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

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!

"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.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Don't Bang the Barista by Leigh Matthews

Rating: WARTY!

We both put down out drinks, serious for a moment.

I loved the title of this novel, which was a LGBTQIA novel full of drinking, smoking, over-caffeination, shallow relationships, and irresponsible sex. I expected better, especially since one of the characters was vegan. Given everything else she was into it made her sound so fake. I certainly hoped for better, but it never came. Kate is a lesbian who is a year out of a five year relationship, and she's not dealing. In fact, given how she is, I strongly felt that she had been like this before the relationship broke up and that's why it broke up, so I was not on her side from the off, pretty much. She has this recent acquaintance named Cass, and it's pretty obvious from the start that this is nothing more than the trope girl-too-stupid-to-know-her-best friend-is-the-love-of-her-life, which has been done to death and this version offers nothing new, not even the LGBTQIAngle. What it does tell us is that Kate isn't really very smart or very deep.

She has this ridiculous idea that it takes a third the time to get over a relationship as you spent in the relationship, so after five years, she considers that the year she's spent alone isn't sufficient. She's a moron. You can't put a time limit on it as though everyone is exactly the same, and reacts in the same way, and has the same circle of friends. Some people have good support groups, others don't. Some people are resilient, others not so much. The bottom line is that it takes whatever time it takes, but you have to make an effort. Kate simply isn't. She's wallowing. How her friends - of whom she has many, put up with her is the real mystery here.

The barista is Hanna, and Kate hooks up with her and has sex without getting to know her, and without even having had a date with her (not to speak of). This whole scene (which is, be advised, quite detailed) felt completely fake and hollow to me, because on the one hand these two have made out and felt each other up on the dance floor without asking, for goodness sakes, yet here in the privacy of Kate's apartment, when they are both essentially mauling each other, Hanna is asking for permission every step of the way - to removing her sweater, her pants, her bra; then she's feeling her up again on the way to the bedroom without asking. It felt like it was written by (w)rote (hah!) instead of by means of the author really thinking this through. I didn't get this asking permission, and then letting a discussion of their sexual history simply slide right on by. Either they're responsible or they're not. They can't be both.

This thing with getting together with Cass completely undermined the "appropriate approach to sex" motif, too. Cass is, quite frankly, a stalker, who has designs on Kate, but for some reason despite her supposedly being open and direct and straight-forward, can't ever bring herself to tell Kate how she feels, or to show her. Instead, she decides she's going to break up Kate and Hanna before they're even an item, warning Kate off her, following Kate to the club when they have their first date, and then forcing herself onto Kate and kissing her in sight of Hanna, and thereby causing a rift between them. Kate needs to ditch Cass at once. This girl is a trouble-making creep and her behavior is unacceptable. And these 'girls' are in their thirties for goodness sakes! They should know better.

The really weird thing (like this wasn't bad enough already) is that this was in a lesbian bar, yet not one of the other women in there comes to Kate's aid (when Cass grabs her) to ask her if she's okay and if this attention from Cass is OK. Instead they laugh at her, like she's some bi-curious hetero who's strayed beyond her comfort zone, or she's a newbie and therefore deserves no better treatment? So much for a sisterhood. This was horrible. I sincerely hope the Vancouver queer scene isn't remotely like it's portrayed here. It would be truly a scary one if it were.

Kate's friends are really no better. Not one of them is really interested in advising Kate about finding a quality relationship. Every time they talk about Hanna, it's along these lines: "you have this hot barista who clearly likes you." I'm sorry but lust ≠ like. With friends like these, who needs enemas? But Kate is the real piece of work here. She is going to a movie with Hanna, then invites her friend Em along, then it becomes obvious Hanna is going to pair up with Em, but Kate is too stupid to see it, yet when she goes to the bathroom and (oh what another coincidence) encounters her ex, Janice in there, the two of them start making out in the bathroom. Seriously? At this point I can't stand Kate and really don't like anyone else in this group at all. "I really never had been the kind of woman to hook up with people in washrooms." Really? Look in the mirror, Kate. that perfidious puss you see looking back at you? It's nothing new and it's you all over, not a lover anyone with an ounce of integrity would want around them.

Kate is evidently not very smart. despite her many winters in Canada, she evidently owns no gloves, so we read, "It was freezing out this morning. I tried to keep my hands in my pockets as much as possible." We get oddball lines like, "Oh, I don't drink. Thanks. I've got some weed though." At one point we read of Kate and her ex, "We'd never used protection when we were together, having been tested and monogamous thereafter." Yet now she;s having potentially unsafe sex with Hanna and considering it with Cass, who herself sleeps around routinely?

The writing really left a lot to be desired. For example I read this: "So you're still shtupping her?" followed quickly by:

"And, what, you're trying to get a little of her inner peace are you?"
I contorted my face into an expression of disgust as Hanna apologised (sic).
"Too far, sorry.
What, asking about 'shtupping her' wasn't already going too far?

I really wanted to like this but I simply couldn't. it was badly written and unpleasant to read. I can't recommend it. I think this author has a good novel or two in her. It's just not this one.

The Miracle Girl by TB Markinson

Rating: WARTY!

"Have to!" when "Have too!" was required.
“You’re little spy has been busy. Is it Avery?” should have read "Your little spy..."

Not to be confused with The Miracle Girl by Andrew Roe, or Miracle Girl by Keith Scribner, or the Miracle Girls manga series, this novel is an LGBTQIA story about two women working in the dying newspaper business. JJ Cavendish, the woman of the title, is assigned to try and save the ailing newspaper in her home 'town' of Denver. She hasn’t been home in twenty years and has mixed feelings about it, especially when she discovers that her old love is working for the very newspaper she's now in charge of. Claire has evidently become the mother of a young child in the intervening years, as JJ discovers when they reconnect.

It seems pretty obvious that Claire and her 'husband' are separated, yet she doesn’t relay any of this to JJ, and the latter is evidently too dumb to figure it out or to even ask, which begs the question as to why she's in charge of anything, and especially why a news organization! I prefer stories about smarter women than these two, although this novel wasn't atrocious by any means. It does misrepresent itself somewhat in the blurb (but then what professionally published novel doesn’t?!).

Take this, for example: "Mid-afternoon office romps abound in this romantic comedy while also focusing on what it takes for a newspaper to remain relevant in this age of social media." It’s not a romantic comedy. There's no humor and no comedy unless you count a comedy of errors. And it does not remotely "focus" on the newspaper. It’s all about JJ and her physical pining for Claire. And it’s first person, which doesn’t help. As I read it I was constantly skirting along the border between, yeah it’s an okay read, and I detest this endlessly self-absorbed whiner! This should have been a third-person novel as should the majority of novels. This asinine addiction to first person stories is laughable, especially here.

The blurb asks, "Must JJ lose everything in order to gain a life more fully her own?" and I don't even know what that means. What she's risking is losing the woman she wants to be with, but she's managed perfectly fine without her for two decades. She's hardly risking everything. And how is her life to be fully her own if she's so utterly dependent upon Claire? The sentence made zero sense, but is typical of book blurb writers in the world of Big Publishing™.

JJ is inconsistent as a character. On the one hand she's used to taking charge, and running things, which means knowing how and when to delegate, yet when she wakes up one morning with a painfully stiff neck and back, and can’t reach up to the shelf in a pharmacy for a heating pad, she thinks, "There was no way I would ask a clerk for help. I never liked to ask for help." This again broadcasts how stupid she is. It’s not a good sign, especially when she's the main character and talking to you in first person.

