Showing posts with label Witchcraft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Witchcraft. Show all posts

Monday, October 8, 2018

Well Witched by Frances Hardinge


Rating: WARTY!

I became a fan of this author after reading the excellent A Face Like Glass, and I've had this volume on my shelf for some time, but only just got to it. My reading list is long and oft interrupted - what can I say? I'm sorry therefore to have to report that I quit reading Well Witched because it was moving so slowly and not in interesting directions. It was nowhere near interesting enough to justify some four hundred pages of this stuff and after DNF-ing it, I now consider it well ditched.

The story is about three middle-graders who, stuck for bus fare one night, raid a wishing well. The wishing well is of course cursed, and they discover uncomfortable changes in their lives and eventually come to the realization that since they took the money, it's now incumbent upon them to grant the wishes. This is on the face of it absurd, even within its own framework, because it wasn't like these wishes were made just the minute before these kids took the money! Obviously the wishes had been made over many weeks or even years, so why do they suddenly need to grant wishes? Who's to say these people even want those wishes anymore, and if they do, then why hasn't the spirit of the well or whatever, granted them? If she, he, or it couldn't or wouldn't, then why do these kids have to?

I was willing to overlook that to begin with, but when I saw how ponderously the story was moving, I lost patience with it. I don't see any reason to make a middle grade novel four hundred pages long. That strikes me as evidence of a chronic inability on the writer's part to self-edit! Just sayin'! I can't commend this based on the quarter of it that I read.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D Sonnier


Rating: WARTY!

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

Errata:
"...she watched as her family prepare to leave the house." This really needed to have used 'prepared' rather than 'prepare'.
"When do you think they'll finally drag you into the family business, brother dear?" Arabella smiled. "Oh, I think not." John barked with laughter." The second speech doesn't follow from the first! If the 'when' was omitted from the first speech, it would make more sense.
"We've combed the library and its' not inconsiderable resources" no apostrophe is required on 'its'

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

I am not a huge fan of steampunk, but then this really isn't a steampunk story even though it superficially professes to be a mashup of witchcraft and steampunk. That juxtaposition is what interested me in the novel as it happens, but I had too many writing issues with it to love it, despite it starting out very strongly for me.

My blog is more about the writing of novels than the reading of them, but I explore writing through discussing my reading experiences and assessing the book accordingly, and this one felt very much like a book feels when an American writer tries to write a Victorian novel without really knowing the Victorian period very well - at least as it was experienced in Britain. An example of such an Americanism was "She'll be furious is what she'll be." That's a common format - repeating the same person and verb at the end as you've used at the start, but I don't see a well-bred Victorian family employing it in Britain!

I don't profess to be an expert by any means, but since there exist very many books from that period, fiction and otherwise, my advice to writers is to read a lot of them so you get a feel for the vernacular in use back then. That aside, I did enjoy reading this to start with. Unfortunately, it had too many issues, by far the worst of which was the disturbingly weak and bland female main character.

I adore books with strong females - and by that I do not mean they can arm-wrestle a guy to the ground (although that could be a trait they have!). No, I mean women who are self-possessed and self-motivated and who do not wilt every other paragraph. I don't care if they start out weak and grow strong or if they're strong from the off. I do care if they never grow, and never change no matter what provocation or incentive they have, and that was this character's problem.

I know it was set in Victorian times when women were all-too-often deemed weak and delicate, and some actually were, just as some are today, but there were some amazing women who lived in that era (the queen for one example) and who made their mark: such as Ada Lovelace, Annie Besant, Eleanor Coade, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Gaskell, Emmeline Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale, Isabella Bird, Marianne North, Millicent Fawcett. Dido Belle was another although she came long before the Victorian era. Radclyffe Hall was another although she came later.

The novel began strongly, but then slowly and inexorably went downhill. The main character was so weepy and showed no sign of growing a backbone, so around seventy percent in I couldn't stand to read about her any more. I did a search for the word 'sobbed' in this novel, and it showed up ten different times and each time it was the main character who was doing the sobbing! This was throughout the novel. I don't mind a girl (or a guy for that matter) breaking down once in a while, but this girl was doing it habitually, at the drop of a hat. It was nauseating to keep reading it. Parts of the novel were really great, but she was such a lackluster and limp woman who had showed no sign of ever growing, and I lost all interest in her and her story.

People have on occasion chided me for DNF-ing a novel, but I see no point in forcing oneself to read something that simply doesn't get the job done. Life is far too short. Their argument that maybe things will turn around is weak and I've disproven it repeatedly. If the novel isn't getting it done by the time you're twenty percent in, you should quit right then. I almost quit around the half-way point, but decided to struggle on in hopes that it would improve because there had been parts I really enjoyed, but it did not improve. It steadily grew worse, and meanwhile I'd wasted more of my time pursuing it! I do not subscribe to the sunk cost fallacy; quitting is a smarter move than continuing to invest effort in something not worthy of your time.

The story is of the Sortileges, the leading witch family in Britain, and one which is highly-regarded beyond the immediate shores of the so-called Sceptered Isle. The Family is a large one - seven daughters and two sons. In this world, the daughters take precedence, because they are witches, and men take a back seat, contrary to 'mundane' society (read: muggles!) where it is of course the reverse, as real life history shows.

The main character is Arabella, a name I can't think of without being reminded of the rather catchy song from the old Peter Sellers movie based on a stage play: There's a Girl in My Soup (which I recommend for light-hearted fun and a few witty remarks, but you have to be something of an anglophile to get the best from it). The song runs along the lines of: "Arabella, Cinderella, what did she do? She turned into a pumpkin at the stroke of two! You know she should have done it way back at midnight. Why, oh why, can she never get it right!"

The biggest problem with Arabella, the trope seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, is that she wept constantly and never once stood up for herself. It was too much. Once in a while under stress, or from a major setback perhaps, it would have been fine, but it was every few pages and for the slightest of reasons.

That song I mentioned is particularly appropriate here, because Arabella can't get it right. She's a squib, to put it in Harry Potter terms. This is trope for this kind of story: the magical person with no magic who in the end turns out to be especially magical. It's a bit tired, and this particular story - the initially undiscovered mastery machinery - has been done before in The Star Thief by Lindsey Becker, a story which I really did enjoy.

The family is invited to a demonstration of a new calculating machine along the lines of Babbage's difference engine, but whereas his machine was a small one controlled by turning a crank the requisite number of times to do the calculation, Mr Westerfield's machine is quite the behemoth and runs on steam. Note that Babbage never built his final machine - only a smaller model of it because the government lost patience with him and stopped funding it.

The reason we know it works is that the machine was actually built in the 1980's in Australia using Babbage's original drawings and the machining techniques available in Babbage's time. The engine worked as specified. The name of Westerfield's machine looked like it was simply chosen because it had some superficial resonance with 'difference engine' but Babbage chose his name for a valid reason. I didn't get the impression that 'distinction engine' had any rationale behind it at all, so it stood out as an odd choice.

During the demo, Arabella discovers she can literally see the work in progress in the form of a glow in the machine's mechanisms, and she discovers that she can operate it using only thought. This is how she learns she actually does have a power, and it's also what brings her into conflict with Westerfield, although his antagonistic reaction to her is way over the top and her weasel reaction to him is, honestly, pathetic.

There was one part of the machine which Arabella cannot see any glow in, and it seemed obvious why this was so. Unfortunately, it made Arabella look a bit on the dumb side that she did not figure this out quickly, but the reason I mention this event is that there were a couple of writing issues with it.

The first of these is when the dignitaries are addressed to call the meeting to order and the guy says, "Ladies and gentlemen, members of Parliament, and noble witches," but he has the order wrong. If the witches are indeed as important as they're portrayed in this story, then they ought to addressed first. This is still the way it's done - prejudiced as it may be - with the monarchy, peerage, and nobility coming first, as in "My Lords, ladies, and gentlemen," for example.

