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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Big Book of Twisted Fairy Tales by Sue Nicholson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Personally I think 'twisted' is a misnomer for a quartet of stories about honesty, kindness, responsibility, and teamwork, but it wasn't my choice! Rest assured that the stories are only twisted in the sense that they're changed and updated in relation to the originals.

Cinderella, whose original story revolved around a shoe fetish, loves dancing of course, but what's she to do when everyone except for her seems to be getting new shoes for the newly-opening dance school? Cindy puts her best foot forward however. This story is aimed at teaching about generosity and kindness. Unlike Cinderella, Beauty has her wish granted, and is given a pony which she names Flick, but (and here actually is a twist!), the beast isn't the animal, it's Beauty! She neglects her charge and the horse charges away! Will her parents have to pony-up for a new ride, or will beauty become more stable? This story aims to teach responsibility.

One of the fun things about these stories is how the characters each appear in the stories of the others. They not only exist in the same world, they live in the same town! One of those other characters is Jack who, like two beans in a pod, is just as irresponsible as Beauty, and who ends up destroying the family's crop. This story is about honesty, though. Will Jack fess up and will mommie bean him for his behavior? Last, but not least, is Snow White, who unaccountably isn't white in this story, so "yeay!" for diversity, but "huh?" for logic. Snow's problem doesn't exactly dwarf the others, but it is serious. She's one of the best soccer players, yet she's paradoxically not a team player! Will she also learn her lesson or will there be a penalty for her behavior?!

I liked these stories and commend them as a worthy read for young children, offering useful lessons.


More to the Story by Hena Khan


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was a story about a family living in Georgia, which to be fair is aimed at a younger and more feminine demographic than I represent, but I typically enjoy stories about Asian families; not always, but preponderantly, which is why I requested this one. Unfortunately, I couldn't get with it, and I DNF'd it about half way through because it was becoming less and less interesting to me and seemed more and more like it was going nowhere.

I only read as far as I did because I kept on hoping that something would happen, but nothing ever really did. Worse, there seemed to be no promise of anything interesting happening. All we got was day-to-day family routine and while, to me, that's interesting to begin with, in the long run it becomes boring if nothing else is going on.

The story tells of four Muslim sisters: Maryam, Jameela, Bisma, and Aleeza. The story focuses on Jameela, whose ambition it is to go into journalism, but her focus is very small - only on local things and low level activity. She never seems to look for a bigger picture. Even this limited focus became completely skewed when Ali, a first cousin, arrives from London, and starts attending Jameela's school. It seems that all she can focus on then is him, and it was at this point that I started losing interest as I saw that Jameela was no different from any other girl in any other such story, and that this one really had nothing new to show me or bring to the table. Since I DNF'd the novel I do not know where the relationship went, if anywhere, but that problem was that the author had written this story in such a way that I really didn't care.

The problem was that in introducing this guy, the author had ripped the story from Jameela's hands, No longer was it about her, but about her in relation to him, so she became his appendage instead of her own person. This is why I lost interest in her. Even before this, Jameela's ambition was to write a story to make her father proud. This was a problem because she was always chasing after his approval, especially when work took him away from home for an extended period, so even before Ali came into the picture, Jameela was an appendage of her father's.

I truly detest stories which have titles in the form of "The _____'s Daughter" where the blank can be some profession or whatever - such as 'The Undertaker's daughter' because books like that devalue women from the very title on. This book felt like one of those, which was simply missing the demeaning title: "The Asian Dad's Daughter" or "Ali's Love Interest" or something. Or, given that this novel was rooted, for some reason, in Little Women, perhaps its title should have been "Belittled Women"? Maybe Jameela changed later in the book, but the author left it far too late for me, since I'd lost all hope and faith in her by then.

Regardless, I cannot commend a story like this where the main female character isn't so much striking-out determinedly along the road less traveled, but instead is being swept along by traffic on the main road to the nearest mall and she doesn't even care. I wish the author all the best in her career because she has talent, but this story was flat for me. I truly wish there had been more to it.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Dad, I Love You Because... by Rhea MacCallum, Laura D. MacCallum, Fabrice Florens


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Written by the MacCallums and illustrated by Fabrice Florens, this is a little late for Father's Day - but better late than never! It would make a great birthday present or Christmas present, or just at the present present! Aimed at young children, and populated by a mixed-family of cute animals, this finely-illustrated little book lists out one reason after another why dad is special. I liked it and commend it as a worthy read as a gift from a young child to whoever they call dad!


Daughter of Athena by A Rose


Rating: WARTY!

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

Errata:
"She knew it would earn her a lecture from Jackson if the she ever saw Amara do that" - the 'she' should be a 'he' and the 'the' should be omitted.
"Its bright blue eyes glinted off the sun" - surely the other way around?!
"Amara tried to get up and move but found her hands, chained to the floor." That comma doesn't belong there. It should be placed after 'move'.
"Let me go, there is a dragon I need to slay," is a run-on sentence.

This novel is written in a rather innocent style which initially charmed me, but over time it became rather more disagreeable to read, and after about twenty percent I DNF'd it because this simplicity of writing wasn't entertaining me at all. I found that the narrative was superficial, with no history and no depth and often nonsensical, so it became far less charming as it went on, and I was asking questions which the story didn't seem interested in answering.

