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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials by Annie Bellet

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of two short stories by Annie Bellet that I will review today. Both get a worthy rating. They're also both available (at least as of this review) for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads. This author has quite the oeuvre, and some of her other materials are free, too.

This short-story-for-free idea seems to me to be a good one. Yes, you can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free.

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to her main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general, but I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time. These two are definitely worthy. I found it interesting that both of the stories told a similar tale: a young woman scavenging for a living, scarred, outcast, in danger, who ends up rescuing someone. Despite the underlying theme being the same, both stories were well-told and happily different.

This particular one is a sci-fi tale set in your standard dystopian future, where a young woman, Ryska (great name for one who takes risks!) who had evidently spent time in a research lab with many other children, being experimented upon, has escaped somehow and is now making her own way in the world. Why the kids were lab rats in the first place goes unexplained in this story. It seems the main character was purposefully blinded, and fitted with whiskers which feed her senses with sufficient information that she can get by without her eyes, and which supply her with sensory input that her eyes could not deliver. Why this was done is again unexplained.

On the one hand this seems stupid. Human cheeks are not cat or rat cheeks. Fitting whiskers to an area which is not rich with sensitive nerve endings will not give humans the same sensory capabilities that whiskered animals enjoy. Besides, animals have whiskers on their nose, not their cheeks, a fact of which far too many writers seem lamentably ignorant. I was willing to let that slide though, since my needs are simple. If you tell me this is the way it is in your story, I'm happy to go with you on that as long as I don't have to hike with you down the road to Dumbsville in the telling, and as long as you don't spend pages coming up with ridiculously lame "explanations" for why this is this way.

Talking of Dumbsville, this was yet another case of a publisher putting an inapplicable covers on books! Do cover designers never read the book they design for? This is yet another beef I have with Big Publishing™ or Big Publishing™ wannabes. This book has two covers that I know of, and neither shows a girl who looks like she's blind or who sports whiskers! The one cover shows a slightly steampunk-looking girl with goggles on her forehead. Why would a blind girl need goggles? LOL!

Perhaps that's why they changed the cover, but thee are still no whiskers on the new one, and this girl isn't dressed like she lives on the streets! In short, these covers are just plain stupid. This is why I don't review covers or wax about how great they are because the cover is window dressing only, and it has zero to do with the story inside. I'm sorry, but if you judge a book by its cover, then you're stupid. Had I done that, I never would have read either of these short stories.

The story (yes, I'm getting to it!) is that Ryska is scavenging and finds herself in a situation where violent men are searching for a young child. She doesn't want to get involved, but when she recalls the children at the lab, where she escaped and they did not, she feels compelled to counterbalance her failure there with a risky attempt at rescuing the boy here, which she does with inventiveness and courage. It turns out the boy has mob connections, so maybe Ryska's action will bring a reward or some favors? We never find out - not in this story. But that's fine. I really liked this, and I recommend it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reinventing Mona by Jennifer Coburn

Rating: WARTY!

I was thinking that after reviewing Becoming Zara back in July 2016, and now having read Reinventing Mona, all I need do is find a title like Uplifting Abigail, and I'll have the whole span of the alphabet pretty much covered; however, I think I'm going to retire from reading this kind of novel having struck-out twice. To coin a baseball metaphor, since I'm not having a ball, I'm going to take a walk! Frankly I haven't had a lot of success with novels which have a female name in the title. I'm beginning to think they're bad news bears all around.

This was unabashed chick lit and my inner chick wasn't impressed. I don't mind the genre if it has something positive and interesting to offer, but when it gets deep down in the dumb, I'm outta there. That's what spoiled this one for me. I was initially impressed and interested in Mona, who is an engineer undergoing an early midlife crisis. It's not often we have women portrayed as engineers in fiction, and it's something I welcomed.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a genre of chick lit where the main female character doesn't own a cupcake shop or a coffee shop, but instead is an engineering consultant or a mathematician, or a biochemist or something? Must we confine our females to trivial or clichéd occupations? Come on authors! Why take the easy route of wallowing in someone else's tired genre and way overused trope party when you can strike out on your own and create a compelling new genre that celebrates diversity in women's occupations instead of similarity, and which celebrates smart instead of dumb, imagination instead of rote, and energy in the form of something novel instead of same old story?

Unfortunately, the revelation that Mona was an engineer was all we got. It was all downhill from there. Offered a generous lay-off package in a downsizing, Mona jumps at it and decides she's going to change her life around. All well and good, but instead of say, starting her own engineering business, she reads a male chauvinistic column in a magazine and buys into macho guy Mike's bullshit, hiring him as a consultant in how to be a guy's ideal chick. I am not kidding you. This is how pathetic Mona is. She isn't a person. All she is, is a walking need for a guy. Not even walking. Limping.

