Showing posts with label contemporary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contemporary. 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.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Sound of the World By Heart by Giacomo Bevilacqua


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an odd sort of a story, but in the end I liked it despite some issues with the advance review copy (for which I nonetheless thank the publisher!).

The story felt like it went on a little longer than it ought, but it talks about something I am quite attuned to at present having been watching episodes now and then of the Netflix series called Brain Games, which delights in telling us how our brain is in many ways magical, but also easily fooled and often in surprising ways. Despite what we might think, our attention bandwidth is quite limited, and it's on the margin of this that pickpockets and illusionists ply their trade

This story is in some ways about that: about how we have blind spots and are in denial. The one in denial - denying himself social interaction (and there's more to it than just that) - is a photographer. He has undertaken with his editor, to spend two months in New York City and during that time, not speak to anyone. He pays his rent by means of his landlady sticking an envelope under his door, he filling it with the rent money, and she giving him a thumbs up through his security glass. He isn't allowed to eat in the same place regularly, so he is forced to try different venues. He navigates this by using a sign explaining that he's deaf, and asking people to please not talk to him. He writes down his meal requests. He's not even allowed to eat at home very often.

And he takes lots of photos. Despite having an electronic camera, he likes to get the prints so he can put them on his wall and examine them. But the real printing process is in his head. He takes a mental snapshot of what he just photographed, and keeps it in mind rather well. That is until he has the next batch physically printed and discovers there's a girl in them, in color, while the rest of the print is gray-scale. He doesn't recall ever seeing this redhead, and when he tries to call up the shots from his mind gallery, he cannot - they're all blank spots! It would seem that his perspective is eagle-eyed everywhere except where this girl is. Who is she and how is this happening? The answer might be different from what you expect and certainly different from what Joan of Arc, his muse in a painting in the museum, might advise.

I've never been to New York, and I'm certainly not one of these people who worships the place. My problem with those who do is that they view it through absurdly biased and rose-tinted lenses. Crime might be commendably dropping there, but it's still horrific. There is a murder pretty much every day, which is unacceptable. The homeless population of New York rose to an all-time high in 2011. Thirteen percent of all homeless people in the USA live in NYC.

At least there, they're legally entitled to shelter, but again, it's a problem that those who worship NYC choose to ignore, extolling what they consider virtues instead. For me, paeans to NYC fall on rather deaf ears because the city, notwithstanding what worshipers say, is essentially no different from any other large city. I doubt that people are particularly more friendly or antagonistic, nor more ordinary or extraordinary, nor more heroic or cowardly than anywhere else, so those views of the city tend to fall flat for me.

That said, and while this book did indulge in some hero-worship, it was kept to what I consider an acceptable level. That aside I had no complaints at all about it, except for a couple of instances where the text balloons were inexplicably blank! The balloons were there but no speech was in them! Maybe in graphic novel worlds this should be a phrase, akin to "The lights are on, but nobody's home!" - "This dude's speech balloon is blank!" I assume this will be fixed before the published copy comes out. Either that or I hope this was merely an anomaly in my copy. The missing speeches were on pps 25 & 26, and also on 120 thru 124. There was also some staining around the dates which separated the various segments of the story, like the dates had been stuck on with Scotch tape and then Xeroxed, and the Scotch tape had left a shadow! But this is a minor thing.

Overall though, and this is what truly matters to me rather than minor details, I really liked this. The illustrations, in color, are gorgeous, and the text is easy to get into and enjoy (and large enough to read on a tablet!). It was fresh and original, and it told an engaging story, so I recommend it as a worthy read.


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.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Salt and Oil, Blood and Clay by Jennifer Bresnick


Rating: WORTHY!

This is "A collection of short stories, poems, and vignettes that use fantasy and the harsh realities of ordinary life to explore the impact of solitude, sorrow, hope, and longing on how we see and believe in the world." I don't think that blurb does this justice. This is short, but it was quite engaging. I liked how it hung together, and even though I didn't 'get' everything, and didn't like some things, overall I considered it a very worthy read.