I couldn't have put it better than one reviewer who gave this a five-star review while telling us next-to-nothing about what it had done to earn those stars. In one part of the very short review, the reviewer said, "... Amara the dragonslayer hunts and kills a dragon and the story starts to unravel from there..." and that's exactly what it did: unravel. I rather suspect the reviewer meant to say it 'unfolded' from there, but what it really did was unravel, so she inadvertently got it right.

The story is set in a future post-apocalyptic world where, for reasons which go unexplained, Chicago, which was evidently burned to the ground by dragons, was rebuilt in stone, because dragons apparently can't melt stone, although this claim is overturned when shortly after the story begins, the main HQ of the dragon-slayer force is pretty much burned to the ground by a dragon, despite it being built from stone. Worse though, the story failed to address the fact that Chicago was largely built of stone to begin with - at least when it came to the main buildings downtown - since it is such an old city (by USA standards). It would hardly have been burned down as described. Yes, the newer stuff is glass and steel, but even that incorporates huge amounts of concrete (which is for all practical purposes, stone), and most of the older large buildings are stone, so none of this made sense to me.

It made less sense as to why the rebuilt Chicago would be renamed Athena. There is no precedent for this. If the story had been set in Athens, in Georgia, I could see it maybe being renamed Athena, although even that's a stretch, but renaming Chicago? The city was named after a wild onion that grew abundantly in that area, and has had that name since the late seventeenth century. There would need to be a really overwhelming reason to change it so drastically, and maybe that would even happen, but the problem is that we're not given any reason why it did happen, just the credibility-straining bare fact of the name change, and it doesn't work. It simply makes it seem whimsical and random.

There were lots of errors in the text, some of which I've documented above. There were other oddball issues such as when I read, "Even though Emery was attractive, she did not trust him." I don't get the connection there! Are we supposed to trust people just because they're attractive?! Why would his attractiveness (or otherwise) have any bearing on his trustworthiness?! At another point, I read, "Their bodies did not have scales in the drawings, making their skin look like that of a snake." Well, snakes actually do have scales! At another point I read, "...men took point in the front." Taking point quite literally means assuming an exposed position in front! It's a tautology to say that someone takes point in front! I quite understand that mistakes appear in novels. We've all been there, but the sheer number of them in this story was a major reason why the writing lost its charm for me.

A major problem with the future presented here is that this one city (Athena) is totally divorced from everywhere else in the world, like it's the only place that exists. It isn't, but it feels that way. This is all-too-often the problem with this type of novel. It's not been properly thought-through: the author has focused so tightly on the little story that unfolds in this one location, and hasn't given an ounce of thought to how this apocalyptic scenario would have played out on the world stage. This insularity: that only the USA matters, and in this case, that only this one city matters within the USA, is really a problem not just in this story, but in a much wider context of how a person's mind works. If you get into a mentality that none of the rest of the world is important, then it's a serious delusion that I'm not in favor of promoting, not even in fiction. On top of that, it makes for a very claustrophobic story. What happened to the government? The police forces? The military? We get no explanation. It's like all of that somehow disappeared along with the cities of old. It makes the story sound very artificial.

Related to this is the total isolation of one city from another. We're told that the area between cities is a wasteland where no one wants to live, but when Amara, the main character, is kidnapped, she's transported to a thriving community that exists within sight of the city. No one in the city ever noticed this? Despite this, and despite there still being people around from Amara's dragon enforcement bureau, or whatever it's called (I forget), no one traces the attack back to this community despite their use of 'Hummers' to travel back and forth on their attacks.

Worse, Amara never tries to escape despite being completely free to do so. She never attempts to report back to her people in the city and tell them what's going on, and we're given no good reason for this; yet we're expected to believe she's the best there is at what she does. She even participates in another attack on her own headquarters in which she takes part freely, and has no remorse about it! Her motivations do not work.

I didn't get the Hummers, either. The last Hummer rolled-off the production line in 2010. Are we to believe these gas-guzzling catastrophes were still hale and hearty almost a century later? That would be like driving the Ford Model T today as an everyday run-about rather than a classic car. It's too much of a stretch. Here's the thing: if everything that wasn't stone was razed to the ground, then so was all of the gas and oil infrastructure, so whence the gasoline that the Hummers run on? Where does it come from? Who processes it from oil - and where does the oil come from in the first place? How does this tiny community which kidnaps Amara, pay for itself? Hummers get only some ten miles or so to the gallon, maybe a little better at a relatively low speed on the highway, but not rumbling over rough terrain in a post-apocalyptic world, so they'd need a lot of gas, and it's like the gas magically appears from nowhere.

Maybe it does because there was another component of this story which was the magical abilities. Amara wasn't born. She was somehow created in a genetics lab, and endowed with special abilities. How magic was inbred into her is again unexplained, but what's worse is that she almost never uses her magical abilities, which are ill-defined to begin with. Maybe there are limitations on them, but we never know, since it's never specified what she can and cannot do. To judge from the endless times she seems unable to employ magic, it would seem that it's so limited and weak as to be pointless, so why include it at all? It doesn't help her fight dragons. It doesn't help her avoid being kidnapped, or to escape when she's briefly confined. It doesn't help her to solve any mystery she was faced with during her captivity in that first 20% of the novel. And she's supposed to be the best there is?

