Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ebook. Show all posts

Friday, September 22, 2017

The ABC Animal Picnic by Janina Rossiter


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is an advance review copy. In honor of full disclosure, I should say that I while I am not a personal friend of the author's, I was asked by her if I would review this one, and I freely confess that I was happy to do so having had on balance, such a good experience with her books in the past.

It would be easy to favor this one for the sake of past positive perspective (get used to the alliteration - it's in the book!), but I honestly believe she would not appreciate it if I did so on that basis, and I certainly would not rate a book positively were it one I had not felt was worth reading. Fortunately for both of us, she made it very easy for me to not only really like this one, but to feel sure it was a worthy read in terms of educational value for children.

It was gorgeously-illustrated to begin with, which engendered positive feelings about it before I had begun really getting into it. The illustrations - by the author - truly are remarkable. I know a few graphic novel artists who could take a page of out Janina Rossiter's artbook! I wish I had her talent.

Whereas many children's artists are content to draw simplistic pictures, these line drawings of assorted animals, and they were very assorted, were very realistic. Usually you get only mammals in a book like this but while fish and amphibians were not present, the often neglected insects were represented, as well as one from the even more often neglected, yet crucially important Annelida phylum. We also got molluscs and even Cnidaria! Try saying that when you have an allergy going on! These drawings honestly would not have looked out of place in a Victorian-era natural history book, although they were rather more playful here, than you'd find in a book like that!

The book is aimed at helping children with their ABCs, so each four-word sentence alliterates on the key letter. The first, for example, is Andy Ant Adores Apples. I don't normally do this, but I'm going to give a huge spoiler here: the last letter is Z! There I did it! Can you guess which animal that is? I also loved the British spelling of Yoghurt, although I am sure she didn't put that in there for my benefit!

Each illustration is set in a brightly-colored background that looks like water-color, and it makes the image even more striking. There are commonly-known animals and much lesser-known ones which was appreciated, and they were not all tied to mammals, although those were prevalent. To be honest, I'm quite sure that one of them is mythical, although I am equally sure that many of us wish it were not!

So overall I am happy to rate this as a worthy read and recommend it: buy it for the educational value, Keep it for the artwork. If you can interest your kids in learning to draw like this, then you will definitely kit them out to have a career as a children's book illustrator, graphic novel artist or whatever they want! The sky isn't even the limit - and isn't that what we all want for our children?


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Noble Vol 1 by Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was a 'Read Now' graphic novel that I requested from Net Galley, and for which I thank the publisher. I like to look at the 'read Now' because while this designation can sometimes mean a novel is not doing well and for good reason, it can also mean a gem is being overlooked. I've many examples of both. This one I am sorry to report, was not a gem.

While I was, on the one hand, pleased to see a graphic novel featuring people of color and a strong female character (Astrid Allen-Powell), I have to say I was really disappointed in this one because it adhered so closely to trope that it really offered nothing new to the genre. The men were magically muscular even if they had not been so before, and the women were absurdly sexualized. I keep hoping for graphic novel illustrators to get real and join the rest of us in the 21st century, but far too few of them seem to be interested in doing that and remain trapped in a perpetual and unhealthy adolescence.

In many ways this novel was reminiscent of the TV series, Extant starring Halle Berry, wherein people come back from space changed in odd ways. This graphic novel has nothing to do with aliens, however. In the end, it's your regular super hero novel, and in that regard it's very similar to the Fantastic Four (the 2005 movie) wherein four people out in space are affected by a phenomenon and given super powers. Here, five people go out into space to prevent an asteroid colliding with Earth, something happens, and at least one of them returns to Earth with powers.

Without wanting to give away spoilers, one problem for me was that the plot assumed everyone was using the same data regarding the asteroid, and this is never the case. There are too many different nations with a vested interest in their own safety for them to rely on one set of numbers without verifying them, so a 'plot twist' late in this volume did not work for me.

That said, there never was any justification for sending out people to tackle this problem in the first place. Missiles could presumably have done the same job - especially set in the future as this was. We already have drones and robots, yet far too few writers factor this into their scenarios. This novel offered no reason for people to go out there, other than that it was necessary for whatever the asteroid would do to wrangle a super hero transformation. It was a bit lacking.

The main character, David Powell, was affected by something, and has developed mental powers which can repulse and otherwise move objects and people, but he is having trouble controlling the power he has. Despite flashbacks which are annoying to me, especially in this story where they served little purpose other than to confuse the story, there is no explanation offered for how he came to be in this state, running loose, using false identities, and hunted by the Foresight Corporation (which seems to be inexplicably lacking policing by any government). All we're told about him is that the guy has lost his memory.

This for me was one of the major problems with this story: it was a confused and disjointed mess, with apparently random scenes tossed in. There were random flashbacks which made little sense and the whole story was in disarray. The flashbacks really did not contribute to the story whereas other flashback (if they must be included) that could have illuminated things were never offered. Everything seems to be under the control of the global Foresight Corporation. Its CEO is Lorena Payan and she is the villain here, but she makes for a pretty poor villain, being pretty and poorly developed. I could not take her seriously.

Overall I did not get any enjoyment out of this, nor any entertainment. It was not really clear at any point what was going on, and this made it boring. I cannot recommend this story.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Jot of Blood by Katherine Bayless


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Don't confuse this author's name with that of dancer Katherine Bailess!

If I'd really been paying attention and properly noted that this was the start of a series (The Coventry Years), I probably would not have requested to review it. I am not a fan of series. Once in a while one comes along that is worth pursuing and I had hoped this would be one, but in general series are very derivative, unimaginative, and often tediously and unnecessarily drawn-out, as this was. Plus it's in first person because, as you must know, it's quite illegal in North America to write a YA novel in any other voice....

I was initially curious about this though, which is why I requested it, but my curiosity was squelched at only five percent in, when I wanted to ditch this thing because of the tired YA clichés with which it was larded. By fifteen percent it was honestly nauseating me because I have read this same sad, stupefyingly simplistic story a score of times, and this author had brought nothing new to it.

It's like there is a certain category of YA author which is devoted to cloning every other YA author, and that's not for me. Maybe there are readers who like that kind of thing, but if there are, I feel bad for them for being in such a rut. I look for the authors who prefer the read less traveled, and who try to bring something original and unique to their audience. OTOH, if you want the same old, warmed-over fare you already were force-fed in the last YA novel you picked up, then this might be for you.

The cloning (such as using Vampire Academy's 'strigoi' liberally, for example), the trope, such as the incipient love triangle, the instadore in Lire's pathetic mooning over Cal, and the truly pathetic main character herself really turned me off. I made it to the end of chapter ten, which was 47% in, and could not bear the thought of reading any further, let alone going through a whole series of this.

It's supposed to be about upper high school kids, but it felt like reading a lower middle-grade story, because these people were so immature and petty. The main character - with the highly unlikely name of Clotilde Devon - goes by 'Lire' for reasons I never understood. The nickname is pronounced 'Leer'. I can understand that.

The Goodreads blurb read, in part, "Adolescence is hard enough, but add magic to the mix and things have a way of getting complicated in a hurry. Even at Coventry Academy, one of the best schools in the world for the magically inclined, some 'gifts' mean nothing but trouble." I didn't get how this was supposed to be the best school. There was nothing in the first fifty percent of the story to indicate that.