She evidently doesn't have a mind of her own and notwithstanding her hard-earned engineering degree, she apparently has zero smarts. This is not merely my opinion - it's what Mona shows us through her every action. She ignores her friend (about whom I have some agenda suspicions, but also whom I would trust more than this guy), and she swallows everything the guy tells her while ignoring everything her best friend tells her.

The problem is that her goal isn't to win over Mike or anyone like him (although it's obvious from the start that this is where the story is going even if you didn't read the blurb). No, her goal is to win the love of an accountant (Adam) whom she's known forever, and who is Mike's polar opposite and Mona's inane girlhood crush. We're never given an reason why she hadn't pursued Adam before now if he's such an attraction, nor are we told why she feels she needs to turn her whole life around in order to get him. But he stupidity did give me a great idea for a novel (well, maybe not great but good enough!), so my time in this one wasn't all wasted.

For someone who has lived a subdued, even monastic life thus far, Mona really isn't going very far out of her comfort zone and someone is holding her hand the whole time. The truth is that she's failing to direct herself and make her own mind up, and instead, merely taking direction from someone else as she has done all her life evidently.

Instead of dating Adam and finding out what they have in common, she takes Mike's advice which is to take a short stripper course to learn how to tease and please, and to hire Mike's kid sister to go shopping and buy come-on outfits. She also goes jogging. The problem with all this is that it's all outward. She literally does nothing to change herself inwardly which is precisely where her problem lies. Her best friend even complains about this and Mona lies that she is changing herself inside and out, when all she's actually doing is to have herself conform to one guy's puerile image of what a woman should be and frankly, this was sickening to read.

When she finally feels like she's "good enough" to keep Adam's attention, she still doesn't let things happen naturally. Instead, she engineers (yes, I guess that schooling was good for something) fake situations in order to try and impress him. Without asking if he's interested in heavy metal music, she claims she has tickets for Ozzfest, and then has to pay a thousand dollars on eBay to buy some. Not content with that, she hires an actor to play a fictional ex heavy metal boyfriend without discussing with him how he will play the role. He overdoes it and she looks like a moron, and none of this is remotely funny.

Having learned nothing from this disaster, she then hires another actor to fake a heart attack at the zoo so she can step in and do "CPR" and impress Adam. Again, she comes off looking like a moron. Not surprisingly. It was at this point, where she was being ever more stupid, clueless and brain-dead, and the so-called humor was face-planting in its own ass that I quit reading. This novel sucked. If you're going to write a self-help novel can you not make it smart and uplifting instead of demeaning and pathetic like this one was?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Last Firewall by William Hertling

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an interesting novel with some similarities to Brian Falkner's Brain Jack which I reviewed positively in January 2017. Like that novel, it's set in a future where neural implants allow people to access the Internet without a computer in front of them. They can also hook-up directly with others who have implants for everything from business meetings to sexual liaisons.

In this story, there are robots and AIs galore and there is also, predictably, an anti-AI movement which is, predictably knowing humans, becoming violent and polarized. Instead of intelligently addressing the issues, the mob is going after the two young men, Leon and Mike, who have done most to design safety into the systems, but these systems are also policed and designed by the AIs themselves. There;s even at one point a battle bot named Helena, about which I couldn't help but wonder if it was named in honor of the assassin clone in the TV show Orphan Black!

The AIs are now several generations advanced, and the most recent models are considerably smarter than humans. There are flies in this electronic ointment though. Leon and Mike are informed that there have been a significant number of deaths which may or may not be accidental, wherein the victim's brain has overloaded with data and those affected have died. In addition to this, one of the main characters, named Cat, who was an early implant adopter, has found she can control the implants of others.

This shouldn't be possible, but Cat got her experimental implant as a young child, much younger than people typically get them now, and something in her connection works differently. She is unable to have neural net sex like other people are, but she is able to control things which other people cannot. Naturally, she keeps this ability as secret as she can, and initially uses it in a very limited manner, but later she finds herself forced to not only explore, but also to push the envelope of her abilities.

Because AIs and robots do all the work, there is a huge amount of idle time. The author, perhaps wisely, doesn't go into any details as to how this economy is supposed to work, but because of the productivity of the AIs and the robots, we're told, everyone gets a free living. There seems to me to be a flaw in that economy somewhere, but I can't immediately put my finger on it! That aside, in this world, most people simply idle away their days playing games, or watching vids in their brain, or having sex. They can increase their subsistence level income not by doing a job of work, but by pursuing higher education, which is what Cat is doing - or was doing before she had to go on the run for accidentally killing some guys who were beating up on a little sentient robot.