Apart from the whining, the novel was written quite well and I thought I would enjoy it, but it became too much when these two women began behaving like clueless teenagers in each other's company and the whole story about saving the newspaper was effectively put on the back burner if not forgotten as these two pursued each other like rabbit sin high rutting season. The sex scenes were not even interesting or original, and it all became a joke, so I ditched it around forty percent in. No, I do not want to read another story about women who have nothing but sex on what passes for their mind any more than I want to read one about men who are in that same frame of mind. I cannot recommend this one.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Spirit Chaser by Kat Mayor (or KM Montemayor!)

Rating: WARTY!

No! I'm sorry, but no. I had read about one third the way into this novel when I encountered this paragraph (below) and immediately quit it on principle. Note that this scene follows right behind one where Casey, the woman depicted here, has quit her job because she's been betrayed by Austin. She storms off to her office, pissed as all hell, and starts packing to leave. The guy follows her and manhandles her as described below.

He strode over to her, grabbed her by her shoulders, and spun her around. Her bag fell to the floor as he pushed her against the wall and planted his lips firmly on hers. Her eyes widened in surprise. Da-amn. He has strong lips. So strong, she could feel her toes curling. Casey was too stunned to protest. He took that as a green light and weaved his fingers through her hair without releasing any pressure from her lips. Not once did he try to stick his tongue down her throat, but that didn't stop it from being one of the most powerful kisses Casey had ever experienced.

You don't get to describe a guy in process of raping a woman and have the woman fall in love with him because of it, and then expect me to rate your fiction as anything other than trash. No, you don't. And this from a female author? Her toes curled? Seriously? I half-way expect this kind of garbage in the young adult world, but not in a mature novel for adult readers which is otherwise written reasonably well.

Austin has manhandled her before, and the appropriate response from Casey here would be to knee him in the groin, or punch his face, or at the very least wrench away from him or start yelling for help. This is a guy who has already proven himself to be a complete jerk and a dick, to have had no qualms about abusing her mentally, and for whom she has no love at all. Yet suddenly when he becomes brutal with her, she melts and succumbs to his "charms"? No! The bottom line here is that I don't care how well you write, you put this abusive trash in your story and you get an automatic fail from me. This kind of writing is a disgrace. It's worse than pornography in how it inexcusably disrespects women.

I'd already had several issues with this novel before this point, and this is the second of this author's novels I've read and been thoroughly unimpressed. It will be the last. Despite the problems though, I was still plugging away at it hoping for something better while fearing that Casey was too stupid to be worth reading about and that she and Austin, despite his appalling behavior, were sadly going to be paired off. I'd overlooked a couple of grammatical errors, such as "You're going to want you're fantastic job back" (where the second one should have been 'your', of course), because this was an advance review copy. While I appreciate the chance to review it, I don't appreciate this kind of abusive writing, which essentially instructs us that all any woman needs is some rough-handling and she'll fall for the guy who is abusing her. No!

The basic story sounded good. I'm not a believer in spirits or ghosts or demons, but I love a good story about that kind of thing, and there are not that many honestly good stories out there on these topics. This one is the first I've elected to read in a long time because of this, and it seemed like it might be a worthwhile read. The story is that Casey is hired as the resident psychic on a successful TV show, Spirit Chaser Investigations, wherein a team of people visits and films haunted houses.

After she does a walk-through of a purportedly haunted house and declares it a non-starter - there's nothing there - a dissatisfied Austin, the show runner with a deadline to meet, brings in another psychic for a second opinion, and shuffles Casey off for the day so she doesn't even know he's done this. He doesn't tell her until the last minute, right before the team watches the rough-cut of the episode they plan on airing, and Casey gets to see this other woman making up stories about bad events in the house, and going on about a civil war soldier, pretty much feeding Austin a total bunch of rot.

This is what happens when you let your dick think for you and bring in your old girlfriend to piss all over your current psychic. Casey naturally feels betrayed and storms off, leading to the sickening paragraph above. Evidently, she doesn't feel betrayed enough, because all Austin has to do is slam her up against a wall, force a kiss on her, and she's his BFF forever. I'll let you figure out what that middle 'F' means.

The issues I'd had with the novel before this were annoying but not automatic cancellations. There was too much trope, for one thing - purloined ideas from movies, such as that one of the haunted houses was built over a 'Native American' (that would be American Indian) sacred site, and the rocking chair which started moving by itself, and the house which has a façade that looks like an evil face: "The shadows cast a grinning humanoid visage against the façade, and the two upstairs bedroom windows looked like sinister eyes." I like my stories to be a bit more original than that, but I was willing to put up with it for a while at least.

I was even putting up with author foibles such as when Casey describes someone as her "New BBF" How can you have a new best friend forever?! It's a minor thing, but a lot of minor things add up over the length of a novel, such as the author's obsession with "granite countertops in the kitchen." Some parts were well written. I particularly liked this bit: "she spotted his most shameful secret. It was in the corner of his mind wrapped in the brown paper of guilt and tied with strings of self-loathing," taken from when Casey reads someone's mind (at their invitation). But there was nowhere near enough of that to overcome the deficits.

Other parts, for example, made no sense: "Her third eye showed her the dark mist overlying the upper floor." This was on a photograph she was looking at. I found myself taken out of suspension of disbelief to wonder how this worked exactly! She's not looking directly at the house, she's looking at an image of it, yet she still sees this misty aura around it? Is the photograph haunted?! Or is it that idea from the Doctor Who episode where the image of a weeping angel becomes an angel itself?

Given that there was a total lack of world-building here, the reader is offered no additional information at all about how any of this was supposed to work. Casey was evidently far too stupid to figure it out or even be curious about it, so we got zilch from her. After reading a few items like this, it felt to me like the author was simply randomly pulling trope ideas from the history of horror fiction, without doing anything to weld it into a coherent whole. She had some eastern mystic guy on the team, a Catholic priest, and an American Indian shaman (we never did learn what tribal affiliation he had, not in the portion I read). The whole thing was a pot-pourri of random elements, and the predictable result was that it stunk.

Some parts were just plain dumb and made the main character, Casey, seem tragically stupid - such as where Austin once again forces himself on her and overrides her own wish for lunch with his own plan. I was really starting to dislike him at this point. He whisks her off in his fancy car and she's having the wilts and the vapors over his driving! "For some reason, she'd always found it strangely powerful and sexy to watch a man drive a stick shift." I know the reason: she's simply that shallow! Maybe she does have these bizarre fantasies, but right after that came, "Austin downshifted as he approached a red light. Casey studied his movements. They were automatic. He didn't have to think about it. His right hand just knew what to do." Like this is some magical super power? No! Everyone who drives stick shift drives like this! That's what competent driving is all about.

I detest stick shift, but even I drive like this when I'm forced to drive such a vehicle, so this observation just made Casey look like a juvenile moron - or at best, someone who had led an extraordinarily sheltered life (which she had not). Another example of her lack of smarts is when she observes of Austin, "you should be the biggest skeptic in the world." Yet this is said to the guy who is running a show wherein he repeatedly reports on inexplicable supernatural phenomena! Just how stupid is Casey? Too stupid for me to want to read any more about her, rest assured.

