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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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.

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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.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Park Bench by Christophe Chabouté


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I had never heard of Christophe Chabouté, but after "reading" Park Bench, I am a fan! I put reading in quotes because there's nothing to read! It's all art, all pictures, no interpretation necessary - a truly international work in some senses (see caveat in penultimate paragraph). Almost all the action takes place around the titular public seat in a park. Just by watching this one locale through the lens that the author provides us, we see a microcosm of life.

We see people who use the bench and we see those who don't even see the bench. We see friendship and antagonism, love and abuse, and a persistent dog which is determined to claim this territory for its own! I particularly loved the scene in the snow where we don't even see the dog - only its footprints.

That's the genius of this. At first, when I started to look through it, I kept wondering if this was it, and then I realized it's not only it; it's everything. Naturally, the first impression is that speech is missing, but that's intentional. The one thing that was truly missing is the sense of the passage of time. I don't know if that was intentional or not.

Yes, we see the occasional season now and then, but do we see years? Are we meant to? That's the only explanation for the remarkable phenomenon which slipped right by me, mesmerized as I was by the images, until the author hit me over the head with it at the end!

I loved this, I thought it was brilliant, amusing, engaging, and really, really well done. The artwork is exquisite and detailed, and evocative. The French cop actually looked so French it rather removed it from its cosmopolitan flavor for those few frames, but everyone else could have been anywhere else - anywhere that's largely white and western that is, because there were few people of color visiting this park. That, I think, was an omission, but no doubt there are parks like this. Donald Trump probably lives near one.

But I am not going to quibble over that when the rest of it was so perfect. Not this time. I recommend this.


Squawk of the Were-Chicken by Richard J Kendrick


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book was hilarious and I recommend it, although for me it went on a little bit too long to be perfect. It was beautifully written and full of characterization, quirks, fun, amusing asides, and an actual mystery. It was also weird, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It was weird in the sense that it seemed to straddle two completely different time periods simultaneously: the rustic of the Jane Austen, and the modern. For example, while bicycles were apparently new inventions, screenplays were not, so it made for a rather mind-boggling read, the reader never quite knowing what to expect.

As I mentioned, it felt rather long for a book which appears to be aimed at a middle-grade audience. Despite being amused and entertained by it, I have to say I was often wondering why it was taking me so long to get through it! I read it frequently and I'm not a slow reader, but I always seemed to be making awfully slow progress through it which was frankly off-putting. This drag effect was offset by the interesting story.

The relationship between the two main characters, Deidre, who leads us through this tale, and Fyfe, who is her sidekick, is choice and beautifully done. The two of them are an item and either don't know it yet, or are in serious denial, but it was a pleasure to read of their interactions. They were not the only two characters though, and rather than have a pair of startlingly realized actors playing against a backdrop of an otherwise bland ensemble, this world was full of equally engrossing and quite complex people, particularly the eccentric were-chicken investigator.

Even minor characters contributed fruitfully, as in when I read this, which made me laugh out loud despite not being a fan of fart jokes or stories:

Of course, then there'd been tea. And, apparently, the Master Seamstress was just about the only person Deidre had ever met that was completely impervious to Fyfe. In retrospect, maybe Deidre should have figured on that. She had once told Deidre, rather cryptically, to 'never trust a fart, dear.'
That felt so off the wall to me that I really did laugh out loud.

Deidre lives in a quiet village which nevertheless has a thriving market. Almost all of the activity in the village seems to revolve around making and selling things, and most of those things seem to revolve around wheat, chickens, and eggs, but which came first, I can't say. Deidre has no interest in that. Instead, she's focused on inventing, and by that I mean engineering, and she's really focused on that. Her father is supposedly trying to get her the position of smallest cog at the clock shop, a venue she loves, even as she detests its owner.

So she occupies her time inventing things, usually with disastrous consequences, and then trying to figure out how to solve the problem or whether she should move onto something else. The latter option tends to win, because her mind is all over the place. Into this orderly, if messy life, comes a kleptomaniacal were-chicken. Or is it merely someone impersonating a chicken? And whence cometh the bravery if they're impersonating a chicken? That last question may be irrelevant and/or ill-considered, but only Deidre and Fyfe can find the answer - and determined they are to do so.

There was a minor writing issue with this, and since my blog is more about writing than it is about reviewing, I want to add this in, if a bit belatedly. I read:

Deidre trailed after the two men as they trudged across the stricken yard, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Now you can argue it's fine the way it is, because it's clear what's intended here, and I accept that, but I believe it could have been written better, and thereby have avoided the question of who it was who trod more carefully: the two men or Deidre! How about:
As they trudged across the stricken yard, Deidre trailed after the two men, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Small change, big difference, No reader in their right mind is going to ditch your novel for one or two infractions of this nature, but suppose you've made a dozen through inattention? This is why reading helps - to clue you in to how other writers tackle it and to what's acceptable and what's nonsensical. It's why re-reading your own work often before publishing is a tedious but worthwhile expenditure of your time!

I really liked this novel and I recommend it although as I said, it may be a bit long (and even a bit mature in reading style) for many middle-grade readers. Although the author has an annoying habit of omitting question marks from clearly interrogative sentences, the writing overall was excellent and appreciated, and even Amazon's crappy Kindle app couldn't ruin it for me!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ink in Water by Lacy J Davis, Jim Kettner


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a long comic, but an easy read. The art is black and white line drawings and gray scale art which has a sweet watercolor texture to it - perhaps because so many images show it raining! Initially I had mixed feelings about it, because it had a 'been there done that' feel to me - not that I've been there and done that, but like I'd read this story before - like it was reiterating. But it's a very personal story, and even if you have read 'it' before, you haven't read this one, and it's an important story which bears repetition, not least because it has such a positive outcome.

Lacy J Davis fell into a destructive eating spiral after a broken relationship, but this was not one where weight went up. Instead, it went precariously down. The story continues in this vein, exploring her life afterwards, in all its ups and downs, advances and set-backs, sparing no details, and hiding no sin. For that alone I commend it as a worthy read.

I'd like to have seen this better illustrated in the artwork, because while some of the art was really engaging, some of it was rather rudimentary, so it felt a bit patchy throughout, and I think this lessened the graphic impact of what happened here: the images for 'before' and 'after' and finally, 'later after' had too much in common to make a really arresting impression.

When you start out with an improbably skinny 'cartoon-like' character in a story about an eating disorder, it's a bit self-defeating. It's really hard to convey the extent of the problem in your illustrations when your character starts out already looking anorexic before the problem begins! I felt that a little more realism in the drawings would have contributed significantly to the impact of the story.