It seems to me the witches would have been insulted to have been placed last, but no one says a word about it! This issue is further highlighted later in the story when Arabella's older brother John comes to tea and I read, "Arabella served tea and inquired after their father's health." Wait - in a witch family, the female serves tea? Shouldn't it be the other way around? I think the author means that she poured the tea, not served it, which a maid would have done, but even so, it undermined the earlier statements to the effect that women in witch families always took precedence.

The other issue I had in this section of the book was with the naming of the leading witch's daughters. One of the sons is called John, the other, Henry, both of which were very popular names back then and fitted right into the story, but not a single one of the daughters was given a name anywhere close to the usual names for girls in that time! Now you can argue that this is a different world, and these are witches, but if this is so, then how come the author doesn't mention it?

If one had been named Morgan, as in Morgan le Fay, or Jennet, as in Jennet Preston, or Mary, as in Mary Trembles, that would have worked, but none of the girls' names here invoked what you might consider to be a suitable name for a witch based on the names of those who were (of course insanely) deemed to be witches historically. Just FYI, the girls were named: Vivienne, Rowena, Jessamine, Josephine, Arabella, Amelia, and Elizabeth.

Apart from that latter one, these are quite simply not names that Victorian parents gave to their daughters, so this stood out like a sore thumb. Maybe the author chose them for a reason. To me, names matter a lot, and I always try to give my main characters meaningful names, such as Janine Majeski in Seasoning or Cora Graigh in Saurus. Cora's name pretty much told her entire story, if you knew what to look for, but if that wasn't the case in this novel, and they were merely names that sounded good to the author, then this rather betrayed the deeper story. At least that's how I felt about it!

The timeline of the novel is a little off. As set by the date of the great exhibition at Crystal Palace, the story takes place in 1851, but it conflates two periods of history which never coincided. The Irish potato famine was largely over by 1851, and the suffragette movement set English society alight toward the end of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, but it was barely an ember in 1851. Crystal palace is now better known as a soccer team than an exhibition, but that's the only part of this story's background that did take place in 1851!

The novel seems to be intended as a steampunk story - which is by definition an obfuscation of the timeline - so perhaps this conflation can be covered under that, but in another such conflation, at one point the author has the sisters playing croquet. The earliest record of croquet is 1856. That doesn't mean it could not have been around earlier, but it didn't become popular until the 1860s a decade after this story is set, so it seems hardly like this mundane game would have been played by Arabella's witch family in 1851, especially since the family snobbishly had no truck with the 'common people' (and Arabella saw no problem with this - another reason not to like her). In short, everything just felt off.

At one point I read John saying, "Arabella Helene Sortilege, I'm surprised to hear you lecturing me about respect when you've obviously snuck out of the house..." I had two issues with this. First of all 'snuck' is an Americanism, and while it may be used in Britain today (a lot of Americanisms are) it would never have left the lips of a person of breeding in 1851! Additionally, an older brother in England back then was hardly likely to use her full name. He would be much more likely to use a pet name - something from their childhood. There were other such lapses, such as "John leaned his elbows on the table" - no! Not in a well-bred family he didn't!

There's one more such incident. Amelia's boyfriend Harlan (again not a name likely to be found in 1850's Britain) says to Amelia: "join the Sisterhood today, chickadee...." No! Just no! The chickadee is a North American bird. It's unknown in Britain and unlikely to have even been heard of by most Brits back then. The closest thing to it is a tit, but he could hardly have described Amelia as 'my little tit' - although that would have been amusing had the guy been set up as socially inept. But no! A better choice would have been linnet. This is a British bird and was used as an endearment when talking of young women, back then. That was something I could let go, but then for inexplicable reasons, Arabella's mom starts referring to her using the same term, and honestly? It just sounded stupid.

Technically, the book is well-written in terms of grammar, spelling and such, but the formatting is odd. There is an extra carriage return between paragraphs which is a no-no for professional publishing and means that the book takes up far more space if it runs to a print edition than it would otherwise. My advice is to save a few trees in your print version using a thing called paragraph spacing (along with a smaller font and narrower margins). In the ebook, this doesn't matter so much except that a longer book uses more energy to transmit, so it's always wiser to keep it shorter if you can.

So for this large variety of reasons, I cannot rate this novel as a worthy read, but I am interested in this writer. I think she has imagination and talent, and I would definitely read the next thing she writes - assuming it's a genre that I have an interest in of course! I have zero interest in reading a Harlequin-style romance by any author for example, no matter how much I love them! So even though I cannot commend this one, I wish the author success in her endeavors. We need fresh young voices and she's in an excellent position to become one of them.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Book One by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack


Rating: WARTY!

Hack is an appropriate name for one of the creators of this, but it would have been more appropriate had he been the writer instead of the artist, although the artwork was kind of meh and muddy.

The story is of Sabrina the teen witch (Sabrina Spellman? Really?)as far as I can tell, but really, who knows? it actually wasn't about her but about Madame Satan (Really?), so bait and switch right there. It begins with a prologue which I skipped as I do all prologues.

The author included it in chapter one, but labeled it a prologue! Since it was part and parcel of the chapter there was no quick way to tell when it ended, I skipped the whole chapter. That wasn't enough for this writer though, because he then went into another prologue in chapter 2 and larded the story with endless flashbacks. I quit reading it about half-way through because it was so tedious, so larded with trope, and so uninteresting that it was a waste of my valuable time.

We have this woman who supposedly hails from 'Gehenna, capital city of hell', yet she's draw so pathetically that she is a joke. When she's not a joke she's so quaintly cute and cuddly that she completely belies the told-not-shown origin story. There was nothing chilling about this volume except in how many tropes were hauled out of the farcical Catholic church playbook. And Salem was tiredly tossed in there, too, like there wasn't enough cliché already.

This author needs to save up some money so he can get a clue at some point. There was so much exposition that this should have been a regular book instead of a graphic novel and then it should have run to only one copy to test out a new printer and discarded into the recycling immediately afterwards. It should never have been published.

You know there was a time when a person obsessed with drawing naked or semi-naked young woman and liberally spraying the scene with blood for the sake of it, would have rightly been consigned to an institution, for some much-needed medical treatment. Those days are long gone, but that's no excuse for this adolescent bullshit portrayal of endless exposed female curves, as though this is all women have to offer, at the expense of actually illustrating a story, so I guess Hack is appropriate after all.

Even after reading half the book I still had no good handle on what the hell this un-hellish, non-hellion was supposed to be doing other than vaguely pursuing revenge, so there really was no story to follow despite the panel after panel of expository yellow boxes. And once again the text was so small it was at times hard to read. Fire Jack Morelli and simply use print for the text for goodness sake! What is this, the 1930's?

The artist seems to think that 'chilling' means drawing amateurish juvenile faces on the main character with skulls for 'eyes' and bared teeth under transparent lips. This is a woman whom we have seen initially only naked and from the rear, and who seems to have been modeled on Anna Nicole Smith. If he had modeled her on Anna Nicole Smith as she must now be - skeletal - it would have been more chilling than this laughable effort.

Both of these guys need to get that an actual story requires more than a buxom woman posed provocatively in every panel in which she appears. This is just puerile and exploitative and needs urgent recycling.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Witches' Guide to Cooking With Children by Keith Mcgowan


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute and amusing novel aimed at middle graders and younger. It's an easy and fast read, and it's very well-written. It has a layer or two in it, which is unusual for this level of writing, so I was also pleased with that. Rooted loosely in the story of Hansel and Gretel, these two young kids, 11-year-old Solomon, and 8-year-old Constance find themselves suddenly uprooted and moved to a new town for no apparent reason, but the reason does become apparent to them and quite scarily so. Their new next door neighbor is a witch - and not a pleasant one. She's known for eating kids, and their dad, who happens to be a twin, and his new wife, their stepmother, want the money that's supposed to come to the kids.