There's a weak love interest which, as usual in YA novels, has zero basis. We're offered no reason why Amara, genetically engineered so she isn't distracted from her dragon-slaying purpose by anything, including men, starts falling for this one guy. There's no reason for it. There could have been, if the story had had a little more depth. There could have been something about this guy which really resonated with Amara, but we're not given that or anything else to explain it, so the rationale wasn't there and the relationship is forced, as it is in nearly every YA story I've read.

At one point I read, "He had almost died in her arms, they were forever bonded from through experience and she couldn't leave without knowing he would be okay." In addition to being a run-on - and slightly nonsensical - sentence ("from through experience"?!), the problem here is that she barely knows this guy and has had her limited acquaintanceship with him for only a short time. There's no way she could realistically feel this way about him unless she's a moron, and especially not since she's genetically-programmed not to have such crushes!

The fact that she's genetically engineered is a problem in itself. Even today, we cannot genetically-engineer a healthy human let alone a super human, so how would this be possible in a post-apocalyptic world a mere eighty years into the future? How did such a devastated society manage to rebuild so quickly and get so far ahead of even where we are now? It makes no sense!

Maybe by now you can see my problem with this: the basic idea was great and the author has some real story-telling potential. I wish her all the best in her career, but no matter how good an idea is or how charming it starts out, if it keeps on racking-up one improbable assertion after another, as this one did, and if it fails to build a solid foundation, it's not going to win me over. This one faield to do that, and for the reasons I listed, I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Dolly Parton by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Daria Solak


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I've been following this series of biographies for a while and rarely does it take a misstep, so this was pretty much a guaranteed winner. Written by Vegara, and illustrated flamboyantly by Solak, this book takes a look at entertainer Dolly Parton's life. Parton has had 25 number ones on the Billboard Country Music chart, and just as many gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards, as well as a record number of top ten country albums.

She started out young and dirt poor, and her voice and talent carried her to stardom, which she did not let slip from her grasp, converting her fame into long-term business ideas that kept her comfortable (and more!) even when her popularity wasn't always what it had been. This book aimed at young children tells of her life in simple and straight-forward terms, always moving the story forwards. It's short and sweet and I commend it as a worthy read.


Ella May Does It Her Way by Mick Jackson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This young children's picture book was just wacky enough to appeal to my sense of the strangely amusing. Like me, she finds herself wondering from time to time why things happen in a certain way or why things are done this way instead of that way, and one day she decides to change it up by doing things backwards or opposite. It's not just a case of Ella May, but Ella does!

This comes to a head when she begins walking everywhere backwards, and her mother decides to join her, and soon the whole town is doing it. But does Ella May stop there? Nope! A well-written, colorful, and very entertaining exploration of one child's take on life. If your child is in a reading rut, this will get them out of it!


The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'Neill


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I happily reviewed Katie O'Neill's The Tea Dragon Festival back in August of 2017, and while I felt this one did not quite match up to the high standard that one set (I really enjoyed that one!), I still think this is a worthy read. It expands on the original story and adds new folklore, and has some interesting new characters.

The author's artwork is of the same high standard as before, but the story felt to me a little bit more meandering. I should say up front that I'm not a fan of series because they tend to be little more than a retreading of the original story. Like retreaded tires, they're not worth the money, and are typically boring to me. This was not one of those sequels I was happy to see. It did have some more story to tell that was new and different.

As I said before, the tea dragon story book is everything that the overly-commercialized 'My Little Pony' garbage ought to have been, but failed so dismally to get there. The tea dragon stories do get there, and by a different and far more interesting route. 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!

Rinn, the protagonist here, grew up with tea dragons and is used to their being around and their habits and foibles, but in this outing she runs into a real dragon named Aedhan, who has been sleeping for a very long time. This enchanted sleep is a mystery that begs to be solved, and Rinn is up to the job! I commend this story as a fun and worthy read.


Saturday, June 8, 2019

Confuchsia: An Early Bird's Tale by Alan J Paul


Rating: WARTY!

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

I couldn't get with this book at all and for a number of reasons. It's not accurate at all, and doesn't even try to be. Yes, it's aimed at young children, and no, it's not a science text book, nor should it be, but science education and understanding in the USA frankly sucks. It's consistently shown itself to be appalling and has fallen lately to where the combined math, science and reading scores in the US are way behind China, for example with whom a trade war is, as of this writing, in full swing, and even behind other places not renowned for their prowess, such as Estonia, Vietnam, Slovenia, Macau, and the Czech Republic, for example. Books like this are not to blame for those poor scores, but they sure don't lift a finger to help, and so are a part of the problem.

You can argue all you want that this is a children's book, not a science book, and it shouldn't be expected to teach children what they're obviously failing to learn in our underfunded schools, but the bare fact remains that it is just as easy to get facts right as to get them wrong, and you never hurt a child by telling the truth. On top of that, there was a strong religious element in this book which I didn't appreciate what with talk of a supreme being - which contributed nothing at all to the story and had no place in it, and with naming the characters after Confucius and Buddha! Why?!

The basic story is an old one of the 'ugly duckling' variety where a baby is born (in this case hatched) and doesn't fit in with the rest of the family - and so it's kicked out? This was the wrong approach to begin with. I hope no adopted child reads this. The child, Confuchsia, has to make her own way in the world very briefly, until she's rescued by a guy! Way to make a woman feel invalid until some guys saves her. The book buys right into the 'women are helpless playthings or property of men' garbage that women are still fighting, even in the west.