Additionally, I'd like to have known where the roots of that potential to fall were grown and why they went the way they did given the apparent tripwire for the break-up, but that was not shared with us, assuming it was even known. Yes, we know the proximate trigger of this problem, but if there's something falling, that kinetic energy came from somewhere, but this 'somewhere' went unexplored. Given that this was supposed to be a teaching tool inter alia, I felt that this was an omission which should itself have been omitted. It was one of several omissions, and I think the work would have been stronger had these holes been filled.

Another such hole was when a friend died. This person had been an important and ongoing part of the story, but the death was passed over rather quickly, and (unless I missed it) we never did learn what happened other than it resulted in a death. We did see the negative effect of it, but this part of the story was solely about the author. I felt it ought to have been also about the friend as well. This omission felt unkind given how important the person had been.

I felt that more attention should have been given to medical aspects of this disease, too. Doctors were in and out of the story, but they were always 'walk-on' parts. Nowhere was there any talk of how much the medical profession can help with problems like this. Nowhere was there talk of therapy or psychiatric attention, either to say it couldn't help or to say it could. It was almost as though none of this was ever considered, and I think this was a dangerous omission, cutting out healthcare consultations almost entirely, as though they have nothing to say or contribute.

Being a personal story is both a strength and a weakness for this comic, because we got the author's first-hand PoV, but we also got nothing else. For a book that aims at least in part to be a teaching tool, I think this handicapped it. Maybe it doesn't work for you, but who are you to say it would not work for someone else? I think a great teaching opportunity was missed by not being more expansive and offering possible alternatives to what this writer chose for herself, even when she made poor decisions.

I'm am most definitely not a fan of prologues or epilogues, and I avoid them like the plague. This comic had both, I'm sorry to report and as usual, neither was contributory. Had I skipped both I would have got the same from the comic so my advice is to cut them out and save a few trees. All the prologue did was rehash the 12 step program. I'm not sure there's anyone left on planet Earth who doesn't know what that's all about, so I saw no point to the prologue. Al the epilogue did was show us half-a-dozen pages of the author typing at the computer, or of the same rain we saw in the prologue, so this contributed literally nothing. Once again I rest my case for ripping prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions, epilogues, and after-words out by the roots, and save some tree roots.

That all said, overall I did enjoy the story because it was brutally honest, it did not offer an easy, magical solution, and it did not flinch from talking about difficult issues. I'm not convinced the four-letter expletives or the uncensored nudity contributed anything to this particular story, but again, it was honest, so I guess it came with the territory! The best thing about it and what recommends it most, is the positive outcome, which is always a good thing when trying to encourage others to take positive steps to overcome disorders like this. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Princess in My Teacup by Sally Huss


Rating: WORTHY!

Sally Huss has almost consistently turned out, in my experience, works of originality, upbeat attitudes, educational in equal measure with colorful and bright, and with fun rhymes to boot. Thus one merely continues her proud tradition.

One could argue here that this is aimed at white female audiences, and plays heavily into the Disney Princess syndrome, which are negatives, but we cannot have every book flooded with every type of person and every kind of wish for our children. There simply isn't room. One simple theme, well-presented with one simple message is fine, and it's up to parents and guardians to seek and pursue diversity by buying (or checking out of the library) a diversity of books! It's really not rocket science! Please don't always expect all options to be covered in one short children's book!

This little girl begins seeing a princess in reflected surfaces: a cup of tea, a bowl of soup, a filled bathtub, and so on. The princess always wants her to do something. The things she wants her to do are always aimed at helping other people: befriending them, being nice to them and thoughtful of them, and each time she does this, the girl helps and thinks she's seen the last of the princess, but the princess never leaves her. I think perhaps you know why. This was delightful, short and easy read, and I recommend it.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Bear and Squirrel by Elsa Takaoka, Catherine Toennisson


Rating: WORTHY!

This team of writer (Takaoka )/illustrator (Toennisson) had a .75 batting average with me, and that's now gone up to .80 with this one, so it's a pretty good record, although in the interests of full disclosure, I tend to be a lot more lenient with young children's books than I do when rating more grown up material.

I love squirrels; not so keen on bears, but this one was a fun story about a squirrel who was industriously working on building a swing, and a bear who was obsessed with collecting things - including the swing - while squirrel was out looking for that final piece for her creation. Squirrel tries everything to get the la-la-land bear's attention, and finally hits on a winning strategy only to have the outcome skew in an unexpected way! The book was fun and quirky, and colorful, and I enjoyed it. I arrogantly assume young children will too, since I often look at life the same way they do! I recommend this as a fun read.


Three! by Tia Perkin


Rating: WORTHY!

This felt more like it was written for parents than ever it was for three-year-olds, so I'm not convinced that this approach made sense, but each to her own! The author, who has a really perky name and who illustrates her own books quite colorfully and competently, has at least one other book out of this nature, titled Two!" (reviewed by me in March 2017).

While I thought the approach slightly odd and noted that two pages (the getting stuck in his pajamas, and getting dressed by himself) were in the wrong order in my crappy Kindle app from Amazon, the rest of the book was fine. It's very much into chanting and rhyming, and if this is your thing - or more to the point, your child's thing - then I think this book would be a worthy read. It's very short, so whether you deem that a good thing or not is up to you of course. With these caveats in mind, and at the risk of this book giving your child some mischievous ideas you may wish she or he had not been exposed to, I deem this to be a worthy read!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Girl In Snow by Danya Kukafka


Rating: WARTY!

"A girl was dead, a beautiful girl and there was tragedy in that" was the phrase in this novel which first turned me off it. I have read this same wrong-headed phrasing, written by so many female writers, so often that it makes me sick. Even in this day and age I can see it coming from some insensitive male writers, but for a woman to write this of another woman is a disgrace. Is this all the value a girl has: the shallow depth of her subjective beauty? Is that her only worth? Is there nothing more that can be said about her?

Apparently this author with an amazing name and in her debut novel doesn't think so, because while she could have written, " A girl was dead, a strong girl, but that didn't save her..." or " A girl was dead, a smart girl, who evidently wasn't smart enough.." or "A girl was dead, a sensitive girl and there was tragedy in that..." she didn't. She wrote only that the tragedy was that this was a beautiful girl. Meaning what? That if it had been an "ugly" girl, then it wouldn't have been a tragedy? If she had been plain and homely, it would not have been so awful that she died?