I've never understood why it is that we have to literally get on our knees and beg for aid from a god which is supposed to be infinitely loving. Check this out: "Would you allow me to say a prayer of protection with you and give you a blessing?" This is not a problem with the writing per se because people really believe this stuff, but it gets worse. At one point the priest says, "The more people we have praying the better." Why is that? Does this god only pay attention if more than one person begs? Does he need a crowd begging on their knees before he will act? We learn, "If God had not restrained the enemy, you would still be trapped." but we don't learn why he let these people suffer before he so kindly stepped in and helped out. If he cares that much why isn't he smiting the demons instead of letting them punish people? Is this god a sadist? It was just one more example of how poorly the story hung together.

I quickly tired of the appalling abuse of vegetarians and vegans in this novel, too. Here's just one example of how they were repeatedly dissed: "Liv can make vegan cuisine and a few other Austin-approved dishes that don't taste like baked dog turds." Examples of such thoughtless writing were not uncommon, such as this one, on a different topic: "...he thought about placing the cool, metallic barrel against his tongue. He shoved it down his throat and pulled the trigger." I've never heard of anyone considering committing suicide by pushing a barrel down their throat. Aiming it up at the roof of the mouth, yes, but down the throat? Not so much! But maybe this tied in with Austin's perverse attitude towards sexuality. Who Knows. Maybe this novel should have been titled Fifty Shades of Spirit.

Out of curiosity (about this mixture of Eastern religion, Catholicism, and American Indian tradition, I looked up what kind of monsters and demons the American Indians have, and they're so pathetic as to be laughable. One of them, Aniwye was an Ojibwe legend of a large man-eating skunk monster which kills people by breaking wind at them, causing them to become sick and die! The 'demon' names are pathetic by themselves: Basket Woman? Perverted Merman? How about the 'Cannibal Dwarves'? Not much fodder there for your standard Catholic-based possession story which is, I assume, why we saw no such demons in the part of the story I read. Graham Masterton had the right idea in his 1977 novel, The Manitou, but ideas seemed very limited here.

So no, this novel is not worth reading, and I actively dis-recommend it. I do recommend sensitivity training for the author so we don't get any more novels of women being abused and the reader being expected to believe this is how romances really ought to be.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Rating: WARTY!

"She came to sit by the bed of a dying man despite her own infirmary." ("infirmity" was needed here. The guy was already in the infirmary!)
"Is so, you give them too much credit." ("If so" was needed here)
"I hear a great many things people do not intend me to her." (intend me to "hear" was needed)

Sawbones is perhaps not surprisingly, a common title. Don't confuse this one with Sawbones by Lawrence BoarerPitchford, which has some similarities, or Sawbones by Catherine Johnson which is a rather different kind of story, but set in a similar period, or with Sawbones by Stuart MacBride, which is a completely different kind of story. Frankly, given the way the main character is treated, and in rather graphic detail, the title for this one perhaps should have been Sabines!

Set in the early 1870's (as near as I can gauge), this tells the story of Catherine Bennett, a prideful and prejudiced medical doctor who had a modest but thriving practice in New York City until she was made (by the victim's wife) the scapegoat in a murder. Fearful that she will not get a fair trial given the wife's powerful connections, she takes a rather cowardly way out and flees to Texas posing as one Laura Elliston, and making her way via Austin to a wagon train heading out to a newly-founded town in Colorado.

She never makes it out of Texas. After a savage attack by Kiowa or Comanche (it's unclear), she finds herself the sole survivor and also in charge of a wounded cavalry officer who came with his men belatedly to the rescue of the wagon train. It's rather sickeningly obvious from this point on that she has her love interest. That was one of my problems with this novel: events are telegraphed so far in advance that it's no surprise what happens to her and therefore no spoiler to give it away.

Another issue was that it's in first person which is the weakest and most irritating voice in which to write a novel, and it's completely unrealistic in this case given what brutality the author forces on this woman at the hands of men. It's simply not credible that she could tell this story the way she does. Initially, it made sense what happened to her, given her gender and the period in which she lived, and I was appreciating that this was a strong woman and looking forward to learning about her, but that rapidly fell apart after she ran away from the crime she never committed. From that point on she became not stronger, but weaker and more stupid, and the sorry plaything of a cavalry Lieutenant, subsuming her entire self to him.

Her protestations of moving on alone in her desire to be a doctor were so vacuous, especially given that you knew they were never going to happen, that I felt I was reading a young adult novel at this point. I'd have actually enjoyed the story if she had gone on alone, but we have to have all of our women validated by a guy in these tales don't we, otherwise how can she be a real woman? Her credentials as a doctor were called into question when she kept rambling on about "...trying to staunch the flow of blood" when she really meant "stanch," which is something that young adult writers of today do not know, but which a doctor would have known back then.

The male interest is Lieutenant Kindle, presumably because you could read him like an open book. He ought to have been named Lieutenant Nook (as in nookie) given his overbearing and single-mindedly physical approach to her. At one juncture, she outright tells him 'No!' (in one form or another) on four separate occasions and still he will not leave her alone. The fact that she was partly drunk and emotionally compromised offered no barrier to this guy whose name, we're told, is William, but which ought to be Dick. He sickened me with his non-stop pressing of himself upon her.

Having saved his life, you'd think this would have made him offer some respect, or show some deference, but instead he seems to have fallen victim to some early form of Stockholm Syndrome and he stalks her until 'she can't refuse him anymore', and has his way with her. The relationship at this point had become so co-dependent that it turned my stomach and I almost quit reading. But they get it on in a library, so I guess this made it okay for him to become a tenant of her Wildfell Hall. When they discuss "Laura's" previous sexcapade, Kindle actually has the hypocrisy to say, "He took advantage of you."! I am not making this up. But "Laura" is a hypocrite too. After repeatedly dissing and dismissing men, she says, “I refuse to believe men do the things they do for no reason other than they can.” Why would she say that when she's made is quite clear that she thinks they're the lowest of the low anyway?

Yes, this is the book "Laura" was reading, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I had to question this. The novel came out in 1848, so it seems highly unlikely that it would have found its way into a library in a remote (and new) Texas fort by 1870 or so. Who knows? Maybe it's possible. This is fiction after all, but I found it even harder to believe that the "reading room" at this remote fort would have been so well-stocked with books that "All available wall space was taken up by floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books." While the US was quite literate (if you were white) by the 1870's, it beggars belief that a library in a remote fort in The South would be so well stocked, especially so soon after a (not so) civil war.

Purely because of her work on saving Kindle's life, "Laura" is made the acting head physician at Fort Richardson in North Texas, where Nook, er Kindle, is based. This is definitely not where she imagined her life would take her, and especially not into his own house where she lodges upstairs on the pretense that he's more safely out of the way of infection in his own room than he is in the hospital, and she can take care of him. The hell with the rest of the patients! How bizarre is that? What about their risk of infection?

Bizarre is how this novel struck me, time after time. At one point "Laura" visits the bakery in town "...where a fat woman was setting out loaves of warm bread." What? Yes, you read it right. Why was it necessary to describe this woman as fat? Well this was a first person PoV, so we can take this as "Laura's" bigoted attitude to everything and everyone, but all this served to do was to make me dislike her more. Another problem I had was with her blind hatred of American Indians. In a way, it was understandable that she should have some PTSD from her experience, but her hatred was so rife and raised so often, it became quickly obvious that the next thing which would happen would be that she has an interaction directly with the Indians, and that it would not be a pleasant one.