Confuchsia is obviously based on the fossil Confuciusornis, which contrary to this author's belief was not a bird and could not fly. Confuciusornis lived about 120 million years ago, and so would never have encountered a Brachiosaurus which lived thirty million years earlier, nor T rex, which lived sixty million years later, nor any velociraptor which also lived much later.

Obviously you don't want to spell out all these things in a children's book, or lecture them, but a modicum of research would have turned up a primitive bird such as Apsaravis which did live at the time of the velociraptors and T rex, and which could fly, along with Chiayusaurus which could have readily stood in for the brachiosaur. Also Confuciusornis was far from brightly-colored. It was a rather drab gray and brown color as far as science can determine. It took me five minutes to dig-up this information!

I'm sorry but this book could have done a lot better both in the factual parts of it and in how the story was told. As it was, it was passing on misinformation when it would have been just as easy to get it right and without even changing the arc of the story! I can't commend a book that so badly misinforms children and really doesn't tell that great of a story anyway.


Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hide and Seek, Little Chameleon by Anita Bijsterbosch


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun children's book which is short and colorful with simple images for the young. In most images, a chameleon hides and you and your kid have to figure out where it is. The book also talks colors and offers counting opportunities, so it's quite educational too.

Some of the chameleon finds were not so obvious, so this is good training. My one fear was that if a child had some sort of color deficiency in their vision, they might not see the chameleon at all, but when I took a little screenshot of some pages (the part of the book where the chameleon was hiding) and tinkered with them to change the colors, removing red, or green, or blue, and when I desaturated the image turning it to grayscale, the chameleon was still discernible, so I guess it's good to go! The only one where it pretty much disappeared altogether, was where it was hiding on a page featuring a lion, so I can't blame it for that! LOL! Besides, you could still see the eye even on that page. I'm happy to call this a worthy read for young children and a fun exercise in hide and seek!


Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an awesome LGBTQIA graphic novel about a cross-dressing southern boy (or maybe a girl) who goes by the name of Grace, and actually has some, and a lesbian stage-coach robber who goes by Flor. I was not sure of her heritage. She's described as Latinx by some, but to me, she had an American Indian look to her from what I saw, so maybe she was a mix of both? Not that it's that important in the big picture of the story, which consists of Flor kidnapping Grace during her robbery of a stagecoach, and eventually entering into an alliance with the latter, to steal from a function being organized by some southern gentlemen of military mein.

All I will say about that is 'the best laid schemes o' mice an' men...' and you know how it goes (or you ought to! It involves gang, aft, and agley). This was a sweet, fun story, easy on the eye and the ear, and I commend it whole-heartedly. The rather sepia artwork gave an antique glow to the novel, and it was a fun romp all the way through. You can find Melanie Gillman at pigeonbits on tumblr and elsewhere online no doubt. Her artwork has a habit of getting around!


The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This middle grade graphic novel is about a witch of color, with the curious and charming name of Moth Hush, of Founder's Bluff, Massachusetts, who is about to discover that her love of witchery isn't just a fad of hers! Eighth-grade bullies are what triggers her powers coming to the fore, and there's no looking back.

Yes, it's a bit trope-y that this takes place in Massachusetts. I'm a little tired of that, but I decided to let that slide since this novel had more going for it than your usual tedious trope 'Salem witches' rip-offs, which personally I find offensive on behalf of the innocent women who died because of blind religious hatred.

It turns out that Moth's home town has a history of witch-related activity, including a family of witch-hunters. Plus there is, as the blurb advises, a talking cat which some readers may find familiar (that was a joke - a little chortle in the cauldron!). There is also an enchanted diary, and a hidden realm - because you have to call these things a realm, right? Anything less simply will not do. But there is also conflict, a sort of tug-of-war between old and new, and Moth isn't the sort of person to back down and give up.

I liked the story and the art, although the character's noses seemed a bit weird, but I didn't worry about that. I enjoyed the story and the main character (I'm a complete softy for a strong female lead), and I commend it as a worthy read.


Don't Let the Beasties Escape This Book! by Julie Berry


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun children's book which takes its inspiration from the fantastical creatures people believed existed back in the dark ages and earlier: unicorns, basilisks, griffins and the like, and pretends they really do exist in mischievous (but harmless!) forms that can come out and really disrupt your daily chores if you're not careful. They might even help in a purely accidental way! The drawings are amazing and detailed, and the colors wonderful. The book was a delight. I commend it as a worthy read for children - and even adults too. Why not?


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ironheart by Allan Boroughs


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a dystopian story which I normally avoid like the plague, but his one seemed like it might offer something different, and it did, so I was glad I gave it a chance.

India Bentley lives in what used to be London, on the north bank of the Thames, seeking a sad existence for her family by foraging and trying to avoid the evil people who live on the south bank, and who like to boat across there on occasion and kidnap people. Naturally for this kind of a story, her father went missing and her mother died, leaving her in the clutches of her evil stepmother who seems to be in process of being courted by a sleazy new guy in town who, it turns out, is angling to make young India his bride. So it's a bit of Indiana Jones meets Cinderella meets steampunk (kinda).