I can't rate a novel positively when the author abuses and cheapens women like this, callously reducing them to their looks, as if they have no other worth. I expect it from those trashy magazines that line the checkout shelves at the supermarket, where fattening junk food populates one side of the aisle while the other is replete with magazines telling women that they are ugly, sexually incompetent, and overweight. For a female author to willingly side with that kind of chronic abuse is shameful.

That alone was bad enough, but it was not the only problem with this novel which superficially purports to be about the death of a young girl, but which seemed more like the author was going for a pretentious piece of art than ever she was interested in telling an engaging and sensitive story about the kind of death we see all-too-often in real life.

Even on merit as a work of literature, there were issues, such as awkward phrasing and purple prose. I read on one occasion: "He hated to imagine his sadness inside her" which struck me as a peculiar thing to say or think. His sadness inside her? It sounds almost sexual, like he's considering penetrating her with something. It just felt wrong. Certainly it could have been phrased better. Another one which sounded peculiar was this: "When Cameron first heard about Andrea Yates, he ran a bath."

On the other hand, maybe this was perfect, because the character who entertained these thoughts was an out-and-out creep: a peeping tom and a stalker. I did not like him, and I sure-as-hell had no sympathy for him. It was so plainly obvious that he was not the perp that it was no more than an exercise in masturbation to pursue his story, which was boring, but this was true of all three characters this novel followed. Not a one of them had anything of interest in them to engage the reader.

If you're going to have characters that have unpleasant qualities, then you need to give them something to balance it unless you really don't want us to like them, and the ability to sketch portraits of the girl being stalked is not an endearing quality. It's just not.

Aside from the shallowness of the 'beauty' comment, the problem with this novel was that the layout was a confused mess. Instead of starting with the crime - the finding of the body, the novel opened with Cameron the Stalker in third person voice, then switched to Jade the Obnoxious in first person, like it was a nondescript YA novel (and like I cared about her story). It seemed like an afterthought when we once again switched to third person and met Russ, the cop who realistically should have had no involvement with the investigation, but who did anyway! So here we had our priorities laid out and none of them were the victim of a brutal assault. She was tacked on as an afterthought; a prop whose life was immaterial to the anguished and utterly self-centered existential chatter of the three main characters.

Jade gave me the impression that she was only in the novel so it could have the rebel female trope requisite in YA stories. Russ had even less reason to be in the cast. Why he was involved at all is the only real mystery here. They woke him early in the morning after the body had been found. He was not a detective, and he was not the first on the scene, nor was he instrumental in any matters regarding the victim, so I was at a complete loss as to why they called him out there. It made no sense at all.

The body was apparently discovered by the school "night janitor." I am far from an expert in school administration, but it seemed like an odd if not a rare occupation, especially given than this was not a massive urban high-school, but a small school in a small town, so I didn't get his reason for existence in this story at all unless he was the perp. Not that I'm saying he was. I never found out who the perp was and I really didn't care.

The story was laid out peculiarly, too: it was told backwards, with two characters being introduced who were at opposite ends of a stark black and white spectrum of feeling towards the victim. The victim trotted along after them a poor third, like an unloved dog, which resentfully has to be walked, and even then she didn't take center stage because her section was instead about the selfsame police officer who should never have been involved in the first place!

If he had been on night patrol and had found the victim, then it would have made sense for him to be involved, but it never did. Calling him out of bed to see the corpse represented nothing if not sick voyeurism, os this was really poor writing. Even during questioning, this officer was uninvolved, his mind constantly and tediously going back to his own past instead of focusing on the questioning of the suspect or the pursuit of the investigation! he was a lousy cop. I felt like he needed to have Yoda come along and give him his speech about "Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing," and whack him over the head with his little knobby walking stick.

The chapters were named after the person from whose perspective the story was told. This is typically a portent of imminent tedium to me. I've rarely (if ever!) enjoyed a novel written in this way, and the chronic voice-switching was jarring, making for a disjointed work which did nothing save remind me I was reading a YA story.

It felt like the author could not make up her mind about which voice she wanted to tell this story in and the hesitation showed uncomfortably. First person is almost never a good choice and mixing it with third is a no-no. The only effect that method has on me is to remind me repeatedly, with each change of voice, that I'm reading a story that's more interested in being artsy and pretentious than ever it is in actually telling an engaging story.

Despite all of this, I might have enjoyed it if it had been written well, but it was not. The author seemed far too in love with turning a phrase than ever she was addressing the very real problems children in school face when a death occurs. It's like the author had no respect not only for the victim, but also for the grieving process. It felt more like a sensationalist piece of writing than an exploration of death and grief, or even a detective story, and this approach cheapened the death of a young girl. But hey, she died beautiful, so what's to worry about, right?

I think at this point I am ready to quit reading not only novels which have a woman's name in the title, but also those which actually use the world "Girl" in the title, such as "Girl, interrupted" and "Girl on a Train" because they are inevitably poor efforts at telling an engrossing story.

This was an advance review copy and I have to apologize for making it only a third the way through this one before I had to quit reading, but life is short and reading list long, and frankly it's a waste to expend any of it on something like this when there are far more appealing and fulfilling efforts out there begging for attention.

I did not care about any of the characters, not even the victim because I was never given reason to, and I sure didn't care who the perp was because the author evidently didn't either! I do wish the author all the best. I think she has stories to tell, especially if she can get an editor who is on the ball, but this particular novel is not one I can recommend.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Artsy Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll


Rating: WARTY!

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

The review copy had some major issues, but I worked around these and this does not factor into my negative review of this book. Yes, negative. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in this series, but it wasn't quite there for me, even when I viewed it through middle-grade lenses. While I'm not a series fan, I think this one has potential, but this volume (the middle of three in the series s far as I know) just didn't get it done for me.

This book is told from the perspective of Stephen Noble, who walks dogs to help out his father's business. If we were to categorize his parents by traditional 'roles', then Stephen's father was more like a mom and his mom more like a dad given his dad's interest in knitting and other traditionally female pursuits, and his mom's traveling for her job, but this felt to me to be more like a novelty add-in for effect than a serious attempt at depicting equality or parents outside of traditional roles, but they were relatively minor characters, so this really wasn't a big deal.

Stephen's best friend is Renée Kobai. As is usual in these stories, I found the side-kick - Renée - to be far more interesting than ever Stephen was. The problem with Stephen (apart from his foolish willingness to do highly risky if not downright dangerous things, such as trying to follow suspected criminals at midnight) was his obsession with these two dogs, Ping and Pong. It was honestly really irritating, and the number of times the dogs are mentioned was nauseating. I kept asking, "Is this about these two dogs or about art theft?!" because it honestly felt like the plot was taking a back seat to the minutiae of the dogs walking, and sniffing, and barking, and whatever.

