Showing posts with label Victorian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Victorian. Show all posts

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister

Rating: WARTY!

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

This story initially sounded interesting, but far from being a thriller as the blurb claims, it was slow-moving and had endless, tedious flashbacks which I took to skipping in short order because they were so boring and pointless. They had, from what I could see before I began skipping them, no bearing on the actual story, and served only to interrupt it with annoying regularity.

So, every few screens I would read how this girl would reassert her need to focus on finding her sister Phoebe and rescuing her from the asylum, but then she would predictably meander back to the la-la land of asylum minutiae, behaviors, and politics, rather than focus on how to find which ward Phoebe was in so she could contact her. When she wasn't lost in that, she was lost in the past. It quickly became tediously repetitive. Had Yoda been a doctor there he would have diagnosed her as "Never her mind on where she was; what she was doing."

Flashbacks, in my experience, are rarely contributory. I just think they represent poor writing and they also unnecessarily interrupt the story. There are better ways of referencing past events than simply stopping the story and irritating the reader with yet another info dump, especially if it's irrelevant which, in this case, was consistently true. The flashbacks did not relate to the current story at all. All they 'contributed' was to tell an irrelevant backstory of this girl's relationship with her sister and her fiancé and this other guy she had the hots for, so clichéd love triangle. Barf. And this wasn't the story that was advertised! It was certainly not the story I wanted to read.

Sometimes it began to sound like this girl was herself an unreliable narrator because in the current story she was dissing her fiancé, whereas in the backstory she seemed less antagonistic, but it was b-o-r-i-n-g, which is why I quit reading them. I never felt like I needed to go back and read any of the flashbacks to understand what was happening in the present so what was the point? The current story and the flashbacks seemed to be completely separate stories, and at no time in the current story did she ever refer back to anything that happened in the past.

In another instance of her schizophrenia, I read that on the one hand that "If I confessed the whole truth, I’d be sent back to my parents quick as a wink," and on the other, a mere few lines later she claims, "And if I didn’t do something drastic, all my days would be like this, for all the time to come." I'm sorry? Either she can get out of the asylum by confessing or she's stuck there no matter what! It can't simultaneously be both. The fact that she thinks it can be calls her own sanity into question!

There was another point where I began to think she truly was insane and this story about her going there to rescue her sister was something she made up to 'rationalize' her presence in the asylum. It crossed my mind is that her understanding of why her older sister was there was in error - that her sister had been put there because her fiancé had been having a relationship with her or something. But I honestly didn't care enough at that point about either of these possibilities to continue reading, and I DNF'd it at around the fifty percent mark.

The reason for this was that the current story wasn't much better than the flashbacks, quite honestly. When she found the room her sister was supposedly in, and snuck in to visit, the woman in there was not her sister, but some Russian woman who was using her sister's name. After an agonizing few pages with flashbacks, she finally figured out that her sister and this woman had swapped places. Then - and how she made this insane leap I do not know - she decided this woman had to be one of the Romanov family, so the story further descended into inanity and I gave up on it, having zero confidence that it would ever go anywhere interesting.

I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot in good faith commend this one based on the fifty percent of it I could stand to read. And BTW, the Romanovs are all accounted for: they all died in the end.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Nefertiti's Heart by AW Exley

Rating: WARTY!

Since the author announces her first chapter as taking place on Sunday, June 23rd, and later reveals it's a quarter century after Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne, then this novel has to be set in 1860, not 1861 as the idiot blurb in Goodreads states. But that's Amazon-owned Goodreads for you.

Cara Devon is a Victorian woman supposedly living in a steampunk world, but the author seems not to understand steampunk, and features very little of that genre. The story seems to have more in common with Fifty Shades of Grey than ever it does with streampunk, but given that I haven't read (and have no intention of reading) that latter novel, I'd have to say it's a grey area...!

Anyway, that's what I gathered from it from my reading of just under a fifth of it before I felt unable to stomach any more. It's set in an alternate reality which not only bears little resemblance to steam-punk, but also bears little resemblance to Victorian London! There were too many anachronisms and they began to grate in short order.

The character's name alone seems suspect. She is the daughter of Lord Devon, but historically, someone elevated to the peerage didn't simply add Duke or Earl or Lord to his last name. He took the name of the locale over which he was actually the lord (at least historically), so Lord Devon might have been named so because he has or had land holdings in the county of Devonshire. That doesn't necessarily follow especially not these days, and doesn't mean he necessarily lived in Devon either.

The current Earl of Devon isn't named Devon, but Courtenay. In 1860, Viscount Palmerston was 'prime minister', but his name was Temple, not Palmerston. With regard to the government he oversaw, the Lord Chancellor was Lord Campbell and that was his last name as it happens, but the president of the council was Lord Granville, whose actual name was Leveson-Gower. The Duke of Argyle was also John Campbell - a different John Campbell! The Duke of Newcastle was named Pelham-Clinton. The Duke of Somerset was named Seymour, and Lord Elgin was James Bruce. So yeah, it's possible a Lord would have his last named in his title, but it wasn't common then, not like it is now because of the life peerages that have been added.