Quite the contrary; it seemed like any ordinary high school, but with far more bullying than any ordinary high school would have. The oddest thing though, was that it was so ordinary. Unlike at Hogwarts for example, there were no magical lessons taught here - not even how to control or use your particular skill. That seemed extraordinarily strange (and not Stephen Strange!) to me, so where the 'add magic to the mix' came in is a complete mystery. There was none practiced here.

One reviewer who reviewed this negatively said that "Cal wasn't a typical twilight werewolf", but he was. There was literally nothing new here at all. Cal is your typical trope werewolf and Zach is your typical standard-issue buddy (but more obnoxious). Let's call them what they are: Clone-Wolf and Yuk. Neither of them were remotely interesting except in how obnoxious they were, immediately and repeatedly calling Lire 'princess' for no apparent reason, and randomly tugging on her ponytail again and again for no apparent reason. Lire is such a passive, wet rag that she had can find absolutely no objection to this treatment whatsoever.

Of course Cal is obnoxious towards Lire so she immediately falls for him, and from that point onward, quite literally every other page has an observation from Lire on how muscular he is, how attractive he is, or how good he looks in this outfit or that, or how he couldn't possibly be interested in her. Oh my but how attractive is he? How muscular! How cut and ripped and [insert other destructive adjective perversely intended to indicate perfection] he is! Here's an example: "My heart fluttered, and I immediately wanted to kick myself for it. I wasn't a damsel in distress. I could take care of myself." No, she can't. She's proven this repeatedly by this point, so she's not even honest with herself. Maybe her nickname is really 'Liar'?

This is the asinine love triangle we're presented with, even though there's absolutely no reason whatsoever for Clone-Wolf and Yuk to pal up with her. Of course they do, not because it was going to naturally happen, but because the author insists that it has to happen no matter what.

The bullying in this school is so extreme as to be completely absurd If this had been a parody, it would have been funny, but as it his, quite literally everyone in the school (except for newcomers Clone and Yuk of course) detests Lire. I am not kidding you. She's a complete pariah and she lets us know this routinely, and in first person voice! Frankly, I would have shunned her because she was so nauseatingly whiny, Who cares if she's a clairvoyant? Shes actually more like a bifocal-voyant because she can only whine endlessly about her treatment, or drool endlessly over cal. That's it. That's her entire repertoire.

The Net Galley blurb tells us: "The contents of this book include one surly werewolf, a snarky invisible prankster, and enough indelicate language to make a succubus blush." Really? Indelicate language? No there's none, unless you class "fricking" as indelicate. In short, it's totally unrealistic, No kid in this entire school actually swears, which I took as more evidence that it was aimed at a middle-grade audience.

The writing is often as obnoxious as the characters. There's fat-shaming at merely 2% in: "He'd been three years older and a big fat jerk." Maybe that wasn't meant to be literal, but it was also entirely unnecessary. Lire is supposed to be attending an elite academy and this is the best she can to to express herself? That remedial English level of expression was common. Lire was obnoxious in coming up with an abusive name, on the spot, for anyone she did not like, often in the form of a truly juvenile Mr Mcfartypants (that wasn't one but it's of precisely the same mentality - again, it's middle-grade material). Lire even chortles at one point! No, I am not kidding.

The French! Periodically we got a French lesson with the French phrase followed immediately by the English translation (for example: "Bon, tu m'as compris. Alors, tiens, elles sont à toi." Good, you get me. So, here, they are yours). It was tedious, and especially so for those of us who understand enough French to get the sense of the phrase. Even those who do not, do not need it monotonously and literally spelled out every single time. There are better ways of handling this, and this author seriously needs to find them.

The writing was bad in other ways, such as when I read this: "Total invisibility, including their shadow." Seriously? There are different ways of being invisible, of course, but in a paranormal novel lie this, where it quite literally meant that the character was invisible, of course there's no shadow! How can there be a shadow when there's nothing to block the light? Clearly this concept was sorely lacking some thinking-through.

Another example of poor writing was this: "The car rocked as Dad executed a three-point U-turn. What the...frick (to employ an indelicate word from the book!) is a three-point U-turn? It's either a U-turn or it's a three point turn. It's not both.

Oh, and Lire's two paramours can move at super-speed. This is their secret power. She leaves the cafeteria shortly after they do, all-but sprints to her class, and they still get there before her, and early enough to cause trouble before she arrives. Again, it's not thought through.

This was the problem with this whole book when you get down to it. It could have had the makings of a good story but to get there from here, you'd need to make a 3 point U-turn - the three points being to ditch Lire, Clone, and Yuk. And lose the first person voice. Or give it to a character who would be worth listening to, and who was a whole lot less whiny. Amanda, for example. Now there was an interesting character although the author did a lousy job of giving her any rationale for her behavior.

As it is, this novel is not a worthy read and I cannot recommend it.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani


Rating: WARTY!

I have to confess up front my disappointment in this book: an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It professes to be written by a professional journalist, but professionalism was exactly what it was lacking. This book felt more like reading something written by a fan-girl or a groupie. Issues which ought to have been pursued were ignored and questions which ought to have been answered were never asked.

Not to be confused with Real Life Super Heroes by Ernest Cooper, or Real Life Super Heroes by Pierre-Élie de Pibrac, or even I Married a Real-Life-Super-Hero by Amity Maree, this book advises us (from the blurb) that they "...dress up at night, fight crime, save people, and some of them even have secret identities. Are they ordinary, mild-mannered citizens, or are they larger-than-life characters, determined to fight crime, risking life and limb to defend victims of violence and injustice? And why do some choose to reveal their true identities, while others prefer to remain anonymous?"

I had several reactions to that, including 'were these the only options?', but I think the most pertinent one is, why do they only go out at night? This was something which wasn't explored, and was emblematic of a flaw in this entire book: things unexplored, and aspects of the story uncovered.

An obvious answer presented itself in that many of them work a regular job during the day, but not all of them do. Another answer is that many of the things they claim to engage with, crime being the obvious one, take place at night, but this isn't strictly or always true. This was one of the things which I felt never got addressed properly in a book which to me failed too many times to take seriously.

So there are apparently people who dress in costumes and go out on city streets to fight crime. Some of them simply do things like hand out food, water, and blankets to the homeless (something which could just as readily be done during the day) or help break-up fights or find drunks a ride home and so on. Others go another step beyond that and try to bring criminals to justice. This is where the facts tended to get skimmed. Frankly I was far more impressed by those who quietly handed-out things to the needy than ever I was by the costumed 'crime fighters'.

The problem is that we got only one side to this story: the side the author clearly favored. She was not interested in reporting anything other than what she was told by the people she was following. Even when she pretended to seek out the horrible 'super villains', it turned out these guys were not even remotely villains. They were more like side-kicks to the heroes. The fact that the author is in a romantic relationship with one of the "villains" clearly reveals the huge bias in her reporting here.

She didn't care to ask the difficult questions, nor did she care to seek opinions from outside this small community. Why, if she really wanted to do a job of journalism, did she not interview police and local community leaders? Why did she no peruse crime prevention stats to see if these 'crime fighters' actually did make a significant difference? Why did she not ask these people why they didn't simply join the police force or a neighborhood watch if they truly wanted to help? All of these questions were brushed aside, if they were ever raised, in favor of fan-girling. It's an insult to real working reporters to call this reporting. It was nothing of the sort.