The story was supposed to be about the inexplicable disappearance of various items of 'outdoor art' such as the mailbox of Stephen's next-door-neighbor, which was designed to look like a house, and the vanishing decorative fish from the fence around Stephen and Renée's school. The problem was that there never really was any plot!

The story sort of meandered around without any real detective work being done, and it was so obsessed with these two dogs, which Stephen seemed to be walking full time non-stop, that I rapidly lost interest - and I actually like dogs! After about the fifty percent mark I began skimming the story, reading bits here and there, and it was not improving. By seventy-five percent I'd lost even a pretense of interest in it and wanted to move onto something which would actually keep my attention, and not annoy me! I'm sorry, but life is too short for this kind of a novel to occupy any significant amount of it.

There were instances of children lying to adults and getting away with it, and for no good reason. I know children do lie, but to promote this as a real option in life is a mistake in a children's novel, especially when there are no consequences for it.

Worse than this though, at one point Stephen tells us, "I think I've seen enough rescue videos that I can use CPR to bring him back to life if I have to." This is a serious no-no. You cannot do CPR unless you are properly trained, and to suggest to children that you can see it in a video and then just leap in and do it, is excusable, especially in a children's book! You can do serious harm to someone if you try CPR without knowing properly what you are supposed to do, and this alone should disqualify this book from a positive rating. I found it dispiriting that no other reviewers seemed to find a problem with this.

The writing aside, there were serious technical problems with the crappy Kindle app version of this novel and the problems were the same whether I looked at this on my phone or on a tablet computer. Almost every instance of the letters 'T' and 'H' like in 'they' and 'this' and so on, were missing. Also every instance of two 'F's together, like in the word 'off', were missing, so the word was just the letter 'O'. Also missing were combinations of 'F' and 'L', and 'F' and 'I'!. It was weird.

I encountered something like this in another book which I read in Kindle's crappy app a long time ago. Why it happens, I do not know. There must be some glitch when converting to Kindle, I guess, but Kindle's app is substandard anyway in my opinion. I'd much rather read in Bluefire reader, Adobe Digital Editions, or the Nook app, all of which put Kindle to shame. Here are some examples of the missing letters:

  • "the moment her older brother, Attila, takes o for class" (takes off for class)
  • "It'll be the rst one I make" (first one I make)
  • "ey scramble ahead of me like mismatched horses pulling a carriage: Ping, a scruy pony;" (they scramble...scruffy pony)
  • "make the dogs walk to the le of me" (left of me)
  • "He is out walking his ve Yorkie" (No idea what that's supposed to be!)
  • "is junk slows us down" (this junk)
  • "with some kind of ller." (filler)
  • "e sunlight glints o the diamond stud in her nose as she pulls the ugliest wall plaque I've ever seen from someone's pile of junk. It's a large grey sh, mouth open, pointy teeth drawn, mounted on a at slab of glossy wood. Maybe Ping is growling at the sh, not the girl."
  • "e sh is bent as though it's wriggling in a stream." (the fish)
  • She looks from the sh to me. "Oh, not for me. e plaque is for my prof. ey're redecorating the sta lounge."

One of these was unintentionally hilarious, and might well be deemed so by middle grade boys at least: "I don't want to be caught with sh in my pants." It was meant to be (I'm assuming!) "I don't want to be caught with fish in my pants." All this talk of fish, by the way, was from a set of carved wooden sharks that like the dogs, frankly featured too largely in the story.

Had the novel been better, these problems were ignorable (it's surprising how much sense you can make of a sentence which is missing letters!), but as it was, they simply added to the negative overall impression I was already getting from the story itself, so I cannot recommend it.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Lies We Tell Our Kids by Brett E Wagner


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Do not under any circumstances let this book fall into your children's hands! It's a highly whimsical and hilarious illustrated guide to the lies we tell our children to make them do things they otherwise might be lax or loathe in doing if we didn't scare the little pests into it!

If any children found this, the game would be up, and beleaguered parents everywhere would be disarmed! We cannot let this happen.

Some might even question the wisdom of committing these treasured secrets to paper in the first place, especially since there are relatively few of them, but there's a ready answer to that and it's not that trees are evil, although this is what we tell our kids to explain why we have a bark-load of paperbacks and hardbacks sitting in our personal library. I will think of the reason before this review is finished, I promise you!

So, if you ever wondered what the personification of the poetical "Mittens are made out of recycled kittens" or the creepy "The toothpaste ghost haunts your plaque" mottoes look like, then this is your go-to book. It covers all the common ones and many you may never have heard of. Indeed, some might question if some of these are really parental lies at all, but if they are not, then they should be, and anyone who disagrees will undoubtedly lose their car keys in the morning. Not that cars really have keys anymore in this electronic day and age, because the babies have swallowed all the keys! Yes!

I promised you a reason why this book had to be committed to paper. You'll kick yourselves when you read this, and probably pull a ligament doing so, because you know I'm right, and the reason is not the one you were thinking of: that your kids inevitably write on any blank paper they find, so the author had to cover the sheet with printing ink otherwise the kids would have vandalized perfectly good and pristine sheets. You know what I'm talking about!

No, the real reason - and this is backed by extensive scientific research - is that children cause Alzheimer's. You know it's true. You've been thinking this selfsame thing yourself - or you were, before you lost track of the thought. As soon as kids come around pestering you for something, you completely forget what you were doing. This is why we need these lies written down, and why we need to have this book handy, so we can speedily dispatch the kids out of our hair (for those of you who still have hair), and get back to what's most important in family life: making more kids!

So, I recommend this book for a fun read, and some pretty decent art into the barking.


Heathen Vol 1 by Natasha Alterici


Rating: WORTHY!

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

You never quite know what you're going to get when Net Galley has a 'read now' offer, and it's often a mixed bag, but in this dive into the mixed bag of fortune I came out ahead! This is the second graphic novel out of three that I really enjoyed, so I have no idea why it would need a 'read now' offer. I guess people don't appreciate quality when it comes stealthily in on a longboat and attacks their insular little village of life, huh?!

This is a beautifully illustrated (by the writer in rather fetching sepia-like tones) series which collects several individual issues into one volume. It's about Aydis, a young female Viking who kissed a girl and she liked it! Whether this really was the punishment for this "crime" in Viking times, I don't know, but apparently Aydis's sentence was either marriage or death. Knowing the one would be no different from the other in Aydis's case, her wise father took her out of the village and returned claiming she was dead.