So in this world, no one works, which makes it completely odd later when Cat meets a guy and assesses him as a construction worker, or a robot mechanic. If no one works, how would he be a worker? This part made no sense. Neither did it make sense that she would immediately want to take him to bed. Yes, there can be non-contact sex, but she can't indulge in it. Yet she picks up a complete stranger at a bar for physical sex, and when he tells her he wants to tie her up, she says bring it on? Sorry but no!

He's not talking about virtual tying-up, and there's not a word written here about venereal disease. Perhaps it's perfectly safe in a world which has health nanites (a word which Microsoft Moron wants to turn into 'nannies' LOL!), but not a word is written about that, so in the way this is presented, Cat is depicted as a complete moron. At this point she plummeted from being quite high in my esteem! I can't help but wonder if a female author might have written this differently, but given the shamefully lousy state of YA "literature" these days, maybe she would not.

Fortunately, Cat redeemed herself later in other ways, but this one spot left a sour taste. However, overall the story was very well done - descriptive, but not overly so, revealing, but without info-dumping, entertaining, realistic with its context, and compelling. I had some issues with it and did not appreciate the part at the end where it inexplicably slipped into first person voice. I also had an issue with how the AIs were depicted: essentially they were just like humans which, given what the author had told us, made no sense at all!

Also the author makes the same mistake we see in The Matrix movie and other stories where people "upload" their consciousness onto a network. This is Sole Copy Syndrome or SCS, where a writer seems to think that there can only be one copy, and if a person uploads their consciousness into a system, then it can't also simultaneously reside in their mind! Bullshit! Does the author also think their novel, when they're working on it on the screen, doesn't also exist on the hard drive? Do they think there can be only one copy of the novel so if I'm reading it, then no one else can be reading it because it's been uploaded to my phone? I'm sorry but this is thoughtlessly ignorant.

However, overall, I did like this story and found it to be compelling reading, so with the above caveats in mind, I'm rating it as a worthy read. That said, I will not be pursing this series. I had thought this author might be worth following, but there was a "sneak preview" (so called) of the next volume in the series, and Helena had been so neutered that it was pathetic. The story was far too cute and domesticated to be remotely appealing to me! It felt more like a family sit-com version of the story than an actual sequel. This is why I'm not a fan of series unless they're exceptionally well-done, and they so rarely are. You have my word that I will never write one (unless it's a children's series!). This one volume, though, was worthy!

Missing Melissa by Alretha Thomas

Rating: WARTY!

Until I was about sixty percent into this, and on balance, I was feeling quite positively towards this novel despite some issues that were annoying, but in the last forty percent, much of which I started skimming because it became boring, it really went downhill for me and this served merely to amplify the problems I'd encountered earlier. Note that there are some spoilers in this review. It's necessary to include these in order to explain the issues I had with the story.

The premise is twins, which is pretty much an overdone idea at this point, and this one was not done well. There were writing problems, plotting problems and the occasional grammatical problem for example where the author wrote, "You know he was too through when I turned Clay down after Clay had asked him for my hand in marriage.” I have quite literally no idea whatsoever what that sentence even means!

In addition to that, the writing was largely conversational with very little descriptive prose, so it failed in creating a world I felt I was living in with the characters. It was more like a sketchy first draft than a completed novel. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't very good. The actual abduction, when we learned the details of it, made little sense, and I'm talking about the mechanics of it and the lack of witnesses, not the plot behind it. The total lack of witnesses to an event that took place on a weekday made no sense. That some people who were involved who knew things yet never came forward made no sense.

One of my immediate problems was with the psychic communication between twins, which in reality is the fiction here. Yes, identical twins share their genome which means there will be many similarities between them, and not just in their appearance, but in the kind of people they are and the choices they make in life, not just with regard to their appearance and clothing, but in regard to the kind of job they do, the neighborhood they choose (or are forced) to live in, the kind of hobbies or interests they have, and the kind of friends they gather around them. There's nothing psychic here - it's just genetics.

The author went the psychic route though, having one twin communicating in dreams with the other, urging the other to find her. This this made no sense even if we allow - for the sake of the story - that such psychic communication is possible (it's not). The story here is that at the age of around three, one of the twins, Melissa, was taken in a car-jacking, and was never found. Now, almost twenty years later, and for no reason we're ever offered, the remaining twin, Madeline, has one or two dreams where her sister is supposedly trying to reach out to her and is begging for her help.