It turns out, as India learns during a visit from a female version of Indiana Jones named Verity Brown, who is a tech hunter like her father and who becomes a figure of inspiration fro India, that her dad wasn't prospecting for oil, but for old technology from the time before the fall of civilization. He was seeking the almost mythical Ironheart, a rumored stash of well-preserved old tech which would be worth a fortunate to anyone who found it and which could potentially revolutionize what this society had devolved into.

Verity is escorted by an old tech military android which has the absurd name of Calculus and which serves as her bodyguard. This led to the first example of poor writing I saw in this novel. India meets the android and hears it speak and shortly after she asks, "Can it talk?" What? Yes, you just heard it talk, moron! This evidently came about because the author didn't read back through what he'd written - or more likely added the earlier speech and never read on through to catch the continuity error.

Worse is: "He tensed a thin bicep and invited India to squeeze it." I read this before I decided in a later story that I was very likely going to quit reading novels where the author quite obviously has no clue as to the difference between biceps and bicep. They're not the same thing and while biceps is the plural of bicep, it's not the plural in the way these authors seem to think. I've started to expect this ignorance in YA novels, though, so it wasn't a complete surprise. Just annoying and depressing to think what we're doing to our mother tongue. Another example is: "It is possible," he said eventually, "that you are experiencing some sort of psychic phenomena." Well, it was just the one, so 'phenomenon' was the word required here.

This aside, the story, despite it becoming a bit trope-y and boring in parts, was overall a worthy read with some interesting adventure and action in it, and I enjoyed it, but it was not enjoyable enough to make me want to read any more about any of these characters. As it stands though I commend this one as a worthy read.


Fierce Winds and Fiery Dragons by Nan Sweet


Rating: WARTY!

This was a middle-grade novel and unfortunately part of a series, but I wasn't going to hold that against it until I came across too many tropes in a row: the bullied girl who is granted magical powers; the cute girl who thinks she's ugly, and worst of all, something I expect to read in a bad YA novel, but not in a middle grade one: the character who has gold flecks in her eyes! I am not lidding...er, kidding! You could make a fortune mining all that gold in YA characters' eyes. Anyway, based purely on that in the first few pages of the novel, I quit it and moved on. I cannot commend trope-laden, derivative, unoriginal nonsense as a worthy read, and this was all that and a bag of chips.


Unenchanted by Chanda Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

Rooted in the Grimm fairy tales, this story borrows a bit from the TV series named Grimm where this cop turns out to be a Grimm - that is not someone who is named Grimm, but someone who is hereditarily required to fight supernatural evil as it arises. Mina Grime is in a similar position. She's the rather nerdy unpopular girl at school, but of course in the way of YA trashy novels, she's gorgeous, yet only attracts the attention of the studLy trope school jock after she saves his life.

Mina has supposedly inherited the unfinished Grimm fairy tales whatever those are. This is so obviously the start of a series, which pretty much lets me out on the ground floor, not being much of a fan of series, in particular not of YA series which are far too often derivative and tedious. Predictably I grew tired of this very quickly, especially when I came across some clunkers in the writing, such as "just not one hypnotized Brody. His movements became slower, and he was transfixed by Claire's every movement" I think the 'one' should be 'on'. That was a relatively minor infraction.

Worse by far was "Mina watched as Claire's hand stroked Brody's bicep" - it's fricking biceps moron! I'm now dedicated to ditching dumb-ass books like this at the first mention of the singular bicep. That's probably what happened here although I really don't recall why exactly I quit this. It was probably because it was too dumb for words and the female supposed hero is really nothing without a guy to validate her as per usual in this kind of tripe.

So no - not a worthy read - a very warty one in fact.


Once Upon a Kiss by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

This was billed as seventeen romantic 'Faerie' tales. I detest those words: 'Fae' and 'Faerie', and I ought to take my own advice and refuse to read any more books that use it, since this one was rather less than satisfactory. Even 'Fairy Tales' doesn't technically cover these stories although some of them are.

My first problem with it was the content list. It was colored magenta. On a white background, this isn't a problem, but on a black background which I typically use to save power in my phone, which is where I read ebooks more often than not, it rendered the content list illegible. You could click from the list to go to the story but you could not click back to the content from a story, and if you're not careful, merely swiping to go to the second page of content would take you to a story instead of taking you to the next page, necessitating your having to pull up the slide bar at the bottom of the screen and slide all the way back if you accidentally hit the wrong story (something which is very easily done on a small screen where the list is very compact). So, too dark of a color and far too close together to tap accurately with a finger.

Clearly publishers still have a lot to learn about formatting ebooks. Some of these stories had a prologue, an epilogue, and chapter markers and all of these sub-headings were listed on the content page meaning it ran over three screens! This kind of crap is why I never put a content page in my own novels, but then those typically do not contain a variety of stories from an assortment of authors so I could see the point of one in this case. I just wish it had been better thought through; just a list of the author's names would have been quite sufficient and occupied much less space, meaning each name could have been bigger so it was easier to tap the name and go to the story on a small screen.