I loved that the author isn't afraid to make her poetry rhyme. I'm not one of those people who thinks poetry should be "just like in the Hallmark cards' but neither do I think rhyming poetry is a dirty word. Or more to the point, a set of dirty words! I think poetry needs to have rhythm, meaning, and yes, rhyme, but you can rhyme with meaning and sentiment instead of literally with words. Far too much poetry these days is pretentious prose arbitrarily broken into random clauses. Not with this author, who writes so well that you can feel the emotion coming through those words straight into your heart. That's exactly what poetry should be.

The short stories were quirky and engaging, and in some cases felt like they were unfinished - or were the beginning of something longer, which the author abandoned, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing to get from a story. Some of those were intriguing. Life is unfinished until it's too late; then there's nothing we can do about it! We've left it to others to finish what we started, so my advice is to get it done while you can, and this author brings that and more. I recommend this.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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

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.


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.


The First Taste is Free Pixie Chicks - Tales of a Lesbian Vampire by Zephyr Indigo


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with The Pixie Chicks by Regan Black, or with the Pixie Chicks' Writers Group, this story was so whimsical (and very short, but it's free - as an introductory overture) that I was lured into reading it and in the end, it was not a bad temptation at all. I'd be interested in reading more, but the story is an episodic one, and there are ten episodes, which means you'll end up paying nine dollars for the whole book. Is it worth that?

Only you can answer that question, but consider that there is no page count offered for these 'episodes', only a file size, which is a cautionary omission! This one (excellently titled 'The First Taste is Free!) is 174K. The next one is only 211K so that means it's hardly longer than the free book - maybe 25 - 30 pages max, depending on font size. So all ten can't me more than two hundred to two-fifty or so pages. For nine dollars it had better be good for as slim a volume as that would be.

Mega-vendors like Amazon have forced authors into this world though, so it's what we as both writers and consumers have to deal with. Will it work? Does it pay? I guess we'll find out! At least with this method, the author gives you the option of buying bite-sized pieces and you can quit any time, so you don't find you've laid out the full price for a novel that you can't stand to read past page twenty! Frankly, I'm wondering if I should try that with one of my novels. I had this weird idea for a humorous story just a couple of days ago, and I'm wondering if it might be worth experimenting with this technique: write it as a short set of episodes for ninety-nine cents each. It's worth a try, but I would never run it to ten volumes of twenty pages each, so you can relax on that score!

I'm not familiar with the author at all, but I seriously doubt that Zephyr Indigo is a real name. I also have my doubts that the author is even female. It's a sound marketing ploy to have a female front for this kind of story, but I feel like it's probably a guy; however, I do not know, so I could be completely wrong on both scores. I often am!

That said, and though I was skeptical about this story, it did win me over, so there is something there. You;'re quite free to disagree of course, but for me, I thought it was pretty darned good for this genre. The story was fresh and different, and though the sex is rather perfunctory, which may displease many female readers, it really did feel like it counted as erotica. It's about a lesbian vampire. Much of what is termed erotica these days is nothing more than smut, but this wasn't like that. I know it sounds cheesy, but the erotic bits are decently if somewhat clinically done and the story that links them is actually an interesting one.

The vampire is sick with herself and looking for a cure or for the vampire hunters to find her and finish her, but she meets this pixie one night, alone in the forest, which is a dangerous place to be when vampires are loose. The vamp of course get the hots for her, but the pixie, who goes by the amusing name of mint (but who may as well have been called catnip) will only give in to her desires if the vampire meets with Ariel, the pixie goddess. Ariel has a mission for the vampire - to work with the pixies in finding a cure for vampirism.

For me it made for an interesting story, even though it was only some twenty pages. I am sure this is what the author wants, to lure readers in, but you can't blame him or her for that in this ebook world we've created for ourselves, and this is a good lure. Maybe I'll be lured into reading more. We'll see.


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.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hatchet Women by Nick Sconce


Rating: WARTY!

If this was an attempt to make the insurance industry exciting or edgy, it failed. For me it failed as a novel because it was far too focused on the minutiae of the insurance industry practices and hiring and firing that it forgot to actually tell an engaging story or to bring to life interesting people. I made it 40% in, to the end of chapter twelve, and I am sorry but I could not face the prospect of reading another two-hundred and thirty pages of this stuff. I really couldn't.