The biggest question of all: why these people get the name super heroes, was left unasked, let alone answered. What makes them super? How are they any more heroic than people who do what they do but don't wear flamboyant costumes? based on the content of this book, the only answer seemed to be that they roam in gangs wearing cosplay costumes and occasionally tackle crime. The biggest "hero" of them all seemed to be "Phoenix Jones", about whom the author had nothing negative to say, but here's what the book said about him reacting one night to a friend being injured:

"My friend's face was flopped open and was just gushing blood."
"...and I walked up on this guy and he just took off. I chased him, I tackled him, I pulled him, and I hit him a few times. I took the stick and I was going to whoop his ass when the police rolled up on me."

Is this what a super hero does? Beats-up people? Personally I think it would have been more heroic to have taken his friend who "was just gushing blood" to a hospital, but this 'hero' abandons his friend and goes after vengeance - not justice but vengeance. This whole thing was reported without any analysis or observation from the author. It was shameful reporting. We never even learn what happened to his friend who was gushing blood.

At one point I read the hypocritical conclusion to another event: "Although they thought the boys' intentions could be seen as good, the RLSHs did not generally accept their actions as positive." Compare and contrast with Phoenix Jones all-but beating-up that guy.

The reporter is so enamored of the heroes that she gushes herself, talking of Purple Reign, an associate of Phoenix Jones: "He was accompanied by a beautiful woman, whom I recognized." Later, I read, "Purple [reign] looked to be in good shape, too, with a shorter frame, a beautiful face" Purple reign was actually one of the few people I read about in this book that I admired for what she does. She was also at one time married to Phoenix Jones. Evidently, they separated in mid-November 2013, but you won't read that in the book.

She's not about show and flash and publicity; she's about helping people in very real ways: people who truly need the help, and she's in a good position to give it, but what does her beauty (or otherwise) have to do with what she does? If she were plain would that make her less super? If she were unattractive altogether, would that make her less heroic? Less effective?

I am so tired of reading this "plain-shaming" from female authors who should know better given the make-up, youth, and 'beauty' culture that drives everything in the west, and who seem to go out of their way to remind their fellow sex that if they aren't beautiful, then fuggeddabout it. It's a disgrace and it needs to stop. There's nothing heroic about behaving in this way. It's bad enough that we routinely see this in comic books about super heroes. We sure as hell do not need it irl.

This gender bias appears elsewhere in the book, as we see when the author is with the super heroes "on patrol" and there's a shooting. Never once did I read of anyone in the group calling the police. Instead, I read this:

Everywhere I looked I could see young women scattering in front of the nearby nightclub, running as fast as they could with their high heels and short skirts. I also noticed that the men, in their sneakers, easily outpaced them. Say what you will about Real Life Super Heroes, but I can't imagine any of them taking off and leaving terrified a women in their wake!

How gallahnt! How St George! So women are helpless victims by definition, and only manly men can save them? We're either equal or we're not. You don't get to have it both ways: fully equal, until that is, you need a man to save you, then you're a maiden in distress? (Or vice versa, until you need a woman to save you).

The wrong-headedness of this writing was appalling, but it gets worse! At one point, the author says, "Oddly enough, during my entire life, only once was I taught what to do in case of a shooting." It's not rocket science! If you are not trained to deal with such a situation, you get your damned head down and if you can, you get away. It's that simple. Oh, and you call the cops, who are trained to deal with it. No wonder she thought all other women were in need of saving.

In another incident that was reported straight from the mouth of the hero without any investigation or analysis, we read of one guy who saw the police chasing after a man and a woman, and he intervened, busting into a police officer, and ending up beaten himself.

This was presented as heroic, but never once did the reporter ask why those people were running. They were presented as victims, but nowhere were any of the cops involved interviewed. She never went back to try to look at footage of the incident (if there was any) to see what actually happened. We got only one biased fan-girl side of the story as thought this was somehow heroic.

I don't know what those people had been doing, but neither did the 'hero'. Maybe they were perfectly innocent, but what if they'd been throwing rocks at the police? We don't know what they had been doing and neither did he, yet he charged in and assaulted a police officer, and this made him a 'hero'? If the pair had been both male would he have done the same thing, or was he charging in merely to help what he saw as a 'maiden in distress'? We don't know because the reporter didn't care to ask.

I am not a huge fan of the police many times, but these people put their lives on the line every day. They are professionally trained and legally empowered to do what they do. And they wear no mask. They hide behind nothing and they are out there doing what they see as the best that can be done in any given situation under often trying and sometimes impossible conditions. They do not randomly and haphazardly wander into situations. Yes, there are bad seeds in there and yes, even the best make mistakes. Yes, there is sometimes corruption, but they have a right to tell their side of the story - unless, that is, it's a super hero book written by this author.

Bad writing was prevalent. At one point I read, "He exuded a genuine demeanour." I think what she meant to say was that he seemed genuine, but why say that when you can make it an order of magnitude harder to grasp on first reading? I also read later, "His team fluctuates in membership, sometimes five, sometimes twelve, but the core is strong: Ghost, Asylum, Foolking, Oni, Professor Midnight, and himself." Unless my math is bad, that core is six, not five, so is it strong or not?!

After chiding an HBO Super Heroes documentary (which I haven't yet seen) for making the heroes out to look like idiots, this author then reports of one of her subjects, "Today he patrols and is writing a book on the manifestation of good, evil, and in between. It's about mental powers and the ability to read minds and control thoughts, all based on metaphysics and subatomic physics." Ri-ight! I am not kidding, this was reported as is without comment!

Another of them had this to say about how humble he was: "You can do anything you want here and get away with it. All you got to do is be that much smarter than anyone else, and it works. I do it great...I think I slept with my entire graduating class, to be honest with you. It was pretty bad and then there was the class before and after. I don't go out on patrol as much to help others really as to help me. It's for me. If people don't like it? Fine. Just try to stop me." That's so humble. Really, truly humble! An again it was reported without any comment.

This book was so poorly written and so gushingly, embarrassingly biased it was a disgrace to reporting, and I do not recommend it. Nothing could be less heroic or less super.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.


The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Amanda Prose would work well as this author's name too, since this was well-written and flowed so nicely! It told an engaging story and told it well. I am not a fan of novels which carry too much unleavened negativity, but this one avoided that, despite the painful topic it dealt with.

Nina McCarrick is living 'high on the hog' as they say in the USA, in an almost palatial home with her self-employed husband, Finn, and her two fine sons: Connor and Declan, who attend an exclusive private school. She's made her profession that of a full-time housewife and homemaker.

When Finn dies in a car accident, Nina is left alone with the boys, and as if this isn't bad enough, soon her whole world begins to crumble around her as she learns that her husband has run-up eight million pounds in debt on a bad investment in a construction job that his business was trying to negotiate, but which fell through.

Nina had no idea they were stretched so thin, since she was kept entirely in the dark about his business. He always assured her things were fine. Worse than this, as if it could get any worse, their house was tied-up in the company's finances, having been mortgaged to raise funds, and they are going to have to leave. Everywhere she looks, things seem blacker. Their savings are gone, and men show up one day to strip her home of anything saleable. Connor only manages to retain his laptop because it's for his education.

Nina and her kids must leave their home and she cannot think of anywhere she can go. Her family is unable to help and her snotty neighbors do not want to know her any more. Her sister steps up and manages to find her a place that's owned by an uncle, but she still has to pay rent. She figures she has enough to get them though two months, but she desperately needs to find a job - one for which she has zero qualifications or training because she has not worked since she married. Her endless, fruitless job search is heartbreaking to read. It's sad to think that the civilized world end up this way if the Business President™ continues his current insanely reckless course!