And that's just the last name. Cara was not a common name. An author can choose whatever name they want of course, but to me names mean something, and Cara wasn't remotely on the radar of names in and around the 1840s which was, I assume, roughly when Cara would have been born. Popular names tended to be queen's names such as Mary, Ann, Elizabeth and so on. Cara wasn't even in the top 100 popular names for a kid.

Maybe the parents wanted to give her an unpopular name, but Cara means beloved. That hardly sounds like a name an abusive father would give a girl he detested - and remember it was the men who ran everything and owned everything back then - often not for better but for worse, so this name felt like something the author had coined because she felt it sounded cool rather than a name which had any real thought given to it or which fitted the milieu in which this character was so precipitously deposited.

Anyway, this author has her hero Cara Devon carrying a pair of Smith & Wesson revolvers in 1860 in England. Given that the company wasn't even founded until 1852 in the USA and that it manufactured (when that word literally meant 'by hand') rifles to begin with, it's unlikely she would have a pair of these revolvers (and ammunition to keep them filled) in England so soon afterwards!

Given that this is an English hero, why not give her a Beaumont-Adams revolver, which has the two names she could have used in place of Smith and Wesson in her slightly tired joke. This was a sidearm in use in the British army from 1856 onward. It took me five minutes to 'research' this. Anita Exley isn't an American author as far as I know. She's evidently from New Zealand, so her choice of weapon is a mystery and her evident laziness was a little off-putting.

There are a lot of modern phrases used in this book which detracted from the Victorian setting, and it wasn't just phrases. There were anachronous behaviors, too. In terms of phrases, for example, I read at one point, "She knew leaving the house unattended would be an invite to every questionable person in London" whereas a Victorian would have used 'invitation', not a shortened version which would have been considered unconscionable slang back then, as would ' Union Jack flag' - it was only a 'jack' when used on a ship, otherwise it was just the Union Flag and in Victorian times probably just the British flag. This flag - in one form or another - dates back to James's accession to the throne after Elizabeth died without (recognized!) issue.

Another instance was in one of Cara's thoughts that are shared with us about a visitor to her house: "Cute, for a copper. Shame he's wearing the coat. I can't check out the rear view." which is hardly what a Victorian woman of breeding would think. And even if she had thought it she would not use the modernism 'check out' which is also an Americanism and would not have been in use in London back then. Nor would she have used a phrase like, "the sooner I can get the hell out of London." This was all in the first few pages. "I guess they are a necessary evil" was another phrase that wouldn't have been uttered. Substitute 'suppose' or 'imagine' for 'guess' and you're in business. This is not rocket science.

In a scene in a lawyer's office I read: "Tea, please, Miss Wilson." He directed his comment to the efficient secretary.... No - they would never have had a female secretary back then. Such a thing was very rare and the solicitor's office did not seem very much inclined to support women's emancipation. At one point I read, "The flow of cards through her mail slot was unrelenting" but it was highly unlikely that a door would have had a mail slot in the 1860s, nor would there have been a "pissing contest" back then. These anachronisms began to jar in short order.

Now you can argue that Cara is not your usual gentile Victorian, but the author tells us Cara was abused. It turns out she was beaten by her brutal father, and also was used as payment for a debt by being loaned out as a whore to the creditor for a week during which she was frequently raped. After that kind of treatment at men's hands, I have serious doubts that she would be 'checking out' men's asses. It seemed more likely she would detest and despise them thoroughly, especially in light of her nervous and retiring behavior exhibited later in the story. This felt like a betrayal of what she had been through and was not appreciated, especially in light of what followed.

At one point the author has her hero going out into the street wearing jodhpurs, which is bad enough, and a corset over her outfit. Bullshit. Women didn't even wear jodhpurs for riding back then, and no one wore a corset over their clothes. This was really a poor choice. Methinks the author was far too influenced by what modern steam-punkers seem to favor and paid no attention at all to convention and culture as it was actually in Victorian times. Again, I know this is an alternate reality, but why even claim it's set in Victorian times if you're going to completely flout all conventions?

The emphasis on youth and beauty in this is disgusting, especially from a female author. I thought that perhaps we were starting to get beyond that, but YA writers don't seem to get it for some reason. Thus we have a victim of a murder mentioned early in the story and the only quality she seems to have had is beauty (and youth). Or was it youth (and beauty)? I read, "The death of a young and beautiful aristocrat." This woman is described in a newspaper headline as a "beautiful debutante" No! Victorian newspapers did not go in for that sort of thing! Later I read that someone couldn't imagine anyone wanting to harm her because she was "so beautiful." "Her face was heart-shaped and would have been beautiful [when she was alive]." later, "...on a beautiful young woman?"

No, no, no! Why is it that YA authors are so insistent upon betraying their gender by declaring so categorically that if you're not beautiful you have nothing to recommend you? Had this murder victim been rather plain would that have made her death far less tragic? It would seem so according to this author, who evidently thinks that all a woman has to offer is the shallow depth of her skin.