Anyway, here's the list below with my comments on each story:

  • The Glass Mountain by Alethea Kontis
  • I didn't like this. It seemed pointless and went on far too long. It was a story of a woman being trapped in a glass mountain and working with a guy who was also trapped there to get out. It was supposed to be a love story but the guy was highly antagonistic and verbally abusive from the start, and the author failed to convince me that this relationship could possibly turn around, so a big no on this story. I have no better idea what it was based on than I do how a female author can write a story like this. Does she think she's Becca Fitzpatrick or something?! (No, that's not a compliment).
  • The Bakers Grimm by Hailey Edwards
  • This was a story about two competing bakeries and the children of the bakers getting together, and it failed to move me at all. I barely even remember it.
  • Galatea and Pygmalion by Kate Danley
  • This was about a sculptor named Galatea, who sculpted a guy named Pygmalion - in short, just the opposite of the myth. That really was the only twist and the story wasn't that good.
  • Red by Sarra Cannon
  • This was about a witch, part of a coven, looking for a cure for her sister and meeting a guy held prisoner in a cottage in the woods, who in turn helps her. The coven isn't everything she thought it was. Again, it failed to move me. At one point I read, "The Order had expressly forbid me to go looking for any kind of cure for my sister." The author evidently doesn't understand the distinction between forbid and forbade.
  • Princess Charming by Yasmine Galenorn
  • An epistolary story with the twist being that the 'Charming' is female. I have no time for tedious epistolary novels, and in my amateur opinion, I already wrote the definitive Princess Charming when I wrote Femarine, so this one fell on deaf ears. I read, "I think they were getting used to being in human form. I have no clue what, now that their gig is over." I have no idea whatsoever what that piece meant!
  • Mad About You by Jennifer Blackstream
  • Based on Alice in Wonderland, this one was about Alice trying to repel the Mad Hatter (who was paying suit to her) by getting a charm from a witch, but then changing her mind (If I recall - which I may not). I wasn't interested in the story.
  • The Sea King's Daughter by Anthea Sharp
  • Based on The Little Mermaid. I have a severe allergy to stories which are titled in this format - making the main female character an appendage of a guy instead of her own person: The So-And-So's Daughter, The So-and-So's Wife. You shouldn't have to tell female writers that words carry heft and weight, and remind them that diminishing women like this only prolongs a detestable historical precedent. I read "They would not provide cover any long, which meant she must seize her opportunity now." It should have read 'Any longer'. It's sad when you can't even grammer- and spell-check a short story properly, but I guess most of us have been there!
  • Romeo and Juliet: The Afterlife by Julia Crane
  • This story carried Shakespeare's original over into the afterlife to see what happened there which is similar to an idea I had myself, but did nothing with. I wasn't impressed by this effort to explore that, os I guess the opportunity is still there if I wanted to pursue it!
  • Soot and Stone: A Fae Tale of the Otherworld by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
  • Any novel that uses 'fae' and 'faerie' instead of fairy is chickenshit as far as I'm concerned, and I have no time for that kind of cowardice and posy-footing around That's all I have to say about his one.
  • The Huntsman's Snow by Mandy M Roth
  • This was a shifter story and I typically have no time for those, so no.
  • RumpelIMPskin by Debra Dunbar
  • Based on Rumpelstiltskin of course, this was mildly entertaining, but nothing special. I read, "His smug looked changed to one of utter shock when he saw us" and it should have read, 'smug look'.
  • The Glass Sky by Alexia Purdy
  • This was a short story and still it had a prologue and chapters - all of which were listed in the content page! Yuk! As soon as I saw it was first person and the main character's name was Star Rickton, I skipped it. No. Just no.
  • Rush by C Gockel
  • This is a story about someone named Rush who, due to a transgression, is required to find true love in two weeks which is nonsensical, so no. I read, "...several octaves too loud" which is plain dumb. An octave isn't a measure of sonic volume!
  • Perchance To Dream by Phaedra Weldon
  • This was about your usual female underdog in a magical world and it failed to leave an impression. I read, "The two waved as they approached and an matrons woman yelled at them from Rose's left." An matrons woman? Any grammar checker will find that, so this was a truly sloppy error in an unmemorable story. I can't even guess what she was trying to say with that nonsensical phrase.
  • The Toad Prince by Nikki Jefford
  • So, I am tiring of going through each of these, especially when I really don't recall them. I think at some point I not only stopped reading each story before it was over, but I stopped even reading the next story because I honestly don't remember a thing about some of these. In this I read, "Isabel's best features were hidden beneath her bulky wool gown." So here we have a female writer, writing about a female character, and clearly stating that all she's worth is her body. Forget about her mind - forget about any qualities such as smarts, loyalty, integrity, grit, honesty, capability, or whatever. Her body is the only thing of utility. I'm sorry but writers who write like this are assholes, period. There's a difference between a character thinking something like that, and the author stating it in the narrative, and this one is a jerk for for doing so.
  • Crafted With a Kiss by Shawntelle Madison
  • This one wasn't bad, and I do remember it, Pynnelope is a wooden warrior who seems invincible until in her last battle she's taken down by a guy who is more powerful. She's taken prisoner, but there is more to the story. I quite liked it. There was one mistake in it. At one point I read, "Either way, I had until dawn to force Pynnelope to do the unthinkable" and this came just two paragraphs before we're told he has only until midnight. Someone's not reading for continuity!
  • A Small magic by Devon Monk
  • I've read at least one novel by Devon Monk and liked it, so I guess it wasn't surprising that I liked this one, based on Hans Andersen's The Princess and the Pea. It was an amusing and quirky story, but it's sad that there was only one really likable one in this whole collection.

    So very little to engage me here, and overall I cannot recommend this as a worthy read, but at least it informed me of over a dozen authors I don't need to bother reading ever again from this point onward!