The rental place is minuscule compared with what Nina's used to, and it's cold during this winter of Nina's profound discontent, but it's a home of a sort, and Nina is now back in her home town of Southampton, close by where her sister lives - and surprisingly simply compared with what Nina's old life provided.

This is a sister with whom she has barely been in touch over the years. Nina could not shed her background fast enough once she met Finn all those years ago, and she has not looked back since, but now she finds she is having her face rubbed in her failings every time she turns around.

This story follows Nina as she tries to hold not only herself together, but her family and her life. She has to weather some dark times, and deal with her older son's anger and despair at having his comfortable life taken from him so speedily and abruptly. She bounces unpredictably between anger at her husband's betrayal and secrecy, and her pain at losing him, between fear for their future and hope that things will turn around.

I really appreciated that this author is smart enough to make this story about Nina and her strength,golden goose and rescue her from the dragon of disaster that seems constantly looming over her. I really liked this story, it was a fast comfortable read, and had interesting and engaging characters. It was realistic and enjoyable, and I recommend it. I shall look for other novels by this author.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"I didn't want to your friend..." To be or not to be?! That is the question! I think it should have been "to be your friend."

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

I really wanted to like this book but I could not. It was so negatively-written and it went on and on for so very long, with an unremitting aura of sadness and defeat about it, that I do not think it appropriate for the middle-grade audience for which it appears to have been written. It seems more like a young-adult novel, but it's not a good recommendation even for that group. I think if it had been about half- or two-thirds the length, and had some upbeats added here and there to leaven a dour, unremitting funereal drumbeat of poison and tragedy, it would have been much improved. As it was, it made the 1998 movie Heathers look like a Care Bears story, and that is really too much.

There were two main characters: Annie and Elsie, and there was very little to like about either of them. Annie was glommed onto by Elsie when she changed her school. Elsie is thoroughly unlikable from start to finish and her behavior seems to make little sense at times. Se literally had no saving graces whatsoever.

We get hints here and there of a sad past, but this is never shared with the reader, which I think was a mistake since it left us with no choice but to assume that Elsie was simply a liar on top of all her other defects, but even had it been true, and even had it been a thoroughly tragic past, it would have failed to make her any more likable because she was more caricature than character.

Annie was a different kettle of go-fish and was portrayed as the victim (and not in a good way) throughout this whole story. She never learned anything, never changed, never grew, and never improved. She did not make things happen; she had things happen to her and did not even react to them except to let them carry her away in the Elsie tide, and she never even tried to swim against the current. Such a helpless maiden-in-distress was she that she had to be rescued in the end in a way which was telegraphed from way ahead of the event. She was such a limp worthless character that it was impossible to like her either.

The story is one of relentless bullying, brutality and cruelty, and all of this is from the hands of these young girls, who seem wholly out of character for the era in which they are depicted. Rosie and her allies detest Elsie, and it's not unjustified. They start hating Annie because Elsie has 'captured' her first, but when Annie sees how awful Elsie is, she sides with the other girls, and rightly so. I'm sorry, but it's impossible to feel any sort of sympathy for Elsie.

The sad thing is that despite all this abuse going on, not one single adult ever steps up to enforce discipline, not even Annie's parents. The adults are so bland and vaguely constructed that there is no difference between any of them and for all they contribute, they could have been dispensed with completely and the story would have remained largely unchanged.

What happens is that, since this is set in the 1918-1919 era of the flu pandemic, Elsie dies, and comes back to haunt Annie, making her do vengeful things which eventually land her in a home that is one step shy of an asylum. Elsie follows her there, making her situation worse, but no matter what Annie does, Elie's behavior never changes. It makes no sense! Not that Annie really does anything save whine about her lot in life, and since this is written in first person, it makes for a very tedious read. I kept on reading in hopes of a turn-around or at least an improvement, but there was none to be found here.

Annie is a completely unmotivated character who is blown about in Elsie's wind. At the risk of a spoiler, she is not the only one affected by Elsie, but we learn of this only in a passing sentence or two at the end. I think the story would have been immeasurably improved if the other stories had been told, but this monotonous focus on Annie and Elsie, which essentially goes nowhere for three hundred pages, is too much. Everything is resolved in the end, but there is no build up to it. It takes place literally in the space of a half-dozen pages at the end and so is rather abrupt. perhaps the author herself grew tired of how this was dragging itself out?

There was a good story to be told here, but we did no get it. The author found the root of this story in something her own mother, who lived through the pandemic, told her about how she and some friends would 'pay their respects' at wakes (which were held in family homes back then) so they could grab some free drinks and food, but they were scared out of this behavior when they attended one at which they soon learned that the deceased's body was that of a schoolmate of theirs: a girl they did not know had died. There is a different, interesting story right there to tell, but again that's not the one we got.

Everything is spaced out in this book, including the text and margins. If the margins had been smaller, and the lines of print slightly closer together the book could have been maybe fifty or more pages shorter and a few trees saved. Again, that's not what we got. Once more I have to beg a publisher to consider what they are doing to the trees when they format a book as liberally as this. There are better ways. In an ebook, which is what I got for this review, there are no trees harmed, of course, but a longer book still takes more transmission time over the Internet and that requires the use of more energy, so again, a longer book is less kind to the environment.

I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this read.






Saturday, September 2, 2017

All-New Ultimates Power for Power by Michel Fiffle, Amilcar Pinna


Rating: WARTY!

If you enjoy indifferently-drawn and badly-posed superheroes doing quite literally nothing but fighting on nearly every single page in the entire book, then this is for you. It's not for me. It was laughable in parts and tedious throughout. And once again the text was so small and badly done that it was at times hard to read. Fire Clayton Cowles and simply use print for the text for goodness sake! What is this, the 1930's?

I like a story with my super hero characters. There was none to be had here. The author seems to believe that if he puts Black Widow, Bombshell, Cloak and Dagger, Kitty Pryde, Spider-Man, and Spider-Girl (not woman, girl) together, than a story inevitably must happen, but no. No. No.

This was nothing but a monotonously long, continuous battle embellished with asinine overlaid words like 'KRANCHKT' and 'FWSHK', old TV show Batman-style, and there was no story. What there was, was so bland and boring that I have to ask why it was ever divided into sections in the first place. The obvious answer to that is that it was originally released as single soft-cover editions and this is the combination of several of them, but since every story is almost exactly the same, then why was more than one ever released?

The story was beneath the level of superhero. If the police are so incompetent they can't handle a simple street gang pushing drugs, there is something seriously, and I mean seriously wrong with society. What is the point of being a super-hero if all you are is a cop in spandex? This is one to recycle - and into the recycle bin, not to the used comic book store.



Friday, September 1, 2017

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


Rating: WORTHY!

I gave up on this Austen rip-off audiobook set in modern Cincinnati, because it was so far removed from Austen that you couldn't even see her from there. The story tracked Pride and Prejudice closely, but the characterizations were completely wrong, so I didn't see the point.

Apparently there's this thing called the Austen Project, where writers create a novel rooted in one of Austen's works. This one was one of these efforts and it wasn't good enough. I get the feeling that if someone had written this who was not an established writer, they would never have found a publisher and rightly so.