The basic story is that four women (who we're told in the blurb are 'brazen', but of which I saw no evidence) are the terminators - they investigate malfeasance (such as an executive reinstating lapsed insurance policies for his family members when no premiums are being paid), pull together the evidence, and pursue the firing of the employee. Maybe this is how it's done in the insurance industry, I don't know, but for women who are, it's implied, coldly callous in their pursuit of justice for the company, this process seems remarkably gentle and prolonged. In the case I mentioned, it's plainly theft, and most corporations would simply fire the employee on the spot. It made little sense to me that there would be a team of people dedicated to doing this or that they would have a hearing over it. Maybe things are different in the executive suite. I can't speak to that.

Why these four women did this rather than someone in the individual corporate offices in the three states they covered went unexplained, and it made little sense to me. It made less sense that these women would be "hidden" in the 'event planning department' and forced to dye their hair blonde so they blended in. If this was supposed to be funny, it was lost on me. Once these women fired their first executive, everyone would know who they were, so their disguise would have been meaningless at that point. Talking of corporate malfeasance, why didn't even one of these women have a problem with being required to dye their hair? I know women are expected not only to earn 20% less, but also required to dress up more than ever men are. Why was nothing mentioned about that?

The story offered here is that of unexplained deaths, perhaps murders to avoid paying out insurance, which seems like a pretty thin plot if that's all there is to it. Why would a company do this especially since the "savings" from this are likely to be little or nothing. It made no sense, but I didn't get far enough to read much about that - only the overture to it, so I can't comment on how the story dealt with it. Based on what I read though, I can't recommend this. Forty percent in is way too far for the main story not to have begun. For me the novel was not at all engrossing, and I was given no good reason to care about any of these four women or what they were doing.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazingly-named novel, from an author I now intend to read more of, is about a teen-aged girl in a religious cult (not an evil one, just a misguided one as they all ultimately are). Starbird has grown up leading a rather sheltered life, but she gets the chance to go out into the world and this is her story.

All of the characters have bizarre names. Starbird's brother is called Douglas Fir. Apparently the cult went through eras of selecting names from particular inspirational sources, so the founding members are all named after planets in our solar system. The leader is called Earth, and the name is always capitalized, but he's disappeared. He went out on some sabbatical, and no one heard from him since.

Starbird ends-up working with a girl named Venus Lake (daughter of Venus Ocean) in a restaurant owned by the cult. Venus is not a founding member but since her mother, who was a founder, died in childbirth, they gave her name to her daughter. Yes, it's that kind of weird. It was really hard to get into for the first couple of pages, but then it started making sense and I really liked it, which is a good feeling form a new novel by an author I was not familiar with. It's the best part of a novel, right? Before you've become disappointed in it and ditch or, or worse, before you read it avidly and then are disappointed that it's over! LOL! The manic world of novel addicts.

That;s not to say it was perfect. I had a problem with, in the space of 6 pages in chapter 9, meeting two guys and two girls. In each case the guy is described in terms of his hair, while in each case the girl is described in terms of how pretty or attractive she is. Fortunately, this was the only instance of this I encountered, so I let it slide, but this business of typing females by how pretty they are has to stop. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm ready to start rating novels based solely on that, if it's indulged in to absurd lengths, regardless of how well-written or otherwise the novel is.

Women have other qualities and the people who should perhaps most realize this are female writers, yet so many of them sell-out their characters with this genderist bullshit that it's nauseating. As I said, the author went on to show admirably how these women had other qualities and she backed-off on the skin-deep garbage, so I let it slide this time.

I can understand it if a character, in the novel reduces a woman to her looks alone; this happens in real life, but these descriptions came directly from the author, not from one of the characters. In each case the woman is reduced to her looks and in doing this, the author is very much announcing that women who are not considered attractive need not apply, because when it comes to women, looks are all that matter. I don't subscribe to that and I wish that a lot fewer female authors did, particularly in the YA genre.

That caveat aside, and because it was so limited in this novel, I do consider this a worthy read.


The Cute Girl network by Greg Means, MK Reed, Joe Flood


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three graphic novels I'll be reviewing this weekend. This one ca,me form my excellent local library and I think it's my favorite of the three. The story is of Jane and Jack. It's illustrated with black and white line drawings by Flood. I was a little disappointed that writers Means and Reed didn't go the whole hog and name her Jill, since she introduces herself with a tumble.
It's not down a hill, but nothing is perfect, right?