This marked the second point at which I felt I really needed to ditch this novel. It was only, it seemed, the unintentional humor which was what kept me going at this point. For example, "Laura" thinks this of the overly amorous Kindle: "It'll give you the big head." I'm sure what he was doing to her did give him a big head, but I really didn't need to know that! Obviously she didn't mean it that way, but this phrase was just so in the wrong place.

"Laura" simply doesn't seem to understand men. She repeatedly downgrades men to nothing save vain idiots, then she falls for Kindle! What's worse than this though, is that at one point she thinks this of another army officer: " It beggared belief Wallace Strong would prefer an ignorant dreamer like Ruth to a strong, intelligent woman like Alice." Why would she think this given how often we learn of her opinion that the men around her are exactly that shallow? It made no sense for her to have this opinion given everything else she's expressed about men, who were evidently only one step above 'them dad-blamed redskins' to hear her talk and think.

She isn't very smart either. She repeatedly fails to appreciate how precarious her position is even when someone other than Kindle is obviously stalking her. This is another episode of telegraphing exactly what's going on, but it takes "Laura" forever to figure it out. I'm usually bad at this, but even I figured out exactly who this guy was long before she did.

Our doctor isn't above slut-shaming either. Of a prostitute, she thought this: "She would lay with multiple men out of wedlock but she would not swear on the Bible. It always amazed me where people drew their moral line in the sand," and this was from a woman who wanted to be treated like a man, yet who has no problem being subsumed as " Mrs William Kindle" when discussing marriage, and who herself has already had one lover 'out of wedlock' and is about to take another? I simply did not get her character at all. It seemed like the more I read, the further she strayed from the woman she appeared to be when the novel began, and none of this straying was into interesting, engaging, or even pleasant territory.

The oddities kept on coming. At one point Kindle is teaching Laura to shoot, a sadly clichéd way for a writer to get her main male character up close and personal with her main female, but the issue here that I found interesting was the plethora of bottles which were available in the middle of nowhere for her target practice! We're told the soldiers out on this patrol are allowed a tot of whisky each day, so no doubt some bottles came from there, but unless they're getting drunk each night, I doubt there would be crates of bottles for her to shoot up. Maybe they actually were getting drunk each night. This would certainly account for their poor performance during what happened later. It would not account for how you can tie someone to a horse when you "...rode through the night without stopping." Those Indians certainly do have powerful medicine!

At this point I did quit reading. There wasn't much left to read, but to be honest I could not bear the thought of reading any more. I wish the author the best of luck, but I cannot recommend a novel like this one.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Rating: WARTY!

The Demon King is part of some sort of series, but at least it said that squarely on the front cover "A Seven Realms novel". I have no idea if this means it's just set in the same world as other novels, or if it's part of a series, but it read like a stand-alone - at least in the way it began. The impression I get from fellow reviewers though, is that this is nothing more than a five-hundred page prolog for the other books in the series. Yawn. I blame the money grubbers in Big Publishing™ for fostering a culture of series in YA novels, and authors for tamely going along with it like so many sheep about to be shorn.

While I'm not a fan of series, I don't mind stories set in the same world. It would be truly foolish to do so! Unfortunately, this started out larded with trope and cliché, and in the beginning, it managed to avoid pissing me off with that, but it danced so shamelessly with those banes of young adult authors that I harbored serious doubts I would get very far. In the end I made it a little over one-third the way through before it became far too mired for my taste.

The sad thing is that this novel is just over five hundred pages long, and yet in that first third, all it had achieved was to establish a love triangle between the princess, the son of the captain of the guard, and the son of the palace wizard. Yep. That's all it did. The author could have put this into a prolog of a few pages long. I would have skipped it as I always do, and everyone would have been happy! But no, we have to spend a hundred-fifty pages crawling through this overblown set-up. Oh, and yeah, there's some dude whose people are rooted in American Indian culture too. Han Alister is the Luke Skywalker of the story - a powerful person of honorable descent who has spent his young life in ignorance of his power and destiny. Blecch! And yes, there's a Darth Vader (the head wizard), and a Han Solo (the guard captain's son), and a Princess Leia, er Raisa.

Wait, there are American Indians (close enough) and a queen? Yes. Believe it or not, there are. Even after a hundred-fifty pages, I still had no idea about this world, so poor as the world-building. It could have been Star Wars! I couldn't tell if it was in the very early days of the wild west, or in steam-punk Victorian times, or more modern even than that. Obviously, it was a fantasy world, so there are no direct ties, but even so, I felt lost. After we had been introduced to the captain's son, who, now back from military school (where warring tribes all train together? What?), is tall and muscular and chiseled, has a square jaw, and has girlish eyelashes and flecks in his eyes! Barf! It was at the point that I went looking for a good dose of Phenergan to stem my nausea, and ditched this novel post haste. Are YA authors medically incapable of originality? It would seem so. It's the precious few who are off the reservation whom I seek out, and they are a rare and treasured breed. This author isn't one of them.

In terms of writing, there were some common errors - common to many YA novels I've read of late, that is. One was where a snake was described as poisonous: "As if he had a large poisonous snake in there" but snakes aren't poisonous, they're venomous. A native would know the difference between venom and poison, especially if they collect herbs and fungi for medicinal purposes and trade, so this one tugged me out of suspension of disbelief briefly.

On the very next page, I read an example of what is evidently fast becoming a change in the English language as yet another author used 'staunch' where 'stanch' was desperately seeking employment. Personally I am a staunch supporter of those who stanch blood flow from open wounds, but I guess this author is not! It's sad to see this from young writers, but the English language is without a doubt extraordinarily fluid and dynamic, and never more so than it has been of late. But this and several other such issues - when added to the tedious love triangle, and a frankly limp and lackluster female main character - were enough to persuade me that this was not worth finishing, much less pursuing into 'seven realms'.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer

Rating: WORTHY!

I seem to have entered a period of really bad books that fail to gain my attention (apart from the initial discovery, where the blurb made it seem like the book might be really interesting). Fortunately, I happen to have access to a really excellent public library with awesome librarians, so my mistakes cost me very little! I can DNF these experimental reads/listens without impoverishing myself. All Hail Public Libraries!

This is how I came to have yet another trope YA novel in my hands and one which appears, yet again, to be written by a female author who seems to dislike women. I mean, if she didn't, then why would she characterize them like this? Not to be confused with Mary Hartley's The Smart Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want, which this main character could have probably benefited from reading,Smart Girls Get What They Want is your typical YA story of the nerd and the jock, 'forced' together in a ridiculous fashion and falling for each other notwithstanding some heavy-duty reasons why they should not. This much I knew from reading only the first chapter.

The author makes the classic mistake of imbuing her main character with her own qualities, views, musical tastes and perspectives, even though she is old enough to be the main character's mother, if not grandmother. Thus we get references to the Rolling Stones and other anachronisms. That's not to say that no seventeen-year-old girl can quote lyrics from The Rolling Stones - only that it's so highly unlikely that it really kicks a reader out of the suspension of disbelief. What, there were no bands to which a seventeen year old might listen to and quite from? Or is the author simply too lazy to look them up? In this high-tech age, it's not hard to look up the bands to which teens might listen, and find the lyrics to a song or two by them. Or make up your own bands and lyrics. Or simply not have her quote a lyric, and thereby lend her a little more inventiveness and originality if you want your readers to really dig her. And this wasn't the only anachronistic reference.