We're told that Sol is the smart one, and Connie not so much, but she's a sneaky, scheming little devil, and a mischievous one, too. I liked her! Together they decide that they must take on this witch, and when Connie is captured by her, Sol becomes frantic. Fortunately, his science smarts enable him to take a logical approach to discovering where the witch is hiding his sister.

As I said, the book is well-written, but there was one issue I encountered which is worth exploring from a writing PoV. A few days ago I reviewed a book about punctuation, and mentioned at the time that not a few professional writers might make use of it, and I read a part of one sentence in this book which revealed how important smart punctuation is: "Holaderry and Connie, tied up" was what the sentence said in part. Holaderry is the witch. She has Connie tied-up, but the placement of the comma here suggests that both were tied-up! It should have read, "Holaderry, and Connie tied up."

Just nudging that comma over to the left by two words makes a lot of difference. The classic example of how the placement of commas can change a sentence is this: "Smith says Jones is an ass" versus "Smith, says Jones, is an ass." The addition of those two tiny commas gives the whole sentence the opposite meaning! It's worth remembering as a writer.

But that was a minor issue. Overall I consider this novel to be a very worthy read and I recommend it.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Baba Yaga by An Leysen


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a familiar story since I read one similar to it not all that long ago. It's rooted in Slavic mythology and makes for a bit of a dire read for younger children given the threat of being eaten by a witch, though this isn't very different from quite a few of the better known and perhaps more beloved fairy tales, but it is worth keeping in mind when considering reading it to impressionable youngsters. On the up-side, it presents a tale of a self-possessed and brave girl who does what she has to, and wins out in the end.

It's a gorgeously illustrated book about this evil witch who flies around in a cauldron, eats little children, and lives in a cottage in the forest which sits on two chicken legs. The story was well written, and even when I was tempted to raise the issue of a man bereft of his wife being called a widow, which is the female form, rather than a widower, I realized that this is the very thing I rail against myself: why do men get to be called actors, that is, those who do the acting, but women are dismissed as actresses, which sounds more like something you sleep on? There are many genderist words like that, so I say, go for it! Widow it is!

The problem with this widow, though, is that he's been enchanted by Baba Yaga's sister who lures him into marrying her, and who holds him so entranced that he doesn't even see how abusive she is to his daughter who he loves and dotes on - or did. Olga's dad (mom isn't on the scene here, not in person, anyway!) falls in love under her spell, but his new wife doesn't want any step-children around. Why she didn't simply pick a guy who had no children goes unexplained, but the upshot of it is that she really doesn't like Olga's positive attitude and so sends her off to borrow a needle and thread from Baba Yaga, knowing that the child will be eaten, and she'll never have to be concerned with the little brat again.

What she doesn't know is that mom's love for Olga was so powerful that, like in the Harry Potter stories, it left behind a protection for her in the form of a nesting doll which mom bequeathed her daughter. This doll offers advice which might not seem valid at the time it's given, but which proves to be very useful when the right time comes. This doll is not about to let this child be eaten, and so with advice and guidance offered in this manner, Olga is able to survive and overcome the power of the evil stepmom.

Like I said, the story is a bit dire, but for feisty children of strong constitution, this tale will stir them to be confident and not fearful, and to be brave and resourceful. Hopefully! I liked it and I recommend it. Besides, the artwork is wonderful!


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Diary of a Wickedly Cool Witch by Kate Cullen


Rating: WARTY!

The blurb tells us that this story involves the titular character, Lily, taking on school bullies. Lily is some three hundred years old. The reason she appears to be twelve is that she is periodically reincarnated, yet she retains all her memories so while she was technically born only twelve years ago, she has the mind of a triple centenarian. Herein lay the first problem with this. Lily not only looks like a twelve-year-old, she thinks, feels, and acts like one. I don't know how middle-grade girls (at which this is aimed) would feel about this, but from my perspective the story was completely nonsensical and wildly inauthentic.

The blurb also says that this novel "touches on the notion of bullying, self-image, standing up for yourself, caring for your friends and being an individual" yet despite that, we have fat-shaming and age-shaming. How is that building anyone's self image or does the author want only willowy girls to read her books? It was disgusting and inexcusable. On top of that we get the 'girls hate math' stereotype.

Anachronism was rife. How come Lily knows the words to a thirty-year-old song by the police? Not because the middle-grade girl does (which is possible but unlikely), but because the author does. So now we have a three-hundred-year-old witch in a twelve-year-old body speaking in a thirty plus year-old/I don't know the author's age voice of Kate Cullen (not to be confused with Scots cyclist Katie Cullen, or with the other Australian Kate Cullen, writer of poetry and fantasy!).

There are many inconsistencies. Lily has psychic skills but she isn't a mind reader?! I know the two are not interchangeable, but if you have psychic skills you are definitely some sort of a mind reader! At another point she says, "I'm a witch not a psychologist," but after almost 300 years of experiencing humanity? You're both!

There are also writing inconsistencies. I read at one point "I think she snobbed me." I don't know if that was intended as a joking play on words or if the author simply put an 'o' instead of a 'u'. Maybe it's something Australians actually say (the author is Australian, so US readers should beware that there might be some minor language difficulties) That is the kind of thing an under-educated middle-grader might write, but it's not what a 300 year old would write. Finally there's the unintentional humor: "I try not to put the words cute and Dan in the same sentence." Um...she just did! Guess she's not trying very hard.

I can't recommend this. Maybe the girls at whom it's aimed will be less discriminating and view it differently from me, but I hope they actually aspire to read better-written novels than this.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Life's a Witch by Brittany Geragotelis


Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded interesting, and the author's name sounded amazingly interesting, but it (the novel not the name!) rather quickly proved to be unimaginative. Indeed, it felt most like a rip-off of early Harry Potter, inexplicably aimed at YA readership. Weird! I guess the author thinks her audience is deficient in reading skills or something. The witches were in school - seventeen or younger - and part of a coven which their parents ran. When the parents were wiped out by a group of evil witches, the kids go on the run. Their leader, Hadley (no I didn't make that up, although I can't vouch for the spelling being spot-on), is supposed to be the special snowflake Harry Potter-style liberator, but in actual fact she comes off as a spoiled, privileged brat who is irresponsible and clueless. That was how she was in the first three-eighths of this novel, after which I gave up.

There's nothing new here at all (including, boringly, that this is book one of the inevitable series, because why come up with something original each time you write when you can keep spewing out the same tired old stuff every time, with a minor tweak or two and call it a new volume?). There are direct rip-offs from TV series like Charmed (speaking spells in Hallmark-style rhyming English and using antiquated words like 'thou', and also from Harry Potter, where two words in Latin and a swish of a wand or the fingers can deliver an immoblizing spell. The evil witches are exactly like the ones in Harry Potter: attacking by tossing out minor injuries and jinxes instead of delivering a death-blow. Another rip-off from Potter: the house that can only be visited by people who already know where it is.

It's told in worst person voice which is almost an automatic fail for me these days, and the woman who read this (Joy Osmanski), didn't sound too bad to begin with but after a while her delivery really began to irritate, I'm sorry to report. Even had it not, I would still have been put off by the amateur, fan-fic level of the writing. It was all tell and no show, and was especially no-show in the inventiveness department. Witches in covens? Thoroughly evil villains who do't do anything transcendingly evil except bully the kids? The prima donna descended from one of the Salem Witches? Spells are aimed and sometimes miss? Despite having enormous magic power, all the characters typically do everything in exactly the way we non-magical people do it? When someone gets injured, not a single person knows a single thing about magically stopping bleeding or healing bruises? Seriously? That's probably a good thing because this author would probably think you 'staunch' bleeding, not stanch it!

I almost quit reading this after the prologue - which I normally wouldn't read anyway, but it's hard to know what you're getting into in a audio book. Rest assured it confirmed what I've said all along: prologues, introductions, prefaces, and forewords are a waste of time. And can we not find an author who is imaginative enough to get away from that appalling abuse of women in Salem and come up with something new for once? And what about the un-original idea that a table (or some other such object) can block a magic spell? if that's the case, how come all the witches are not wearing some sort of body armor to prevent themselves being hit by spells? See what I mean? It's thoroughly unimaginative, and I can't recommend it.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spellcheckers by James S Rich


Rating: WORTHY!