Skateboarder Jane has been in town for about a month when she wipes out in front of Jack's soup cart. He supplies a free ice tea (in a bottle!) for her to soothe her injured coccyx. As the two interact more, they end up on a date and start liking each other, even though she's feisty as all hell and he is highly-prone to complete disasters.

Two of Jane's vampire romance-obsessed roommates freak-out when they learn she's dating Jack. Actually the vampire romance thing is pretty much a story all in itself, and I appreciated that; however, suddenly Jane finds herself introduced to the Cute Girls Network (not to be confused with the cukegirls network) - a loose alliance of women who dish out the skinny on guys you should avoid like the plague. Jane hears several embarrassingly gauche stories of Jack's history of bad conduct, but despite these dire warnings, she decides to stay the course.

The story is cutely illustrated and amusingly written, and it tells a fascinating and unusual story. I really liked the character Jane. She was definitely my kind of fictional girl. Jack was hilarious, as were the various roommates of both main characters. This was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel did not work for me. It had some real potential, but it felt far too dissipated - like it was trying to drive in so many different directions at once that it went nowhere - and it took its sweet time doing it, too! I had to give up reading it about eighty percent in because it had become such a chore to read. It was far too dismal and never even seemed like it was interested in going anywhere. In the end I really didn't care what had happened to the mother and wife of this family. I really didn't.

The novel starts at almost a year from the point where "Billie" Flanagan went hiking and was never seen again - unless you count one lone hiking boot as a sighting. Her daughter, Olive and her husband, Jonathan, are barely holding it together. Olive starts seeing visions of her mother and after the first of these is so convinced her mom is right there, that she runs into a wall trying to get to her, and all but knocks herself out. I started pretty quickly hoping she would do it again and end up in a coma so I didn't have to deal with her any more.

Jonathan was no better. He never saw his daughter when mom was alive because he worked all hours. This begs the question as to who was raising Olive since mom was evidently always gone as well. Once mom was gone for good, Jonathan quit his job to spend time with Olive, but then he had no money, so they were living hand to mouth.

He got an advance to write a memoir of Billie, but we were never given a single reason why anyone would want to read it or why any publishing company would be remotely interested in a memoir about a woman who was very effectively a non-entity. The advance has been spent, and there's no prospect of more until the memoir is finished, but he's never depicted as actually working on it. In short, he's a truly lousy dad.

The story chapters are interspersed with "excerpts" from this memoir, but I have zero interest in story-halting flashbacks, because well, they halt the story, so I read none of the excerpts. I can't say I ever felt like I needed to go back and read them, which begs the obvious question as to why they were even there in the first place.

Olive's visions were so unrevealing of anything of value that the point of them was a mystery to me. They were all so vague and useless that they became simply annoying in short order. Any sympathy I had for her over her lousy parents was quickly smothered by her endless needy self-importance and habit of constantly and tediously regurgitating her situation for everyone and anyone who would listen.

There's talk that she might have a brain lesion which could explain the visions; then there's talk that maybe that's not the case; then there's talk that the pills she's given are stopping the visions, so maybe they were caused by the lesion, but one of these visions came before she hit her head. Seriously? Which is it? It was never explained and I couldn't stand to keep reading this stuff in the hope that maybe some straight-talk would come out of this story in the last twenty percent when there's been zero evidence of it in the first eighty!

I honestly did not care about any of these people at all, and I really could not have cared less about what had happened to Billie. The blurb (and I know this isn't on the writer, but the publisher) says of Billie that she's "a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom" and I have to ask yet again, what the fuck her 'beauty' has to do with anything? Would it have been somehow less of a tragedy had she been plain or even ugly? Would this family's loss have been easier? "Yeah, mom's vanished without a trace, but she was an ugly bitch, so who cares? Let's move on!" No, I don't think so.

Seriously, I am so tired of women being reduced to 'a pretty skin', like they haven't a damned thing to offer other than their beauty or lack of it. That sexist blurb writer should be fired for that blurb. If the novel had been about a man who disappeared, would the blurb have harped on how handsome he was? No! You're damned right it wouldn't. 2017 and we're still mired in this swamp: that a woman better equal beauty or she equals nothing.