The story is ostensibly about three friends, but it's really about only the first person narrator, and the friends (so-called) are given short shrift as ever. They're really more tools than friends. Because it's first person this gives the impression that she's all about herself an no one else, which is another problem with first person PoV. Genevieve (aka Gigi, LOL!) is the privileged, spoiled rotten MC, and Bea and Neerja are her 'friends'. They realize that Neerja's older sister was a nobody at school, perhaps because of her position as the smartest person in the class. The three decide they don't want to be that way, but Gigi's plan is derailed when she gets accused of cheating on a chemistry exam. How the teacher managed to grade the tests and discover the similarities before the students even left the classroom is a mystery. I can only assume time passed, but it was written so badly that it looked like as soon as they got up to leave the classroom, the teacher was calling them back with the graded tests already on his desk!

She didn't cheat, but because the jock's answers, including the extra credit question, are so much like hers, both of them were tarred with the same cheating brush, and the jock is such a selfish dick that he turns it all into a joke. Gigi is supposedly this go-getter girl, but she fails dismally to defend herself, and the school "discipline" hearing is such a complete and utter joke that it lacked all credibility for me. The school didn't even contact the parents about this. This is all so unbelievable as to really throw the story out as far as I was concerned, although I did read on for a while to see if it offered any hope of improvement. It just got worse. At this point I not only detested the jock, I detested the main character. This is never a good sign.

It wasn't believable for several reasons, the first of which was that the jock seemed out of place in the AP chemistry class. Not that no jock can be smart by any means, but that this particular one seemed like a complete jerk from the start and the author offered no rationale whatsoever for his even being in this class. Secondly, the ball-buster of a teacher who summarily accused them of cheating on his test was right there in the classroom. Are we supposed to believe that never once did he look up? Never once did he see this pair and notice that the jock was cribbing? Bullshit! It wasn't credible. This is amateur stuff. Thirdly, Gigi had already proven her academic chops and integrity over several years, and it just didn't sound likely she'd automatically be even suspected, let alone accused, found guilty and condemned without a trial. Her guilt is assumed throughout by both this teacher and the principal! This was done so ham-fistedly. They didn't get forced to take a new test to see who was cheating and who wasn't?

Clearly, the sole purpose of all this ridiculousness was to artificially throw these two together in a chemistry project, where they could fall in love. Why would Gigi even be remotely attracted to this selfish jerk who got her into all this trouble? I was so disappointed. It's not like this was a self-published first novel from a new writer! If it had been, it would likely have been rejected, but once you have your foot in the door, all the rules cease to apply to you, don't they?! I expected a lot better from someone who supposedly already had some writing chops, and I thought a female writer ought to have served her female character a lot better than she did in the portion of this I could stand to read. This novel was nonsense and trash.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Priceless by Nicole Richie

Rating: WARTY!

In which a spoiled-rotten rich kid discovers that her father is a crook and she's tossed out of house and home, losing everything except a few thousand dollars she can get from pawning her mom's jewelry. But she falls squarely on her feet anyway. I was hoping to be entertained by this because yes, it's that Nicole Ritchie, who has been there and done that in terms of living a spoiled brat's life. I thought she might bring some authenticity and realism to the story, but in the end all she delivered was exactly what every other author who writes in this genre delivers: a snotty spoiled-brat main character who is shallow and stupid, who falls into one lucky situation after another, who inevitably finds romance, and who learns nothing, grows none, and changes her perspective not a whit.

I have to say I really kind of expected that shallowness, but I was curious as to how a writer who had been there and done that would depict that life as opposed to a writer who really had no idea and was just wishful thinking, and dropping fashion names at every turn out of pure pretension. It turns out that Ritchie is just dropping fashion names at every turn, so there's no difference! I'd thought that maybe someone who was used to having that stuff around them would be less obsessed with it, but that's evidently not the case.

I thought maybe she might offer a better or more realistic perspective too, but she's just as shallow and blinkered as every other writer on these topics. It's really sad, because on the back cover there's this gorgeous soulful portrait of the author, yet underneath that pretty veneer is the most disappointing underbelly imaginable. It's such a contrast.

Despite the fact that her father stole the savings of thousands of people, this character in the novel is more interested in going shopping than in having any real concern about it, let alone in actually trying to do anything about it. Plus the SEC guy is falling in lust with her and she with him. For about half the novel it was interesting in some regards, although less than I'd hoped for, and in the end it was less and less the more I read. I ditched it as a DNF and I cannot recommend it. I'm done reading anything by Nicole Ritchie.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Crossroads by Sophie Slade

Rating: WARTY!

I picked up this book as an advance review copy from Net Galley. I'm not a fan of vampire stories, werewolf stories, or paranormal romances, but I've read one or two, and this one promised to be different in that the vampire was married to a human female (at least he was after the first few screens), and contemplating reverting to human if only his wife's concoction could be perfected. I should have known better than to trust a blurb! It's hard to believe that a series like this which depends upon the vampire character would actually cure him anyway. Now that would be a story, but I'm guessing, sadly, that it's not the plan for this series.

This was volume two in a series (and it has a prologue! wasn't volume one the prologue?!), and I have not read volume one, so it's possible that I was missing something from that, but having read ten percent of this, which was more than I honestly wanted to, I don't believe I've missed anything at all! Lance and Leila have a half-human, half-vampire child, and they get married in the beginning of this novel. Lance is the leader of one of the vampire clans in England, and ridiculously rich in addition to being, as Derek Zoolander might put it, really, really, ridiculously good looking. His wife was voluptuous and beautiful, because there cannot be ordinary, everyday people in these novels.

So much for hoping that this novel would eschew trope and venture onto new ground. Every single vampire trope save one was here. It was the typical centuries old vampire falling in love with the mortal human, which doesn't work and is frankly disgusting. It's the old vampires and werewolves don't get along trope. It's the old vampires are ageless and beautiful, which is tedious, trope. It's the old vampires are organized in hierarchies with leaders or queens or whatever, and the country is divided into organized territories, which is a tired cliché. It's the old vampires are inexplicably rich story. There was absolutely nothing that was original. There was nothing to set any atmosphere, and there wasn't a single piece of descriptive prose worth the name, not in the part I read. It was all talk and movement.

The one exception I mentioned was that despite all this vampire trope, they seem to have no trouble going to Aruba for their honeymoon, and being out in the bright sunlight. If you're using all the other tropes, why not that one? Who knows? The most serious problem as that if you removed the paranormal element, this same story could have been told about a rich businessman and his trophy wife. There was nothing her that really required vampires and werewolves. The guy could have simply had an ordinary illness. The entire Harlequin romance catalog could have one of the characters be a vampire, with nothing else changed, and republished! What would that give us? Nothing we didn't have before!

The novel is supposed to lean towards the erotic, but there was nothing erotic to be found here. Not that I find vampires erotic at all, but the love-making here was full of cliché and frankly, was boring. The funny thing is that at one point we're told that the sun was starting to set. The couple had sex three times, and then decided to sleep all afternoon. Wait, wasn't the afternoon already gone if the sun was setting?! Maybe the sex was so great that it turned back time? Wouldn't it be great to have sex like that?!

Part of eroticism is playing-out the love-making, making it last, teasing, slyly stimulating, being a playful bit mean by withholding and denying from time to time. There's an old joke that erotic is using a feather; kinky is using the whole chicken, but there was neither here. This sex chickened out. It was much more of the 'slam-bam thank you ma'am' style: an urgent drive to orgasm, avoiding the scenic route like the plague,, and offering no rest stops to appreciate the journey or the view along the way.