The story went off at a tangent very early, about Lizzie's relationship with this guy named Jared who would not commit to a relationship, so even as he and Lizzie were seeing each other as friends (and not even with benefits), he and she were desultorily dating other people.

Original Lizzie of Austen was way too smart and cynical to put up with that, so this felt like a betrayal, and this Lizzie seemed like a wet rag in comparison with the original. And this non-diversion just went on and on. And on. It was tedious. Additionally, a lot of the story was endless exposition, which isn't Austen at all. Gone were the engrossing conversations which are an Austen staple. Not a good read.

It was competently read by Cassandra Campbell, but even her voice could not save the lackluster material. It honestly felt like the author was desperate to include everything modern in her story, to distance it from Austen's, so we had a transgender character (Wickham, and I don't care if it's a spoiler because it's so pathetic), an interracial relationship, artificial insemination (I guess that's the only way this author could get a semen airy into the work), and adultery. I'm sure there's a kitchen sink in there somewhere with "all mod cons," but I must have missed it since I DNF'd this one in short order.

'Eligible' is the name of a TV reality (so-called) show, on which Chip Bingley has appeared, looking for a bride. Why any sane person would even remotely consider doing this mystifies me, but I have to admit that it's in character for this character. I was never a fan of Bingley. In the end Bingley refused to choose either one of the two finalists. Now he's moving to Cincinnati and renting a house there. Why? I guess because the author is writing what she knows, which isn't much it would appear when it comes to emulating Austen. Resident in Cincinnati is the Bennet family of course: husband, wife, and five daughters.

I confess I am not sure why authors want to keep repeating Jane Austen's stories, much less why they choose to move them to a modern era and/or shift them out of England. The last one of these I tried was a YA novel which did not at all impress me. Neither did the PD James 'sequel'. This particular one is aimed at an adult audience, and initially I had mixed feelings about it.

Sometimes I wonder if Austen is turning in her grave at this modern plethora of rip-offs of her work. This author repeatedly betrayed the character of Lizzie Bennet, including her career, by having her work for a fashion magazine. Her sister Jane is a yoga instructor! This turned me off the story. I confess I can see Jane as a yoga instructor. She was not one of my favorite characters either, but to fritter away Lizzie's amazing character on fashion is an outright travesty. This is not Austen's Lizzie, not remotely.

It may seem hypocritical for me to criticize others' ripping-off of Austen when I plan on doing the selfsame thing myself, but anyone who has read the kind of stories I write has to know that I plan on doing something completely different with it - and not even a parody! Hah! And they said it couldn't be done! My whole motivation for writing this, as it was with Femarine is to take the story completely off the beaten track. Call me arrogant (I don't care!), but I have to write this if only as a commentary, after a fashion, on what others are so determinedly and so dedicatedly failing to do.

I'd have a lot more respect for a writer who did not rip-off Austen, but who instead chose to emulate her by writing a story set in period, and written with the same grace and skill as Austen herself naturally employed. I cannot respect writers who merely usurp her cachet and apply it as a cheap veneer to cover a trashy, ill-conceived story that could never stand on its own without co-opting Austen's unwilling support. It's pathetic and I think I am done reading such stories now. Time to go back to the one and only originals!


Sunday, August 27, 2017

But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was a complete fail for me. It was not even a hot mess - it was a cold and poorly congealed mess which had no plot. The blurb tells us that "Eden is the only person who can get through to Jasmine, but is she brave enough to face a world that’s bigger and more magical than she ever would have allowed?"

I hate blurbs that ask the question which everyone in the entire universe, even non-sentient species, already knows the answer to: will she succeed in reclaiming her love? Of course she will. Will he get his man? Of course he will. Can the kid escape the evil villain's clutches? Of course the kid can. Why ask such dumb questions? Publishers in general just don't seem to get it: they continue to insult potential readers with lousy covers that have nothing to do with the story and with dumb questions in the blurbs. The flowers were not even roses. Publishers need to insist that the cover designer actually reads the freaking book before they start work. Please, publishers: treat us with some respect. We do not have to read your book. There are literally millions out there to read, so please be honest about the book, use a cover that actually has something to do with the story, and don't ask ridiculously juvenile questions in the blurb. It's tiresome, and we deserve better than that.

Questions like that tell me that whoever wrote the blurb thinks that potential readers of this story are gullible at best, and complete dumb-asses at worst. This is the very last book I shall ever request that has such a question in the blurb; I don't care how attractive a read it sounds. I shall avoid such books on pure principle in future, but funnily enough, that wasn't even the biggest problem with this blurb!

This book is the second in a loosely-connected series. I did not know this at the time I requested it, otherwise I would have bypassed it completely. I am not a series fan, but fortunately this read as a stand-alone. The only reason I went against my better judgment and requested it is that I discounted the "Hey dumb-ass listen to this!" blurb because I thought there would be a worthwhile underlying story: 17-year-old Eden Jones, herself fresh out of a short coma, is the only hope of reaching Jasmine, aka Jaz, aka Vasquez, as Eden names her, after the kick-ass woman in the Aliens movie.

I though it would make for a great story to have one ex-coma victim trying to reach another even if there were some supernatural elements, but the author all-but completely abandoned that idea in the pointless pursuit of yet another juvenile YA absurdist "love" story. Eden could have been such a strong character, but instead of that we got, once again, a female author of a YA story turning her lead female into a limp wet rag of a love-struck juvenile chasing Joe, Jasmin's best friend, like a bitch in heat. I've seen this exact same story a score of times before and it always makes me nauseous and it make me ditch the novel immediately as I did this one. Can YA authors not find anything original to say? If not, quit writing.

The saddest thing about this is that no one actually cared about Jasmin, a character who had been built up in Eden's mind at least, to be heroic, bad-ass, and worth learning more about. The more we learned about her the more interested I became, but Eden and Joe abandoned her in short order, so they could flirt and kiss, and smoke cigarettes. Yeah. Smoking In a YA novel. Smoking is bad for you and for those around you, and I know people do it in real life, but that does not mean that we, as writers, need to give it cachet.

And while all this was going on, Jasmin was about to have the plug pulled on her, yet nowhere do we see any sense or compassion or urgency from Eden or worse, from Joe. They came across as shallow and selfish. He refuses to let them pull the plug, but he seems completely unmotivated when it comes to even exploring, let alone finding a way out of this for Jasmin. She was completely subjugated to their own juvenile "romance".

At that point I began skimming the book to see if the blurb had lied completely and it pretty much had. It was once again bait and switch, because I skimmed a whole bunch more pages after the halfway point, and all the two of them did was talk about contacting Jasmin, visit a psychic, smoke cigarettes, and flirt and kiss. No. Just no. These people were boring and simply not worth reading about. There was nothing new here, nothing different, nothing worth pursuing. I cannot recommend it.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a huge tome of a graphic novel - over five hundred pages, and at that size, probably too long, but in some ways I saw the whole thing as an integrated work - we were meant to suffer through those long years of trying to overcome multiple eating disorders and body image problems, and a significantly shorter graphic novel would have trivialized this.

While I would still argue for something less than five hundred, I wouldn't argue for something dramatically shorter, because it really helps to bond with and empathize with the author as she tells what is a very personal and painful story of desperately trying to cope with a negative body image and the sheer effort required to set things right. We all, as a society, share the responsibility as we should also share the guilt for making women feel ugly and sexually incompetent and for forcing them into doing things no sane person would do were they not constantly bombarded by negative views of the female body.

