Showing posts with label WARTY!. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WARTY!. Show all posts

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook checked out for the library on spec and which didn't work out for me, but it's worth listening to so many to find the handful of gems amongst them. You never know where the next captivating book will come from, or for that matter, the next inspiration for a new story of your own.

The problem with this novel is that there is a huge difference between someone being on the autistic spectrum (Caitlin has Asperger’s) and some person being simply a blithering idiot, and for me this author went the wrong way. Caitlin is telling this from her own perspective which rarely woks for me and it failed here. The author tries to get is on her side by removing her mom and her older brother Devon from the picture, Devon having died in a school shooting, but for me this was nothing but an arbitrary choice, made for no other reason than to stick Caitlin in it, and it delivered nothing to the story, which far from being engrossing and drawing me in, felt tediously amateur, overly simplistic, and boring.

I think it would have made for a much better story had Devon not been a dead angel, but a living demon, who is emotionally abusive to Caitlin. There would be a story that had meat on its bones, but this one was all bones, and the bones were dry as dust, as well as being pedagogic and preachy. I cannot recommend it.


Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure by Georgia Byng


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third in the Molly Moon series and also - due to some confusion about titles, the first I read - or rather listened to since I go the audio book read very charmingly by Clare Higgins (who you may remember as Ma Costa in The Golden Compass movie). I was not very impressed with the story, unfortunately. The plot is that Molly Moon is kidnapped several times at different stages of her timeline, by a villainous Indian whose purpose was never clear to me, although I did DNF this, so I may well have missed it.

The Indian employed a lackey who was the one who actually kidnapped Molly. The lackey wanted to get back to the fountain of time or whatever it was, which he thought would restore his youth and looks (time travel apparently turns people into lizards, if they overdo it). The problem was that the entire story was one long repetitive slew of time jumps, which was interesting at first, because it was quite engagingly described, and one example of hypnotism was really quite beautifully done, but after the story kept repeating endless time jumps, and with Molly's dog being kidnapped to forced Molly's compliance, and then she getting it back and then it begin kidnapped again, it was tedious, to say nothing of confusing. I may have missed this, too, but I never did understand why they needed Molly.

On top of this, the story sounded faintly racist to me, as the Indian bad guy was given this absurd affliction of spoonerism, which rapidly became annoying to me. Obviously the story isn't aimed at me, it's aimed at middle-grade readers, so they may have a different take on it to what I did, but I can't recommend this one.


Molly Moon Stops the World by Georgia Byng


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second in the Molly Moon series and also - due to some confusion about titles, the one I read after I read the third one. I haven’t read the first, and I decided I really don’t want to, not after reading the second and in particular, the third. Technically I listened to these rather than read them, charmed by the hypnotic voice of Clare Higgins who does a better job reading than the author did writing.

In the first volume, Molly learns how to hypnotize people and turns it to her advantage before “retiring” from her successful, if fraught, career on stage, and taking over control of the orphanage where she was raised, making it a decent place for kids to live. In this volume, Molly inexplicably decides she ought to try hypnotizing inanimate objects and by doing do, discovers that she can atop time, freezing everything – living and inanimate alike – except herself, who can then moves through this frozen world with impunity. Of course this attracts attention from someone else who also has this power, and thus the adventure begins.

The problem with these books is that they're so repetitive, and this turned me off them. I did skip to the last disk in the set and was quite charmed by the writing during a part of the ending, but overall, I can't recommend this. Less discriminating readers of the appropriate age range might have better luck.


The Waking Land by Callie Bates


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher - and thank them for an ebook copy which was nicely formatted! Far too often the ebook is a second thought after the print version, and the formatting suffers, but that was not the case here.

That's where the joy ended though, because then I had to read it. You know you're in trouble with a novel when you're only ten percent in and you're asking yourself how much more you really have to read before you can DNF it and say you gave it a fair chance!
The novel started with a prologue, a thing which I never read. They're antiquated and contribute literally nothing to a story except to kill a few more trees in the print version. Maybe authors who write prologues and epilogues hate trees? The thing is that this whole business of Elanna being kidnapped and held hostage made zero sense, except in that it did herald a lot of other plot points which made no sense either! Maybe I should have read the prologue and then DNF'd it at that point?

The thing is that if I'd known going into this, that it was to be a first person YA trilogy full of cliché and trope, I would never have asked to read it, but Net Galley offered not a whisper. Such books ought to be required to carry a warning sticker. From the blurb, it had sounded like it would be an engrossing and entertaining read. Sic Transit Gloria Blurbi!

I'm very rarely a fan of first person, and unfortunately that voice is chronically over-used in YA stories. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many writers herd themselves like sheep into such a constricting voice, and one which simultaneously makes their character look so dysfunctionally self-important that it is, unless handled well, thoroughly nauseating to read.

Nor are YA trilogies any more welcome in my reading list. They're typically unimaginative, rambling, trope-filled, derivative, and bloated by their very nature. I long for a YA writer who is willing to step outside the trope and think outside the box, but they are a very rare and much-treasured commodity these days, as everyone else rushes-in like lambs to the dip, where more angelic bovines are far too wise to tread. It's all in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and it's sad; truly sad.

This novel initially had intrigued me because of the Earth magic. It's what attracted me most of all, but we were largely denied any exploration of that in the portion I read, and what we did get was accidental or incidental. This was one of the problems. Elanna has this magic, and has known of it since childhood, but she has suppressed it.

To be fair, there are reasons for this, but the fact that she's scared of it and never explores it (except for one too-brief incident we're shown right at the beginning of the novel) made me dislike her. What kind of a dullard do you have to be to have such delightful and powerful magic, and not want to at least tinker with it in private, and learn something about it? The fact that Elanna didn't, not only made her inauthentic, it also made her thoroughly boring and cowardly. There's a huge difference between teasing your readers, and denying them a story that feels real.

Elanna Valtai (often called Lady Elanna for reasons which are not clear - and which felt employed only to give her a cachet she has not earned) was taken hostage at gunpoint (pistol-point more accurately) at the tender age of five, by a conquering king who, over the last fourteen years, she has grown to love as a father. This made little sense, but Elanna is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She was more like a spork with blunted tines, and consequently neither one thing nor the other. She's fascinated by botany and so, when the king is poisoned, she becomes the prime suspect with improbable rapidity, and is forced to flee.

To me, this made zero sense. The one-dimensionally hateful and cardboard princess, who is now queen, has no reason whatsoever to fear Elanna. She considers her too low to even take seriously, so why bother framing her? We're offered no honest motivation for this at all. At this point the story was no different from the trope high-school story of the girl who is bullied.

Elanna is paradoxically presented as a charming and easy-going woman who everyone likes on the one hand, and on the other, a crudely rustic figure of fun who has no place in court and who is disliked by everyone, having no friends at all! Again, it made no sense that she would have literally no one. It felt like the author was following a rigid plot without actually giving any thought to how realistic or practical this world was that she was creating. If the king is so great, then why doesn't he put a stop to the bullying? The fact that Elanna never once questions this is yet another example of how stupid she truly is.

As I mentioned, despite being repeatedly given the appellation 'Lady', Elanna is never shown to be one. I have no problem with a character being portrayed as having emotions and sensitivity. I think we need more male characters like that in fact, but as usual in YA, the author overdoes this with their main character, so instead of showing her to be a reasonably empathetic young woman raised to be nobility, not a princess, but at least with some spine, she comes across as a weak, limp, and as a weepy, clueless little girl. It was pathetic to read about her.

Once she realizes she's going to be blamed for the king's death, and instead of taking control of her destiny and facing down the charges, which would have actually made for a much more engaging story, Elanna betrays her entire upbringing, and runs away like a scared little girl. Worse than this, she's manhandled by her love interest (and yes, it was ham-fistedly and loudly telegraphed as soon as he appeared in the story), so immediately, all control over her life is removed, and she becomes the toy and plaything of a complete oaf of a man named, inevitably "Lord", as in 'Lord and Master' no doubt as we see her weakly complying with his every demand.