It really was just a determined rush to orgasm, and the saddest thing was that there was no love-making after the orgasm either. Here I mean love-making in the old-fashioned sense where endearments and warm touches are exchanged. There was no pillow-talk, no nuzzling, no gentle hands on the back or the hips, or wherever. There was no hugging, snuggling, or holding, no sweet teasing as an invitation to a future encounter. It was like these two couldn't wait to get out of bed, or to fall asleep. This betrayed all of the 'lovey-dovey' talk they spouted so tediously endlessly at each other the rest of the time.

I was actually glad that they slept, because if I'd had to read about Leila arching her back once more, or reading of her saying that she was "more than okay" one more time after having sex, I would have to arch my back and throw up before I was more than okay. Here's an example of the prose:

"More than okay," she said, grinning. "Here," I sad, biting into my wrist. A moment later, red crimson blood dripped from the wound. "Drink this," I gently cooed, knowing that I needed to heal her.
This is part of the problem. No, not the red crimson blood(!), nor the cooing, but the fact that Lance effectively owned Leila. She's "Mrs Lance Steel" (Lance Steel, really?! It sounds like the pseudonym of a porn actor!), and he's always putting his arm around her "protectively". He's hovering over her and worrying about her like she's his child, not his wife, and it was creepy. It was creepy how obsessively they were "in love" which actually felt fake in the extreme. There was creepily obsessive parenting, and it was creepy when they'd just become married and he kissed 'the bride' like so: "my tongue danced with hers before our family and friends." Seriously? In front of the guests they're tongue kissing?

The objectification of 'the bride' - especially given that this is a female author - was as sad as it was disturbing. I read phrases like "Leila was beyond beautiful in a white, spaghetti strapped wedding gown that accented her curves in all the right places," way too often. Nothing about her mind was said, like all she had to offer was this body and once that was gone, what use would she be to any man? This is upsetting. At least it was until I found myself contemplating how "her curves" could ever be accented in all the wrong places and managed a smile at last.

These two flew off on their honeymoon in Lance's private jet, but while it had sufficient range to fly them to Miami, it didn't have the range to get them just 200 miles further directly to Aruba? That was curious, but a minor issue. I think I really got to a point where I wanted to throw the book a the wall when Leila microwaved a bag of blood and stuck a straw in it to feed their child. Smart moms don't even heat breast milk in a microwave. The nutritional value of the blood would be destroyed if it was microwaved, but then since we get no vampire lore related here, perhaps not. Who knows?

That said, the thought of this happy, happy, joy, joy family sitting around with the kid sucking blood through a straw from a microwaved bag, and the husband hungrily gulping down his own blood bag, while the doting wife sits beaming at them both was simply too hilarious to take seriously. I had hoped, as I said, for something different, but all I got was more of the same tired ideas that have been staked to death long ago. There was nothing new here and nothing worth my time.

I had hoped to make it to at least 25%, but like a bag-o-blood, I honestly could not stomach it. The idea of a centuries-old vampire even remotely finding a twenty or thirty year old woman appealing as a partner carries the same creep factor as a ninety year old man marrying a nine year old child. What could they possibly have in common? Why would a normal woman find anything attractive about a man who drinks blood from hospital bags and sucks her blood when they make love, without even asking? Perhaps there's a market for this, but I could not take it seriously. Paranormal stories seem to do really well, but they're not for me when written so un-inventively. I wish the author the best of luck with this, but I can't in good faith recommend it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Rating: WARTY!
Two households, both alike in dipshits,
In fair bird droppings, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break two new misfits,
Where uncivil blood makes love demeaned.
From forth the fatal wash of mortal enemas
A pair of snake-cross'd birders take their life;
One Zane Cobriana, in heart and soul an ass
Talks Danica Shardae into becoming his wife.
The fearful passage of their asinine love,
And the continuance of their friends' rage,
Which, buttheads that they were, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
Shall wish your very own life to end.

This was one of the sorriest novels I've ever not read. Nope, I listened to it, and the reader's voice was barely tolerable. It's a Romeo and Juliet redux, but instead of the couple dying, the story died.

The blurb, of course, made it sound like it might be interesting and there was a sequel, both of which I happily borrowed from the local library hoping for a treat. That hope died. I returned the second volume unheard. I got through fifty percent of the first volume before I could stand it no more. There was no performance, unless that word is a contraction of 'perfunctory dormancy', and if I had to listen to the reader Jennifer Ikeda say "Donnika" just one more time I would have lost it. Dahknicker Shardead and inZane Cobrie-cheese. he;s so inzane that he crawls out of his skin every year. Literally.

I've seen some reviewers, even negative ones, praise the world building, and I have to ask, what world-building? There was ZERO world building here! What 'story' we got made no sense. These two races, the Avians and the reptilians - no - they were not even reptilians, they were serpient! What is that? It's not the equivalent of a class like avian. It's a sub-order, serpentes, which I guess is what those people were, so maybe it's right after all, if their race is judged by the behavior of the leader, Zane, who happily skins people who piss him off, and evidently carpets the floor of his room with the skins. This is a civilized person? This is someone to fall in love with? He's a snake in the grass. A man who suggests that his intended bride wasn't been beaten too much? How much beating would be just enough, Zane? This is a man who cam make peace? No, it isn't. Snakes are not very much into making peace with birds. They'd rather eat them.

There was no real description of the world in which these people lived, or even how they came to be (= no world-building). They were supposed to be birds and snakes, yet they maintained human form most of the time. Why? No explanation. Apparently there were humans on this planet, but they played no role whatsoever in the events - not in the portion to which I listened, anyway - so why were these races mimicking humans? No explanation. Why were there humans at all? No explanation.

The races were supposed to have been at war for a thousand years or more, and no one had any idea why they were fighting, yet they continued. Not once during this millennium of mêlée was any technology developed. Why not? War produces huge and lethal advances in technology, yet neither of these two races achieved anything. Why not? How the birds had failed to beat the earth-bound snakes escapes me. The two races supposedly detested each other, yet completely out of the blue, two of them magically started to trust each other. Two alien races, neither of which could have had any attraction to the other, yet they agree to marry, believing, for no reason at all, that this would end the war. Seriously? Why would it? Why would they think it would?

Dah-knicker became Zane's "Naga" - yet another snake word which made me laugh because it sounded so much like "nagger". Donni-kuh was his nagger. We had the Cobriana family, the Cobra race, the serpient people, the serpents? There was no logic to any of these amateur naming conventions, including the main character's names. The bird was named Danica Shardae, the guy Zane Cobriana? Seriously? So that's why he couldn't get into the dance club - it was mambas only! He drove an old battered car. It was a real rattler! He's so tired of people that he dreams of living alone on a coral island, watching Monty Python. And wearing a boa....

These critters were not human, yet they mimicked humans and took very pretentious human names. Why? No doubt for the same reason that they inhabited very human palaces, where they had servants, and where despite being at war for a thousand years, they Avians still haven't thought that it might be a good idea to guard the servants' stairs which lead directly to the princess's bedroom. These people are morons. No wonder they can't win. Again, zero world-building.