The problem is that when we find the second twin, she's unaware she even had a twin sister, so there's no way she could have been calling out for help! The dreams made zero sense. The crazy thing is that everyone she told these dreams too accepted them on face value without questioning their validity at all. That way lies madness, and I'm not talking about the early eighties English ska band, either!

Another issue I had with this was the use of the word 'beautiful" or derivations of it. The word occurred some thirty times in a three hundred page novel, so it popped up every ten pages on average, almost always in connection with describing Madeline. It was employed as though this was a valuable character trait instead of what it is: a cheap veneer employed thoughtlessly and even cruelly, by bad writers. It's insulting to women to have an author list that, as though without it a woman is lacking something. It's even worse when that author is female. It cheapened the whole story, and made Madeline look pathetic.

We were told frequently how smart Madeline was, but never shown it, which made this yet another cheap trait tacked-on amateurishly by the author, presumably in some sort of attempt to offset the 'beauty' remarks and depict Madeline as something other than the somewhat dumb blonde, clothes-addicted stereotype she was. Madeline did not behave like a 22-year-old college graduate, especially not one who graduated with honors. She did dumb things. One example was in going to meet irl with someone she "met" over the Internet without telling anyone, or having anyone back her up. In short, she's not smart, she's a moron.

This author, buying into the trope spewed out by so many other authors, also decided that finding her long-lost sister wasn't sufficient validation for this girl. Instead, she had to have male validation! Fine, but if you're going that route, then at least do your characters the courtesy of having it unfold realistically and organically from the story and the characters interacting within it. Don't force it down out throats, and sure as hell don't have is start with the cop hitting on her with cheap disrespectful comments to start out the 'relationship"! For goodness's sake!

The cop is an authority figure here, and he's hitting on Madeline from the off, yet neither she nor anyone else, not even the author, sees anything wrong in this. Nowhere in this story of an abducted young girl is a cautionary note or a point of order raised about relationships as exemplified here in his inexcusable conduct. Madeline simply did not ring true. If she was so "beautiful" then how come she didn't have a boyfriend already? She didn't, and no explanation was forthcoming for why not or for why she seemed so reticent about getting involved with the cop!

If there had been a reference back to the car-jacking, that would have been something. If there had been a bad incident during her college years that would have worked, but we got nothing. It's like the author didn't think-through Madeline's character at all and her beta readers either didn't think ti through either, or were afraid to point this out to her. Madeline didn't work as a character, and what was offered was unappealing and uninteresting. I can't recommend this.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Math Inspectors by Daniel Kenney, Emily Boever

Rating: WARTY!

This is volume two in a series of at least three, and the book very kindly indicates this on the front cover, which is nice. I have not read the third volumes, but I did read the first, and I rated it positively back in June of 2015 with the caveat that I'd prefer it if these books improved! Obviously they have not, so I am now going back to de-rate that one as part of an overall series rating. These books can be read as standalones, and the essence of the series is a commendable one in that it revolves around four middle-grade students who help the police to solve crimes using mathematics. This is great, but the spirit behind the book turned out to be rather more noble than the execution of the novel itself.

I am all on-board for a series that teaches the subjects which too many students in the US fall down on: math and the sciences, but this novel disappointed me in that it offered a lot more than it actually delivered. There was very little math, and what there was of that was a bit limp and vague. The story revolved around acts of petty vandalism being conducted by "Mr Jekyll" a name which was a clue in itself. This was fine, but the attempt to bring math into this by employing a mathematical technique known as the Line of Best Fit, and the Least Squares Method to track the vandal's movements wasn't employed very well and wasn't explained in very much detail. That was all the math we got!

I felt like I was reading a very dumbed-down novelization of the TV show NUMB3RS which ran on CBS from 2005 to 2010. This was aimed at an adult audience and starred Rob Morrow as an FBI agent and David Krumholz as his mathematically-gifted younger brother who helped him solve crimes. It was a good show, and reading this made me want to go back and watch that series over again because it did a far better job of teaching math and incorporating it into the plot! The novel felt further dumbed-down in that the kids names - which admittedly the authors were stuck with after volume one - are as improbably as the plot: Felix, Gertie, and Stanley? Honestly? The fourth kid had a much more regular name: Charlotte. Names are important to me in my own novels, and if these kids were named that way to serve some purpose, then I could understand it, but they're apparently not so-named for any particular purpose.

In this novel, we had some unknown and obviously disaffected kid who was spray-painting "Mr Jekyll" on various things, including, in one case, a pet dog, which was drugged and shaved first. eventually the kids figure it out of course, but there was far too much melodrama leading up to it and a complete lack of justice at the end. Worse than this, there was bullying conducted by the kids themselves, and a really poor attitude towards the police, mainly in the form of a dumb and vindictive police chief who was dedicatedly seeking to jail the math inspector kids, and who, let's face it, indulged in bullying himself. This attitude has not improved an iota from volume one, and the authors should be ashamed of themselves for it.