Not only that, she takes the usual abusive and utterly sick YA route of falling for this patronizing and condescending dick like she's an air-headed thirteen-year-old. This is entirely the wrong message to send to young girls, and the fact that so many female YA authors do this so consistently is as scary as it is dangerous. People who talk about a rape culture seem ignorant of this facet of it, in which women are taught, in story after story, that's it's not only okay for a guy to take control over your life, but that you should go along with it mindlessly, and even fall in love with him no matter how he treats you; then we look askance at those women who end-up in abusive relationships.

The saddest thing about this is that all the hots she has for this man take place when she is quite literally fleeing for her life. What kind of a pathetic, misguided specimen do you have to be, to be having hot flashes for a guy when your very life in in peril? It made zero sense and cheapened the whole thing. It was so badly done that it ruined all hope of an intelligent or realistic romantic relationship.

For me, it did nothing but keep reminding me that I was reading a poorly written YA novel into which romance had been jammed for no other reason than that the author and/or publisher determined it was a requirement rather than that it might naturally and organically grow out of a realistic relationship. It suggests that the author either doesn't trust her characters, or she doesn't trust her writing skills, and it sends the wrong message yet again: that all women are Disney princesses who are useless without a man to be a father figure as well as (sickly!) a lover. It says that no young woman can stand on her own two feet - she always needs a studly guy to validate her and shore her up. I call horseshit on that one.

I've read this story so many times that it turns my stomach. The author might change character names, and set them in a new locale, and even give then magic, but it's the same story. They're exactly the same characters going through exactly the same empty motions over and over again. Can YA authors not come up with something new for once? Really? It's pathetic how unimaginative and uninventive YA authors are. Here's a choice quote: "Don’t they realize I’m a scholar as well as a lady of fashion?" What?! Where the hell did that come from?

There are a few, a precious few, a band of sisters, out there who honestly do get it, and who write great stories. They get that this isn't the Victorian era, and that weepy, lovelorn princesses are not only obnoxious, but they are antiquated and inappropriate. They do these stories right: making them fresh and original, but the rest of those authors are doing nothing short of writing cookie-cutter "Harlequin" romances for teens, chasing the easy buck, and that's all there is to it. This is one such story, it saddens me to report. And it could have been so much better.

So, while fleeing on horseback with a group of riders, the wind whistling through her hair, Elanna conducts a whispered conversation with her BFF, who is pretentiously named Victoire. It's described as a "whisper-shout", yet everyone seems able to hear it over the wind and the pounding horse's hooves! At one point they're told, like naughty children talking in the classroom: "That is enough, all of you! No more talk. Do you want to put us all in danger?" Seriously? They're racing through the dead of night on horses with hooves slamming into the ground, and this idiot is worried someone might overhear them talking? Who, exactly, is listening? This is another example of the story not being thought through.

The sad truth is that a lot of the writing leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. We get that Elanna is afflicted deeply with the wilts and the vapors over J-Han, We don't need to be gobsmacked every few paragraphs with yet another account of how she's is hanging on his every breath and touch, and the heat of his body. It's painfully obvious who the murderer is, so there's no mystery there. We know Elanna is going to win in the end and get jiggy with J-Han, so what's the point of reading this again?

Instadore how do I hate thee? Let me count the brays! Well, for one, she has to share a horse with him, yet there's not a word of his sweating or stinking of horses. Seriously? Just how pathetic do you want her to appear to us? Elanna doesn't notice any of his smells, which were rife in that era, even in a fantasy land, but she does notice mundane things like the color scheme in the house she visits - things which seem very odd to have been taken note of by a scared woman who has never paid attention to furniture before, and who is fleeing pursuers who want to put her through a sham trial and then kill her. At the same time, for a botanist, she notices almost nothing of nature! Again, it's not thought through.

Another oddity is that Elanna seems to have perfect, if selective, recall! Despite being gone since she was a very young child, she had no problem understanding her native language, which she last heard - and spoke - when she was merely five years old. We read, "Hugh has switched into speaking Caerisian, which the Count of Ganz evidently understands, and my ears are too tired to deny they know the words, as well." Now I won't try to argue that she would have forgotten her native tongue completely, but at the very least, she would have been extremely rusty in it, and not know many of the words spoken by adults, since she never learned those as a child, yet she appears to have a completely unencumbered grasp of it.

Again, this is not thought through. It's especially bad when it's compared with the time when Elanna goes back to her childhood home. She recalls nothing of that at all! So we're expected to believe that she has a perfect (and adult!) grasp of a language she has neither spoken nor heard in well over a decade since she was barely beyond being a toddler, yet she recalls literally nothing of her childhood home? It's simply not credible.

Her respite at the house is short, because they are quickly - and unaccountably - discovered by the palace guard. How the guards knew exactly where they were goes unexplained, but even that isn't as inexplicable as why Elanna, who was desperate to escape her initial captors with her friend, fails to take Victoire with her! She decides to find the "lay of the land" by herself, first. It's just a house! What's to know? They need to get out, get a couple of horses, and leave.

It's really that simple, yet this limp dishrag of a friend leaves Victoire behind, so that when the palace guard arrives, Victoire is abandoned upstairs. Elanna whines about getting her out, but instead of growing a pair and insisting on rescuing her best friend, which would have made for some great drama, and would have given Elanna some street cred, she's portrayed as spinelessly complying with Lord Almighty J-Han's dick-tates. Once again what we're shown is that she's his property now, not her own. Once again this is entirely the wrong message to send. I truly detested Elanna by this point in the story.

While fleeing for her life, Elanna observes, "I won't be made to use my magic - the magic that puts me in mortal danger" Excuse me? She's already in mortal danger! She's already been declared a witch and a murderer, and had that broadcast across the land. How could she be in any more danger? This is exactly what I mean about Elanna being a profoundly stupid woman, and the last thing I need to read is one more YA novel extolling the 'virtues' of stupidity, in a female main character.

The sad thing is that it never stops in this novel! At one point Elanna reveals that "I know how terrifying it is to walk into a room full of strangers." This is a woman who was raised in a position of nobility, taught to expect deference from everyone. Never before have we been given any indication that she suffers terrors at walking into a room, and now suddenly she knows? Again it makes no sense.

The root problem here is that this novel offers nothing new, which begs the question as to why it was even written! The romance is cliché, the bullying is cliché, the main character is a walking, YA female lead, cliché. At one point very early in the novel, shortly after the studly J-Han arrives to take Elanna into his possession, I read this: "He swings me around, making the world spin, and then we go inside together, my cold hand tucked into his big warm one" so immediately the process of infantilization has begun right there, and this main character is now no more than a weak child in the hands of a trope, strong, manly man. This is one of the biggest problems with YA - the girl becomes a toy for the boy, a plaything, a piece of property, to do with as he wishes, and the girl goes right along with it. Elanna is one of the most stupid, vacuous, compliantly empty characters I've ever encountered. The more I read about her the less I wanted to read about her.

So when did I quite reading exactly? It was right on the cusp of thirty percent in, when I read of a character's eyes that they were "flecked with gold." I cannot even number the times I've read this exact phrase in a YA novel. What the obsession is with gold-flecks in a character's eyes completely escape me, but it's been done ten trillion times if it's been done once, and if I'd read this any earlier, I probably would have quit right then. Admittedly, the phrase is usually employed to describe the male love interest of the female MC, and in this case it wasn't, but does that make it okay to copy? No! That description needs to be summarily banned from YA literature.

It should be needless to say at this point, but I will clarify it anyway: I cannot recommend this story, because it's really just a clone of far too many others that I have also been unable to recommend for the same reasons. I don't care if she gets better as the trilogy goes along. I really don't, because for me she's already a failure, and if it takes her three books to grow a pair, then that's two books too long. The problem with trilogies is that the first book typically only ever is a prologue, and I don't read prologues. Novels like this one have been steadily nudging me to the point where I'm ready to forsake reading YA stories altogether, which would be sad, because once in a while there's a real gem to be found among the base rock.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur


Rating: WARTY!