I left this observation until last because it has nothing to do with my judgment of this novel. Normally, I pay little attention to the covers because they have nothing to do with the writer, unless the writer self-publishes. It's what's between those covers which interests me, yet you can't ignore the blurb because this is our lead-in to whether a particular novel might be of interest.

That said, I also have to bring the writer to book on this same score, because she also reduces women - particularly Billie - to skin-depth on far too many occasions:

  • "Billie was beautiful..."
  • "...Billie's mother would have been beautiful too..."
  • ...her mom was the most beautiful, most creative, the most interesting..." - note how beauty is listed first since it's quite evidently the most important thing about her!
  • "...being beautiful and strong..." - being a beautiful woman is more important than being a strong woman!
  • "...being married to a beautiful woman is that other people are going to notice that she is beautiful..."
  • "And while Billie was more beautiful..."
  • "You're a beautiful woman."
  • "...His beautiful wife.."
  • "...Olive's beautiful mother..."
  • "Billie, tanned, glowing, and beautiful..."
  • "This beautiful girl from nowhere..."
So maybe the blurb writer took their cue from the interior after all? Not that they shouldn't have known better. What's just as bad though, is that Olive is compared with this ridiculous standard, and negatively so: "...she's not beautiful, like her mother...", and "She is not conventionally beautiful...." This is sick. I'm sorry, but it is.

If the novel had been about runway models or women competing for a role in a movie or a TV show, then I could see how beauty would play into it. It would still be wrong, but it's the way Hollywood is; however, that doesn't mean that writers have to buy into it so readily. It's diseased writing to keep harping on this for page after page. It's a form of abuse. People who do this have no idea how much damage they do to women the world over by repeating this insane mantra that all that's important is looks, and if you ain't got 'em you ain't got nothin' worth having. Bullshit.

This novel ought really to be condemned on that alone, but sick as this world is, negatively reviewing a book for that would fall on deaf ears. As it was, this novel condemned itself in too many other ways.


James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second of three graphic novels I'm reviewing this weekend, and I started out thinking I wasn't going to like this, but it won me over as I read on! It's not your movie James Bond. Luca Casalanguida's illustrations bear no relation to any Bond from the silver screen. This Bond harks back much more to the traditional Ian Fleming Bond (there's even a cover shown towards the back which pays homage to the paperback Bond novels of the fifties and early sixties). It's not exactly Ian Fleming's conception of the character (who Fleming believed should look like a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and himself!), but it admirably fits the bill. That said, it's a very modern story in a modern world, so while it felt like a clean break from the movies in some regards, Andy Diggle tells a story worthy of any screenplay.

There's everything here you've come to expect from Bond: a big plot, continual action, a terrorist on the loose with a cool code-name, subterfuge, assassination attempts, double-cross, daring Bond exploits, and the inevitable cool Bond girl. Bond begins the story in the doghouse. M, in this story not a woman but an Anglo-African, kicks him out to an arms convention in Dubai where he meets Lord Hunt - Britain's biggest arms dealer, and his sophisticated and charming daughter, Victoria, who knows her way around weapons of any calibre!

Unfortunately, Lord Hunt is assassinated, and Bond and the young Lady Hunt are thrown together in pursuit of the villains, so once again, Bond is back in business looking for super villain Kraken, who seems to be targeting the very thing the Hunt weapons manufacturing concern is charged with renewing: Britain's aging nuclear deterrent. Bond is of course led astray, but in the end gets back on track, and saves the day.

Note that this Bond is a violent one, and the artist shows no fear of illustrating that violence. This might have been rather shocking before Bond was rebooted with Daniel Craig stepping into the role and making it more gritty and brutal, but still, there's rather more gore and red ink here than you see in the movies, so be warned of that. Overall, I really liked it, and I recommend this as a worthy read.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Perennials by Mandy Berman


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel didn't work for me. The blurb did, which is to say that it did its job and lured me in, but it was, as usual, misleading. If I'd known Kirkus had praised it, I would have definitely skipped it, because Kirkus pretty much praises everything, which means their reviews are completely worthless, but I didn't and the blurb sounded good, so I bought into it. The story is presented as a summer camp story, but in fact this particular story could have been set in a variety of other venues and still been essentially the same story, so I never saw the advantage of the camp setting except maybe as a nostalgia lure for readers. There really was nothing about the camp which was essential to the story being told, and the camp suffered by being merely one more "character" which became lost in the mass of people ambling among the pages.

