower that this one is. She's supposed to be a leader - a commander - yet she evinces nothing to make me believe she is or ever was such a person.

Nor does it help when she has nothing else to offer a reader. She's not interesting. She's not smart. She's not curious about anything. She's purportedly a trained soldier but the first thing which happens to her is that she gets shot, and not in some heroic way' but in the same dumb way extras in the form of cops and security guards always get killed on TV shows and in movies - in the most ridiculously unrealistic way possible.

Rhona is brought back to life as a clone in a process that is never explained (not in the portion I read) and which, absent any explanation, completely lacks any credibility. Perhaps some explanation for what happens appears later in the narrative, but from what we're given in the first quarter, it looks like the author believes that when you clone someone, not only do you get a fully-grown adult body in short order, you also get that person's complete memories. Sorry, No! Cloning doesn't work like that! If you want me to accept that it does in your world, then you owe me some sort of explanation as to why this process completely overturns the laws of biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience in your world!

Like I said, maybe there's a better explanation later, but that was the problem with this novel - there were no explanations for anything. We get dumped into this world, humans v. machines, with very little guidance as to how it ever got into this state, including why humans appear to be on the verge of extinction. I kept reading-on hoping for some background to filter through in the narrative, but it never came. Naturally no one wants a bald info-dump, but instead of listening to a twenty-five-year-old mooning over her lost love like she's a fifteen-year-old, I would much rather have had those maudlin paragraphs cut and replaced with some background.

That brings me right into another problem with this novel. Admittedly the author has nothing to do with the blurb unless she self-publishes, but the blurb for this novel is trying to sell it to readers as an "action-packed science-fiction" novel, when the truth is, based on what I read, that it's really a romance novel with thin sci-fi veneer. There's very little action packed into the first quarter of the story, and what we do get is limp and mundane. I obtained this as an advance review copy from Net Galley, and I do appreciate the opportunity to read such books, but it would make me happier if I felt I was getting what I thought I was requesting rather than something else entirely!

I had some hesitation in choosing this one because it seemed a lot less like it was Robopocalypse and much more like it was something of a mashup of two Schwarzeneggar movies - Terminator and The 6th Day, because it has humans fighting the machines, and what appears to be instant cloning. The narrator, Rhona, who appears to be in her mid-twenties, and is a soldier fighting against the machines, is killed in the first couple of pages, but then she's revived and discovers that she's been cloned. Her old body has died, and this revival is supposed to be not only a physical duplicate, but a mental one, as well.

It's implied that because the process is somehow interrupted, she doesn’t have everything she had before, at least not to begin with, but what she remembers is bizarre and makes no sense. Without any kind of explanation as to exactly how she's been cloned and how her memories have been retained, I can only speculate. It appears that what's missing is most of her personal stuff - she seems to recall everything else, including how to fight. Her muscular coordination is spectacular because within a few minutes of waking up, she's on the run, and can move her body without any physical issues: - no muscular atrophy or weakness from being a fresh clone, and no tiredness. It simply wasn't credible.

On top of this she understands and speaks perfect English, though her clone's body has never learned it nor spoken it using that clone's vocal tract. She recalls a huge amount about the war and about how to be a soldier, yet nothing personal comes to her easily? It seems to me that your personal memories are the ones you'd have embedded most deeply, and the skills you learned later in life would be the ones which were harder to retain. This is why older adults can recall things from their childhood better than they can recall things which happened a few days ago, so this made no sense to me, and with no explanation being offered by the author as to what was going on, it wasn't possible to arrive at any satisfactory conclusions.

This being kept in the dark for the first quarter of the novel became truly irritating very quickly, especially when Rhona finally makes it back to HQ and we discover she's the commander of these forces, such as they are, yet she's locked in a prison cell for no apparent reason other than that she's a clone? What? At first, I thought that maybe there was some suspicion that she might be an agent of the machines - that they might have reprogrammed her or something, but no one ever suggested anything like this.

Instead, there was simply this irrational, baseless suspicion and detestation of her by pretty much everyone she encounters, including her old lover - or more accurately, the current lover of her old body! Again there's no information about how she was cloned, how cloning is viewed in this world, who suggested cloning her, who authorized it, or who actually did it (and Rhona shows no interest whatsoever in learning the answers to any such questions! That was a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot right there. It made no sense whatsoever.

When it came down to a bizarre fight, with some subordinate physically attacking Rhona, I quit right there because it had become too ridiculous for me to take seriously anymore. It was especially sad that an experienced soldier like Rhona was getting her ass handed to her on a plate by this subordinate. That was too much for me and I gave up reading because it was requiring to much work! I might as well be writing it myself for as much effort as I had to put into it to try to work out what the heck was happening!

The lack of information was bad enough, but the fact that Rhona - a purported commander - was the most incurious and retiring person on the planet with regard to trying to learn what was going on, how the fight was going, and who cloned her and why, was simply beyond the bounds of belief. Never once did she take charge. Instead, she behaved like a girl starting out her first day at a new school, but even such a girl would have a bunch of questions. Rhona had none. She constantly let others - all males - push her into a back seat. It was pathetic and disturbing to see.

If she had come back in a machine body with her human brain, then a lot of this story would have made sense. It would still have been a romance disguised as a sci-fi story (and a lot more interesting romance for that, I would argue), but it would have made more sense than it did, because it would have accounted for the universal suspicion under which she was held, but that's not this story. This story gives us nothing to work with. I mean how did a twenty-five-year old girl become a military commander in the first place? We learn nothing of that. Was she in the military? Was she a known leader from the start or did she rise to prominence through bravery, ingenuity, and success? Were there no other leaders left alive? What was happening in the rest of the world? Or do Americans not care? It would have been nice to have had a word or two about all of this, but we get nothing.

One more thing which bothered me was trying to determine which side was the dumbest - the humans or the robots. The humans get the dumb award for designing guns which have a power 'clip' just like with a clip in a regular automatic gun, but these soldiers have to remove the power 'clip' to see how much 'ammo' they had left - in this case, what the power level is. That struck me as poor design. Why wouldn't you be able to read the power level while the clip is still in place? You disarm yourself every time you have to remove it! This kind of thing in a novel makes me wonder if there's a purpose for it, or if it’s just not been very well thought-through by the author.

In the case of the robots, the stupidity came with the soldiers' use of EMPs to take down the machines. We're told the machines are getting better at cycling back up faster after an EMP strike, but why don't the machines simply build themselves with a Faraday cage around their body, built into their armor, to stop the EMPs getting them at all? If the machines are that dumb, how is it that they're winning? I guess because the dumb humans have to keep disarming themselves to check their power supply....

I'm not a fan of authors using dream sequences and we get more than one here. In each case it's a huge info-dump, but it dumps info which doesn't really tell us anything interesting, and which certainly fails to explain how the world got to where it is. All we get are details of life when things went south for humanity which contribute nothing to the story and which fail to clue us in as to how things went south. In this case there was a really long dream sequence the first time Rhona sleeps after awaking to the realization that she's a clone, and it was as boring as it was confusing because it went on and on and turned into a flashback. I’d rather Rhona had simply woken-up and told Samuel (briefly) of her dream. That would have made more sense.

So in short, and given the list of grievances I have against this novel after reading only twenty-five percent of it, I can't in good faith recommend this one. I do wish the author all the best in her career, but I can't say that I personally want to follow it base don this sample.