I honestly have no idea what this story was about - I mean, what was the aim here? What did the author hope to achieve? The author's name is hilarious because Suzanne means Lily, so her name is Lily The Flower! I loved that. It was the best thing about his whole book. Normally I don't talk about covers, but I have to say this is yet another example of Big Publishing™ getting its hands on your work and ruining it. The cover artist clearly had no clue what was going on in the book because the front cover represents nothing between it and the back cover.

The best thing I can say about it is that it was short, otherwise I would have ditched it as a DNF. It was aimed at middle-graders, so perhaps I'm not in the best position to judge it, but I honestly cannot see what they would get out of it that I did not. One of my kids is middle-grade, though, and the other is just out, and I can promise you that neither of them would have the slightest interest in this book, not even as short as it was.

Yes, it was another audiobook experiment, and it failed, but this is why I go out on a limb with audiobooks - for the one in a handful that really impresses me, and one which I might never have experienced had I not got the audio version of it. The one that makes it worth listening to poor ones like this. The reader didn't do an awful job exactly, but there were two issues I had with Christy Carlson Romano. The first is that she sounded way to old to be reading a first person story by a twelve-year old since she's in her mid-twenties. At the risk of being pounded for suggesting a return to child labor, is it such a bad idea to get a real twelve- (13-? 14-? 15-?) year-old to read these and let the kids earn some cash?

The second thing is that despite her her age, Romano sounded like a Disney princess and this really put me off the story. The sad thing is though, that even had I adored the reader and her treatment of it, I still would not have liked the story, because nothing happened. There was no drama, not even close, nor where there thrills, spills, chills, or excitement.

The whole plot, that we have this twelve-year-old Mathilde Joss going to war sounded interesting to me, but it was completely misleading because she joins military intelligence in one of those absolutely pointless and unsupported non-plots that far too many middle-grade novels employ - it just is. accept it we don't have to justify it. Well, guess what? You do! And Lily the Flower didn't. She didn't even try, so we had absolutely no reason whatsoever for the military hiring these kids except that this is a book aimed at middle-graders and the author says "This is the way it is!".

Mathilde lives in a fictional parallel universe in the land of Sofarende, which is under attack from Tyssia, but this world is exactly the same as ours, except that they don't have radar for reasons unexplained, so they have to use kids to magically predict where the bombers (asininely called "aerials" here for no good reason other than to make them seem alien) will come and bomb next. I kid you not.

Mathilde is yanked into this world, leaving her friend Megs behind, because megs failed the admission test and Mathilde did not, yet later, Megs shows up anyway without any explanation! None of these kids are allowed any further contact with their parents - again without any explanation or rationale.

The weird thing is that it takes twenty-five percent of the novel before Mathilde even gets to this secret base where the non-action takes place. Her task is to talk with a prisoner, but none of their conversations have any value, or bearing on the story, and none of them are remotely interesting or help advance the war effort. In short, it's a completely pointless exercise. So she learns that war is horrible and it's better not to start them, like there's a middle-grader anywhere on the planet who doesn't already know this? If this book was supposed to teach about the horrors of war, it was a major fail.

Then the novel weirdly fizzles out at the end with the kids being taken from the base, and sent abroad for no apparent reason (except maybe the area they were in, which they'd been repeatedly assured was well away from the fighting, was being invaded? How was that even possible, when areas nearer the front, where Mathilde had come from, were safe? None of this made any sense at all, and not a single one of these kids seemed at all home-sick or traumatized by what they were going through! It wasn't remotely realistic.

The story just fades away at the end, with Mathilde on a boat, alone, since she got lost (that's how intelligent she is!) and that's it. Is this the start of a series? If so the intro sucked and I don't want to follow it. Is it a stand alone? If so, it sucked, and I wasted several hours listening to it when I could have been hearing something worth listening to. That's four hours of my valuable and limited time of which this author has robbed me! But then I may well have robbed people too, with my books, so it all balances out in the end.

So the effect this book had on me was to make me laugh at how pathetic it was, not to make me consider war and suffering. It fails in everything it might be trying to do, but maybe I'm being a bit presumptuous there, because it was so wishy-washy in whatever it was trying to do was being done so badly that I can't honestly be sure it was trying to do anything.

It actually felt more like I was reading excerpts from a longer and better book, and these were the parts the author had torn out in disgust because they were so bland and uninteresting, and because they actually held up the plot of the real book, which is still out there somewhere, going unread. So no, I can't recommend it! My standards won't let me!


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ocean of Secrets Vol 1 by Sophie-Chan


Rating: WARTY!

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

Despite her name, this author is not Asian as far as I know, but chooses to tell stories and illustrate in that style. I have to say, to be fair, that I am not a fan of manga, but this one sounded interesting. In the end I was quite disappointed by it. I think this artist can draw, and draw well, so I believe she has a career, but I am far from convinced this is the best story to launch it with.

For some reason, the author chose to put a message in between the introductory pages and chapter one, which I found annoying and inappropriate, and which completely took me out of suspension of disbelief. I actually quit reading another ebook just a few days ago because the author did something similar (and misspelled 'shekels' in doing so!). In this case I decided to continue on since I don't normally read introductions anyway, but when I did, the story did not thrill me at all. I quit before the end because it was not entertaining me at all. The story made no sense, and reading it 'backwards' for no good reason did nothing to put me in a favorable mood!

There was a watermark on each page which interfered with appreciating the art (and I realize that this isn't the author's doing). I cannot see the point of the watermark because if lowlifes out there are going to abuse this, then a sorry watermark isn't going to stop them, while for the rest of us, the majority of us, it's nothing but an annoyance which interferes with our appreciation of the writer's work, and worse in this case, with the artist's work.

To me the story was very weak and derivative, using as it does the baseless magic of the four 'elements' of air, earth, fire, and water (as does The Last Avatar for example), which have never made any sense at all to me. I do realize they are a popular go-to for authors who are too lazy to think up a new system, but they're way over-used and unless you're going to do something truly original with them, I think you need to find something else.

Worse than this, though, the story was very much an info-dump, which is a problem with series, and which is one of several reasons why I'm not a fan of series in general, although I'm always holding out hope that I might find one that breaks the mold. The plot made little sense to me and having to read it backwards (as compared with the norm in the west) did not help.

I don't get it in an English version. I can see how an author might be so enamored of the manga form that she might want to try her hand at it, and it would need to be that way if Asian sales are hoped for (who wouldn't want to go on a book tour in Japan?!), but in the electronic age, we could have a regular version for those of us in the west and a reverse version for those in Asia. It's not like it's difficult to achieve this with current technology.

In the print version it's easy-enough to read backwards with little effort. You can even number the pages accordingly, but in the e-version, the pages are numbered wrong because the e-reader is doing the numbering (there are no numbers on the actual pages themselves, and is all-too-common with comic books). Technology has yet to reach the point where you can simply flip your tablet and start at the back! Instead you must navigate to the 'end' to start, and then you have to overcome your swiping habit to go backwards! All of this detracted from focusing on the most important thing - for me more important than the art - which is the story! It was there that my biggest disappointment lay as it happens.

Note that I'm not saying you can't follow your dream and write a manga that has nothing to do with Asian culture, but I think you have to keep in mid that it's your dream, and your potential readers may not be willing to buy into it unless you give them some really good reasons to do so. For me there were insufficient. This is an English book throughout, set in the US (or more accurately in the air above central America), and it has nothing to do with Asia or any Asian topics so for me the justification was weak. If the story had been engrossing, I would have been happy to overlook other issues, but as it happened, taken as a whole, the package simply didn't work for me. It felt annoying and pretentious. I do wish the author every success in her career, but I can't recommend this one.


Homies by David Gonzales, Elliott Serrano


Rating: WARTY!

It's time to review some graphic novels again! This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I was not sure what I would get out of this, but I was interested to learn. I'd never read any of the original work from the 90's, and now I have no interest in looking it up. Neither have I ever been to LA, but I do live in an area steeped in Latin Culture (it seemed like half the workplace was taking the day last Friday for Cinco de Mayo!), yet this book turned out to be a disappointment because it felt more like it was steeped in stereotyping than ever it was in telling original ethnic stories. The most striking thing about this graphic novel though, was that you could have told these same stories, almost word for word, and veneered them with any culture, and it would have read the same and not seemed wrong or out of place.