Meanwhile alive and well, Aydis vows to free Brynhild, who was imprisoned behind a wall of divine fire by Odin. A quick chorus of "O-Odin can you sear...." Okay that was bad, Scratch that! Moving on...Aydis's hope is that with Brynhild and the Valkyries on her side, she can take on Odin, bring an end to his not-so-divine patriarchy, and finally get some freedom and independence for women!

Riding her talking horse Saga, who isn't above having the odd adventure him- or her-self. I wasn't sure, and maybe that was intentional. Or maybe I wasn't paying sufficient attention! Aydis is quite a distraction with her mind rampaging in six different directions at once. Anyway, she sets off for the mountain wherein Brynhild is trapped. The last thing she expects is to be kidnapped by the goddess of love, Freya, and despite her proclivities, she's not happy about it! And so the story continues!

I loved it, and if you have a liking for a Viking like none you've met before, set your course for this Norse and you'll love it too. A Norse! A Norse! My Vikingdom for a Norse! Okay, no, that didn't work either. Never mind! Seriously, this was a true pleasure to find and read, and I recommend it unreservedly. Besides how can you not want to read a book by a woman with a grand name like Natasha Alterici?


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stay After Class by AC Rose


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
At one point I read, "I tried to not to sound whinny." I think the author meant whiny. This isn't the kind of mistake a spell-checker will catch! Other than that the book was pretty decently-edited and formatted of the crappy Kindle app in which I read it.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I'm not a big fan of so-called 'V-card' stories because I've read several and they have been almost universally dumb. This one sounded like it might be a cut above the rest, and I am sorry to have to report that it was not.

AC Rose has been described as "an author of steamy erotic fiction for women." Well they got the fiction part right, but steamy and erotic? Not based on this sample which seemed to me to be languishing far more in the 'pedantic' and 'juvenile' categories than anywhere else.

It should have been titled 'Fifty Shades of Bland' because it really had nothing new to offer, least of all erotica. Far too many authors conflate 'erotic' with 'sexual' and while the two are connected, one might say intimately, they are not the same thing by any means. I'm sorry this author doesn't seem to realize that, because if she had, I think that the the story would have played out differently, and been better for it.

The plot is that senior college student Amanda Slade is a virgin who has decided, for reasons which are never really explained, that she must disrobe herself of this mantle by her twenty-second birthday which is a scant few weeks away. The man she's chosen for this task is her art professor, Jem Nichols. There is no reason whatsoever given for her choice other than the most shallow: he looks studly.

Character naming is important to me, and I had to wonder about the author's choice of name for her main female character: Amanda. It carries within it the word 'man' which is associated with things masculine, but also with other words such as 'mandate' itself a fun word. The name is from the Latin and means 'worthy of love', but Amanda wasn't about love at all, she was solely about sex. This is all she had on her mind all day every day. In short, she came across as mentally ill to me, not as an erotic, sexy, or even interesting character. The professor was effectively no more than a personified penis, so he offered nothing either. There really were no other characters worth mentioning.

I don't doubt there are women as well as men who are as shallow, one-trick, and ultimately boring as Amanda, but I really have zero interest in reading about them. I like a story with my sex! If it's just sex, then it's uninteresting to me, and that was my mistake for thinking this had something else to offer other than rather adolescent ideas about sex, which in the right literary context can be interesting, but which here were flat, monotonous, and uninventive.

The characters never were people, merely placeholders in a sexual game of checkers, wherein the pieces were nudged in a formulaic manner from one fixed square to the next, following a rigid set of moves. This is how the erotic became banished from this story. There was no fluidity and nothing unexpected. The author was simply shoving pieces around a board, employing entirely the wrong kid of rigidity for a something wishing to be a good story about a real sexual relationship!

The lack of realism was rife. The art class where Amanda most commonly encountered her target was an elective, and why she was doing it was unexplained, since she's a business major. If she was serious about her career, there were lots of other classes she could have taken. If something had been written about her wanting to go into advertising, and so was studying art because of that, then that would have been something, but the only conclusion the author left us to draw in this art class was that there was no reason for Amanda to be there other than that it offered talk about bodies and the opportunity to see a nude male, which Amanda has apparently never seen before! This is where the story began to really come apart for me.

Amanda was not remotely a credible character. She came across as juvenile and shallow, which are credible character traits in the right context, but here, she had nothing else to offer. While I don't doubt that there are twenty-one and twenty-two year old virgins, for the author to expect us to believe that Amanda, who was nothing but sexual thoughts, had never even so much as French-kissed a guy (or even a girl) or had any physical experience of men whatsoever is completely absurd. It simply did not fit in with her thought processes.

If she was that obsessed with sex, she would have at least experimented long before she turned twenty-one! Yes, if she'd been raised in some fundamentalist Christian sect or led a truly sheltered life, then maybe I might have bought into her complete lack of experience, but there was no indication whatsoever that she'd had an unusual childhood, and for her to be having constant sexual fantasies, yet to have never done anything to explore even one of them was just the opposite of erotic and not remotely credible!

The author expects us to swallow that Amanda has never even touched herself! If this had been set in the fifties, then I could have bought that assertion, but it was not. It's a thoroughly contemporary story and to suggest that a woman who is so obsessed with sex has never even masturbated is utter bullshit. That was the point I quit reading this story. It was the last straw in a whole bale of such straw.

It's tempting to give the author some kudos for at least touching upon how thoroughly inappropriate it is for a professor to become involved with one of his students. That doesn't even seem to cross the mind of most authors of works like this, but in the context of this story, I got the impression it had only been put in there as a cynical nod to propriety, because it's clear that it never was even a blip on the moral radar of either character. Also, there never was any portion of this story that I read which ever touched upon STDs, which is always a fail for me.

I know that talk of those in a novel claiming to be erotic is rather counter-productive, but I think it should at least get a mention in this day and age, so I tend to automatically fail authors who do not at least mention it, unless there's a very good reason to let it slide.

I labeled this 'Fifty Shades of Bland' for good reason. Not only was there was nothing about it to distinguish it from a sperm-load of other novels in a way-overcrowded genre, there was also the absurdity of the professor's character. He pompously set himself up as the sex-god teacher of this desperate house-virgin, and it was laughable. He's the only one who can masterfully control her own body and bring her to fruition? How insulting to her is that? I can see a guy writing this stuff, but for a female author to write about a woman like this in 2017 is inexcusable.

The professor's idea of teaching Amanda seemed to be rooted in the dom world of Fifty Shades, where he pedantically makes her wait, and teases and taunts her, but not in any sort of erotic or rational way. It read to me like he was intent upon making her suffer - either that or the author had given little thought to her plot other than artificially and amateurishly delaying dénouement.