With decent line-drawing art by Nicolas Hittori De, this small format graphic novel entertained me sufficiently to call it a worthy read. The story is about these bad-ass femmes in school who have zero respect for anything and an awesome line of wise-cracks. I laughed out loud and often as I watched them effortlessly take on two guys who were causing trouble at the school.

The only oddball point was the art by Joëlle Jones. She did the cover and flashbacks in the interior, and her cover picture of the three main characters bore no relationship whatsoever to the ones actually in the story. I know there is room for variation between artists, but in this case they were very effectively different characters. They looked much older and less rough-around-the -edges, so it felt a bit like bait and switch - or in the case jailbait and switch judged by the apparent age discrepancy! If I had seen a cover illustration indicative of the characters inside the comic, I might not have opened it to see what the story was like, because it would have felt like I was looking at a story aimed at a much younger audience, and I would have missed this story then!

As it happened, I was very intrigued by the title, and I was able to look inside and read a small portion of it, so I knew what was coming and I approved, and bought it. It just seemed a bit odd to me, is all. It felt like picking up a comic which sported an illustration of Batman on the cover, and then finding out it was really about the young Bruce Wayne before he ever became Batman, or picking up a Justice League volume only to find the interior is really about the teen Titans! Just so's you know! Other than that I rated this well-worth reading.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Escape From Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"He'd said he if was going to have a sweat suit, he might as well make it lime green." The 'if' and the 'he' at the start are the wrong way around!
"She could have attempted to look more interested, as lease for her boyfriend's sake." At least for her boyfriend's sake, not 'as lease'!
“We are yonder!” - This is like saying, "We are over there" - it doesn't make any sense!
"Drudging memories and heartaches never helped anyone." I think this should be 'dredging' not drudging, which would mean doing menial work.

This was a strange novel, and one which included multiple flashbacks, of which I am not a fan. I confess though, that it grew on me as I read on, and in the end I came to like it and consider it a worthy read despite an issue or two here and there. It reads very much like a first novel, but that's not a bad thing. I found a few errata which are listed on my website.

The story begins in 2001, a month or two after the World Trade Center came down in New York City. Having lost her parents in the disaster, the rather exotically named Honoria has moved from the city to stay with relatives, so she's the trope orphan starting a new school, but refreshingly, the novel doesn't focus on that. Instead, it focuses on Witchwood Hollow, a mysterious area of woodland close to Honoria's new home, where a witch is said to hold sway, trapping people inescapably amongst the trees.

Just as I was really getting into Honoria's story, I was ripped away from it twice, once back to the late nineteenth century, and then again back to the late seventeenth. This annoyed me to begin with, because I wanted to follow Honoria, but eventually the story came back to her. I still hold doubts that this was the best way to tell this story. It was somewhat confusing, switching back and forth, and the past was nowhere near as interesting as the present in this story, but I learned to live with it, and the twisted ending was unexpected and better than the usual ending you might find in a story like this.

The story follows Honoria's increasing interest in Witchwood Hollow and her confusion as to whether the witch legend is real or simply some sort of country-bumpkin ignorance. Honoria was an intriguing character with a little bit too much of an interest in Leon for my taste. I find it sad that young females seem to be doomed to get attached to a guy in these stories. I find it especially irritating when the romance takes over the story!

In this case the romance - while lacking credibility - occupied such a small part of the story that it wasn't a deal breaker for me. I would find it refreshing to read a story where they're just good friends for a change. Not every girl in every story needs to be validated by a man, believe it or not! In Honoria's case, I was willing to Grant this a bye because she did have enough of a load to bear, and it seemed possibly reasonable that she would seek attachments to people, given that she had just suffered her parents dying horribly.

Honoria isn't the smartest person in the world, but she isn't the dumbest either, so this was nice. I did find myself cringing at one or two of her ideas though, such as when she saw a part of a coin from yesteryear stuck in the dirt, her thought was: "Someone had worked hard for that sliver; it might have kept them from starving one day." It's hardly likely it kept anyone from starving given that it was evidently never spent, and got lost in the dirt instead! At another juncture, she thought "he might catch pneumonia in the cold water" but no one ever caught pneumonia from cold water. Pneumonia is caught from an assortment of sources, none of which are H2O. However, people do talk like that in real life, so I can't hold these things against her.

I thought Leon's girlfriend's reaction to Honoria at one point to be far too extreme. There had been nothing in the story to this point to merit her outburst or indicate she had been leading up to it. When she yelled, "You whore! You think it's funny trying to kill Leon?" it took me out of the story because it was so out of place. As I read on through the story I saw no point to that antagonism. I think it should have been skipped. Not every teen story needs to have a bitch!

Other than these relatively trivial complaints, the writing was well done, easy to read, and it was interesting. I enjoyed this story very much and I'd recommend it.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Girl's Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky


Rating: WARTY!

The main character in this novel is a woman who works in a specialty library (curiously, the author is - or was - also a librarian. Take that, Bembridge scholars!). Due to a sad lack of foot traffic in this library (people are likely to visit only if they're researching something historical), the idiotic library management decide that some changes are in order. Staff are now going to be required to wear authentic historical costumes, and one of the cost-saving measures is that the main character, Jane, has to take a 25% pay cut. In return, however, management will allow her to live rent-free in a small cottage on the property.

She and he best friend clean the place and discover a locked door to the basement, to which she has no key. She decides that she doesn't want to go down into a vermin-infested and dusty basement anyway, but since we know from the blurb that she finds some books on witchcraft and starts practicing the art, It's pretty obvious at this point that she will discover those books in the basement, and that these will confer upon her those witching powers, and this is indeed what happens. Not only does she discover that she instinctively knows how to cast a spell, she also resurrects a familiar named Neko.

The story started out rather interesting and engrossing, apart from Jane's creepy stalker-attitude towards a writer who is researching a new book in the library. She watches his every move and fantasizes that he's her boyfriend. When she finally went down to the basement after discovering the key, the story started going somewhat off the rails for me, but then it veered back on track and I started liking it again, then it went finally off the rails and I gave up on it.

A man by the name of Montrose shows up after she casts her first spell, telling her she can't go around casting spells like that unless she joins a coven or gets special training. Double, double, toil and trouble might result if she fails to heed the warnings, so she starts training with this guy, and there's this attraction between them even though they supposedly detest each other. The spells are nonsensical, and so was the story. I quit reading it because it was too silly and other novels are always calling seductively. I can't recommend it.

And on a personal note, this marks a personal record of 75 reviews posted on my blog in one month! Yeay me!


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Conversion by Katherine Howe


Rating: WARTY!

This novel was so disgustingly preppie valley girl high school crap that I have skipped almost every track on the first four disks (about one third the way through it), and I decided that the author was so in love with relating the minutiae of high school life and inner dialog pertaining thereto, that she was never going to actually get around to telling the story which the book blurb outright lied she would deliver. Of course, you can't blame the author for what the publisher says unless of course the author continues to publish with the same publisher.

As if that wasn't tedious enough, we kept getting random interludes thrown in, set in the late seventeenth century, which brought the story to a screeching halt, and which really had nothing to do with what was going on in the present - except through some obscure whim of the author, of course. The fact that Khristine Hvam reads every sentence like it's a question really grated on me. The text is boring, too, obsessing on high-school politics and boy-girl interactions and the fact that one character gets a 65 in a test instead of getting to the story, so even though I only began listening to this on the way to work this morning, my almost immediate feeling towards this audio book was "It's back to the library with you this afternoon," and indeed it was! I'm like, "Gag me with a spoon! Get to the story already, why don't you? All this pretentious high school charade is so five minutes ago!" Okay, it wasn't quite that bad, but it was far too close tot hat for my taste.