Danica was supposed to be a hawk, yet she possessed not a single hawk-like trait. She was more like a Dodo. Danica laid an egg. The same goes for Zane and his purported cobra-esque personality. The snakes could hypnotize people with a glance? Honestly? Could we not get a modicum of originality here? This story was sad, sad, sad. Yeah, it gave me a belly-laugh, but I give it the bird.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Christmas Secret by Donna van Liere

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first of a few seasonal stories I'm reviewing this year, and I wasn't impressed. It's really nothing more than a Disney princess fairy tale gussied-up for adults (and not well gussied, either), and the plot is more black and white than the ink on the page. This woman whose name I readily forgot, is a single mom. her husband is a complete villain, so we're given to understand, who has her neighbor spy on her and report back so he can call in frivolous complaints to child services. The worst one seems to be that there are children's toys all over the house, and this woman is unable to cope with that by offering simple instruction to her kids about cleaning up after themselves. She isn't poor. She lives in the family house. She and her kid are well fed and clothed. they're having no issues with payments on anything. Her biggest problem seems to be that she's completely inept when it comes to hiring a babysitter so she can work her job at a restaurant, because this is evidently the only kind of work she's capable of performing for reasons unspecified.

Enter her prince - the son of a wealthy business woman who passes out in her car at the end of the main character's driveway. It was crystal clear from that point onwards what was going to go down, so no mysteries to come. It's kind of pathetic really, but well representative of the kind of sap that seems to clog up Christmas like a lethal case of atherosclerosis. The novel was all over the place in terms of person, which didn't help it one bit. Why authors, who plainly admit that first person isn't up to it by the very nature of how they write, still insist upon using it and then clutzily switch back and forth is a mystery. This one jumped between first person PoV and third person omniscient, and it was right in the middle of chapters, which made it all the more clutzy and annoying, as well as a jolt every time it switched, This was really bad writing. First person doesn't make the character more immediate to me, and I certainly don't want to identify with someone as inept as this character was, nor do I want to read yet another story about yet another woman who can't make it without a man coming to her rescue. especially not at Christmas!

There seems to be a thriving trade in this kind of Christmas story, and even in this very title! Don't confuse this one with The Christmas Secret by George C. Bulpitt, The Christmas Secret by Wanda E. Brunstetter , The Christmas Secret by David Delamare, The Christmas Secret by Tesia Johansen, The Christmas Secret by Joan M. Lexau, The Christmas Secret by Jim Struzzi II, The Christmas Secret by Jeannie Watt, The Christmas Secret by Virginia Wright, to say nothing of variations like A Christmas Secret by Jim Cook, A Christmas Secret by Candace Hall, Christmas Secrets by Bayard Hooper, Christmas Secrets by Susanne McCarthy, Christmas Secrets by Ann Schweninger, Her Christmas Secrets by Breena Wilde, A Christmas Secret by Kurt Zimmerman, or even The Cowboy's Christmas Secret by Veda Boyd Jones. But you can't beat Noël's Christmas Secret by Grégoire Solotareff! Not that I've read it, but that title has it all, so it's the winner for me, only just beating out SANTA'S CHRISTMAS SECRET by John Kleiman!

Sheesh guys, get a friggin' original title for goodness sakes! You can see just from this what we're up against in trying to find a worthy Christmas-themed read. Not me. No more stories about Christmas secrets. I'm done!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Rating: WARTY!

I had mixed feelings about this novel as I read it. For me it started out looking like something I was not going to rate favorably, and I'll get into that, but over time it started winning me around to regarding it much more positively, but towards the end it really went down hill, and I can't view this as a worthy read for a number of reasons.

So what was wrong with this novel that made me rate it negatively? The first thing is the obvious thing: this novel was published in 2015, yet there is this idea underlying it that being gay is a big deal. It isn't! It isn't even a big deal, generally speaking, to come out as gay. If it was written twenty or thirty years ago, then I could see that this novel might have had some value. but not in 2015.

There really isn't anything here to make it necessary for Simon, the protagonist, to hide what he;s all about, yet he is hiding even from his closest friends. The other side of this coin is that in the real world, for any given individual, it might well be a big deal to come out. Personal circumstances, the community in which they live, their parents' attitudes, and a host of other things could well contribute, even in a relatively enlightened age, to creating difficulties in being who you truly are in public, but really, Simon wasn't in this category. He was just cowardly, and that was one of many unlikable and unsavory traits he had. Indeed, he really was a bit of a jerk and I never felt like I wanted to root for him. All the holes he fell into, he dug for himself.

Simon is sixteen and has known for some time that he's well and truly gay. He has no doubts - and no problem with it, except in that he hasn't come out to anyone. Well anyone but this one person - he assumes it's a guy - who attends his own school, but with whom he's been corresponding through emails. Both parties have remained anonymous throughout these exchanges, so although they know they are schoolmates, they do not actually know which schoolmate the other is. This lends a certain intrigue and interest - and perhaps danger - to the proceedings.

This is also where his problem begins, because he fails to log out of his email account and another schoolmate, Martin, gets on the computer right behind him, and is able to read Simon's emails. He even takes screen shots, and then blackmails Simon into giving him an intro to Abby, a close friend of Simon's and a girl for whom Martin has the hots - so we're given to understand. For a long time I thought that Martin was actually Simon's anonymous email friend but it soon became clear that he wasn't. Simon completely caves to the blackmail and then goes into it half-heartedly, thereby pissing off his blackmailer, and then he spends an unwieldy portion of the novel whining to himself about his predicament. It doesn't make or entertaining reading.

One review which I liked on Goodreads made the point that the book encourages online love affairs. I disagree. Besides, all online relationships aren't doomed to failure. If they were, I wouldn't be married! OTOH, I was not a teen when I got involved online, and both parties proceeded cautiously and honestly, becoming reliable friends first and only evolving into something deeper later. But these things can go bad, and especially for inexperienced teens, we do need to sound a note of caution, not only about falling for someone you really don't know, but also about misrepresenting yourself online as teens and adults can do. We do get a brief explanation of how Simon and "Blue" came to interact, but not how Simon knew for sure that Blue was a gay guy as opposed to an obnoxious old man or a mischievous teen female or whatever.

Another issue I had with this was that Simon was the clichéd gay drama student. I didn't see the point of that. There was far to much cliché - the supportive sister, the supportive hot female friend, the supportive mail friend, the unexpected discovery of a boyfriend, and so on. There was no reason whatsoever why he needed to be a drama aficionado or in a school play. It could have been a sports event, or a science class, or gardening club or anything. I thought this was too trope, too pathetic, and insulting to gays, like they're pointless if they aren't actors or hairdressers. Honestly?

Not a lot really happens in this novel, be warned. It's pretty much the hum-drum of everyday high school with the backbeat of a closeted gay, so there's nothing new here, nothing extraordinary, nothing different. Some of the relationships were dynamic and interesting, even amusing a little, but overall, nothing special. I didn't think much of Simon's two best friends, an overweight girl named Leah, and a video-game addicted boy named Nick. I felt they let him down badly when they failed to inform him of something really important, yet there was never any fall-out from this. I didn't get that at all. Conversely, Simon treated Anbby and Leah like crap, and there was no blow-back from that either, so this was entirely unrealistic. Simon pretty much dumped on everyone, got away with everything, and went unhindered and unobstructed through the novel like a Mary Sue. He never had any really serious problems, yet he whined all the time. He abused his friends, gave very little, and never opened up to them about anything. For as little as he knew (or really cared) about his friends, I had to wonder how he considered himself a friend as opposed to an acquaintance.