If the whole point of the story hinged on a woman's looks - like she was a model or an actor or something, then I can see some attention being paid to superficiality, but when her looks are irrelevant, could the author find nothing else to day about a woman? Perhaps that she was loved? Talented? Had her whole life ahead of her? That she did charity work? That she was brilliant? That she was a wonderful friend? That she was an only child? Anything? Bueller? I detest authors who demean and cheapen women like this.

The worst sin is that this author seems to be setting up the bad boy to win Cara's cold and isolated heart. As I said, Cara was raped repeatedly as a child, yet she accepts the villain's offer to go to his home - unescorted - and have dinner with him. When she gets there, the villain insists she take a bath and put on a dress he has for her and she meekly acquiesces. This supposedly feisty hero of the novel essentially lays down and exposes her belly and throat to the alpha dog. This is the rape victim. This is the woman who was abused. This is the woman who supposedly would die before letting anything like this happen to her again, and she rolls over and comes to heel at this guy's bidding? What a pile of horseshit.

That's when I quit reading this garbage; when the villain went into his bedroom - where Cara was taking a bath, and he spies on her through the slightly open bathroom door, and then while she's still in the bathroom and could exit at any time, he begins himself to change for dinner - and without taking a bath. Later Cara decides of this pervert, "He doesn't look villainous, he looks devilish...or delicious." Barf.

Did #MeToo never make it as far as New Zealand? I find it hard to believe. Maybe Anita Exley is simply clueless. Whatever the reason, this novel is garbage.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander

Rating: WARTY!

I didn't realize this was part of a series (Sinful Family Secrets, volume 3) otherwise I would never have requested it from the library. I'm not a fan of series. That said, it appears to be amenable to reading as a stand-alone, and as an audiobook, it seemed like it offered an interesting read. Unfortunately it's yet another American author thinking she can write Victorian drama. Some US authors can do it admirably, but others cannot. This one gets too much wrong, and authenticity falls victim to this failed effort.

Additionally, there was paragraph after paragraph of idle gossip which I am sure the author was thrilled with herself for, but which was boring, and which did nothing whatsoever to move the story, except into the DNF category. I was twenty percent in before anything of interest happened, and by that time I was so tired of the reader's voice and the lackluster plot that I gave up on it. The book was read by Justine Eyre, whose voice was a bit annoying. I recognized it at once from other audiobooks because it's very distinctive, but in the other book I recall, she sounded far too mature for the character she was reading about (and it was first person which made the discrepancy worse). In this case her voice tended to fall off to what sounded rather like a pout at the end of each sentence which became irritating after a while. Even with a perfect reading voice though, the story would still have dragged abominably.

The basis of it is that Evelyn Hadley-Attwater used to be a government spy. She purportedly worked for the Department of Foreign and Domestic Affairs, but 'Department' is an American thing. In Victorian England it would much more likely have been called an 'office' since it wasn't large at all, or a ministry. Additionally, Lady Evelyn is married to a Count, but again there's a problem because 'Count' isn't really an English title at all. It's European, where the man would be a compte, or a graf, or something along those lines, so this didn't really work either and felt appallingly pretentious.

This is also a story where the main character has retired but is called back into service because no one else can do the job. Yes, everyone is utterly incompetent except our miracle hero. Barf. These stories usually feature some guy named Jack who is ex-military, or he's a troubled FBI serial-killer profiler, and I avoid such stories like the plague because they're too tedious for words. The idea here is that there's tension now between Evelyn's need to get this one last job done, and her need to shield her husband from her activities. My wild guess is that her husband is the very man who used to hand out her assignments when she worked for the "Department" and she doesn't realize he's her fantasy guy (whom she never met). Of course I may be completely wrong with that, but I really don't care because I honestly don't care about this character. I cannot recommend this: it was boring.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden

Rating: WORTHY!

"How did they found out I wasn't at Anne's?" Find out?

This is an intriguing novel that perked my interest when I saw it offered for review on Net Galley. I'm thankful I was able to get it for review. Please note that since this is an ARC, any comments I make regarding the technical qualities of the writing may be irrelevant to the final published version of this novel as changes are made.

Set in Victorian times this is, unfortunately, a first person PoV story, which I generally do not favor. Indeed, I think they should come with a warning sticker! If I find an interesting novel in a bookstore or the library and see that it's first person, I typically put it right back on the shelf with very few exceptions. It seems that authors are obsessed with 1PoV these days, and they're becoming increasingly harder to avoid if you want to read at all. I find this sad.

With ebooks, you don't always get much of a chance to skim the first couple of pages (or sniff the paper!) and see what's what, but it had sounded intriguing and in the end I wasn't disappointed. This one wasn't bad at all to read. Some authors can write 1PoV without the main character becoming insufferably self-obsessed or self-important. I was grateful for that, too! On a personal note, rest assured that other than a single one I'm almost finished working on, I shall write no first person PoV novels (except for parodies!)! You have my word! And I promise you that mine will carry a warning sticker, which will make it the second novel I'm working on that will be issued one!