The novel is ostensibly about some connection between a modern Catholic high school and the Salem witch trials, but it's really not appealing at all. The characters are seniors at St Joan's Academy, but they behave like thirteen -year-olds. Main character Colleen Rowley starts to think, after Clara Rutherford has some sort of seizure and soon other students follow, that this is a repeat of what purportedly happened in Salem several centuries before. The students at this religious school are so ignorant of history that only Colleen, and then only because she's been reading The Crucible for extra credit figures out what's happening.

The story goes through this absurd parent-teacher meeting wherein the staff tell the parents nothing and despite a small epidemic having broken out, not a single one of the parents asks if there is some communicable disease going on here. Clearly the author is not a parent herself otherwise she would have displayed better judgment here. Not a single parent asks about school closure. Not a single parent pulls their kid out of school. Every last one of them tamely accepts everything the school tells them (which is essentially nothing) and they all go home! As if that wasn't bad enough, this is a Catholic school, yet and there isn't even a prayer said! Even accepting the witchcraft premise, this novel is so far from having any handle on reality that it's nothing but a cartoon, and a complete joke.

I recommend this only if you honestly like vacuum-headed, fluff-stuffed girls disgracing their gender, and writing that's so unrealistic that it's essentially a fairy tale./p>

Monday, August 17, 2015

RavenStorm Witches by Misha McKenzie


Rating: WARTY!

This is a very short novella/novelette/short-story/collection of short stories (I don't know the word count, but it's only about 100 pages), which I read as an advance review copy. Technically the writing was not bad. I discuss some issues below, but there were no major grammatical or spelling gaffs, which I appreciated; however, overall it was very dissatisfying and I cannot recommend it. It was subtitled "A Coven of Bitches " and they really were, which was not at all endearing to me. Note that it's going to be difficult to describe the problems I had with this without giving away spoilers, so beware!

Since my blog is about writing, I'd be remiss if I failed to raise some writing issues. There were some oddball aspects of the writing here, like when we read of two of the witches at home, making "homemade pasta". What else would they be making at home?! There was a similar redundancy issue where the words "woman's vagina" were used.

At one point I read: " Rounding the front of the 1970 Mustang Shelby GT500, she slid behind the wheel. Turning the key, it roared to life. Backing out, she steered in the direction of Grayson's place." This was really awkward phrasing, having three sentences, one after another, with the very same sentence format. It sounded like a children's playground chant an brought me right out of the story.

Here's an interesting writer's issue. One of the characters says "...was never good enough for the crowned prince." The phrase is "crown prince" meaning the heir to the throne. A crowned prince would actually be the king! However, this was not in the narration, but in the character's speech, so she might well have said something like that - people misspeak or speak in ignorance all the time. The important thing here is that the author knows the difference when writing these things!

The story started out great - I loved that Maeve came stamping into the story pissed off and almost spitting nails, but the problem as that she quickly became lost amongst a gaggle of witches, not one of whom had any real identifying characteristics to differentiate her from any of the others. They had nothing about them to truly individualize them, and so they pretty much all blended into vague facets of the same person. It became impossible to separate Delilah, Hildie, Maeve, Malise, Sheeva, Tatiana, Vanya, and Viana

That wasn't even the worst problem. The biggest issue for me was that while there were half-a-dozen stories, all of them were pretty much exactly the same, with only a detail or two changed here and there. Once you've read the first one, there's really nothing new to follow!

The template is this: it begins with one of the witches being pissed-off because she has been badly done to, or more rarely, that someone or something she cares about has been badly done to. Nearly all of the cases were of personal betrayal in one way or another. For example, Maeve is upset that Kimmi has treated their friend Grayson shabbily, and wants revenge on his behalf even though Grayson has requested no such thing. In another case, a guy is breeding dogs for fighting. In another case, one of the older witches is pissed off with their stepmother. In another case, one of the witches loses her job because another employee cruelly set her up as being a corporate spy.

In each of these cases, the witches' response is exactly the same. They chant a very simplistic rhyme, and the deed is done, the deed being a problem visited upon the offender which is supposed to give them empathy and thereby teach them the error of their ways. Also in each case Sheva, one of the older witches, takes matters into her own hands and carries out another spell simultaneously. Her spell is paradoxically always juvenile. For example, Kimmi, the betrayer of Grayson is given diarrhea. In another case a woman is given a bad case of gas. I can see this in a middle grade boys story, but here it just came off as mean, vindictive, petty, and sad.

Inevitably, the bad person sees the error of their ways and reforms in just a few days, and the spell breaks. Nothing ever goes wrong and no one who has a spell put on them ever fails to reform! The spells are always one hundred percent successful, and even though it's known throughout the town that these girls are witches who can bring about real magic, no one ever thinks twice before crossing them, and worse, despite slinging these spells bringing discomfort and real harm to people, if only temporarily, none of the witches ever falls afoul of the authorities. In one case, a cop actually helps the witch. None of this made any sense or provided any kind of balance to the story.

It made as little sense that the witches never considered the authorities as a resolution. Admittedly it would do no good in the case of a girl dumping Grayson, but in two of the cases at least - the corporate spying, and the dog-fighting - the authorities should have been the way to go, yet the witches took the law into their own hands and paid no price for it. The casting of spells doesn't even cost them anything and none of their spells ever goes wrong. It's like Hermione Granger grew up, and started her own coven. It was far too unrealistic - even given the supernatural element - for my taste. All of the witches were really Mary Sues.

The least thing which bothered me about this is that the witches are completely passive and retro-active. They seem blind to problems as they are emerging and ongoing, and only react when things reach crisis proportions - or at least when it seems like a crisis to them. This doesn't imbue me with much respect for them or inspire any feeling that these girls are very smart or perceptive.

One of them, for example, kept going back to the same guy time after time even though he was a complete jerk, but joy of joys, after a spell in someone else's shoes, he magically changes and becomes the perfect guy? The woman who dumped on Grayson completely, and almost instantly reforms and leaves town? The stepmom who wrecked their home life when they were kids reforms and changes her ways and all is fixed?

I don't even get that last one. These girls have been witches all their lives. Why did they let this woman ruin their lives when they were younger, and then wait until she's an old woman before they picked on her? None of it made any sense, and the more I read, the more I felt like these witches were really the bad guys here. They're really nothing but evil megalomaniacs deep down. There's nothing to curb them, and they never learn the error of their own ways. I didn't like them at all and began rooting for their victims.

This is why I can't recommend this. I think the overall idea was a great start, but the execution of it was unworthy of the idea itself. This makes me sad because it could have been a really great story.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Oddly Normal by Otis Frampton


Title: Oddly Normal
Author: Otis Frampton
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WORTHY!


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

Oddly Normal is actually her name. She's half witch, her mom hailing from Fignation - a fantasy land - but the family living on contemporary Earth, her dad's home. Oddly is picked on cruelly by people at school for her green hair and her pointed ears. Her parents seems to think she can invite a hundred friends to her birthday party, but she has no friends. In a fit of pique, Oddly wishes her parents would disappear and leave her alone and indeed they do. Now Oddly has to go live with her aunt in Fignation, and if she felt odd on Earth, it's nothing compared with how out-of-place she feels in Fignation.

I have to say that the cruelty to children at school motif is a bit of a cliché these days, but if you can overlook that, and you're receptive to this kind of story, you'll probably enjoy this comic. The characters are interesting and playful (except for the bullies, of course!), and the pages are colorful, warm and very well drawn.

The panels in Fignation are even more colorful and evocative. Fignation is totally bizarre as Oddly discovers when she opens her aunt's door the very first day she's there. of course, in the completely weird world she has to attend school, and despite her optimistic belief, she finds herself just as much of a square peg there as she was in her old school.

I recommend this graphic novel as a fun and unusual story full of quirks and sly humor, and with an interesting and strong female character.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Counterfeit Magic by Kelly Armstrong


Title: Counterfeit Magic
Author: Kelly Armstrong
Publisher: Tantor
Rating: WARTY!

Poorly read by Laural Merlington.