There's the wedding ceremony where everything seems to be going wrong, and in the end it's the love between the couple that shores them up. So what's new? This story has been told a hundred, if not a thousand, times before. It doesn't matter if it's in the barrio or in the ghetto or in the relatively impoverished circumstances in which I grew up: it's the same story, and that might have worked had there been something here which rendered it peculiarly Hispanic or even original. But there wasn't.

The artwork was curiously angular and not all bad, but to me it was nothing especially striking either. A lot of it felt far too busy and messy but others may well disagree. Cat and Hair (Gata and Pelon - hardly outstanding character names!) are the ones who are marrying, but Pelon looks like he's one of King Charles the First's cavaliers with that hairstyle and goatee.

The thing which made the biggest impression on me though, was caused by the severe angularity of the art. The white highlights on his face were rectangular, and when I first saw them, I thought he'd been in a fight and these were those little "butterfly" adhesive strips that are typically used (in movies and TV shows, but not in real life, it seems!) to hold small cuts closed!

The second story was straight out of Rocky (the original Stallone movie) where the challenger steps up and beats the professional and gets his girl. The only thing missing was that she wasn't called Adrian. Again, nothing original here, only predictable, and again other than the references to Lucha libre, there was nothing particularly embedded in Hispanic culture. The next story was essentially an episode of Scooby Doo with a ghost under a bridge - or is it really a ghost? there was even a dog. The last story was taken from X-Files, and not even really about Hispanic culture - more about refugees.

So I have to say I was very disappointed. Maybe the original 90's editions had more to say, or were more controversial or had some truly original thinking behind them, but I got none of that from this edition, and I cannot recommend this comic book.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Someone Was Watching by David Patneaude


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook that almost made it under the wire, but the more of this review I wrote the worse it seemed to me! Jeff Woodman's reading was very good, but the material lacked credibility or seemed like it was being artificially manipulated for the scare-effect. Consequently, the scares felt very much like they were tacked on...well, tackily, instead of being organically and intelligently incorporated into the story. The novel redeemed itself somewhat with the ending, but overall while initially thinking it's a worthy read for middle-graders, I found myself changing my mind, and I'll explain why.

The story begins three months after the young daughter, Molly, of this Wisconsin family has disappeared while they were picnicking in a park by a river. Everyone blames themselves for it, although the parents were shamefully lacking in attention. Chris, the thirteen-year-old son had gone off by himself, deliberately avoiding taking Molly with him, hence his guilt. Molly disappeared, of course, and the assumption by everyone is that she drowned, even though three months on, no body has been found.

This was my first beef: that a possible abduction had not once been considered. It felt completely unrealistic and makes the police look stupid. If it had been considered and dismissed for some reason, that would be one thing, but it never was, so for me, this was poor writing. This bad writing continues as the family therapist advises a trip to the same park where Molly went missing - for closure. The absurdism here comes from the abrupt turn-around in everyone's attitude: things miraculously - and unbelievably - change. They changed far too much, far too quickly, in fact, to have any credibility, and this is further highlighted by events that same evening.

As part of this therapy, they watch the video Chris shot that day (this was a 1993 novel, so no smart phones were to hand, nor was there any of today's digital technology typically available). Something bothers Chris about the video and keeps him awake. When he watches it again, he notices the arrival of the local ice cream van, but instead of sitting in the park with the music playing, selling ice cream, the van quickly goes quiet, stays only for a minute, and then leaves. This makes Chris suspicious, but for me, again, it was a a bit of a stretch. Maybe middle-graders won't care, but for me there should have been a bit more. just a bit.

Chris brings his suspicions to the attention of his parents, who summarily dismiss them all! This is the same family which, quite literally the day before, were dysfunctional to a painful degree, unable to come to terms with Molly being lost, yet now, they summarily dismiss what Chris says, and all but forbid him to talk about it.

Chris and his school friend Patrick decided to investigate further, back in the small village near the park where the ice cream folk, Buddy and his wife Clover, have a shop. They discover that the ice-cream vendors have left long before the season is over, with the excuse that Clover's mom is ill. Conveniently, there's an envelope in the mailbox, revealing where they went, so rather than take all of this to the police, Chris and Pat decide to fly down to Florida to pursue them, and see if they really have Molly.

Once they arrive in the Florida location, they have some poorly tacked-on encounters which stand out rather sore-thumb-like, such as the police officer showing an unnatural interest in them in a restaurant, and three young thugs trying to shake them down in the street. Maybe middle-graders won't be so picky about the tacky, but for me it did not work. The rescue was better, but even there the boys were shown as idiots rather than heroes.

They do rescue Molly of course - that much was a given -but instead of going to the nearest house and asking for help (it would be very easy to tell a story about a man chasing them - since it was true!), they keep running and almost get caught before they - finally - make it to the police station, where the story pretty much ends. There was an epilogue but I'm no more interested in reading those than I am prologues.

So while the reading was good and parts of the story were engaging, for me, overall, it was a fail. I'm more picky than middle-graders, so maybe they won;t care, but I think this was a wasted opportunity to educate middle-graders about how to behave - and survive - (given the unlikely premise that they fly to Florida in the first place), and I think the author blew a great opportunity for the sake of cheap and gaudy thrills. I can't recommend this one.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr


Rating: WARTY!

This audio book was a full-cast production, although it's more aptly described as a full body-cast production since if I'd bought it, I would have felt stiffed. It's based on the novel which itself is rooted in a true story. The true story which occurred in 1914, was not done justice at all, which is a sad thing to say about a novel set in a prison!

None of this made me feel this was worth listening to. At times it was positively obnoxious, and the musical interludes rather spoiled it, than added to it for me. This is a problem for me - when they put music into audio books. I can see, in this case, some motivation for it, but the author's original novel - unless it came issued with a CD or something! - had no music in it, so this goes beyond whatever the author had imagined - assuming she didn't originally imagine it being produced in this form when she wrote it.

Far too many audiobooks have music included and it ruins it for me, particularly when the book isn't about music at all, and therefore the music is completely random and totally inappropriate since it has, I'm guessing, little or nothing to do with any authorial input. This is why I never want to go with Big Publishing&Trade, because you lose all rights to your work even as, legally speaking, they remain with you. You don't get to say who publishes the audio book, or whether or not it has music and what that music is like. You don't get to choose the cover, which is why this book has a cover which is totally inappropriate to the content, making it look like the novel was about a risqué fifties jazz singer! That's not for me; I'd rather sell none than sell out.

Sooo, onto the story! Libby Dodge is 16, and in Sherborn women's prison for reasons I never did find out since I DNF'd this. Maybe we never did learn, or maybe I just missed it. Sherbourn was a real prison and they did put on a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Other than that, the work is fiction, although one or two real names are used for the people involved. The novel tells of the arrival of Mrs. Wilkinson, the new cleric on site, who starts in with this progressive treatment of prisoners, much to the chagrin of the warden. In real life, this warden later did become more benign and progressive in her own outlook.

There is a truly uplifting story (the real one) to which this book is an insult. I can't define it any better than that. It just never resonated - never clicked - with me and I couldn't get into it. I didn't like it, so I can't recommend it. The singing was obnoxious at times, so this was one issue.

Some of the characterizations were so amateur and pathetic that they really distracted from the book itself. I think a story about the warden would have made for a better read, but it's not what we got, and what we did get wasn't good enough. It seemed to be a problem with allowing other people to take charge of your creation and run with it. Instead of running, they fell flat on their faces in their shabby shorts, and not only because they had such poor material in which to run in the first place.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee


Rating: WARTY!

This is a debut novel by an author who really didn't seem able to get into the mind of an eleven-year-old smart girl. So naturally this book has been nominated for awards which in turn spawned a trilogy when one book was far more than this particular subject ever merited. The problem is that the author is confusing genius with autism, and 'child-genius' with 'humorless adult'. Consequently she makes Millicent look like a moron rather than a genius, or to put it more charitably, she makes a girl who in reality would need some professional psychological help, look like she was dropped on her head at birth.