But I digress. Lady Elizabeth Fraser, of Kellham Park in Levlinshire, has had three seasons and has not made her match. Exactly why this is so isn't really explored, and I found myself wondering about it, but her mother is less than thrilled with her and makes it known as they head back north from London. There's a good reason for her mother's surly attitude which you might be interested to discover - but I ain't gonna reveal it! The pair don't make it home however, since their train runs off the tracks and they're lucky to escape with their lives. Why take the train? Well, the family fortune isn't what it once was - which is yet another reason Elizabeth's mother is not happy with her failure to marry. After three seasons and now a dip in fortune, Elizabeth is, so her mother believes, destined to end up an old maid, living off relatives. Then there's the accident, and the dedicated and charming Mr Wilcox, who is a railway surgeon, turns up. He doctors people who have been in train accidents; he doesn't do surgery on engines, just FYI!

This couple is thrown together as Lady Elizabeth helps him with the injured, and a whiff of scandal starts to rise, given how much time they spend together, he being an unmarried man and she a debutante (three seasons removed) from the nobility. As she grows to know him, she also realizes that he's into more than surgery. There's something going on with the railways, and it seems to be tied to Lady Elizabeth's shifting fortunes. That's all the spoilers you're going to get, but rest assured this is a satisfying and complex novel with many undercurrents and very little melodrama.

I liked the way the author captures the English. Some American authors do not seem to be able to do this right. The only questionable phrasing I found was "..and he'll come see you then..." which was missing a preposition and felt like it wasn't something that a Victorian lady of breeding would say. Aside from that (and maybe that's arguable), I was impressed by the feel of the novel and by the extensive research the author had done, which showed in what she wrote. It was very easy to become immersed in this world, which says a lot for me, not being a huge fan of historical novels, and less a fan of historical (hysterical?!) romances, but this is where I was most impressed.

I must confess that I don't really get why so many authors feel this urge to pair off their female characters at the end of the story. It's like there's an addiction to resolving every adventure by marrying off the main character at the end. Can a woman not stand on her own two feet? Can she not enjoy a friendship with a man (even in a Victorian novel!) without it having to be a romance? Yes, people do fall in love and get married, and/or end up between the covers, but between the covers of a novel it happens far more often than is realistic, and it happens with an unrealistic degree of expedition, which is what happened here. It would be nice to read more stories where women are not in need of validation by a male character all the time, but the romance here, while rather precipitous for me, was very understated, so it did not turn me off the story. The last chapter was, however, hard to stomach and the least enjoyable part of the novel for me.

One of the most interesting things about this novel for me, was that it's really a detective story yet it never feels like one, and it's a romance, but it doesn't feel like your standard bodice-ripper, either (last chapter notwithstanding), so kudos to the author for writing it this way. My blog is as much about writing as it is about reading, and it's really nice to find novels like this one, which deliver the goods, and in diverse ways, too. It made for an interesting read. I particularly liked the chapters covering the court case, which I think was brilliantly done.

I have to question the use of Levlinshire which seemed like it was intended as a village rather than a county, although its usage was so vague that it might well have meant the county. I don't know why an author would feel the need to invent a county for a novel set in Victorian Britain. Goodness knows there are plenty available, some of which no longer exist. Any would be perfect for a fictional work. No villages, towns or cities in England have that kind of name to my knowledge; only counties end in 'shire', but it occurred to me that perhaps this was the name of the country home of one of Lady Elizabeth's acquaintances, so it was the home which was referred to, and maybe the village by association? It just seemed odd (not odden, just odd!) the way it was used, but I forgave all of those issues when I read this sneaky passage: "and the boy George is a good sort"! I don't think this was intentional, but I agree, Boy George is a good sort!

As you can see, my "complaints" are few and trivial, which was impressive to me. I liked the main character, although there were times when she was rather stupid, but people are stupid on occasion. She had her Victorian sensibility moments, and while these were few, they seemed at odds with her iron resolve on other occasions, so she was a bit of a mixed bag. I never really got this attraction between her and the doctor. To call it love seemed way premature, but for most of the story it was relatively innocuous, so it wasn't a deal-breaker for me. Overall I liked the main character and rooted for her.

Really though, when it comes right down to it, the only important thing about a novel is not the cover, or who the author is, or how slick the back cover blurb is, or whether the novel is a best seller, but whether it's worth reading. To me, a novel is never two-fifths worth reading or four fifths or whatever; a novel is either worth reading or it isn't, and in my view this one is well worth reading. I recommend it.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Seven Dials by Anne Perry

Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Agatha Christie's The Seven Dials Mystery, this novel is named after a location in Covent Garden, London, where seven streets converge. It's the twenty-third in the Pitt detective series by Anne Perry, aka Juliet Marion Hulme, who served five years starting in 1954, when when she was fifteen, for helping her friend Pauline Parker brutally murder Parker's mother. A Murder mystery written by someone who has actually murdered! I didn't realize this when I started reading (or actually, listening to) this novel. I mistakenly thought that this author was the one who wrote The Accidental Tourist, but of course that was Anne Tyler! Oops!