I could not get into this one at all. It's only three disks but I couldn't finish it. The reading by Laural Merlington was limited at best, and the writing was somewhat south of mediocre. There was nothing of interest here.

Why do they insist upon getting actors to read audio novels? Yes, actors are great at memorizing lines and emoting on stage and film, but that's not the same as reading. Not at all. They need to get people who can read, who are not necessarily actors.

The story is set in a modern world, but with magic and sorcery added, yet the writer didn't do anything to account for that addition, or to give it an acceptable place. Nor was there any explanation as to why we have a detective agency. Why is such a thing needed when magic can uncover whatever you need to know? If we have magic and witchcraft, why do we have gambling dens and fight promotions? Can't the witches influence the fight with magic? Can't the sorcerers divine the result and bet accordingly? Can't they magic-up whatever money they need so they don't even need to bet at all?

The story made no sense whatsoever, nor did it even try to, and I sure as hex can't recommend it.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Witch-Hunt by Wendy Scott


Title: Witch-Hunt
Author: Wendy Scott
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

This is book one in the Lodestone series, because why publish one book and then create something brand new when you can milk the same tedious topic for an entire series? I am not a fan of series, as you can guess. They are, with very few and treasured exceptions, boring, and they are abusive in that they actively prey on reader addiction. I've seen readers review a book negatively and then admit that they're going to read the next in the series because they have to know what happens! How wrong-headed is that? People who write series are no different, on the bottom line, than drug pushers, and publishers and writers are okay with this and indulge themselves in it mercilessly. I am not on-board with that, and I am not an addict!

The title is about as unoriginal as you can get. Sometimes the publisher rips the right to title their own novel right out of the author's hands, so maybe it's not her fault, but BN lists thirteen pages of books when you type this title into their search engine, and the first page consists almost entirely of books sharing almost this exact title! As I quickly discovered, originality is not this novel's forte.

This book started out just fine - minor issues, but otherwise quite engrossing, until the shirtless guy showed up with his muscles rippling. Seriously? It was actually funny because he was brushing down a horse which had just arrived in the stable, and his own eyes were exactly like a horse's - brown with long lashes! Since this is a book of witchcraft, maybe the guy's a horse? Of course this begs the question as to what other traits he has and whether this is really a young adult novel about witchcraft or if it's simply YA erotica. I'm guessing it’s the former even as I continue to wonder about the wrong-headedness of this stuck-in-a-rut approach to stories about young girls (and I use the word 'rut' deliberately).

Seriously, though, the problem is that this is yet another in a long, long, way-too-long, line of books with a female main character who is presented as heroic, yet right up front the author starts telling us loudly that this girl is actually quite useless without a macho guy to validate her. Why would an author - especially a female author - do this to a girl? I have to say that this put me right off this book. Fortunately for the author, it had been interesting enough until that point for me to want to continue reading it, but I was definitely not pleased.

It certainly didn’t help at one point in chapter 4, we were explicitly told that, "Women are nature's sacred carriers, holding the precious seeds of future life, and are far closer to spiritual perfection than a man could ever be." Seriously? Please, get it right. Women carry half a seed of life; men carry the other half. Let’s not get disgustingly genderist about this. Women do carry that life in their bodies for nine months, and pay a hefty price for that. I don’t get this kind of writing: one which on the one hand puts women on a pedestal like this, and then on the other, renders them as air-headed, blushing, giggling, flibbertigibbets as soon as His Royal Majesty King Shirtless o' the Rippling Muscles shows up. A woman cannot intelligently be both a strong female character and a man's 'bit of skirt'.

What's almost as bad is that this is yet another Harry Potter clone: it's a school for witchcraft, with an orphaned child who is *special*. On top of that, it really bothers me that writers take up a fantastical and boundless topic like witchcraft, full of adventure and promise, and then hobble it by placing it into a rigidly mundane setting. Just like in Harry Potter, there's a council (like the Ministry of Magic) which controls the witches. Seriously? I don’t get the mentality whereby an author can take the supernatural and then treat it as the ordinary, with schools, and controls, and councils and - well in short, make it exactly like the mundane world. How unimaginative is that? The supernatural deserves better!

As if that's not bad enough, Sir Shirtless is suddenly man-handling Sabrina - the main character (Sabrina? Seriously? Let’s get some originality, please!). Instead of approaching her respectfully and standing away from her, advising her as to how to brush this particular horse, this creep is all over her, grabbing her hand like she's a little child - but then that's how this kind of jerk views women, isn’t it?

We read: "…strong fingers radiating warmth slipped over hers, and a musk-laden voice, breathed into her ear." It’s not even good punctuation. A musk-laden voice? What does that even mean? Is the author confusing husky and musky? There's clearly no concept of chivalry in this novel, so why not set as an example that it's okay to grab and manipulate women without even considering a need for permission, let alone actually asking for it. Clearly women don’t deserve that kind of respect in this world, any novel which doesn't respect women likewise doesn't deserve my time in reading it.

I rate this novel misogynistic. You can see from the covers of some of her other novels (such as Ferrasium, Golden Scarab, and Pyramidion), that either the author or her publisher is very much into the objectification of women. I'm starting to become convinced that such novels should be reviewed negatively without even reading them, based on the cover alone.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Red Bishop by Greg Boose


Title: The Red Bishop
Author: Greg Boose
Publisher: Full Fathom Five
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!

p105 "bicep" should be "biceps".
p115 "The glass in the pitcher clinked loudly." should be either "The ice in the pitcher clinked loudly." or "The glasses and the pitcher clinked loudly."

Kudos to Greg Boose for putting his prologue into chapter one. He must have known it was the only way to get me to read it, and it was awesome! Now pay attention you dedicated writers of prologues: Greg Boose has shown you the way out. It can be done! Free yourselves from the shackles of the antique prologue and embrace it chapter and terse!

Does Porsche tack tacky chrome bumpers onto their cars? No. They showed other manufacturers the way when they incorporated the bumper it right into the body of the car. Now everyone does it and cars look a lot sleeker for it. Dispense with those rusty, blemished prologues! Incorporate! And let me warn you that the tale in chapter one is gruesome, so don’t read it unless you grew some of your own.

The Adobe Digital Editions version of this novel had no margins. The text ran all the way to the edge of the page left and right, and pretty much top and bottom, too, which looked a bit odd. The novel begins on page five and runs to page 219, so that gives us some 215 loosely-spaced pages in thirty chapters. It’s a quick and easy read.

Now on to the story: Lake Price is a seventeen-year-old adrenalin junkie, but not one who is into extreme sports - unless you class running track as extreme. That's why Lake set out with three friends to stay overnight at the supposedly haunted Chatham Manor. The original plan was to go alone, but one thing led to another and eventually it led to the four of them: Lake, Madison, Ell, and Logan - two girls and two boys (you sort out which name goes to which gender!).

They had to break into the place through the basement, and it was creepy as all get out (which they didn’t do), but it wasn't the house that was haunted - it was Lake, haunted by the unsolved disappearance of a younger brother Kimball four years ago. Is Lake just about cheap thrills, or is there a death wish buried the requisite fathom deep in Lake's unfathomable depths?

Okay, I'll identify one character name and gender for you: Lake is the red head on the cover (big reveal, huh?!) and I initially liked her not from the picture, but from her guts and gusto as revealed in her actions. This was a character to appreciate, to empathize with, and to feel a bit sorry for even as you admire her bravado. Unfortunately, it didn't last!

Still wanting to be alone, Lake waits until the other three are asleep in the not-so-haunted house and she heads out into the nearby forest, where she discovers a really haunted house, which roils even the imperturbable Lake. You see, one of the things she finds in the house are belongings of her long-lost brother.

On the downside, I have to say I, er, lost faith in this novel around page sixty when the author, after a great lead-in about palindromes, got to rambling on about how the wife of Judas, the supposed betrayer of Jesus, was a witch who seduced her husband for the sole purpose of luring him into betraying the purported son of a god. This is nonsense.