This is also presented as a story of two people meeting as young adults after knowing each other as children. There's a giant jump from their early teens when they are at camp, to their life after their college freshman year, but it's misleading, because the two have never been apart in any meaningful sense, so there really was no drama to it, and no sense of anything changing or fulminating. I think it would have made for a better story to have followed them through their first year in college. Largely the same kind of events could have transpired in such a story, and it would have felt more organic and more real.

Even as it was, the story would have been a more entertaining if we could have focused on the relationship between these two girls, but they were quickly pushed very much into the background by the plethora of other characters who were quickly ushered in and out. Instead of a coherent story we got a potpourri of people, and this messy patchwork never let the reader get to know a single one of them properly. It was like looking at snapshots in a photo album at an orphanage. You know there's a bunch of stories there worth the telling, but you can't grasp any one of them from the narrow, static glimpses you get into these lives. The collage overwhelms the power of the story, which gets lost: all the actors became minor characters, and there are so many of them that it's impossible to actually care about anyone.

So the story is that Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to meet every summer at Camp Marigold. That's the extended prologue, although it isn't called a prologue. For me it could have been dispensed with altogether. The main story begins when both girls come back to Marigold, but this time as counselors. We're told that their relationship is more complicated, but I saw no evidence of this. The bottom line is that Rachel is a jerk and Fiona is a whiner. For these "sins", both are punished towards the end of the story, but the 'punishment' didn't match the 'crime', so that was a fail for me, and neither of these people was entertaining or interesting, or had anything new or worthwhile to offer. Yes, there are two tragic events. I guess the blurb writer doesn't count drunken rape as tragic. I'd have to disagree on that one. Either that or the blurb-writer never actually read the story before describing it to us.

I never went to summer camp, which is why I have found several such stories to be interesting, but this one was not, and at least one aspect of it struck me as highly improbable. The camp Fiona and Rachel attend is not that spectacular. It's supposed to cater to rich kids, but it's a rather shabby and resource-lacking little concern, so this made very little sense to me. It also lacked credibility in that for reasons unexplained, the camp seemed to be a huge magnet for international camp counselors! I found that hard to believe. Like I said, I've never attended a camps, so maybe camps really are like this. I have no problem accepting that foreign counselors might want to come to US camps. What I found beyond credibility was that so many of them would want to come to this particular one!

So overall, not a worthy read for me. I can't recommend this one.


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill


Rating: WARTY!

Here's yet another in a long line of experimental audiobooks - experimental for me that is since I tend to spread my wings (such as they are) more with audio than with other media, and once in a while it works and I find a gem, but more often, sorry to report, I'm disappointed. This falls into that latter category. It sounded good on paper (LOL), and started out quite strongly, but the middle third fell to pieces and I DNF'd it. Life's too short.

This one is set in Laos, refreshingly, yet it began by being annoying not because of the writing, but because the guy who reads it, with the appropriate name of Clive Chafer, ends every clause and every sentence by putting emphasis on the last word. It was really, really, really irritating and was the first and last nail in the coffin. The middle nails were all the author's fault, but I have to say that I can't for the life of me understand why any sane author would voluntarily give up control of their novel like this and allow some random person with a duff reading voice to have at it for the audio book.

You have to wonder how authors feel when they learn that their novel is going to be read by someone else. They have little control over this - I'm guessing - when they go with Big Publishing™ because it's really out of their hands. Of course, if you try and do it yourself, you get oddball noise in the background: traffic passing, someone coming in, your kids banging around the house, music from next door! LOL! You can't win!

But Chafer's voice chafed. Honestly. Listening to a metronome would actually have offered more variety and been more entertaining than this Chinese (or Laotian) voice torture. When he was doing the spoken word, he far less pedantic, but there he found a different way to foul out. Why the hell he thought it appropriate, when reading of people in Laos, to do some of them with a Scots accent or with a south-west England accent is a complete mystery to me, but he did. And his portrayal of the guy with Down's Syndrome was positively abusive. The audiobook should be rejected for that alone.