Simon had a full and rich family life, with two sisters and an intact pair of parents, which is becoming a rarity in YA. It was also nice to finally get a high school depicted in YA where rampant bullying is non-existent and where, when a case of misguided bullying under the flimsy guise of humor does occur, it is flatly not tolerated by the school staff. Yes, Martin was bullying Simon, but no one knew about this beyond the two of them, so this wasn't an issue in that regard. So on those scores, the novel was refreshing, but pretty much in everything else, it failed dismally. I can't recommend it. And be warned you'll meed an insulin shot to get through the last few chapters. They were disgusting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Matched by Ally Condie

Rating: WARTY!

I started listening to Matched by Ally Contrick (I may have mispelled that name) on the way to work yesterday morning and I quickly wanted to put a match to it. It's your standard dystopian trilogy and believe it or not, it's actually worse than Divergent. When I say that, I say it in Malfoy's voice from Harry Potter, when Harry and Ron are impersonating his two henchboys, and Malfoy insults Dumbledore, and Harry, forgetting who he's impersonating, objects. Malfoy says, "You mean there's someone who's worse than Dumbledore?" And Harry responds, "Harry Potter!" In my version, Malfoys says, "You mean there's a novel that's worse than Divergent?" and I say, "Matched!" and Malfoy responds, "Good one!" and then starts poking around in the little gift box he stole.

If there's one nice thing about a commute to work, it's that it's captive time. You have nothing to do for a fixed period of time twice a day, and so you fill it with thoughts, or study, or writing, or music. I fill mine with audio books. The view is boring after making the trip several hundred times, especially in the morning when it's dark, so this seems to me to be a good time to get caught up on my backlog of books, and also to try some experimental reading. Matched was one such book. I honestly didn't expect to like it, but I've long been curious about it. I'm curious no more. The writing is lousy and the reading is equally bad. The reader of this book sounds like she's about thirteen, and her voice is hard to listen to. She makes the main character (oh, yeah, it's a first person PoV novel and not well-written) come off as a thoroughly immature ditz.

The character is supposed to be seventeen, yet she holds her mom's hand to the matching ceremony. She says utterly bizarre things like "There's a girl in a green dress. Me." Yes, it was that bad. She sounds like the 'Me' Carebear, who I actually think is hilarious, and this didn't help. Not that I've had much exposure to any of the Carebears but Me was definitely my second favorite 'Me', after the Doctor Who character from series nine, who is otherwise known as Ashildr. But I digress! This character is completely self-absorbed, and is obsessed with boys, clothes, and make-up, and she thinks of nothing else. This is no heroic figure. It's not someone I want to even listen to, let alone follow into action.

The basic plot is that this is an ultra-controlled society. And we're expected to take that on faith. Admittedly I didn't read much of this novel, but there was nothing offered (and nothing given later from what I've learned reading other reviews) to explain how society ever got into this position (in the not-too-distant future) from what we have today. Everything is controlled. All but one hundred works of art in various fields have been destroyed, so now there is only one hundred paintings, there is only one hundred novels, one hundred poems, etc. It's utterly ridiculous, nonsensical and profoundly stupid. Obviously this is set in the USA, because only a YA author from the US could come up with such a patently ridiculous idea for a story and get it published. Yes, Veronica Roth, Stephanie Meyer, I'm looking at you. In reality, no one would ever let this happen, least of all self-respecting and rebellious young men and women. The very premise of the novel fails completely - and that's before Cassia Maria Reyes starts acting like a professional moron.

The matching ceremony is pretty much a rip-off of the "matching" ceremony in Divergent where you're matched to your faction, except here you can't choose. Cassia's man turns out to be Xander (yeah, about those names) who has been her friend from childhood and with whom she's delighted in every way - until there's a glitch in the system and she's briefly shown another guy, absurdly named Ky - a character who's never been in the story - much less in her thoughts - until now. He's the bad boy of this ridiculous instadore triangle, and of course, Cassia, who was totally thrilled with Xander is now humping Ky's leg - metaphorically. It's moronic. Ky - who makes her turn to jelly - is the designated bad boy and Xander is the good boy, so it's your tedious trope triangle all the way down.

We're told it's exceedingly rare to get matched as Cassia has been, yet we're told that cities are huge, so how rare can it be to end-up matched to a person you know? Someone didn't pay attention during statistics 101. Not that I blame the author for that! It's obvious from the start where this pointless trilogy is going, so there's really nothing to surprise the reader, and there's really no reveal to come. It turned out to be exactly what I expected for at least as far as I could stand to listen. I was honestly hoping to be wrong, and to find an author who can write original YA and bring something new and exciting to the table, but Ally Condie isn't that author, which is sad, because it argues strongly that English teachers can't write! LOL! I hope that's not true!

Instead of new and different, I got warmed-over Divergent, by way of the movie Logan's Run. Others have accused this of ripping off "The Giver" - with which I'm not familiar, so I can't comment there, but it's definitely a rip-off. And yes, I know that all novels are rip-offs to some extent, but really? At least try to make it different. I can't recommend this based on the portion I was subject to. At the end of the first disk, there's a clunkily foreshadowing line to the effect that Cassia won't be able to look at Ky the same way again. Here's my version: I won't be able to ready any books by Ally Condie again, now that I've read too much of this one.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles

Rating: WARTY!

This author's story is another one like those told about Amanda Hocking. The story in the novel was begun by Beth Reeks when she was fifteen, and published on a website named Wattpad when she was seventeen, where it quickly became popular. A representative from Random House saw it there, decided it was worth publishing (that tells us a lot about standards at Random House - the publisher evidently isn't named random for nothing!), and offered her a contract, so the novel got published under her school nickname Reekles.

The problem is that the representative apparently paid attention only to the numbers of views Reeks was getting rather than the quality of the writing or the content of the novel which by all accounts sucked. I listened to the standard two disks and decided this was not only not for me, it was not for anyone in their right mind. It's essentially another Hush Hush where a girl actively seeks out and adheres herself a guy who is openly disrespectful and abusive to her.

When I picked this up and read the blurb, I wrongly got he impression that that this was set in the past and was written by a mature author (i.e. mature in the sense of being a competent writer), but it was not. The writing quality was exactly what you'd expect from a fifteen to seventeen year old writer, and the issues with it were many. There are some young writers who can do it, but most cannot, and Beth Reekles is one of those. The novel isn't set in a more innocent time, it's contemporary, which made it inexplicable. Another problem was that the novel was written as an English novel, but it's set in California, a place to which the author has never been and evidently not even researched. Consequently all the Californian high-schoolers speak as though they're in England. Nonsensical.


Given that it's not set in the past, the whole kissing booth idea fails. Reeks explained in an interview that that she moved it to to California because they don't have kissing booths in high school carnivals in Britain. They do in the US with the rise of orally transmitted diseases such as HPV and AIDS? No!!!! The sad thing is that none of this - the risk of transmission of disease - is raised. No one objects to it, and that's another issue with the novel - the complete lack of adult or parental supervision. There is none in this novel, not in any of it that I read.

This novel failed on so many levels that it's a joke, and the fact that Random House ran with it serves only to underline the problems I have with Big Publishing. All the more power to Reeks if she can rip-off the rubes with a crappy novel, but what does it say about young readers that they consider something like this to be perfectly acceptable reading material?