I don’t believe there ever was a Jesus, son of a god, but pretending for a minute that it’s true, just for the sake of argument, it cannot be otherwise than that Judas was not evil, nor was he a betrayer. He was working with Jesus, not against him. Under the inane and bloodthirsty Christian cult of death, Jesus was a blood sacrifice, without which our sins could not be expunged (so much for the Christian god being omnipotent!).

Judas was an integral part of the scheme! Without the sacrifice, there could be no redemption, so I've never actually understood how Judas is the bad guy here. It makes no sense, and serves only to show how thoroughly screwed-up in the extreme Christianity truly is. Christians really need to take a look at what the original word - the word they now read as 'betrayed' actually meant: paradidomi means to hand over. Betrayal is a meaning it came to hold long afterwards.

Fortunately this nonsense was soon swept away by Lake herself. Here's a line she spoke from page 64: "I have four years of teenage rebellion built up in me and I am not afraid to use it." That was a charmer, but her distance perception is off significantly if she really thinks that Wilmington North Carolina is several thousand miles away from Chatham, Massachusetts! It’s actually less than a thousand, and less than 700 if you fly direct.

But that aside, it’s not long before Lake discovers a secret about her heritage and she's not only haunted by her brother's disappearance, but also by witches. It was suddenly time to do battle. So far so good, but the story began to go seriously downhill after this, and my fondness for Lake with it. The problem is John Billington, a teen from Plymouth (new England) who apparently was abducted by a witch in 1621, and held in a form of suspended animation or more accurately of suspended aging since then, through witchcraft.

The witches take children so they can eat their hair which is sustenance, apparently. They were allowed this under a loop-hole in a contract signed after the Salem witch trials. Seriously, there was a contract? Why they don’t just get jobs in barber's shops goes unexplained. When Lake killed one of the witches and freed her captive children, Billington was among them, but he shows absolutely no gratitude whatsoever. On the contrary: he's rude, abusive, and insulting to Lake. At this point I was seriously hoping we didn't have a so-called "love" triangle developing with this jerk and Ell, towards whom Lake had been making advances - when she's not abusively cold-shouldering him. As I read on, it became increasingly clear that my dire wish wasn't going to be granted.

Despite his dismissive and arrogant attitude, Lake has, of course, the hots for the four-hundred-year-old guy. The problem is that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever in evidence for this attraction. There's even less reason when she meets him later, following a sadly ham-fisted breach between her and Ell tossed-in for good measure. The story went straight downhill for me, because until this point I'd admired and respected Lake. I’d been on her side, but once she began actively swallowing unwarranted abuse and disrespect from Billington, instead of becoming angry and shunning him, she was betraying the very character she'd shown herself to be up to that point.

It was not only sad, but sick and I had to ask: do we seriously need yet another YA novel which depicts a young woman rewarding thoroughly inappropriate behavior with the cut-rate YA excuse for love (which is all we typically get in these novels)? I'd been thoroughly on-board with the story, but I became increasingly ready to jump ship as this went on unabated.

The records of the settlers do record a John Billington and his son, also John, they do not record John Jr. disappearing (except for a day or two in the woods, whence he was found and returned by native Americans - and this was despite the rampant pillaging of native American food stores by the Mayflower thieves upon their arrival. He's recorded as dying young, but several years after his arrival in Plymouth, not in 1621.

The unrealistic thing here is that Billington shows no sign of being at all traumatized by his suddenly (from his PoV) waking up in 2014. Neither does he speak remotely like a Puritan. Even his "outrage" that, without his permission, Lake kissed him (it’s how she frees children from the witch's spell) rang false.

It got worse when Halstead the witch expert started "training" Lake to fight the witches. Billington is also present for this, and also trains with her. I could not help but wonder why Lake's friends - who have already gone through the real thing with her - were excluded, but Billington the bore was included. Of course it provides a really clunky and very fake reason why the two of them are hanging out together, but it was nauseatingly done and not welcome as far as I was concerned.

This novel seemed fanatically determined to evolve into a train-wreck. We're told that John Billington has gold flecks in his eyes and muscular arms! The gold fleck trope is so over-used that it's actually nauseating now to have to read it time and time again in one YA novel after another. On top of that, there's no reason at all to think he was muscular except that this is yet another trope.

John Billington Junior's family history is essentially unknown, but given from whence they hailed, John senior was likely a fisherman. He was also a trouble-maker in New England who was eventually executed. It seems unlikely that his son was the gentleman portrayed here! The author seems to forget that four hundred years ago, people were significantly smaller than they are now. Lake would have towered intimidatingly over young John.

Lake further retreats from rectitude as she plays with the back of Ell's neck while continuing to have the hots for John. At one point she's reaffirming to herself that Ell is her boyfriend, and shortly after that she's passionately kissing John, something she never does with Ell. She behaves far more like a fifteen-year-old than ever she does a seventeen-year-old, and at this point in the novel I quit even liking her.

No one in their right mind would expect a girl like Lake to be blind to boys or to behave like a nun, but when you set someone up as the main character, especially one with a mission, and you give her a set of admirable traits, it's an awful thing to betray those very traits by subsequently rendering her as an air-headed waif with neither focus nor integrity! We've been given no reason at all for her to fall for John, and yet she's obsessed with him. Meanwhile, we've been told that her sole focus for four long years has been her brother, and now she's all but forgotten him in favor of mooning over John. It just did not read right.

This wouldn't have been so bad if we'd been given some realistic motivation for her behavior, but we've had no such thing. It's quite clear that the only reason she's behaving like this is that the author felt it necessary to give her not one, but two male "love" interests in her life because that's what the YA rut (and I do use that word ambiguously) demands. I have a lot more respect for authors who do not kow-tow to mindless trends than I do for ones who are slavishly dedicated to perpetuating YA trope and cliché.

It's an interesting revelation of Lake's character that she performs no chores whatsoever at her grandmother's B&B where she lives in the basement for free. Nor does she ever offer to help out. And she gets an allowance! I found it hard to believe that she wasn't involved in running the B&B at some level. This makes it harder to see how she managed to transition to what she supposedly became at the end. On an unrelated topic - but about one of her relations! - it's also interesting that every time we meet her grandmother, we're treated to a detailed description of what she's wearing - something which we never seem to get for any other character! I found this peculiar at first, and rather irritating as it continued.

Lake's behavior isn't the only thing which is off about this story. Ell behaves like a schizophrenic: one time when he drops Lake off for her training, he talks to her really snottily, but when he picks her up a bit later, he's all BFF, yet we're given no good reason for his earlier behavior and even less for his complete turn-around shortly thereafter. That's a minor consideration in comparison with Madison, Lake's female BFF, however. They're best friends and then for no reason at all, Madison starts acting like a complete spoiled-brat jerk right out of the blue. It was entirely unrealistic.

There are also events - like the flooding of the changing room, which no one else in the school seems to notice! There are no questions about why Madison was screaming, why hers and Lake's clothing is soaking and torn yet no one comments on it, or why they have bloody scratches on them, again which no one notices! I guess everyone in this school is blind!

The worst part about this whole thing is that it isn't the whole thing. It's episode one. It's a prologue. Nothing is resolved at the end; rather than a complete novel, we get only an introduction to volume two, which I now have no interest in reading, I have to say. While this 'partial novel' started out great, had some original ideas, and featured some decent action, the real problem was that it devolved too quickly into cliché, and the characters never seemed realistic to me. I was strongly in favor of the main character at the start, but her behavior and actions made little sense and spoke badly of her, so she lost my support long before the end of the novel.

In the final analysis, my whole reading experience was dissatisfying, and the novel was nowhere near impressive enough to make me want to rate this positively, or to induce me to read more in this series.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L Jagi Lamplighter


Title: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin
Author: L Jagi Lamplighter
Publisher: Dark Quest Books
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 story which is, and I say this negatively, very much in the mold of Harry Potter - a girl (from England even!) starting her time at a school for witchcraft and wizardry, where the witches ride brooms, and can travel instantaneously, and just like in Harry Potter, Rachel loves to fly on her broomstick. And she's already a Griffin!