As for the story itself it has some great moments of humor. Some of the names were entertaining, intentionally or not. There was a Madame Ho and a Major Ly, for example, but the humor was too thin on the ground to make a difference. The novel was supposed to be about ghosts and missing army majors and psychics, and I cannot explain how an author can make such a story boring, but this one achieved it. It fell into a rut in the middle third, and it never looked like it was interested in getting out. It was tedious and I have much better things to do with my time.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Blowback by Valerie Plame, Sarah Lovett


Rating: WARTY!

I think this novel may have been misrepresented, because the smaller name on the cover did most of the writing, but that's just a hunch. Or maybe, given the novel's title, it's a hunchback? Valerie Plame's claim to fame, for shame is that she was framed by the lame Bush administration in revenge for her putting a kink in their lie that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Now she's turning to novel writing, but rather than trust her to do it on her own, Big Publishing&trade, in its usual inept fashion, paired her with established writer, Sarah Lovett, whom I've never heard of. I rather suspect that latter one did most of the writing, if not all, because the story looks like it was painted by numbers. There's not an ounce of originality, inventiveness, creativity or even life in it.

The main character has the same initials as Plame, and is in the same job. All that's missing to make it a truly wacky joke is a middle initial to make it VIP. The character is a flawed CIA officer (because you can't have one without some serious flaws, right - that's the writer's code. Well, they're more like guidelines really). True to form, the guy is square-jawed, but has a crooked tooth and a scar - not from his job with the CIA, but from childhood (like Indiana Jones), and is very boyish in appearance. Barf me a fricking cow. Seriously? I was completely turned off this novel at that point, and trying to read on a bit more didn't help.

The real problem with this (I'm sure there are many, but I DNF'd it) is that here we have an actual CIA operative who has been there and done that and has some impressive credentials, yet the story we get (supposedly) from her is exactly the same as every other story we've ever had about CIA operatives, with very few exceptions. In fact I reviewed one not all that long ago which had almost the exact same opening sequence as this one does: an assassination in Europe of a contact who was meeting a female operative?

My point is that if a legit CIA agent cannot write something fresh and original, then what is the point? What is the point if all she can give us is exactly the type of story we've been getting from non-CIA personnel for years? I don't see any point, and I'm not about to waste any of my time reading this when there are other more imaginative and more engrossing novels out there just begging to be read.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of this author's works I've ever encountered and it left a favorable enough impression that I want to read something else by her. I tend to take more risks with audiobooks than other formats, because I'm a captive audience in my car and I'm not fully focused on the audio when in traffic, so I tend to be a bit more tolerant - within limits! - when I'm stuck with this one book until I get back home! In this case the book was easy on the ears as was Karen White, the actor who read this book and who successfully avoided annoying me!

It's set in a fictional North Carolina location called improbably 'Walls of Water' because of the cataracts in the area, but sometimes you have to wonder if the cataracts are on people's eyes rather than cascading down the rocky hills. In this small town lives Willa Jackson, whose family used to be important, but now are just another family, and Paxton Osgood, whose family is still important, from old money, and quite snooty. Paxton's family runs to three generations here, while Willa and her grandmother, who is seriously ill, seem to be the only two of their lineage left.

Each of these two women is crippled in the same way, but for different reasons. They both suffer from chronic inertia, having settled into a rut and being either incapable of, or beyond caring if they ever escape. Willa runs a sporting goods shop, and Paxton despite being thirty, has failed to flee the nest, having made it only as far as the pool house where she currently lives. Neither of these women struck me as being particularly smart, which was a disappointment, although they were not outright dumb, either.

They're the same age and though they were both at the same high school together, they were never friends. Paxton was part of the moneyed crowd, and Willa was the school prankster, although no one knew it was she until the last day of school. The pranks were totally lame, though, so she wasn't much of a prankster. The only thing special about it is that she keeps it a secret for so long, and someone else gets the blame. The person the school thought was the prankster was Colin, Paxton's twin brother, who left town after high school and pretty much never came back until now, and only because he's supervising the landscaping on The Blue Madam - a local landmark building which Paxton is overseeing the restoration of.