If what he'd been doing had been interesting or unusual, that might have been something, but it was amateur and ridiculous and she, sad little submissive that she was, trotted along on his leash like a good little bitch. It was pathetic to read, poorly executed, and insulting to women. I like female characters to have a lot more get up and go than Amanda will ever have, and that's precisely what she should have done: got up and gone. The fact that she didn't made her uninteresting to me.

So in the end this was a fail, and I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. I quit reading it at forty-nine percent because it was quite honestly a tedious read. This is not something you want in a novel that's purported to be 'steamy'! Cold water, not steam, was the order of the day here, and I have better things to do with my time. Frankly I've read far more erotic novels where the author wasn't even trying for erotic, but was simply telling a realistic story. This one was far too focused on sex and not at all on telling a story, which is one reason why it was so bland and such a failure.


Friday, July 21, 2017

The Bridge of the Golden Wood by Karl Beckstrand, Yaniv Cahoua


Rating: WORTHY!

It's time to review some children's books again! This one was rather an oddball story - a business primer for young children! The story is intended to show how a money-making an opportunity can arise from helping people. I felt it was a mixed message - and a little too pat, but who knows, if it inspires some kids to make a little something for themselves, and help people into the bargain, then maybe it's not so bad, so I'd recommend this as a worthy read.

For some reason it's set in China, in a time before modern. An inventive child who has a reputation for imaginatively recycling and re-purposing, is walking by a creek one day when he encounters a woman he's never seen before. She was bemoaning the fact that there was debris from the trees in the water, blocking the fish from feeding. The woman tells the boy she sees trouble and treasure in one place. The boy locks onto the treasure portion of that, but he doesn't see how clearing the path for the fish can lead to a reward. The book tells how he finds out. This is where the 'pat' comes in: his solution is a little too rewarding and convenient - improbably so, but this is how he begins to make money to support his family.

The book contains a page or so of suggestions and tips about ways a child might make some money for themselves by providing a service. The story is very short (only eight pages overall) and is more illustration than text. From a slightly cynical point of view, it really isn't all that inspiring, but like I said, I'm not about to stand in the way of someone who might get a winning idea from reading this, so I recommend this on that basis!


Quantum by Dean De Servienti


Rating: WARTY!

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

The first problem I encountered with this was that it's the first of a trilogy, which means it's really not a novel, but a prologue. The funny thing about that was that there is an author's note, an introduction, AND a prologue in this volume. Now that is serious and hilarious overkill. I do not read introductions, prefaces, prologues, author's notes, or any of that stuff. If you want me to read it, put it in the main text. Anything else is as antique as it is pretentious.

Despite this being a trilogy overture, I decided to take a chance on it anyway because it sounded interesting, but in keeping with its tripartite roots, it moved too slowly for me and didn't offer me much reward no matter how much I let slide. This is why I so rarely find series of any value. The first volume was boring - at least the fifty percent of it that I read - and it should not have been. I can't see myself being remotely interested in reading three volumes if they're anything like the portion I read of this one.

The second problem is that there are far too many characters introduced far too quickly. All this means is that we never get to know a single one of them in any depth, and so we have no one with whom to identify or for whom to root. This is another problem for me. I am not a fan of novels which jump around like this, especially when it's after as little as a single paragraph as often happens here. It moves so rapidly from one person to another, and one locale to another that it's likely to induce whiplash in many readers! It also pretentiously announces each paragraph with a dateline, like this is somehow crucial information. It's not, so why the pretension? Who reads datelines anyway?

This is translated from the Italian (as far as I know), so I readily admit something may have been lost in translation, but I doubt so much could have been lost that a brilliant novel in the native language would have been rendered so uninteresting in English. What bugged me most about this though, is that it was set in the USA. Italy has so much to offer - why betray that and set your novel in the US? Was it to avariciously pander to an insular US audience which evidently can't stand to read a novel unless it's native? And I don't mean Native American! I felt it would have been more interesting had it been set elsewhere, and Italy would have been a fine place to set this.

The most amusing thing was that Kindle's crappy app on my phone, which is the medium I read most of this in (and the formatting was, for once, fine) told me on page one that there were six minutes left in the book! Right, Amazon! Seriously, you still need to do some work on your crappy Kindle app. You're pulling down enough profit from your massive global conglomerate, so I know it's not that you can't afford to hire top line programmers; is it just that you're too cheap to hire them? Or are you purposefully trying to force people to buy a Kindle device?

The story opened amusingly: "Rome was beautiful in spite of the annoying wind that had been buffeting the city for the past couple of days." How might wind make it unattractive? Was Rome farting?! I liked Rome when I visited, but felt it was rather dirty - more-so than London is typically asserted to be, but that was a while ago. I don't know what it's like now, but I promise you the wind cannot make it ugly, so this struck me as a truly odd way of expressing a sentiment. Another translation problem? I can't say.

There were other such issues. One of them was that the artifact they found was six inches in diameter, yet it's referred to as a cane and a walking stick?! Again, this might have been a problem with translation, but with that repetition, it didn't seem so. I think it's funny that the artifact is described as sparkling, yet one guy assumes it's made from gold. Again, a problem with the translation? I don't know.

The truly bizarre thing is that I read, "Whatever metal it's made of isn't known to us." I'm sorry, but this is bullshit. We know all the metals in the universe. They're in the periodic table, and scientists can reliably project what others may be found. There are almost none beyond Uranium that are remotely stable. They can be created in the lab, but are so loosely wrapped that they exist for only minuscule fractions of a second, so this 'unknown metal' which often appears in sci-fi, is nonsensical.

The author would have made more sense and impressed me more if he'd talked about an unknown alloy instead of an unknown metal. I would have been more impressed still if he'd gone for one of the unstable metals and reported that it had somehow been rendered stable in this artifact (but then it might still have been radioactive), or if he had gone with one of the projected stable metals which are way off the end of the current periodic table. There's supposed to be one somewhere in the vicinity of Unbinilium. It hasn't been found yet and may not exist, but something like that would have been sweet to read about instead of this amateurish 'unknown metal'.

The story itself made no sense. The idea is that medical volunteers in the Sudan find a metallic cylinder, which was evidently embedded in rocks a quarter billion years old. Instead of asking permission from the powers-that-be in the country, they simply assert white man's privilege and steal the thing, transporting it to the west like the Sudanese have no business with it at all, and no say in the matter. They're black and African so why would any white scientists care at all? That can and has happened, but the fact that there isn't one single voice of dissension recording how utterly wrong that is bothered me intensely, and spoiled this right from the beginning.