As it happened, the novel really wasn't very good. I only made it to the half way point, and that was by skimming and skipping about sixty percent of the first half. I started listening with interest. I thought the crime was a good one to investigate, but this novel took so many digressions and rambling asides into pointless drivel that I tired of it very quickly. It didn't help that reader Michael Page, while doing fine with male voices, sounded like a Monty Python sketch when he tried impersonating cantankerous dowager aunts.

One of the worst failures is that an obvious possibility for a murder motive was completely ignored. Obviously I don't know if that turned out to be the actual motive, but it seemed to me that there were two options here, and neither was voiced, not in the portion to which I listened anyway. The first of these is that the victim was lured there deliberately by a third (or actually, a fourth in this case!) party for the express purpose of murdering him. The second possibility was that the victim was actually 'collateral damage' from an attempt by the fourth party to murder the third. The fact that this detective never even considered these possibilities made him look inept at best, and like a moron at worst.

Almost as off-putting: the detective's boss was a complete caricature, and all of his scenes with the main character were nauseatingly bad. The reader's tone may have contributed to how bad these were, I have to add. That's one of several problems with audio books - you get their take on it, not your own! And what's with the whiny violin music at the start of these disks? When you opened the original print novel, did violins spew forth? I seriously doubt it, so where are the heads of these audio book morons at, that they feel compelled to add music? Get a life you guys!

This novel takes place - as far as I can gather, during or after 1883, by which time the use of fingerprints had already appeared in an 1883 novel (by Mark Twain), yet never once is the consideration of using fingerprinting raised in order to see who had handled the gun used in the murder. So, along with other problems I had with it, this novel was sad and I am not interested in reading any more by this author. I cannot recommend this one.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Soulless by Gail Carriger aka Tofa Borregaard

Rating: WARTY!

Before she adopted a pen name and began writing quite charming books set in a steam-punk and paranormal Victorian England, Tofa Borregaard spent time at Nottingham university studying archaeology. The gave her a certain well-taken familiarity with England, but it was insufficient to completely Anglify her, hence we have problems in her writing, such as breakfasters spreading jelly (rather than preserve) on their toast, and saying things like "gee". These are minor issues however and unlikely to be noticed by most people, so I didn't worry about them too much.

Given that her steam-punk isn't canon and is, as it happens, rather tangential as opposed to central to this story - it's hardly surprising that her paranormal isn't exactly canonical either. In this novel, we learn that werewolves can't take the sun, for example, although she does toe the tedious line of organizing vampires into hives, each sporting a queen, and werewolves into packs having alphas, which is rather tedious and uninventive.

You would think that having lived in England she would know that being both seven miles from the sea, and entirely land-locked, Canterbury isn't a port by any stretch of the imagination. Given that this is a world of steam-powered airships, I was prepared to grant her the benefit of the doubt and understand that she meant that it was an airport, but later she talks about sailors being in town, so this was clearly a serious gaff, unless her geography is in an alternate reality. Carriger also doesn't know that what a butler does, is buttle, not "butler". And while we're on the topic of gaffs, it's chaise longue, not chaise lounge. Yes, the latter form has come into use of late, but it was most certainly not in use amongst cultured people in Victorian England.

The story, set in the same world as her later young-adult series, is about Alexia Tarabotti, the daughter of an Italian man, who is now dead, and an English woman, who has subsequently remarried and mothered two more daughters who shame Alexia by being quintessential English roses. Alexia is evidently of a more dusky and masculine appearance, although still very feminine. I quickly grew tired of learning that she was half Italian, had somewhat olive skin, and had rather less than a button nose. Carriger, for reasons as irritating as they were unknown chanted these things like a mantra at every opportunity. Alexia is, at twenty five, considered a spinster, ten years past her marry-by date, and this doesn't bother her in the slightest, although it evidently bothers Carriger because she repeats this to a really annoying degree, too. Alexia is extremely well-read, self-possessed, smart, fiercely independent, and addicted to books. In short, her name ought to have been Mary Sue.

This explains why, attending a ball (for reasons unknown, given what we've been told about her) where food isn't provided, she rather outrageously orders tea in the library, where she is attacked by a rogue vampire. What the vampire doesn't know is that Alexia is soulless, and therefore immune to both vampires and werewolves - their fangs retract into almost non-existence as soon as they lay hands on her. This vampire seems unaware of her traits and even her existence as a soulless on. He cannot understand why his attack has failed, and he repeats it only to fall afoul of one of her wooden hair pins. Alexia has no soul because her father had none. It's the dominant trait, evidently, but Carriger never explains exactly what this means. I took it to mean literally what it says - it was not a comment on her morality as too many reviewers seem to have decided, but the simple statement that she literally had no soul and therefore was never going to go to Heaven or Hell after she died.

Lord Maccon, the werewolf alpha, and a government official is on the scene of the vampire attack disturbingly quickly, almost as though he were stalking Alexia, which he actually does later. He covers up the incident and keeps Alexia's name out of it, but the very next day, while out walking in the park with her friend Ivy, Alexia is visited by a claviger - an acolyte of the vampires - who happens to also be a well-known actress. She extends an invitation to Alexia to meet with Countess Nasty (or something along those lines), the queen of the Westminster vampire hive.