This is why I have absolutely zero respect for literary awards, and normally (when I have advance warning!), avoid like the plague anything which has won awards. Once in a very rare while such a book is worth reading, but in my sorry experience those books are a lot harder to find than the lousy ones, and the ones we typically are unfortunate enough to run across are for the most part pretentious and clueless drivel. For the awards people to constantly rate this garbage as merit-worthy only leads me to believe that they too, were dropped on their collective head as a baby.

The author makes the idiotic assumption that a kid stops being a kid if they're an especially smart kid. That's utter nonsense. They may see life through a sharper lens than most kids do, but they're still children with childish (in a benign sense) - impulses and drives. They still enjoy children's games and toys. They are not, simply from the fact of being more intelligent than most (in academic terms at least) an adult or humorless, or superior in a mean sense.

One of the most glaring problems with this book is that the main character has Spock syndrome. The Vulcan from Star Trek (original or reboot, it doesn't make that much difference) is supposedly of very high intelligence, but is routinely made to look like a clown because he simply (and inexplicably, given how much exposure he's had) cannot grasp human idiosyncrasies. In the same way, this novel is constantly telling us how smart Millie is, but what it's routinely showing us is how dumb and clueless she is. Worse, it's rendering her as borderline autistic in her rigid and utterly inexplicable inability to cope with human interaction. If she is autistic, that's one thing, and might have made a great story - one worthy of an award, but this author never suggests that. What she does is inexcusable. She presents Millie as lacking completely in not only social skills, but in any sort of clue as to how to develop them, yet she offers no reason - other than how "intelligent" she is for this deficit.

Millie's parents are the worst parents ever, since they seem utterly clueless in diagnosing Millie's condition. Fortunately it's a condition which exist only in the author's limited imagination. Millie is just one in a parade of one-dimensional characters, each representing an extreme of one sort or another, and the novel is so trite and so completely predictable that it's not only fails to offer an intriguing read, it also isn't even remotely realistic. These people are robotic, as simple and limited as the mechanical arms on an assembly line, each going through pre-programmed motions, and not a one of them capable of exceeding their programming, and living and breathing.

Millie meets Emily at the same time as she is forced into tutoring a boy she hates. Desperate to keep Emily as a friend, Millie elects to lie about her intelligence and gets herself into a situation that is unrealistic and which is dragged on for far too long. Predictably, Emily blows up, even though given what we've been told about her, this blow-up is out of character and comes off as false. It was at this point that I gave up reading this book, because I could see exactly how inauthentically it would continue to play out, and I lost all interest in it offering anything new, fresh, or credible.

Millie's extreme intelligence, despite that fact that we've repeatedly been shown that she can diagnose problems with the facility of a particularly sensitive and empathetic adult, is betrayed time and time again by the author as she makes her character fail in such diagnoses where it suits her, so that she disastrously assumes her mother's obvious pregnancy is a disease. The writing is amateur, rigid, inconsistent, and poorly done. I cannot recommend this. The only purpose it served for me was to once again provide a convincing example of how comprehensively blinkered are those people who give out literary awards.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doctor Who Dark Horizons by Jenny T Colgan


Rating: WARTY!

Doctor Who is always a visual medium for me, and though I've tried other media: graphic novels, ebooks, print books, they're never as good or as satisfying as really good TV ep. This print book was always bordering on failing, but because I'm such a fan of Doctor Who I kept-on plugging away at it, hoping against hope that it would eventually shine, right until the middle of page 192, which was 62% of the way through it. It was there that I read this: "It turned their oceans from teeming with life to devastated in point four of a parsec."

Had anyone else said it, it might have been okay, but this was The Doctor speaking, and there is no way in the Matrix a Timelord would ever make such a grotesque mistake. The 'sec' in parsec is not one sixtieth of a minute, i.e a measure of time, but an arcsecond, i.e. 1/3600 of a degree - in other words, a measure of angle and thereby, distance. Don't get me started on the morons who try to retcon this same blunder in the original Star Wars movie, which was doubled-down on in the ridiculous remake called The Force Awakens.

So I quit reading this dumb-ass book right there and I refuse to recommend it. I also think I'm done reading Doctor Who adventures. As for the plot? What is it with Doctor Who and their obsession with Vikings and Romans? The show was originally, being BBC, intended to have an educational component whereby some history could be taught, but this was soon abandoned and for the good; however, this obsession with sending the Doctor back to the tired old standards needs to end.

If you must go back to Earth's past, then can we not find something new for the Doctor to visit? And can we not find some primitive people who are terrified of the Doctor and his machine instead of jovially accepting it and even learning how to operate it? This book, frankly, sucked. it was poorly written, made out that the Vikings had no word for the color blue since they never saw it. I guess they never looked at the sky? Never looked at a Hepatica flower or a Blueweed flower, both of which are native to Scandinavia?! These kinds of mistakes are pathetic and amateur, and inexcusable, and Jenny Colgan is off my list of authors I'm ever going to consider reading again.<\p>

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Time in Between by María Dueñas


Rating: WARTY!

This was a rather long and long-winded audiobook, set prior to and during World War Two. Zilah Mondoza's too youthful and rather pedantic reading certainly did not help matters. It was written by a Spanish author, and translated into English so I realize I'm getting this second-hand - even third-hand given that I'm listening to a Spanish language novel, translated into English, and then read by a Spanish speaker in English! LOL! In parts it was too tedious and I found myself wondering if the tedious parts were actually more interesting in the original Spanish, but I somehow doubted it!

The author can be way too wordy in her descriptions, going on too long and into far too much detail for some things, while completely glossing over others. I saw no method to this madness. It had enough quite interesting parts to keep me going to begin with, but even this soon felt like it was nowhere near enough. After a third of it, I gave up because I saw no sign of improvement. Even though I would have liked to have read the story which intrigued me, but it was way too flowery and too verbose for me to maintain interest.

This is one reason I tend to steer clear of really long audiobooks. For me this format is experimental - I will listen to something in audio that I probably would not touch were it in print or electronic form, so I don't want to get invested and then find out a quarter the way in that it's not to my taste. Shorter books tend to get to the point faster, so it's easier to see if it's going to appeal to me, whereas with a longer audiobook, a quarter the way through can be the full length of a shorter book! In print, this particular novel would be some 600 pages long, which is twice as long as I normally feel happy with. It probably could have been 200 pages shorter had the author not been quite so prolix.

The main character is Sira Quiroga. She grows up learning to sew alongside her mother and other women, as such women traditionally did back then. Sira is good at it, which comes in useful later. Immediately before the Spanish Civil War, she becomes engaged to a man named Ignacio who has a secure job as a civil servant. Secure, that is, until the war begins, no doubt. When she meets the more dashing Ramiro Arribas, she foolishly ditches Ignacio. This made me dislike her, but she pays the price for this inconstancy.

She and Arribas move to Spanish Morocco. Why wasn't exactly clear to me: perhaps they left simply to avoid the civil war, but why go to Morocco? Who knows? Her beau is a con-man, who robs her of her entire dowry, which her estranged father had unexpectedly bestowed upon her not long before.

Sira is left with a debt of 3,000 pesetas for hotel accommodations, and is arrested, but a kindly police officer sets her up with cheap lodgings so she can pay back what she owes. She has a year to do this, but is struggling to make ends meet by taking in a few sewing jobs. Her landlady, with the exotic name of Candelaria (it means Candlemas), has in the meantime discovered a cache of guns left by a previous tenant who never returned to retrieve them. Her plan is to turn the cache into cash; then she and Sira will go fifty-fifty in a dressmaking shop, Candelaria fronting the money and Sira doing the work.