The next absurdity is that the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) cease all disputes and come together as one, Israel sending the Mossad after this object. why? There is no reason whatsoever given for this intense religious interest, and for why it is only those three, like there are no other important religions on the planet! Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Falun Gong, and Sikhism are all larger than Judaism, so this seemed like an utterly arbitrary choice.

Anyway, all of the scientists contact their families and tell them not to try to contact them (!), and then they disappear. They're accompanied by and protected by a guy named Yoshi, who has a really interesting and overly intimate (but not sexual) relationship with his sister. Those two intrigued me more than anything else in this story, though they 'skeeved out' at least one reviewer I read, but they were switched-out with other characters almost interchangeably, so we never even got to learn why those two were like they were, although this may have been revealed in the second half of this first volume which I did not read. Life is too short!

So overall, based on the half of the volume I read, I cannot recommend this. It's too dissipated: all over the place and completely unrealistic, and it offered nothing to hold my interest.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding A Fiendish Arrangement by Alexandra Bracken


Rating: WARTY!

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

I wavered on this book from liking parts to disliking other parts, and back and forth, and in the end, it was the end which decided me, because it was there that the novel hit the sourest note, because there is no ending! In the final analysis, all this book is, is the prologue for a series. I can't abide that and I cannot support it. "Dreadful Tale" is an appropriate title for this, it turns out.

I know that series are lucrative for publishers and writers if they can lure a reading public into becoming OCD over one, but I do not play that game. It's one of the reasons I detest series as a general rule, and for an author to cynically say "Here's an entire book," and then to end it on a cliffhanger so you "have" to buy the next to find out what happens is inexcusable. Do not read this in the belief that you will get a complete and full story here. You will not.

This is book one of a "The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding" series, and if I'd known that, I would never have requested to review this one, but there was no hint whatsoever on net Galley that it was not a self-contained story. Shame on you Net Galley and on Disney Hyperion for not being honest and up front with readers and for demanding nigh on eleven dollars for an incomplete story. And what's with the ebook costing exactly the same as the print version?! What trees are worth nothing these days? That's a truly sad and sorry way to look at Earth.

For me series are too easy, unimaginative, derivative, and abusive of the reader. I'd rather follow a road less traveled than feel like I'm covering the same ground I already visited.

The other thing this author got away with is first person. I'm even less of a fan of first person than I am of series, if for no other reasons than that it's such a selfish, self-absorbed, self-obsessed voice, and it's so limiting in that nothing can happen in the story unless the narrator is present, which often results in absurdly artificial, unlikely, and clunky events occurring in order to get the narrator on the scene.

I don't know why authors are so obsessed with limiting themselves in this fashion. It was not such a nauseating voice here, so I appreciated the author for that, but even she admits she made the wrong choice of voice because she has to devote several chapters to third person voice to detail activities where Prosper is not the main actor, and they clunked down jarringly. They were so bad that I skimmed and skipped those. They contributed nothing to an overly long story and would have made for a more intelligent read had they been omitted altogether.

The story is of Prosperity Redding, your usual trope boy raised in ignorance of his true value to the story, and without parents (he has parents, they're just not on the scene), and raised by apparently cruel relatives, although I have to grant that those clichéd cruel relatives don't usually want to stab the main character with an iron knife as they do here!

"Uncle" Barnabas comes to the rescue, spiriting Prosper, as he prefers to be called, away just before that iron knife strikes, to hide out in a haunted house. Yes, it's haunted both for real, and as a funhouse - a scary one, for tourists - and it's here that Prosper learns the truth - or part of it at least.

It turns out that Prosper has a demon inside him and if it cannot be got out before his thirteenth birthday, two weeks hence, it will ruin his entire family. This demon is the price his family paid for the prosperity (yes!) it has enjoyed over the years - centuries even, and all would have been well had some great grandpa not reneged on the deal. Now Prosper's relatives (all except Barnabas, and "cousin" Nell who predictably happens to be Prosper's age and equally predictably doesn't like him), believe the only way to fix - or at least defer - the disaster, is to kill Prosper before he turns thirteen, so he believes. Meanwhile, Alastor the demon (not his real name, hint hint) is inside Prosper and growing stronger by the day.

There were one or two writing issues (other than cliffhangers and first person!) which took away some of the little joy of this I did have. These are very possibly things the intended age range might not notice (unless they're my kids, of course! I think they would notice these things, but then they grew up with me, and they're also edging out of middle-grade at this point).

"Told whom?" was the first clunker I read. Writers seem to think they have to inject correct English into their stories and 'whom' is such a big offender that it's become a pet peeve of mine. This is what Prosper says to correct Nell when she says, "For who?" Quite frankly I think this word is antiquated and pretentious, and needs to be dropped from the language altogether, but that's just me.

The truth is though, that no one actually uses it in conversation, especially not kids, so in the context of this story, this bit clanged like the liberty bell. It's highly unlikely any middle-grade kid, even one from a rich family, would correct someone on the use of 'whom', especially when that kid has not been set up a priori as an English language fanatic, so this was a fail: an example of an author lecturing her readers through her character instead of letting the character be themselves.

Here's another: "Her skin was a warm bronze, a shade or two lighter than her black hair." This made for an odd read. I think I see what the author is trying to say here, but strictly speaking, a shade or two lighter than black would mean that she has gray skin! Shade relates to how much black in is a color I think this could have been worded better - maybe describing the skin as a dark bronze or something like that, but I don't think you can describe hair in terms of skin color or vice-versa when one is black and the other is bronze, which is a distinctly brown color. If she'd had brown hair that would be a different thing.

Another one was: "Uncle Barnabas's face with pink around the edges at that." This sounds like it should read "...went pink around the edges." The last one I can recall noting was: "The spines were all shades of leather, brown, black, blue, and soft from being handled so much" this felt like it needed a colon after 'shades of leather'.

The demon is introduced as being evil and bent upon revenge, yet he behaves like a naughty friend to Prosper, chiding him on one hand and then rather benignly helping him to do something on the other. This was a complete contradiction given that the demon feeds on Prosper's discomfort and sadness. Why would he help prosper to do something that would make him feel better? It made no sense to me! It seemed obvious that eventually Alastor and Prosper would become friends, or at least partners, although given that this is merely a prologue, I can't say for sure if that's what will happen.

Neither did it make any sense as to why none of this family knew that to control a demon, you need its real name! That's so out there in folklore that everyone knows it, even in the real world where demons are pure fiction, so people who have been dealing with a demonic threat all their lives, and who have libraries of books about demons, had no excuse for not knowing it.