In order to learn whether she should accept this potentially dangerous invitation, and perhaps why it might have been extended. Alexia invites her dear friend, the foppish Lord Akeldama (from the Hebrew for 'field of blood') to tea. Akeldama suggests that she consult Maccon about it. No love is lost between Maccon and Akeldama, so his suggestion is a surprise. There is love between Maccon and Alexia, however, trope-ishly repressed as it is. Despite the potential threat, Alexia decides to meet with the countess.

At one point Carriger references "the British Isle" - singular! Like there's just the one. The problem here isn't so much that however, as her referencing it in connection with Queen Elizabeth (the original - version 1.0. not the 2.0 version who has recently become the longest reigning British monarch ever). Elizabeth I was queen only of England, Wales, and Ireland, not Scotland, so suggesting she had dominion over the British Isles is wrong. Scotland wasn't incorporated until Elizabeth's successor, James, came to the English throne.

All this came up when Alexia went on a date with an American - after his being disparaged by pretty much every one except Alexia. Does Carriger really think that the Victorian British hated Americans? The story is that the US is not integrated as Britain is: supernaturals aren't an accepted part of society there, but neither are they in Britain either according to how Carriger writes! In her world, they live an entirely separate existence, and despite their being 'out' for some three centuries, they've evidently not had one whit of influence upon British society. This speaks to really poor world-building on Carriger's part.

In another error, Carriger writes on Page 103: " an earl of Lord Maccon's peerage." This makes zero sense. Peer isn't a relative measure of nobility, value, importance, or breeding. It's merely short-hand describing those who are alike - as in "a jury of your peers" - but in the case of the nobility. Of course, juries never really are of the accused's peers, otherwise when a gang member was on trial, the jury would consist entirely of other gang members! When a voir-dire is conducted, it is the prosecution's job to try to avoid allowing peers onto the jury for fear of them empathizing with the accused. It's really only the defense's job to actually try and get peers on the jury. Most people are not really tried by a jury of their peers because most criminals are of a completely different upbringing and background than are their jurors.

But I digress! In terms of the peerage, what Carriger says is a tautology, the same as saying "a well to-do person of Lord Maccon's wealth." A good editor would have caught this, but then her editors were just as American as Carriger is and just as blinded by the "Britishness" of the story, just as a British editor would be blinded by the "American-ness" of a story, and failing to focus properly on problems like this because their eyes are dilated by the thought of American sales. Brits are far more savoir-faire of American culture than Americans in general are - of any culture other than their own for that matter, and this latter fact is what's the problem here.

But that's not what started putting me off this novel. I don't care that much about gaffs like this as long as the story is a good one. I'm willing to let a writer get away with a heck of a lot of faux pas for a good story. What put me off here was the growing attraction between Maccon and Alexia, an attraction which began threatening the quality of the story right around the same time as the 'peerage' gaff popped up. Maccon essentially 'rapes a kiss' out of Alexia. Why romance novel writers think it's romantic when the inevitably stronger man "violently" kisses the inevitably weaker woman is utterly beyond me, but this is exactly what happens here, and romantic it is not.

The fact that Maccon is four hundred years old is another issue entirely. I mean, Eww! In more human age-relative terms, that's the equivalent of an eighty-year-old falling for a five-year-old child. Maccon is therefore at this point, effectively a pedophile, but even if we allow the objection that Alexia is a mature woman rather than a child here, there still remains the question as to what a 400-year-old person, even if they retained their youth and vitality, would find remotely interesting in someone who is, relative to their own life experience, not even an adolescent?

Without so much as a by-your-leave, Maccon wrenches Alexia into his arms. He "grabs" her chin and pulls her towards him "hard", forcing his lips upon her "almost" violently, we're told! Almost violently? I'm sorry but the 'almost' is a lie. He's doing violence upon her, period, and asking no permission either verbally or in taking her cues. He's raping her. Carriger is clueless enough to describe this kiss as "quite gentle"?!!! His feeling up of her ass at the same time, not so gentle, maybe?

The werewolf is growling, yet Alexia has no problem with any of this. When he literally starts biting her, she considers it a "delightful sensation" and loses control of "her kneecaps" Seriously? Losing control of one's muscles, yes; specifically of one's kneecaps? Idiotic. I now believe that, instead of a woman sporting a parasol, the cover ought to have featured some bare-chested man and suitably simpering woman with an overly exposed décolletage. The Earl's name does sound like 'Mack on', though, doesn't it? Maybe this shouldn't be such a surprise.

Not only was this entire and very public exhibition inappropriate for the era being depicted, it was such a cliché that it would have nauseated me had it not been so laughable, so perhaps I should be grateful for that. Do I want to read another four volumes of cheap-ass "Harlequin romance"? Not on your nelly.