One big problem came in the telling of her night-time journey to deliver the guns. That hsould have been exciting, right? it wasn't! It was boringly full of extraneous detail. It's not that the story overall was uninteresting, it's just that the interesting parts were so diluted with over-done prose, that it took far too long for anything to happen. This gun delivery should be a fraught and exciting event, but it's made to sound mundane and monontonous because the author so long to tell it. There are many other such instances - situations not quite as potentially dangerous as this one was, but this only means the descriptive prose is that much less acceptable elsehwere.

After a third of the book I gave up on it and I cannot recommend this.


How to Read Nature: An Expert's Guide to Discovering the Outdoors You've Never Noticed by Tristan Gooley


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was written by a guy who seems quite dedicated to the outdoors and this book is supposed to communicate his love to the rest of us, but I had a hard time with it.

The author is very widely-traveled, I understand, and he seems to know what he's talking about, but for me this book failed to connect or to inspire, and I think it was because he didn’t approach it the right away. It felt to me like a slapdash approach, with scattered thoughts being tossed in almost at random, like the author was merely dabbling here and there without really coming to grips with things. I think he could have done a better job at bringing newbies into his world. He has other books out there along similar lines, and I found myself wondering if this might be a shorter distillation of one of the earlier works.

I kept asking myself who is this book aimed at? To whom is it supposed to appeal? The obvious answer is 'anyone who is interested in nature', which is why it interested me, but the problem is that it’s too invested in 'wild nature' - being out in the countryside - for it to be relevant to city dwellers. Now it’s true that many city dwellers do like to get out into nature, but it’s not so common for those people to be able to devote the time and frequency to getting out into the countryside that it would require for this book to be of any real and enduring value. I kept thinking that a 'Nature for City Dwellers' book might have been of more utility in this case.

For those who reside in, or spend a lot of time in the country, a lot of what's in here will be preaching to the choir, since they already know many of these things. I acknowledge that there's nearly always something to be learned, but it felt like it would be of limited value to them, too.

Is there a segment of the population in between those two extremes which might benefit? I'm sure there is, but how large it is, is an open question. Additionally, the book is very British in its own nature. It’s not that it doesn’t mention other countries and other cultures, and other wildlife, but it’s essentially British at its core, which may limit its appeal.

There is a group of people like me, who are not blind to nature and always willing to learn more. I live on the edge of a city and take care of my own yard, so there is a connection I have that perhaps too many others do not. I don't notice the detailed things he does, because I don't have that kind of time to spend on this, but I do notice things both in the yard, and at times when I do get a chance to be out in the semi-wilds, and to me they're interesting.

On hikes and rambles in the past, I've pointed things out to my kids, but their interest in those things waned as they grew to have other focuses. Maybe that's a failing of mine, but I remain unconvinced that this book, which tries to do the same thing, is a going to draw in very many people who do not already lead, or seek to lead or in some way emulate the same kind of outdoors life to which the author has access. Most people do not have that option very readily available to them.

Yes, these things are interesting, but they’re not critical to most people's everyday life and a lot of the things he talks about are irrelevant or unattainable to most city dwellers. So this begs the question as to why a better connection was not made to the advantages this knowledge would bring, or to the utility it would have or your average person about town (and I mean that quite literally).

A connection with nature is always better - better for the planet if nothing else. If people are made more aware of how critical Earth's health is to us and how delicate aspects of it are, through people being led to feel closer ties to nature, Earth is likely to be better protected, but there are other virtues, mind-expanding ones which, while touched upon here from time to time, felt somewhat glossed over. Which brings me to the photographs included in the book. They are all monochrome, which really divorces them from nature, in its glorious technicolor, so for me they didn’t add anything. More on this anon.

The biggest problem for me though was the apparent random nature of the book. The chapters I thought ought to have been the lead-in: nature's clocks and calendars, all appeared in the second half of the book. This made no sense to me. Starting with the big picture and carefully moving to an ever detailed smaller one would have been the best approach.

To me it would have made more sense to organize the whole book in that way: following the year, and looking at how nature changes during it, with little detours into the other topics he covers as appropriate; in this way, people could jump into the book at whatever season they're in when they get their hands on it, and follow it all the way from there.

Some parts were slightly misleading. For instance, the tale of the Jarawa people who survived the St Stephen's tsunami in 2004 by moving to higher ground before it came. The book implies that they had - not quite, but almost - a sixth sense to read the clues and take action, but the fact is that their folklore told them if there was an earthquake, there often can be a giant wave on its heels. They were merely following word-of-mouth traditions of their people. It was not some magical connection with nature. They would still have moved even if a tsunami had not come, which would have been a waste of their time on that occasion, but still a smart move in the grand scheme of things wherein it’s better to be safe than sorry. Their survival is to be rejoiced and is worth learning of, but it's not worth making it seem like there was something just short of otherworldly going on.

In contrast, other parts of the book were oddly-lacking important details. For example in one section the author makes some observations about how to determine what kind of rock you're likely to find under a piece of land based on the flora that grows on that land. He says pines like acidic soil and beech trees like alkaline, but he doesn't say how to recognize a beech tree! Without that basic piece of knowledge, you’re prevented from anything else in that cascade. That seems like a sorry omission when it would have been just as easy to put it in there. Would a photograph, even a black and white one, of a beech tree have been appropriate here? I think so - or at least a drawing. Such photographs would have made a difference and not at all appeared all-but randomly chosen.

Obviously in these days of Internet searches, you can not only discover what a beech tree looks like, but also feed in a picture of an unknown tree and likely get a result telling you what tree it is, but if you only have the print book to hand, you’re rather stuck! This is part of what I meant when I said this book had a slap-dash feel to it, like a hastily-packed suitcase might be opened at your beach-front hotel to reveal no swim-suit or no sun tan oil! At least most-everyone knows what a beach looks like!

On a more serious note, I do agree that taking a greater interest in nature not only adds to our joy of life, but also helps us become aware of the more important things: that pollution and climate change are real and dangerous. I'm sorry there was essentially nothing about those critical topics in this book. It's a sad omission which brings me to an observation of my own. This book was formatted with very wide margins and a huge amount of white space, and with lines that were not single-spaced. It’s only a hundred-sixty pages but it could have been much shorter, probably a hundred pages or so.

This matters less in the e-version, except in that it still requires energy to transmit all those blank spaces across the Internet. In the print version, however, should this book go to a large print run, it’s an awful waste of trees. I would have thought that someone who boasts a close-connection with nature would have appreciated that and sought to ameliorate it, so this was another disappointment for me.

As was the search engine! At one point I was looking back to the beech tree and alkaline reference to verify I had not misunderstood. When I searched for 'beech', the app (Bluefire Reader) found it with no problem, but a search for 'acidic' crashed the book and brought me back to the screen which contained the list of books in my Bluefire library (which in this case was only this one book). That's not a problem with the writing or book layout, but it is a problem if people want to look up something and the search engine isn’t stable. Again this was an advance review copy, so maybe this problem, whatever it is, will be fixed in the published version. Maybe the problem is with Bluefire reader. I can't say. I can say it was annoying.

There's a practical issue to the book formatting, from a purely reading PoV, which is that the text was very small on the screen of my phone, which is more likely what you'd be carrying on a nature ramble, rather than the book or a large tablet computer. It’s possible to enlarge text on the screen, but then the page will not swipe to the next one (and sometimes it jumps back to the previous one while you're enlarging it, which is another annoyance!).

For each page, you have to enlarge the text to read comfortably, then you must reduce it to its original size in order to swipe to the next page, and finally, you must then enlarge that page to read it. It made for an irritating read. This is a problem with distributing books in PDF format. It’s not e-reader friendly unless you have a large screen. As I mentioned, though, this was an advance review copy, so maybe the actual published version will be in a more e-friendly format.

So in short, while I do believe books like this are of value and it’s important that people read them, I think this one could have done a much better job than it did and as such, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Courage: Daring Poems For Gutsy Girls by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

I must say up front that i am not a big poetry fan despite having published a book of poetry and prose (Poem y Granite - the title says it all!) myself. Poetry is like all art forms: a very personal thing, and I'm forced to conclude that it's especially personal to the author of it, and less so to everyone else!