It's obvious from the start that Willa and Colin are going to end up together and while this was somewhat boring and had some creepy elements to it, in the end it was a harmless relationship and far better than most YA authors bullshit 'romance' attempts, so I let that slide. Paxton's was a much more interesting relationship.

She's been lifelong friends with Sebastian, but having seen him, back in their high school days, kiss another guy on the mouth, she wrote him off as a prospect (despite having the hots for him), thinking he's gay. While this was a nice pothole to put in her road because it leaves the reader never quite sure if this is going to work or if someone else will come along for one or other of them, it's also the reason why I felt Paxton wasn't too smart. They've been close for some twenty years, yet she never figured out he's not gay, nor has she ever heard of a sexual preference called 'Bi', apparently!

So! Not a brilliant story, nor a disaster, and it did fall off the rails a bit towards the end. The murder mystery part of it is more of a hiccup than an actual plot. If it had been shorter (for example by dispensing with the "mystery" and trimming the drawn-out ending, it would have been better.

I didn't like that Willa was so very easily led by the nose and in effect controlled by Colin. It's never a good sign for a relationship when one party comes into it evidently intent upon changing the other, but as I said, in this case it was relatively harmless, so I let it slide. I recommend this if you like an easy, reasonably well-written, and quite charming story that never reaches great heights, but successfully avoids numbing depths. It has a southern charm and a country living air pervading it and overall, I liked it.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Emily the Strange: Piece of Mind written by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four. This is the last of those.

Once again Emily is on a road trip. This seems to be her thing. She returns to the same town she visited in the 1790s, this time with all her cats, because she wishes to reclaim her inheritance: the power of Black Rock, which her arch nemesis is also seeking. Legend has it that this battle takes place every thirteenth generation, and Emily is not about to A. Lose and B. Let this power fall into the hands of her evil nemesis where it will stay for the next thirteen generations. With her golem, Raven at her side, and her four cats (Miles, Mystery, Neechee, and Sabbath) along for the trip, she heads out to do battle.

The problem is that Emily has no idea how to reclaim her inheritance, and neither does her arch nemesis. Worse than this, the town has changed rather a lot since she was last there (in 1790) so she has a hard time even figuring out where things are, particularly underground. Even worse, Her nemesis has a girl, Dottie, working for him and she can pull people's thoughts right out of their head just by touching them, leaving them at best, with holes in their memory, or at worst, with a mind almost as blank as Raven's is.

Emily steps up her game though, and of course she wins through as we knew she would. Another great story, the only bad part of which is that it was the last. I'm not a series fan generally speaking, but once in a while I'm lucky enough to happen upon one which breaks the mold in any sense of that word, and stands out above all others, and this is definitely one such series. "Are you there, black rock? It's Me, Emily" was one of many classic lines throughout the series that made this a joy to read.


Emily the Strange: Dark Times written by Rob Reger, illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

After having fallen in love with Emily The Strange from a graphic novel I serendipitously happened upon at the worshipful local library, I discovered that there was a series of four novels on this same charming deviant, and I requested all four.

In this, the third volume, which was the first I read in order, Emily perfects her Time Out Machine and is able to travel back to 1790 to investigate the demise of a distant relative, Lily, who apparently dies at the tender age of thirteen, at the hands of a 'Dark Girl'. Emily herself is a Dark Girl as was Lily, and so Emily is rather curious as to why one of them would kill one of her own, and wondering if she can somehow change history by preventing the death, and whether such a change would backfire and change Emily's own future so much that she would regret this intervention.

Once again she runs into her nemesis in the form of one of his ancestors, who are just as designing as he is in Emily's own time. She has to figure out why the supply of Black Rock (curiously the name of a location near my home town!) has dried up, and how it can be be set free again. Meanwhile the villain is holding Emily's ancestors prisoner to force them to confess the secret of the Black Rock so they can take it over. Apparently this fight for control of the substance takes place every thirteen generations - which happens to be Emily's favorite number.

And once again Emily is victorious. Those primitive 1790's locks cannot hold her in! Despite a few hair-raising scrapes which actually don't raise Emily's thick, dark locks, and despite at one point thinking she is trapped in the past, she wins through and all is well. A great story!