At this point, and considering both the issue of peers raised earlier, and the Victorian setting, Alexia's peers evidently are London prostitutes. Had she been seen, her reputation could never have overcome a disgrace like this. Apparently none of this bothers her. Yes, she's been shown to be something of a rebel, but she's also been clearly depicted as a stickler for decorum so this seemed out of character at best and really poor writing, not to mention insulting to the female gender, at worst. In fact the more I thought about this at that point, the less inclined I was to read on.

The most disgusting thing about all of this is that a few minutes before this kissing began, we're apprised of the fact the Maccon had been feeding - he has blood on his lips or chin or something. What he was feeding on while waiting for Alexia to exit the hive is not specified, but given the locale and the time of day, rats would seem to be the only available food. So...YUCK!

Is Alexia really so stupid that she's macking on a dog after it ate fresh meat? And she perceives nothing wrong with taste or smell or anything here? She's hardly the kind of person I want to read about, but what intrigues me more is why so many people seem to want to switch off their brains to read stories of this meager caliber. Are we so desperate for good stories - or are we just so desperate? I could not read past this and I refuse to recommend such a poorly written novel.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Dark Victorian Risen by Elizabeth Watasin

Title: The Dark Victorian Risen
Author: Elizabeth Watasin
Publisher: A-Girl Studio
Rating: WARTY!

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

This is a very odd tale set in Victorian London. It’s the first of a series, of course, because one volume is never enough these days. Indeed, writers seem so desperate to establish a money-spinning chain, that novels are becoming increasingly shorter because what used to be one full-length novel is now split and issued as a series of episodes. Such is this one. There is no real conclusion to this novel - you have to buy the next one to find out what's going on.

The two main characters are Art (short for Artifice), who is a resurrected and statuesque woman with nicely-defined musculature and impressive fighting skills - and Jim - a sentient skull. They are special agents in a police force which combats supernatural entities, and which is known as the Secret Commission.

Despite the impressive credentials of the main female character - normally ones which I would admire and to which I;d warm quickly, I really could not get into this story. It’s really short - less than ninety pages, and though it’s technically well written (I didn’t see any faux pas, grammatical gaffs, or spelling screw-ups, nothing really seems to happen in it. The story is rather plodding, and the thrust of the plot is entirely unclear. It's also confusing. I constantly felt like I was coming into a series in progress rather than into the beginning of a new story.

Art is a Quaker (or was a Quaker) so she's constantly saying grammatically nonsensical things along the lines of "Thee art correct" which was intensely irritating and seemed to serve no purpose other than to give her a quirk, which she clearly did not need, given how impressive she was already. Art was smart, strong in more than one way, she was self-possessed and independent, she healed quickly, and she was an astonishing fighter. She could be corporeal and very much a regular human when she wanted to be, which she nearly always was, but she could also go into some sort of 'ghost form' and move through walls. Trust me, she needed neither quirks nor affectations. The problem is that she was woefully wasted in this novel.

So what was the story about? Well that's impossible to say! Even having read it I can’t tell you! There are one or two bizarre murders, there's an investigation conducted by the main characters, and there are some weird things happening, such as zombie, arm-biting children, but there didn’t seem to be a real story here, nor any logical progression towards any sort of dénouement, which was disappointing to say the least. There were constant hints of something better, something exciting, something more intriguing to come, but it never actually arrived.

So, in short, this novel interested me because it seemed like it had amazing potential, only for me to see that potential quickly squandered. The story simply could not recover from that. What a sin, Elizabeth!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Publisher: Recorded Books (originally Chapman & Hall).
Rating: worthy!

Well this took much longer than I anticipated (it's only three disks), interrupted as it was with falling asleep on the couch (very comfortable), Doctor Who (slightly disappointing), Man of Steel (much less than entertaining) and kid assaults demanding attention over one thing or another, but I eventually got it done, and I recommend this one.

Dickens (whose face could have readily passed for that of a woman's in 1843, when he wrote this) divides up this book into five "staves", matching the musical tone he set by naming the story a "carol". These staves substitute for chapters, and he wastes no time in impressing upon us that Jacob Marley is "dead as a doornail". Dickens's writing is sharp, descriptive, humorous, and very accessible. Scrooge begins to be haunted the moment he puts his key to his door as he heads indoors one chill Christmas Eve, seeing his old partner Marley's face in the door, and shortly afterwards being visited by Marley's ghost, about whom there's "more of the gravy than the grave", Scrooge observes humorously. He's warned that he must change his ways unless he wants to end up like Marley, forced to drag with him the weighty chains he forged in his own life, made from one mean or thoughtless act after another.

The ghosts of past, present, and future appear on after another, each presenting a more dire picture than the last, with the first's images actually not being dire at all, but being a rather pleasant, if somewhat saddening, trip down memory lane for Scrooge. The last visit is horrible because it depicts Scrooge's own lonely, miserable funeral. It's rather sad that the name 'Scrooge' has come to carry such negative connotations these days, because although he was every inch as his name suggests when the story begins, by the end he has completely reformed, and become the very antithesis of his popular defamatory epitaph. I recommend this strongly, and I recommend visiting wikipedia's page on the novel for some interesting details about this story, including a picture of Dickens from right around the time this novella was written.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

Title: The Red Plague Affair
Author: Lilith Saintcrow
Publisher: Crown
Rating: WARTY

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is shorter so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more detailed than you'll typically find elsewhere!