But Alastor was a fail. He was such a pompous and prolix punk that that he was far more of a joke than ever he was a demonic presence. To me, Alastor never came across as being anywhere near as evil and vengeful as he was supposed to be. This was a problem with the plotting. Maybe middle graders won't concern themselves with it, but I know my kids would find him as much of a joke as I did.

There was also the issue in any magic story which is: why are there any restrictions and rules? We're told that in order to get the demon out, certain materials need to be gathered, yet despite Nell being a quite accomplished witch she isn't able to magic up the ingredients?

Admittedly, one requirement is a bit out of the ordinary. She needs toes; real human toes, but it's never clear until the end if it's the actual toe, or just the toe bone. This apparently needed to be ordered abroad? That made no sense. Why not just magic them out of a grave - or go dig them up?

I've encountered this problem repeatedly in books where magic is part of the world: there's either no explanation offered as to why something can't be 'magicked', or there's some arbitrary rule "explaining" why the magic won't work. At least in this story we got a cute explanation as to why the spells always rhymed: they were easier to remember that way! That was a bit of a cheat since they were so simple that you'd have to be a moron not to remember them, but it was a cute idea, and I liked the cheekiness of it even though it evoked the schlockiness of the Charmed TV series which I actually couldn't stand.

I really liked Nell as a character. I find I often do this: prefer the side-kick or the friend to the main character. Nell would be worth reading about, but I wasn't keen at all on Prosper or Alastor. maybe middle-graders will like this, but I can't rate it positively when there were so many problems with it.

Note that there were some formatting issues with the ebook, with the text not filling the whole screen in some parts - like there were hard carriage returns in it, but this was an ARC, co perhaps those issues have been resolved in the actual published version

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teddy's Camp by Peter Liptak, Pascal


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun and entertaining, and brightly colored rhyming tale of Teddy's adventures in campland, with striking artwork by Pascal, the famous French inventor, mathematician, physicist, writer, and Catholic theologian. No I'm kidding, that was a different Pascal. I think.

Teddy heads off to camp where he meets a bunch of new friends and has endless days of fun riding horses, paddling canoes (and definitely no canoodling with paddles in case you're worried), swimming, exploring, arts, crafts, and sailing. I'm ready for my nap now! I recommend this as a fun read, and it looks just as good on a smart phone as it does on a tablet computer, so you're covered no matter what you have to hand, if your kid gets a hankering for some camp entertainment. Wait, that didn't come out right....


The Adventures of Juice Box and Shame by Liv Hadden


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
“At least it seemed I’d peaked Cassie’s interest.” should be piqued, not peaked!
“I was just wearing black skinny jeans, white converse” Converse is a registered trade-mark, and while I don't think an author needs to add the little symbol (®) I do think Converse needs to be capitalized!

Note that this is from an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher.

This book is evidently part of a series, and generally speaking, I'm not a fan of series. I know they can be lucrative for both publishers and authors if they take off, but for me series are boring; they're derivative and un-challenging for both author and reader, so I have less respect for them. I’d rather read three different books than three variations on a theme! I didn’t realize this was a series when I took it on, but I am going to treat it as a standalone for the purpose of this review.

Liv Hadden is a fellow Austinite - kind of, since neither of us technically lives in Austin! - but I've never met her. I didn’t know she was a local when I was asked if I’d like to review this, so it's all above-board! I said yes, because it sounded interesting and fun, but I confess that initially I had the impression that this was maybe a graphic novel or a children's story because of the mention of Mo Malone as Illustrator, and it turned out not to be neither! Since there were absolutely no illustrating whatsoever going on in my copy of this book (excluding the cover), I can't speak to what Mo The Illustrator brought to the table! Maybe the print version has the illustrations. We amateur reviewers only get an ebook!

The book also turned out to be a bit of a confusing read for me to begin with, because it felt like I was reading a middle grade story, and then it got all serious, with blood and bullets. I also thought I was reading a story told by a young woman about her friendship with another young woman only to quickly realize that neither was a female!

So, it was quite a mind-trip going from the one perception to the other, times two! It took me a while to really get into the story because I had no idea what was going on. For many pages, I was wondering if it was a play these kids were in and suddenly we’d be back in the schoolroom, but no! Was it a bad dream? No! It took me a while to understand that this was for real and not a trick or some sort of illusion. I don’t know if that's what the author intended.

The lingo was distracting at first, because I was wondering if it was authentic, and if so, how the author knew it so well. I'm not one of these people who thinks authors should "write what they know" If we confined ourselves to that, it would be a very dull reading world, wouldn't it now?! No doubt John Grisham has been inside a courtroom, but I promise you Stephen King never was in a parallel world, and I guarantee you Suzanne Collins never fought for her life in a sudden death tournament. So I have no problem with authors writing what they don’t know as long as they make it believable. This author did.

I warmed to this as I read on, though! It’s a very short sixty-nine pages, but a lot happens. Li Nguyen, the guy who narrates the story, is known as Juice Box. His best friend is known as Shame. Juice narrates the story in first person which is not my favorite voice or anywhere near. It's far too limiting a voice to write in for one thing, and it gives only one perspective, and one which means that he narrator has got to be present no matter in what kind of a contrived manner, in order to tell the story! I think the voice contributed to my being slow to get into this, because I did not warm to Juice for the longest time, but eventually he got my interest.

I felt the story was a bit too short to explain some of the things in it: such as why Juice felt he was so tight with Shame, and why Shame was in so much trouble, and why Juice stood by him so sterlingly! There was a lot of conversation (and Converse Asians! LOL!), but very little world-building, although I did learn it was set in Baltimore!

On the other hand, it was really refreshing in many ways, which is one of the reasons I liked it. it was new and fresh and it was really nice to read about a Vietnamese crew instead of the usual African Americans we get stuck with in stories like these - like African Americans universally do nothing with their lives other than run in gangs!

So overall I recommend this for a different kind of a read and for a fresh voice. It's nice to know there are still writers out there who take the path less trodden! And especially that they're from the Austin area! Yes, now it can be told! We're going to outdo the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and become a major group in the Creative Writer's and Author's Paradise of the South! Or a bunch of CWAP for short....

Links for author an illustrator:
Liv Hadden:
Official Website: http://livhadden.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/livhadden
Twitter: https://twitter.com/livhadden
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livhadden/
Virtual Tour Page: http://www.rogercharlie.com/juiceboxvbt

Mo Malone:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mo__malone/