There's No Place like Hell by Janis Hill


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I read an earlier novel by this author and liked it, so I was asked by the publisher if I would like to read another of her works for review and I accepted. Then I was shamefully lapse in getting to it, so this review is long overdue and I apologize for that, but I literally only just finished reading it. This is why it's first up on my June reviews.

The good news is that I commend the book as a worthy read! The bad news is that this is volume two of a series and I was not invited to read volume one, so I came into this blind. There are a lot of references to an earlier life in this novel, which made me think, even before I knew this was volume two, that there was a previous novel, but it wasn't necessary (at least not from my perspective) to have read that one in order to enjoy this one. It would have been nice had the cover at least mentioned it was part of a series though. Publishers seem almost abusively negligent of advising readers about that, and I have to say I resent it.

Overall, the novel was too long for my taste. I like 'em more pithy and I felt it could have been shortened and tightened, and would have made for a better read. There were also some grammatical errors which presumably will be removed next time the author gets to do a makeover of it. I list the ones I can remember below. Other than that, I enjoyed most of it. There were bits where it dragged, and I failed to see the point of resurrecting this character from the previous volume. For me he contributed nothing, but at least he wasn't a love interest, and I really appreciated that.

The main character, Stephanie Anders, is very much her own woman and not dependent upon some guy validating her, so I fully approve of a writer taking that approach. It's not that I object to a main female character having a love interest, or that I think it necessarily weakens the character to have one, but all-too-often this is what writers do to their women, especially in Young Adult novels. This author avoided that and I commend her for it. If the love interest is there solely to be the love interest, then lose him - or her. It spoils the novel for me; and if your main female character has a male character who smothers her, dominates her or otherwise detracts from her story, then I won't read your novel. I can't stand stories like that, so I'm glad this wasn't such a one.

In some ways this novel reminded me of Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston, not because the two novels are the same - they're very different - but because they share the same playful attitude and irreverence, and I like that, so even though this novel was first person - a voice I typically detest, it was very readable.

Stephanie works for the Egyptian deity Isis, helping protect souls from the dark side. Yes, this is one of those novels that insists there is and must be a balance between light and dark and also one in which humans have to do the work of gods and angels because apparently gods and angel aren't up to it. I never have understood why there had to be a balance (or why evil would agree to any such balance!), or why gods are so paradoxically weak and reliant on humans to do their dirty work, but in this case, again, the story was original enough and amusing enough that I was willing to let my loathing of this genre slide. So kudos to the author for drawing me in.

The main story here is that the man who instigated the split between Stephanie and her husband - something which still smarts - is now begging for her help after drunkenly selling his soul. It's a credit to Stephanie that she takes on this job rather than letting him slide into hell - and she seriously takes it on. Being the Protector of Souls she really can't refuse, but she goes into it full tilt and doesn't give up despite the odds being heavily stacked against her. She is deadly serious about her job.

I loved the humor, the original take on an old premise, and how inventive Stephanie is in doing her job. She's always skirting the edge of rule-breaking without technically going over the line, but being a woman what would she do but skirt? You can't trouser the rules! They're already trousered. This behavior naturally - or supernaturally - brings her grief and praise, but it also makes the reader a little nervous that maybe this time she's gone too far. I loved that - that she had a fine mind and it never stopped ticking, so this story was definitely a worthy read.

This book could have used a bit more proof-reading. Here are the errors I found:

"He is my weapon's instructor" - unless the guy was instructing the weapon rather than Stephanie, then he was her 'weapons' instructor - no apostrophe necessary!

"without the aid of Isis' Light I may add." Isis is a name, not a plural, so it needs an apostrophe s, not just the apostrophe: Isis's.

"who'd obviously heared all that stuff I'd not said out loud." 'Heard' has only one 'e'.

Demons do not breed to begat demons!" This was the wrong verb tense. It needs to read 'beget', not begat and don't you forgat it!.

But those didn't detract from enjoying the book at all, and I enjoyed it overall.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Yay! You're Gay! Now What? by Riyadh Khalaf


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Errata:
“...you’re going more than you’re sexuality“ that second one should be ‘your’.
“If you ignore the bully, and removing yourself from the situation...” 'Removing' should be 'Remove'.
“If you’ve already come out to friends at school, as if they have any LGBT+ pals” Ask if they have!
This isn't so much an error as a point of order, and it wasn't the author who said this, but Simon Anthony-Roden in his advice to his younger self, but there’s no evidence that it was Oscar Wilde who said “Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.“ People are misquoted or misattributed all the time, so no big deal.

This book is a complete guide to how to handle your discovery that you're gay - or at some other place on what's commonly referred to as 'the spectrum' but which I prefer to think of as a slide since a spectrum implies something that's fixed, and I think very few people are solidly fixed in whatever position they're in. Your orientation and preferences can change over your life and no, thats not the same as saying 'gayness can be cured' because there's nothing to cure.

There were times when it felt a little bit over the top for me, but you can't blame a guy for reveling in who he is, so that's no big deal. There were also times when I felt he went a little in the wrong direction - like seemingly implying right up front that gay guys don't play soccer (Justin Fashanu, Robbie Rogers, and and the entire amateur team of Paris Foot Gay would disagree, as would Eudy Simelane, had she not been raped and murdered in 2008), but usually when he seemed to be veering, it was for a reason.