On top of that, this book isn't aimed at me. Well maybe it's aimed at half of me, since I do have one X chromosome, but I suspect it's intended for those carrying at least two such chromosomes. Oh yes, it's possible to have more than two, but it's usually not a good idea. Male chauvinists might take some pleasure in the knowledge that for each extra X you have, your IQ drops by about fifteen points, but this is only in males, so evidently we can't handle the X! When females have an extra X the IQ drops only by ten points, so that ought to set the record straight!

It seems odd to say I was disappointed in this, because I wasn't sure what to expect from it. I got less than I expected, whatever that expectation was though, which meant it was a disappointment for me. I think that my first problem was that these poems didn't feel very much like poetry to me. Most of them were nothing more than prose split arbitrarily into odd line segments. We've all done that: pretentiously split up some (to us) deep-sounding prose and called it a poem, but it doesn't make it one.

And no, I'm not one of these people who believes that if it doesn't have an alternate rhyme scheme like a Hallmark card or a pop song, then it's not a poem. I do like rhyming poems, but I appreciate other kinds of poetry too, if it seems poetic! There are different ways of making a poem. It can be done by rhyming words, or by rhyming ideas or thought, or meaning, or by making the poem rhythmic in some way. It's that old truth: I may not know much about art, but I know what I like, or something along those lines.

Again, it's a personal thing, but to me, most of this stuff was not poetic. Maybe that's on me for not being a woman (or a girl in this case)! Maybe there;s a secret girl code in here that guys just don't get, but whatever it was, I think that accounts for the bulk of my disappointment. I didn't feel elevated or educated by it. I didn't feel I had any insight I had not had before. One poem, for example, bore more resemblance to a shopping list than ever it did to poetry. Others were simply women evidently getting bad stuff out of their system, which is fine. No on says poetry is required to be upbeat and perky (no one who knows anything anyway), but this simply did not feel poetic.

So while others may get different mileage out of this - in fact I hope they do - I didn't get very much out of it at all, so I can't recommend it.


The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay by Emily Janice Card, the problem with this 'Da Vinci Code' wannabe audiobook was that it was, once again, first person, which made for a tedious listen, since it's all about the main character all the time - hey look at me! Hey, see what I'm doing now! Hey check out my obsession with cute guys! With first person voice you are trapped inside this character and nothing at all can happen in your story unless she's present to witness it. Or unless we get an even more tedious info-dump from someone else about what happened when our narrator wasn't present. Frankly I would have preferred it if this story had not had her present at all.

The problem with doing this is that if you're going to write a mystery or a thriller about some ancient cipher, then you really need to focus on that and stop taking frequent detours through this girl's obsession with guys and endless whining about her broken family. It sucked and that's why I ditched this novel. It was a tedious story to have to wade through, even when all I was doing was listening. The "Lumen Dei" society was straight out of Dan Brown, and just as dumb. This book could have been half the size and told the same story. Pages went by with nothing of interest taking place. Where was the editor?! This just goes to prove that going the Big Publishing™ route doesn't guarantee you a readable book.

The Voynich manuscript is a real document dating to the early fifteenth century. It's a 240-some page volume written in a code which no-one has been able to decipher. This suggests, of course, that it's really a hoax, like the Turin Shroud, but it's a document ripe for having fiction worked around it.

In this fiction, the main character is drafted in to help translate Latin letters written by a young woman who is connected, somehow, with the manuscript. The fact that it was highly unlikely many young women would be able to even speak Latin, much less write it back then doesn't get in the way of the story. I can readily accept that there were special and talented women back then as there are in any age, but in this case you really need to make me feel there's a reason why this particular juvenile was so exceptional, and this story did not. Having said that, I did DNF it, so maybe this was addressed later and I missed it.

So the translation begins, but at one point the main character whose name I've blessedly forgotten, purloins one of the letters which is particularly intriguing to her. That same night, her professor is found unconscious, the safe open, and all of the papers they were working on stolen! How convenient. There's no explanation as to why the villains - who had easy access to the documents - did not steal them earlier.

Obviously the one the MC stole herself is the key to everything, but rather than ponder that, or anything else, she takes us away from the intrigue to once again focus on the boys in her life. La-di-dah, fiddle-di-dee. Her voice was so boring and off-track that I could not bring myself to pursue this story any further. I can't recommend this, based on the part I could stand to listen to.


The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a steampunk wannabe with far more punk than steam. It was read fairly decently by Katie MacNichol, but this is another audiobook experiment of mine that failed. I made it about a third the way through it, but when it became clear there was a tediously trope triangle forming. The main character, Aoife (it's pronounced Efa which sounds too much like heifer which didn't help in this context) is a girl linked to two guys: her faithful friend Cal and bad boy Dean. I felt so nauseated that I could not continue. The embarrassing lack of imagination exhibited by YA authors in creating relationships is truly stunning. It's the only real viral threat in this novel!

Almost worse than that, this is book one of a series. There's nothing on the cover to indicate that. Personally I think there should be a large warning on the front - like on cigarette packs. This one looked like a stand-alone, and this is irritating. If I'd known it was a series I would more than likely have skipped it. As it was, I wasted time listening to this when I could have been listening to other things!

Nor was it steampunk. It was like the author couldn't decide what the hell she wanted to write and threw everything in. It could as easily have been set in regular Victorian age and been exactly the same story, so the steampunk contributed nothing at all. I felt like it was added in a rather desperate attempt to attract more readers. But there is very little steampunk here.

I've read some good steampunk books, but in the end they all fail if examined too closely because their world doesn't work. Clockwork can only continue for so long without being rewound. Who is going around doing all the winding? LOL! No one ever addresses this. In my experience most steampunk writers are enamored of the genre but have no idea how to write a compelling or engaging story in it. This is why we do not actually live in a steampunk world, because steam and clockwork shrunk into the shadows thrown by the brilliant light of electricity.

In the unintentional humor department, more than once, the author wrote "Cal sighed" evidently in ignorance of the fact that there's an educational institution, the California Institute of Science, which is routinely referred to as Cal-Sci. This is very likely just me, but this made me laugh out loud every time I heard it, given that this was supposed to be a novel about Aoife and her dedication to science.

This novel is set in a city, unimaginatively named Lovecraft, where we have your usual trope dystopian ridiculous societal rules that would never have arisen naturally. There are people named Proctors who are in charge and who are absurdly and inexplicably draconian in their rule. They use clockwork ravens to spy on people, which to me was so laughable, I could never take it seriously. I know how an electric eye works. How does a clockwork one work? How does a steam one work? How do the ravens navigate and find their way back to their owners?

Clearly the author realized that steampunk wasn't going to cut it by itself, since we also have witchcraft and sorcery, and as well, there is a virus loose named necrovirus, which people believe is responsible for a pandemic of insanity which inexplicably and nonsensically attacks people at age sixteen and turns them into some sort of a flesh-eating animal. There is evidently neither police force nor military in Lovecraft to fight off these beasts, hwih makes zero sense. Aoife, of course comes from a family with a history of insanity and she is, of course about to turn sixteen. Yawn.

There is nothing about the age of sixteen which makes any significant changes in a person's body - not like puberty makes changes, for example, and puberty isn't tied to a specific birthday. This made the virus a joke to me, too. Even if I offer my immediate conviction: that this 'virus' didn't actually exist and that this was witchcraft at play here, sending a message to people to get them to rebel against the Proctors (but failing for some reason), it still didn't explain why sixteen was the chosen age. My guess was that Aoife would be the first to understand this message, but it's only a guess, and I really didn't care enough about her or anyone else in this novel to bother reading on to find out. I can't recommend this based on what I listened to.


Marrow by Preston Norton


Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another in a long line of sorry-ass first person voice novels. I loathe that voice. Once in a while I've found an author who can carry it, but for the most part it's far too limited, self-serving and self-obsessed, and it turns me right off. I'm at the point now where I'm not even going to read a book, no matter how interesting the blurb makes it sound, if it's in worst person. There are lots of other books out there that are far less annoying!