Everyone who has ever been through a supermarket checkout with their eyes open cannot fail to have seen that on one side women are told via endless trashy magazines that they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed, while on the other side of that confining aisle - the very width of which would make anyone feel corpulent, they are offered glorious candy and sugar-laden sodas to comfort them and help them cope with the negative feelings with which the other side of the aisle has imbued them. This is worse than pornography because it is out there in public, in the face of women and children, every day, every TV show, every commercial, every music video, every trip to the store, every movie you watch, every book you read.

It can come as a surprise to no-one that far too many women end-up in a position like the one Katie Green found herself in: not slim enough, not pretty enough, not good enough. Guess what? It's our screwed up misplaced-priority society which is not good enough, and that's why we need stories like this in our face to ensure we never forget what we're doing to women. This and many stories like it need to be required reading. I recommend it unreservedly.


Generations by Flavia Bondi


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Matteo has been in Milan for three years with his lover. He felt forced to leave his provincial town for the city because he's gay and small towns don't do gay, especially not in a conservative Catholic Italy, but problems with his lover have caused him to return because there is nowhere else for him to go. What's with all this running away? Why hasn't he spoken with his father in those years? This graphic novel explores those questions and several others, as Teo tries to figure them out for himself.

He has misgivings about returning, because he refuses to stay with his disapproving father, and his only remaining option is to move into an already-crowded house full of aunts, a grandmother and a pregnant cousin. Some of the residents resent him being there at all, while others resent the fact that he seems to contribute nothing to the house, neither financially nor in terms of labor. When this latter issue is addressed, he finds further resentment from the hired help he displaced, but as he settles into a routine, he bonds with a fellow care-giver and discovers maybe things aren't so bad if he can just change his mind-set a little.

I liked the steadily-evolving flow of this story. I wasn't sure about the fact that everyone seemed to have freckles - if that's what the facial shading was! But otherwise, the drawing was good, and the story believable and interesting, so I have to say I recommend this, especially because it takes some unexpected directions among the expected ones, and you are never quite sure how it will end up. I will look for more stories by this author. Hopefully there will be more, because this is an Italian artist and this is her first work in English. Hopefully we're not so provincial and xenophobic in the US that that we cannot enjoy a wider selection of graphic novels other than the flood of those from Japan!


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Epic Cardboard Adventures by Leslie Manlapig


Rating: WORTHY!

This ebook was not quite ready for prime time, but it is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

It's a book which reminds me of my own Earthquake children's book where I added a cheap and nasty way to make you own excavator out of a cereal box and some tape. This book goes way beyond that - way beyond into outer-space - almost literally! It hosts four sections, each with five sub-sections devoted to different topics, but related to the main theme:

  1. Explore the World
    1. Outer Space
    2. Deep Sea ocean
    3. Ancient Egypt
    4. Jungle Explorer
    5. Arctic Adventure
  2. Travel Through Time
    1. Prehistoric
    2. Medieval defence
    3. High Seas
    4. Ninja
    5. Wild West
  3. Put on a Show
    1. Rock Concert
    2. Puppet Theater
    3. Carnival Fun
    4. Lights, Camera, Action
    5. Magician
  4. Work a Cool Job
    1. Construction Worker
    2. Pilot
    3. Race Car Driver
    4. Shh! Secret Agent
    5. Firefighter

Fill details of how to make all of these are listed below...no, just kidding, but full details of how to make them are in the book, including a list of things you will need, the main one of which is cardboard! Cardboard boxes, toilet roll and paper towel inner tubes, construction paper, and so on.

You will also need some crafting tools if you do not already possess them, so there will be some outlay fro supplies such as scissors, a ruler, felt markers for adding detail and coloring, yarn or string, hot melt glue - or at least some sort of good strong glue - paint, if you want to add finishing touches to your creations, and what else: of course, duct tape! Or duck tape as I read in one novel I shall be reviewing soon!

The book gives step by step instructions on how to make yourself into an astronaut or a pirate, an explorer or a construction worker, a time-traveler or a deep-sea diver. The ideas are inventive and colorful, easy to make - but adult assistance will be required if your child is too young to cut cardboard or do some of the other more mature portions of the builds. There are also some safety issues if you're going to be building swords, even out of cardboard, and guns that fire, even though ti;s only projectiles using rubber bands, so be advised of that

But once you have those basic supplies, cardboard of some sort usually isn't hard to come by or to beg from a store, or a neighbor, although for the pyramid you'll need a large box if your kid is going to sit in it. Otherwise you could just make it smaller and stay outside it, using toy characters to go in and out instead!

Some of the designs are admirably elaborate (such as an airport runway with landing lights!), so be prepared to invest some time for those projects that are not especially simple, but none of these projects is so complex that your everyday parent cannot make them all.

You can always propose the idea of sharing a project with your neighbors or at school, and get several children involved, building friendships, confidence, and team spirit. There are so many ideas, well thought-out and planned, with great results from so simple beginnings. The author has put a lot of work into this and the results are awesome.

I think this is a great book which will stimulate imaginations and provide a reward of a child not only creating something, but ending up with a fine toy at the end of it which will continue to grow a child's mind. maybe it will even last longer or be treasured more than a store-ought toy because the child made it themselves. Who knows what kind of a career that might lead to when the child grows older? I recommend this book fully.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seeking Sarah by ReShonda Tate Billingsley


Rating: WARTY!

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

The basic plot of this story is that a young woman, Brooke Hayes, who has just accepted Trent Grant's proposal to marry, learns after her father dies that her mother is not dead. It was her father's deathbed wish that her grandmother tell her that they had been lying to her all these years. Her mother is alive, and as Brooke discovers, is happily married to some other guy and raising a family with him. Rather than seek rapprochement, Brooke seeks revenge, and decides to seduce her mother's husband.

This idea appealed to me as a novel, but I have to report that the execution of it was a fail. I made it about one third the way through this, and that was as far as I could stand to read, because the writing really turned me off the story. The rest of it I skimmed and skipped, and it did not improve.

I had problems with a lack of realism in the story, but mostly the problem was that the main character came off as being a few legs short of a bucket of friend chicken. I used that description advisedly, because there was only one meal depicted in the portion I read, and it was fried chicken! I was thinking, come on, a black family and the one meal you show them eating together is fried chicken? Way to culturally stereotype! If a white writer had written that, they would have been accused of stereotyping if not racism. I know people do eat fried chicken, and some more than others, but would it really have hurt the story to have depicted a different meal? Are writers really so afraid these days of coloring outside the lines? How I wish they were not.

This was a minor problem though compared with others I encountered. The relationship between Trent and Brooke did not strike me as a charmed one, nor as a loving one, and the foreshadowing of the outcome was far too heavy-handed leaving only one surprise: why were these two people even together in the first place? Most of the time they were depicted in this story, they didn't even seem like they had ever dated before!

They had zero in common and no hope for a future. Trent wanted to live his own life and go his own way. He didn't seem to care what Brooke wanted, which begs the question as to why he constantly lied that he was there for her and why Brooke was too dumb to see through the lie. He never was there for her, and he came off more like a pain in the ass brother than ever he did a decent fiancé.

There was this obnoxious dominating quality emanating from him, and he seemed completely out of tune with Brooke. I know this was addressed later, because I skimmed later portions of the story and the ending wasn't one I thought was very good.