Of course everyone wants to write the next Harry Potter, but actually writing the next Harry Potter isn't the way to get there, because actually writing the next Harry Potter, no matter how much you try to differentiate it, is still ripping off Harry Potter - it's not really new, and that's the hole we immediately fell into with this novel.

Is this novel differentiated at all? Well, a little bit. It's not Hogwarts school to begin with. Here, it goes by the awful name of the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts. Sorcerous sounds way too much like cancerous to me! Maybe there's a reason for that? Yes they fly on broomsticks - but the "difference" is that these brooms have no bristles so they go faster! Characters can they travel instantaneously, but here it's not by floo powder, but by mirror! And Rachel isn't an orphan - she has a mom, a dad, and an older sister - but she's miles away from them so she feels orphaned in a way.

I first started taking a dislike to this novel at only two percent in because of how Rachel's older sister Sandra is described: "Rachel hoped, when she grew up, she would look like Sandra, calm, stately, and as beautiful as a swam." Never mind courage. Never mind smarts. Never mind decency. Never mind friendliness. Never mind reliability. Never mind integrity. Never mind skills and capabilities. Never mind independence. Nope. The only important thing about a woman, once again please learn it well, is how beautiful and regal she is. This idea of wealth, privilege, and beauty so soaks this novel that it made me nauseous to read it. It was like being confined on the subway with someone who bathes in perfume or cologne rather than sports a teasing hint of it.

What is wrong with children's and young adult authors? Seriously? How many more stories written for young girls are going to persist in brutally ramming it down girls' throats that if you're not beautiful you're essentially valueless? Frankly, I am nauseated by reading this insanity. It makes me sick. People deserve better than this, especially girls who are already being beaten to death by "Big Fashion" and "Big Cosmetics". Do they not deserve something better than this?

I considered it my responsibility to give this novel a fair chance, which is why I continued to read on past this awful point, but I knew then that I would not be able to finish this novel if it continued in this vein, and continue it did. Young readers deserve a hell of a lot better than this.

It's immediately after this that we're told that poor homely Rachel is not only not beautiful like her sister, she also hasn't inherited her mother's "astoundingly shapely figure" because again, if you ain't got curves and beauty, you're an ugly witch. Don't you know that? Seriously? Rachel's "smarts" are conveyed to us not by anything she does or says, not by the approbation of others, but by the fact once again, that she's read lots of books! Because in YA and children's literature, book larnin' = smarts, dontcha know? You didn't know that? You need to read more books so everyone will know you're smart!

In this novel, just as in Harry Potter, the magical world is hidden from the muggles (the 'unwary' as they're apparently labeled here). Just as in Harry Potter, Rachel meets a blond kid (who's connected with the dark side) on her first day and makes an enemy of her - yes, its a she here, not a he.

Just like Hermione Granger, Rachel has unruly hair and is a know-it-all. She meets an orphan student with whom she becomes friends. The only real description we get of the boy is that he's handsome - again beauty trumps everything else! Rachel breaks the rules and discovers something untoward going on. She has to warn another student, Valerie Foxx (only one 'X' shy of becoming a porn star!). Valerie is pretty )of course she is!), and her friend is not only "gorgeous", but really "well-endowed" - because nothing could possibly be more important than looks. I supposed 'well-endowed' could mean she's intersexed, which at least would be something new, but I guessed not, and I was right.

Unlike Harry Potter, Rachel is rich and is actually Lady Rachel - coming from an old wealth family in Devon - the daughter of a Duke. She considers her new friend to be "low-born" because he comes from a "horrid, mundane orphanage". By this point I was thinking of calling up my Doctor for a large prescription of Promethazine to counter the extreme nausea. Also by this point I completely loathed Rachel.

Siggy, her pet orphan friend isn't actually any better. When she rudely asks him if he likes girls, his response indicates that he likes "ladies". He would never, he tells her, risk his life to slay a dragon for a "trollop". Let the trollops rot! I'm sorry, but at this point - 8 percent in - I could not stand to read even one more screen of this snotty piece of ill-conceived and appallingly abusive garbage. Call me unexpectedly enlightened.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Unusual Awakening by SM Knowles


Title: Unusual Awakening
Author/Editor: SM Knowles
Publisher: Amazon CreateSpace
Rating: WORTHY!


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

Errata:
p35 Layla is referenced as "Riley"
p130 "…if I he looked into my eyes." (one personal pronoun too many!)

This is the first of a quadrilogy, and I liked it, but it's a bit young for me, and aimed squarely at girls, so I'm not about to read any more, but this one I liked, even though the title of the book seems to be in question. The Advance Review Copy (ARC) I got was titled Unusual Ending for the file-name, but the novel inside the file was titled Unusual Awakening. Neither title made a lot of sense, although the latter did begin to, given how this ended.

One annoying thing in the ARC was this large purple text angled across every page reading: 'Please Don’t Forward'. It obscured the text, and so was really annoying! However, it wasn't visible in the Kindle version, only in the Adobe Digital Editions version. Strange! But then this was a strange novel!

As Steve Martin put it in LA Story the author has some interesting word usements she structures; however, the story was quite endearing and I found myself wanting to read this story, which is exactly what any author wants!

The story is first person PoV, which I normally don't like, even though I understand it's inexplicably taken on the vesture of a law of nature in juvenile literature these days; however, this voice was actually quite endearing so I did not find this as objectionable as I often do. What I did find strange is that it switched to an alternative first person PoV in chapter sixteen, for one chapter, and then back again. Weird. This is one reason why I don't normally like 1PoV: it's far too limiting to an author and it gets them in trouble.

It's told, to begin with, from the PoV of Rylee Everly, who is fifteen, going on sixteen. Her dad is shipping out to Afghanistan for a two-year tour of duty, and the family isn’t coping. Her younger twin sisters (Ava and Zoe who seem to act way too young for their age) are troublesome, and mom has pretty much shut down.

Rylee is managing - not well but she's at least functional. She pretty much becomes the 'man of the house' since her mom sadly isn’t stepping-up. One day she runs for the school bus and is - somehow - hit by it. She ends up in hospital with broken arm and a banged-up head. She's out of school for a week. Keep the odd nature of this accident in mind, because you'll need it for later in the story!

Brock Parker has been Rylee's 'best friend' since they were young. He's Rylee's neighbor's kid. He's asked to watch over the girls when Rylee gets out of hospital and has a sleep-over with four friends, but he's pretty much stalking them in the woods in the dark until Rylee confronts him. She has a weird kind of on-again off-again friendship with Brock, but neither of them seems capable of going deeper into their feelings which honestly begs the question of how close a friendship they really have.

As I mentioned, Rylee is coping with the absence and potential loss of their dad, but ever since she hit her head in the accident, she starts thinking she's in contact with him without the use of a phone! She keeps hearing his voice - at least, she believes it's his.

The odd thing is that it's pretty much limited to warning her about staying away from boys - since they're bad. You knew that, right? He says nothing about girls! Rylee wonders about the voice but she never links it to her head injury or questions her sanity. She buys right into it being dad.

When she goes to the Snow Ball - a cutely-named winter dance at school - she hears his voice telling her she must leave. Later the voice warns her away from Brock. She's known Brock all her life. Surely the voice can’t be her father? Or can it? And if it is, what's it all mean? Is he dead?! Maybe when we meet Adysin, when she takes over the narrative in chapter sixteen, we'll learn more about what's going on? Adysin has some interesting information to share, which I'm not going to spoil for you.

Warning! There's a cliff-hanger ending, so if you become addicted to this you will need to get the next volume, and the next....

I liked this one volume. It took a bit of getting into here and there, and it was a bit young for me, but it was a good story. Note that you will need to pay close attention, or you'll find yourself skipping back a page or two thinking "Wait, what?", but it was a worthy read.