The story is about this 14-yer-old boy who has the super power to change his bone density. How that works without his changing his muscles to cope with the weight, is left completely unexplained. So we have yet another example of a writer simply not thinking his story through so we have magical powers here! Worse though, is that this super hero story is far too derivative of every other super hero story, particularly of the DC comics canon, of the 2005 movie Sky High, and of the lesser-known movie Super Capers.

The center of this story is Marrow, also known derisively (and accurately), as Bonehead because he is an obnoxious bonehead. I did not like him at all, so I'm not about to continue read his story. He barely manages to get through his graduation test (who graduates at fourteen?!), because he has anger management issues which are simply not addressed!

Instead of him being paired with a capable mentor who can help him, he's blindly paired with Flex, a rip-off of Hancock, for no other reason than that the author evidently is blindly following a rigid plot here, which pairs opposites and has them become wonderful friends and super effective. Barf. At least I'm guessing that's what happens, and Flex probably dies, too. But I wasn't interested. I ditched this right after Flex appeared. I think if he'd started with more original characters and allowed them room to grow, and move and 'have their being', this could have been a much better story.

There are other rip-off heroes here too: Zero is merely Frozone from The Incredibles. Sapphire is Jean Grey from the X-men. Fantom is Superman. For some reason, I immediately felt suspicious from the start that Fantom might be some sort of villain in disguise. The super-powers these guys have - all derived form a comet impact - don't make any sense - but then super powers never do. The X-men super powers made no sense either, but at leas there was a deeper story there, one engaging, and attractive. This one was not.

The super villain Arachnis is essentially the Empress of the Racnoss from the Doctor Who Christmas episode The Runaway Bride. She's tediously quoting lines spoken by The Goblin from the original Spider-Man movie: 'itsy-bitsy spider. Yawn. I won't insult you by recommending this book. I'll do you the favor of warning you away from it.


Diary of a Dancing Drama Queen by Louise Lintvelt


Rating: WARTY!

I've had mixed success with books by this author, but until this one the balance was slightly favoring the positive. This one brings down the batting average to a .500 I think.

This was a short novel aimed, it would seem, at middle grade readers (or even younger, based on the writing) but despite the youthful voice, it was written with a very adult tone and referenced a lot of things in which children in that age range probably have little or no interest at all even assuming they had knowledge of it.

The title indicates that dancing is going to be involved, and the main character is an extremely reluctant dancer - in that she has a really poor self-image and has no interest in disporting herself in such a manner, yet she mentions the TV show Dancing with the Stars as though she's really familiar with it, which begs the question: why would a kid who hates dancing be watching such a show in the first place? This was one of several things in this story which made little sense.

Clearly this book is heavily influenced by the author's own experiences either directly or vicariously, and it really doesn't work because of the age difference. The first problem is the constant whining. This kid is negative about everything, and she's especially down on herself. It really makes for a sorry story that's not at all a pleasure to read.

It would also help if the author knew what she was talking about. She mentions a 1973 Volkswagen bug car which belongs to the kid's mom, and says, "My dad says he spends more time fixing the thing than she does driving it. I can confirm this - I can think of more than one time when we got stuck on the side of the road with the hood in the air and steam hissing from the engine," but the Volkswagen was an air-cooled vehicle so there would be no steam hissing from anywhere - or if there was, then you have some serious issues with your vehicle!

Naturally a kid would not know this, and any kid reading this would likely not notice this, so I guess it’s a lot easier to get it wrong than to get it right unless you actually care about your writing. For me it was sloppy. It would have been just as easy to have mentioned a different vehicle, but again there's this anachronistic "hippie" vibe running through this story which doesn't sit well, because it reminds us once again we’re reading a story that wasn't written by the girl who claims to be telling it. Which twelve-year-old would say, "She has straight brown hair, cut into a perfect bob" or who would know the name of Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter? If there had been some prior suggestion that the kid watched the Marvel movies, then I could see her knowing who Paltrow is, but there wasn't, and I know Paltrow has made many other movies, but none of those seem like anything this kid would have seen.

On top of this there's the sexism in having the mom be the one with the cute car, yet unable to fix it, and the dad being the one with the sensible vehicle, and having to come to the rescue of the helpless maiden in distress. I had hoped we might have moved beyond this by now, but evidently this author has not. I quit this at less than halfway through even though it was only seventy-some pages because it simply wasn't appropriate, and it wasn't an entertaining read. I can’t recommend it, not for any age group.


Amish Country Treasure by Ruth Price


Rating: WARTY!

You can't put a price on good Amish stories - not when the price is this author. Chapter one begins with these words: "If you are reading this without having read the others in the series, please be aware that this series is complete and there is a boxed collection HERE. This will help keep a few more Sheckles in your pocket..."

Stop right there!

The author starts chapter one by advertising her 'boxed' collection? And she doesn't know how to spell Shekels? This is hilarious given that the author's name is Price! Well I got this for free just out of curiosity, and I'm not about to go shelling out for a series where the story begins with an author's pitch for me to buy a whole series when I haven't even been allowed the chance to read this first one before she gets in my face with her 'series'?

I dislike the term 'boxed set' which is meaningless drivel in the first place when it comes to ebooks. The only boxing required is that to the ears of the idiot who decided this was a good term to use in the electronic book world! This is one more reason to detest series and authors who are so addicted to them, so congratulations, you just talked me right out of even reading your 61 page episode. I'm not interested.

Could you not even let me read sixty pages before you start your pitch? I'm sorry, and I know it's a competitive world out there, but this is unacceptable. If your only interest is money and you're so obsessed with it that you're right up there in my face with it on page one, then you are definitely not the author for me. I will not recommend this book - and yes it's based solely on this, and I am done with this author, and that's entirely based on this attitude she flaunts. Amish? Pish.


Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry


Rating: WARTY!

This one was not really my cup of tea! I tried to listen to it through child's ears and see it through 1947 eyes, but it wasn't easy at all. It was only three disks, so I pushed on through to the other side as they say. Fortunately it was not a Newbery winner, just a runner-up, otherwise I would have flatly refused to read it on that basis alone.

In a prologue which the author wisely includes in chapter one, otherwise I would never have read it, a Spanish galleon wrecks on the shoals of Assateague Island (speaking personally, I'd change that name!) off the coast of Virginia, the horses magically escape and swim ashore, where they adapt and take to life there. This goes to prove how thoroughly worthless and antiquated prologues are, since the same story is perfectly adequately (and with more drama) conveyed in a few sentences in a story told by Paul Beebe, a youngster who is on the island (centuries later) with his sister Maureen.

They're interested in a mare named Phantom, which is a legendary horse they set their sights on owning. For me, this was a big problem with this book. I know sensibilities have changed since 1947, but the avarice displayed in this story is scary - that people can rape and pillage nature without a second thought, taking whatever they want with no consideration for others, or for the consequences of what they're doing - consequences for which we're now paying in spades.

The kids are on the island with their grandfather, who is the pilot of a boat which brought over some guy who is doing some sort of survey on the island. His grandchildren are the aforementioned Maureen and Paul. I thought the grandfather was way-the-hell over the top. He sounds more like a pirate than ever he does a grandfather, and he has all the sensibilities of one, to boot. This is where the two kids set their sights on owning the Phantom, like this wild horse merits ownership and confinement.

The grandfather irritated me to no end. I know there probably are people who speak like him, yet in several years in Virginia I never met one. But that wasn't his worst fault. He talks of people tracing their ancestry back to Jamestown, like they were the first to inhabit these shores, but he has a better idea. No, it's not American Indians - it's the horses!

He says those were the first to live here, and in this he insultingly downgrades American Indians to a lower status than horses. I found the insensitivity displayed here, appalling. Besides, by the time the Spanish were coming here with horses, other Europeans were already resident, so this spiel from gramps is ill-advised whichever way you look at it. He says the first person to tame the horses was a white person, ignoring centuries of relationships between the natives and horses.

It was this kind of thing which made me decide that I cannot rate this positively, regardless of the ending. And it is this kind of stupidity which is what makes me so despise the Neuteredbery Award. It needs to be renamed Get-a-Clue-Bery. I cannot recommend this story and I have no desire to read anything else by this author.