In one example of how far apart they were, they were in a restaurant, and Trent got a call. He said, "This is my commander. I've been waiting on this call. Excuse me a minute." So he gets up and leaves her at the table why? Is the call super-secret? This is his fiancée he's sitting with and he's discussing something which affects her, and which she's already aware of; no truly caring partner would have got up to hold a call like that in private.

It made it look more like this was a call from a secret lover than a career call. I know this happens all the time on TV and in the moves - everyone who ever gets a call walks away to talk on the phone, and I think this author just ran with that cookie-cutter piece of writing without expending a single thought on how this would go down in the real world.

If there was something tied to this - like it wasn't his boss but a woman he was having an affair with, that would have at least made some sense. Brooke never even gets suspicious of this behavior. Once again she's portrayed as not having much going on behind a pretty face, Trent is portrayed as callous, and the story sounds like it was written from cue cards rather than form the heart.

The author either doesn't think much of healthcare professionals or she's had little experience of them outside of TV and movies. I read:

Then the nurse frantically rushed us out as I heard someone else yell, "Code Blue!"
Several nurses and the doctor came racing down the hall. They shuttled us out of the room as it turned into a whirlwind of chaos.
Anyone who hasn't been around when a code is called can be forgiven for viewing it this way I suppose, but it's not what happens. Yes, there is urgency of course, but 'whirlwind of chaos' isn't a nice way to describe medical professionals trying to save someone's life. Once a code is called (and it's not by someone yelling "Code Blue!") there are certain people who hurry to the patient, and each has a specific job to do. You can't dismiss it as 'several nurses and one doctor' unless you want to look like an amateur working on bad fan fiction.

The problem with this section isn't that, though, it's that the author describes the people being taken out of the room twice - like the first time they didn't leave? The nurse frantically rushed them out? No, the nurse isn't frantic, she's an expert at what she does. She will ask you to leave and be urgent and firm about it because the professionals need the room to work, but she isn't frantic.

The issue here though is, if the nurse rushed them out, then why do several nurses and a doctor have to shuttle them out immediately afterwards? In point of fact there is likely to be more than one doctor and only the nurses who are required to help out. There will also be a respiratory therapist, and someone (the ward clerk most likely) will probably call a chaplain or someone like that to be with the family.

At the fried chicken dinner, Trent's father selfishly takes the chicken breast every single time and the hell with his kids, and Brooke is so stupid that she thinks this is an ideal family! No wonder Trent has serious issues. At one point his thoughts are: "He didn't want to drag her back. He feared that she'd just leave again" WTF?

Trent honestly thinks he has the right to manhandle Brooke against her will and literally drag her off somewhere? What is he, a caveman? I suspect even a caveman would have had issues trying to drag "his woman" back to his cave if she didn't want to go. I don't see how we can celebrate the end of slavery when some authors quite evidently still see women as the property of Neanderthal men. This book is copyright 2017, but reads like it was published in 1720

This novel came with nine screens (on my phone) of advertising related to other material from this same author, and offering glowing reviews from people I don't know, and whose opinion I have no reason whatsoever to respect. This tells me the publisher thinks I'm as stupid as Brooke is, in that I will be swayed just because a stranger gushes over something. No. The answer is no. One such screen was one too many.

When I request a review copy it's because I've already decided the novel might be worth a look. You don't need to go the whole nine screens to sell it to me. No amount of mindless sound bites form strangers is going to change my mind one way or another because no one else's opinion matters. The only thing that matters is the writing and I am sorry, truly sorry, that the publisher thought that was not enough in this case even though in the end, the publisher was right.

So: published in 2017, and the author still doesn't think it's worth giving a nod to recycling? "...walked back in the kitchen to put the paper towel in the trash". Yep. You know, novels, even this one, will be read by people (evidently impressionable people too!), and just one passing brief mention of recycling might make a difference, but not for this author. Or is she trying to 'spread the word' that African Americans simply don't recycle? Because I don't buy that, and I think it's insulting to suggest otherwise. Any one of these things would be a minor thing not worth a mention, but when the reader is hit repeatedly with one thing after another like this, then it's certainly worth taking issue with it.

We learn that one character "leaned back, crossing her long, sultry legs" Sultry legs? It was this kind of thing cropping up repeatedly: sloppy writing, thoughtless plotting, careless attitude towards creating a novel, that rapidly turned me off reading any further. I got the impression from it, that the author really didn't care about this novel, and perhaps even had the same attitude towards it that Sarah had towards her relationship with her daughter Brooke: little or no interest in it and couldn't be bothered to make the effort, so she left it and walked away.

She hobbles Brooke with what amounts to a worship of her grandmother, cringing like someone might take a switch to her if she disses her 'superior', when this woman has been outright lying to Brooke for years about her mother's fate. Then the hypocritical grandmother has the gall to turn around at one point and "She shot daggers my way. 'Are you calling me a liar?'" Yeah granny. You are a liar and you don't deserve respect, and I felt the same way about this novel. I cannot in good faith recommend it.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was one of the most fun and charming graphic novels I've ever read. It's written I think for middle-graders, but it makes a great story for anyone to read. I loved how detailed it was (including the authors delightful section on the back on different species of tea dragon and their personality traits.

This book is everything that the overly-commercialized 'My Little Pony' garbage ought to have been but failed so dismally to get there. One of the best things about it is how little conflict there is. Everything in this story is about cooperation and understanding, and it made a truly refreshing change, I can tell you. The little dragons are renowned for the tea they produce through leaves which grow on their horns and antlers. Those leaves contain memories which the drinker can share, but they cannot grow without a true bond between the Tea Dragon and its care-giver. And no, you cannot buy that tea commercially!

Another delight was Greta, the main female character, who is unapologetically dark-skinned and who works with her mother in a forge, creating swords. Yes, even in this world there are monsters to fight! But her job and her skin color are ordinary and everyday in this world. The remarkable story is the tea-dragon and the friendship Greta forges with Minette, and the learning relationship she has with Hesekiel and Erik, who is wheelchair unbound. By that I mean that the wheelchair is simply there; it's no big deal and it plays no more part in the story than does the table they sit at or the shoes Greta wears, or the horns in her head. It was just nice to see how thoroughly inclusive this story was.

The artwork is gorgeous colorful, detailed, and just plain pleasing to the eye. The overall story is sweet with its steady pace and the idea of a 'changing of the guard' and traditions being kept in play by willing neophytes taking up the challenge. I think it was a wonderful read and I recommend it highly.


Little Pierrot Get the Moon by Alberto Varanda


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a billed as reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, and it is in some ways, but it is not as strong or as coherent as that. It's not even a story, but a series of very short sketches, which took some getting used to, yet once I did get used to it, it was a decent read.

Little Pierrot meets a talking snail on the way to school one day, and his life is never the same again. Everything that happens to him after that, every flight of fancy, every incident, the snail is there to wisecrack about it. Sometimes this is amusing, occasionally it's funny, other times it's annoying, but on balance I found it a pleasant read.

I think it would do well as a bathroom book or a waiting-room book, so that when you're detained there you can read a page or two without having to worry abut getting too deeply into the 'story' or about losing your place or losing the thread, since there isn't one!

Illustrated almost in sepia tones, but with some gentle color highlights here and there, the art work was interesting and agreeable. I recommend this.