This novel was really hard to follow. I'm coming into this series at volume 3, and such an approach evidently doesn’t work well with these novels: it seems that you have to be there from the beginning to 'get' everything that's going on, which is a nuisance when it comes to reviewing adequately, so please keep that in mind. Having said that, the only thing I got out of the first chapter is that Saintcrow doesn't appear to have a very good handle on the difference between sewage and sewerage!

On the positive side, the reading is easy in the sense that the novel is very short and the chapters also short, but the writing style and language use is far too affected and dense, especially for an opening page. After a while it was easier to stay with it, but there wasn’t really very much happening, and I never felt drawn into the story or engaged with the main characters. They offered nothing to love or admire, nothing with which to empathize, and nothing to stir my interest or to attract me to them. There was no chemistry between the female protagonist and the male. The story is very dry and the conversation uncomfortably stilted. The intentional misspellings of certain nouns is pretentious and annoying: Yton in place of Eton, Houricane in place of hurricane, Englene for England for example. I saw no point to that at all, and found it to be irksome at best, although I have to admit that one of them: 'mentath' (evidently intended to describe someone who excels at some mental skill) isn’t too bad, if slightly awkward.

The novel is evidently intended to be an attempt at steampunk, but it never gave me that feeling. Actually, even using that term is problematic, although this has nothing to do with Saintcrow. What is it, exactly, with the appendage of 'punk' to a word in the fatuous pretense that it actually represents a genre?! We have 'steampunk', 'cyberpunk', 'splatterpunk' and others, in the same way we have terms derived from Watergate, such as 'oilgate' for example, but whereas appending 'gate' to another word does convey a certain level of scandal (to do with oil, say) what does the addition of 'punk' lend to the term? I contend that it offers nothing! It’s just as useless as a false hand; you can give a fake hand fingers, and tart it up to make it look like it's flesh, but it has no real value unless it’s a hook or a pincer, or these days, a robotic hand. So yes, we know what 'steam', 'cyber', and 'splatter' contribute, but what does punk offer in rounding-out the term? I suggest it lends nothing but an extra syllable and that's its only utility.

Anyway, pet peeve off, moving along! The characters in The Red Plague Affair get around on what are apparently clockwork horses, and they take the royal gryphons if they need to fly. The main characters are Emma Bannon, a 'prime sorceress', and Archibald Clare, a mentath. I had expected them to be working closely together as some sort of variation on Holmes and Watson, but this wasn't the case. They rarely interact, and the interactions between them are mundane and boring. Emma is some sort of James Bond character in service of the monarch, Queen "Victrix". I have no idea what Clare was supposed to be in this team. he really did very little. Not that Bannon did much more. Why a female name for a male character? Yes, it was his last name, but it just struck me as weird. Clare apparently was the (or a) subject of Bannon's investigation in the first novel in the series so that's how they hooked up.

I never was quite sure what, exactly, 'prime sorceress' meant. Perhaps if I'd read the entire series this far it would be a lot more clear, but even without that, it became quickly apparent that her sorcery is nothing more than the same ineffectual clichéd MacGuffin with which we routinely find magical people endowed in these stories. I failed to grasp what the benefit of equipping Bannon with sorcery actually was. She rarely uses it and it seems to be of very little utility when it comes to making any real headway in her assignments, yet each day she has to 'renew' her magical energy from 'Tideturn'. I have no idea how that's supposed to work. She evidently has to do this whether she's expended any magical energy or not. It's just weird. And if she is so powerful a black wizard, then why does she need a bodyguard? That makes no sense either.

There was a hard-to-follow flurry of nondescript characters, none of whom made any sort of impression on me as either interesting or dangerous, and they were popping up one after another like targets in a first-person shooter video game. The basis of the story is that someone has evidently invented some sort of poison and is using it to poison church-goers and others! I'm not sure how this constitutes a threat to the nation, although it seems to be tied int to the appalling London fogs of that era, which were actually more dangerous than the Red Plague ever threatened to be!! Indeed, given that in New Testament fiction, Jesus tells people that they should pray in secret, maybe this is the second coming and Yeshua himself is punishing those who pray in public?! Who knows?

I love that Saintcrow shamelessly invents the verb "to gentle"! Ian Fleming would approve, but not Noel Coward! As I read more and more of this, I found that I was skimming over paragraphs here and there because they offered nothing to engage me, which doubtlessly contributed to my not getting some parts of the story, but I honestly considered that I'd had so little out of it at that point that it wouldn't make a material difference anyway.

In conclusion I cannot recommend this novel. I was hoping for, and indeed expecting, a novel which offered mystery and engaging repartee, but I was denied those pleasures. It occurs to me that a good question to ask about this novel is: if this were a first novel submitted by an unknown author, would this publisher have accepted it as it stands, and I think the answer to that is a rather obvious 'no', which begs the question, "why then should I accept it?"