The book covers pretty much anything a young person may want to know if they have perhaps been wrestling with identity and how to face what's becoming obvious to them, and deal with accepting it, and whether to come out and who to come out to. It doesn't matter what your question is, you will find valuable advice in this book, and not just from the author, but also from an assortment of others who have walked this same path.

it begins with asking if you think you might be gay, and moves on to coming out, finding friends and finding love, then appropriately gets to "all about bodies" and "Let's talk about sex," both of which contain excellent guidance and advice. Be warned, there are no punches pulled here. For a gay guy, the author tells it straight! Each of these sections is filled with personal anecdote, good advice and comments on their own sexuality and advice they would have given to their younger selves by some celebrities, the only two I'd heard of, I have to confess, were Stephen Fry, of whom I'm a fan, and Jin Yong, who I heard of only recently. Others are Clark Moore, Simon Anthony-Roden, Rory O'Neill, James Kavanagh, Matthew Todd, Shane Jenek, and Ranj Singh. That said, I'm not a big TV watcher. There is only a few shows that I tend to watch, and I've never been a fan of RuPaul Andre Charles, so I've never seen his Drag Race, but I have heard of Cortney Act, Jenek's alter-ego, a stage name I've long thought was choice!

The bottom of page 171 (page 86 on the iPad I was using) ended with “You don’t need an” but page 172 (87 on the tablet) was the start of a new chapter! I guess we’ll never know how that sentence ends!

This is yet another case of a print book farmed-out to reviewers as an ebook for convenience, but I often wonder if publishers ever consider what a poor impression one of these 'afterthought ebooks' leaves. As it happens, and apart from a very negative experience on my iPhone before I switched to a tablet, this book wasn’t so bad. There was an occasionally 'sticky page' (and no, not that kind of sticky - but sticky in the sense it wouldn't swipe easily tot he next or previous page, and took two or three times to move it. On the iPhone there were also times when pages came up on the wrong oder, so I wouldn't recommend reading it on a device that small.

This book wasn't so bad, but I’m honestly at the point now where I will negatively review a poorly conceived ebook regardless of its literary merit. Here’s why: the modern concept of an ebook was initiated almost half a century ago by Michael Hart who founded Project Gutenberg and even ePub books have been around for some two decades. There really is no excuse for substandard ebooks these days, and if authors/publishers are going to issue one to reviewers, they need to look at the thing in the e-version on one or two different devices to make sure it's worthy of issuing!

That said I commend this ebook for being a worthy read and a useful contribution to helping those in need of advice and a leg up here and there.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Cinderella Screwed Me Over by Cindi Madsen


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not opposed to chick lit and I've read a bit of it myself although it's not my first choice of genre, but quite honestly this was the worst kind of chick lit - arguably anti-#MeToo. I didn't read much of it, but to me it looked like the only connection it had to Cinderella was that the girl met her tediously predictably hunky guy when her stiletto heel got stuck in a crack between floorboards in this restaurant she frequents and in which this guy is part owner.

Her shoe comes off of course and he hands it back to her, but instead of leaving it to her to put it on, he puts his hand on her hip - not her arm or shoulder, or offers her his own arm for balance, but uninvited, he puts his hand on her hip 'to steady her', and she gets the wilts and the vapors. I'm immediately thinking, "I'm outta here. This is not my literature!" so I gave up on it. At only a few pages in.

Despite having a professional job in an office, this girl did not come off as very smart to me. She automatically assumed this guy was a liar when he told her he was part owner of the restaurant, like she was an expert on the place just because she eats there often. Neither is she the impoverished stepsister, so what this had to do with Cinderella, I have no idea. All I had actually needed to know is whether it was trespassing on my Cinderella territory or I on its, and the answer to that was a resounding 'no!' The story's nothing like what I'm writing so I fortunately don't need to be concerned with it at all, which is great, because I certainly didn't want to continue reading it.

I don't get why so many female authors so frequently subject their main characters to manhandling by strange men and then instead of becoming annoyed at it, turn to Jell-O. It sucks and it needs to stop. These two 'girls' were in the restaurant at the time of the shoe incident, so it probably wouldn't have been hard for the guy to quickly grab a chair from a nearby table. If they'd done that and she'd sat down and asked him to put the shoe on for her, that might have brought it a bit more in line with Cinderella and certainly been more socially acceptable and even romantic, but this author doesn't get it, and that's a problem. It might have been better yet if the guy had been part owner of a shoe store rather than a restaurant so he'd be naturally helping her to try-on shoes.

I didn't get how being a part owner fo a restaurant made him any kind of a prince either, unless the restaurant was Burger King! LOL! But as it happens, I really don't care because this story was trashy pap and not worth anyone's time. Readers need to demand better. Much better. More original, better written, more intelligent, and with real people instead of antique Barbie and Ken dolls.


Who Laid the Egg? By Audrey Sauble


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a colorful little book for young children about eggs and the creatures that lay them. It poses a question at each egg illustration, and offers some possible solutions as to who laid it. Sometimes there are many suggestions, sometimes a few, sometimes only one! Children can have fun guessing who did what, and comparing the kinds of eggs to see if that can be used as a reliable clue. The animals include birds, turtles, dinosaurs, and even a mammal! This is a fun book for young children and I commend it.