Taproot by Keezy Young


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a nicely-colored, well-illustrated and richly-created story about a guy who is into gardening, Hamal, and a ghost, Blue, who haunts him, but in a benign way! Blue and Hamal are friends, and I have to say it took me a while to realize that Blue was a guy and not a girl. I have never read a Keezy Young comic before and did not know she was into queer story-telling! But isn't that what we're after in a truly equal world - where gender doesn't matter, only the story?!

That faux pas aside, the story was great, and the gender was immaterial in the end because it still would have told the same charming story! The only fly in the ointment is that Hamal's boss thinks he's talking to himself and that he's scaring customers, so he has to watch his behavior, and Blue doesn't help, constantly making comments which Hamal has to ignore or respond to only in private.

When customer Chloe show sup and show interest and Hamal doesn't respond as any red-blooded (so the phrase goes) cis guy might, you know the story can get only more interesting from here on in. And Blue isn't the only ghost hanging out in Hamal's corner of the word. Fortunately the ghosts aren't mischievous - much - and things are going pretty well until death appears on the scene, concerned that there's a necromancer talking to ghosts, and Blue himself ends up switching scenery unexpectedly, and increasingly entering an eerie, dead world. Whats going on here - and worse, what; sacrifice is going to be required to fix it?

Well, you;re going to have to read this to find out, and I promise you will not be disappointed. This is yet another example of a writer stepping of the beaten track and making her own story instead of shamelessly cloning someone else's work, and that alone would be a reason to recommend it, but add to that authentic dialog, and the sweet and realistic (within the environment and ethos of a graphic novel!) illustrations, and you have a winner which I recommend.


The Little Red Wolf by Amélie Fléchais


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book is exactly what I mean when I talk about drifting off the beaten-track and making your own trail. I wish more authors would learn from the example set here by Amélie Fléchais, instead of turning-out tired cloned rip-offs of those who have gone before. In a wonderful twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story, this author has the wolf being the victim and Red Riding Hood the villain - and she makes it work!

Delivering a rabbit to his grandmother's house Little Red Wolf gets side-tracked repeatedly until he's lost! When a sweet and charming young girl offers to help him on his way, he doesn't know she means on his way to the after-life and not to his grandma's house! She's the daughter of a dreaded wolf hunter!

Full of superficially simplistic, but actually detailed and richly-colored drawings, this story follows Little Red Wolf into the gaping jaws of death! I loved its simplicity and depth, and I recommend it.


Water Memory by Valérie Vernay, Mathieu Reynès


Rating: WORTHY!

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

From writer Mathieu Reynès and artist Valérie Vernay, this beautifully illustrated and well-written story of a family curse and how it affects a younger generation is a delight. It begins with a single mom, Caroline, and young daughter, Marion, arriving at a gorgeous clifftop home overlooking the Atlantic off the coast of Brittany in northern France. The home has not been lived in for years, but the two of them soon have it shipshape, and Maron is off exploring.

Marion is a little too adventurous for her own good, and almost drowns when an incoming tide takes her by surprise, but her restless spirit also takes her to the clifftops, where strange carvings exist, and to the lighthouse, just off the coast, which can be visited at low tide, but which is not a welcoming place at all. From her trips and questions she learns of local legends, one of which is very ominous indeed. Something vague and malign, something from the sea, hit the town with a severe storm in 1904, and now it looks like that storm is returning.

The story explores the gorgeous Brittany coast, sea legends, and a curious old lighthouse keeper who seems to be shunned by the entire village. Except for Marion who despite warnings from her mom, senses that this old man is the key to the mystery. Marion is a strong female character, well worth reading of.

Despite being static drawings on paper (or on my screen in this case!) the story is nonetheless creepy, insinuating itself into you like a crawling fog, chilling bones and driving you to follow Marion as she learns the truth about this curse that follows all descendants of this one family name, which must do penance for an ancient evil it perpetrated. The drawings are colorful, beautiful and as captivating as they are varied. I recommend this.


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

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

Other than the language being rather too modern, there was nothing overtly wrong with the technical writing of this story other than the usual issues with Amazon's crappy Kindle app mangling the formatting. Publishers need to quit using Kindle format and go with Nook format or with PDF. I detest Microsoft but even Word format is better than Kindle.

My problem with it was the introduction of a farcical and completely fictional relationship with a slave. That sounds racist on the face of it and I certainly do not feel qualified to compete with the President on that score, but this story was set in 1739 in South Carolina (just five hundred miles from the source of presidential shame!), so hopefully you can see the problems arising already.

The problem isn’t even the relationship with the slave per se, but the fact that this story is about a real-life person who had no such relationship. To put it baldly, the author is lying to us about what this woman did. I know, all authors of fiction are liars! It’s at the very heart of what such writers do, but here, there is no reason at all to justify willfully entering this pitfall, and there are clear and valid reasons to avoid it.

Elizabeth Lucas, who went by Eliza, and later by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, was a far-sighted, pioneering, and successful businesswoman who succeeded when it was almost entirely unknown for a woman, and especially not a teenager, to be in charge of not one, but three plantations, let alone flourish in those circumstances.

Eliza did marry someone she loved, yet this author cheapens even that real romance by putting it on the back burner while she turns her main character into a sleazy stalker, chasing a guy named (when she knew him as a child) Benoit Fortune, and then by Ben Cromwell as a grown man. The "relationship" ends not when Eliza starts acting in character, but only when the author kills off Ben (based on a real historical event when a slave drowns after a boat sinks).

This whole affair simply defies credibility not only from what this author herself writes, but from what I’ve read about the real Eliza. To suggest that she would have behaved in this way towards any man - regardless of who he was and whether he was black or white or anywhere in between - is farcical. Way to besmirch an upstanding woman with a storied list of accomplishments!

It beggars belief that a female author would do this to a female character, but it happens all the time in YA literature, and here it is again. In making this grave mistake, the author cheapens a very real life which needs no ornamentation to be outstanding, yet in true tradition amongst young adult authors, we have yet another main female character being hobbled in fiction with the asinine "need" to be validated by a man. Eliza Lucas deserves a far better tribute than to have her entire life wiped out like this and that’s why I do not consider this novel to be a worthy read.

The story is arguably racist too, since of the three people who betray Eliza (yet more fiction it has to be said), two of them are black, and both of those were deliberately invented as far as I could tell, purely for the sake of having them betray Eliza!

The real life Eliza was sixteen when her father (in the British Army and with ambitions of becoming governor) returned to Antigua, where Eliza was born. Since Eliza’s mother was rather sickly (in more ways than one as depicted here), and since he had no older male children, he left the rest of his family behind in South Carolina, with Eliza in charge of his holdings, and she did a sterling job.

When other planters were focused on rice (this was before cotton became a staple - ironically it was the year Eliza died, 1793, that the cotton gin was invented and cotton replaced both rice and indigo as the 'slave crop' of choice), Eliza recalled the indigo plants of her childhood years. Obtaining seeds (and later producing her own seed crop) and experimenting over the next several years, she and her enslaved workers succeeded in showing that indigo could be produced at a profit. From there on out, production and sales sky-rocketed. Until those cotton-pickin' bales killed it all.

Eliza married her neighbor Charles Pinckney when his own wife died, not caring that he was several years older than she. This was the real romance, and they raised children together, descendants of whom live on today. That’s the real story and why the author felt that real and true story lacking, to the point where she needed to screw it up 'Mandingo style' remains a mystery. I’d recommend reading a biography rather than this disrespectful, sensationalist, and insulting fiction which I cannot recommend.