I know it's fun and important to dramatize stories like these to make them engaging for readers, but there are responsible and irresponsible ways to do it, and this was the latter. I know also that the kids have to be given center stage and that story lines do end-up being improbable to one extent to another, but this particular one, for me was way overdone and done foolishly. Unless the story completely hinges on a police officer being stupid or brutal, which this story did not, I think it's mistake to depict the police in such a poor light to young children. Yes, the police do have their issues, but those issues aren't going to be resolved by showing the police as plodding, bullying brutes instead of as humans.

Unlike in the first volume, the illustrations in this one did example the math a bit, but I think there could have been more. There was no improvement in the depiction of the two girls in the group. They took a back seat to Stanley the math whiz, who pretty much dominated that portion of the story. I'm actually surprised the girls weren't depicted in Barbie Outfits saying, "Gee, math is hard!" But this wasn't even the worst part of it. In addition to showing the painting of a dog, the authors. had the math inspector kids encouraging the vandal, who got away with it in the end, bullying and humiliating one of the girls in the school by dumping a can of blue paint over her - real, oil-based paint. This was the final straw for me because it was entirely disproportionate to what she had done to them (which was merely making snide remarks and trying to get them into trouble with the police), and even if it had been proportionate, it still wouldn't have been right.

Showing the police leaping to inane conclusions with no evidence was stupid and irresponsible. Having the entire school board meet to vote in public on whether these four kids - who had been charged with nothing - expelled for something they didn't even do in school or on school time, was simply ridiculous. The authors had the school board conduct an anonymous ballot and then had each member of the board read out how they voted! What?! Do the authors simply not get what 'anonymous' means, or did they think they were being cute or ironic? It came off as moronic to me. Teaching middle-grade kids that adults conduct kangaroos courts based on knee-jerk assumptions, zero solid evidence and no trial is dumb. Yes, there are far too many adults like that, but these were not random adults, they were the police and the school! It's not acceptable.

One of the big issues in the story was the school bully, who was shown as getting away with it and being completely unchecked by the teaching staff or the school bus driver; then we're shown the four math bullies encouraging the vandal to douse another student in paint. I'm sorry but this is totally unacceptable. If the girl had accidentally douse herself because of her behavior, that's one thing, but encourage vandalism and violence like this as though it's a good thing, or is supposedly some form of justice is inexcusable in a middle grade book. That's why I'm rating this as a complete fail, and why I'm going back to down-rate the contingent rating I gave the first volume now that the authors have shown me that they have no intention of improving this series.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt

Rating: WARTY!

I'm a bit late with these last two, but what the Noël! I think yule find the reviews worth reading as long as I don't carol on about them....

Since both of my parents hail from Yorkshire, I thought this might be an interesting read. In fact, it simply wasn't. Even though the story was short I didn't read it all, so I can't comment on the last half of it, but the first half could have been set literally anywhere it snows, from Yorkshire to Yakutsk, from Canada to Chile, and it wouldn't have made any difference, so why 'Yorkshire'? I don't know!

Sometimes when people are obsessed with writing a series, even a loosely packed one like this, they become so enamored of their "brilliance" in picking the catchy titles that they're blinded to the fact that they have to write a story which fits the title, and it has to be a good and realistic one if you want me to read it.

Even if that hadn't been a curious factor in this novel, the story itself was so predictable and ploddingly uninventive that I literally couldn't stand (nor sit!) to read it. The characters were neither inviting nor intriguing, and the story went nowhere that hasn't already been trampled by the feet of countless writers into chill and unappealingly scruffy pack ice. So what was the point of one more flat, cheesy, Christmas cookie-cutter romance? I submit it to you that there is none to be made.

It's the so-trite-it's-shite city girl versus country boy, rich versus poor, helpless versus capable story we're read a billion times before. There is literally nothing new here. Once more we have a girl on the run from a bad romance, because you know that all women are cowardly and weak, and they routinely flee to a new city when a romance goes bad. Curiously, they always seem to arrive in perfect time to immediately fall in love with either a complete stranger or an old flame (ELO! It's either real or it's a dream there's nothing that is in between!), whereas in reality, a woman like that would be a total moron or a limp rag of a person who is of no use to anyone.

As if this isn't bad enough, there's the sorry fiction that every woman needs a Saint George to rescue her from some dragon or other. The fleeing whimpering woman has to be saved and validated by the perfect guy - who can be either simple and country or a billionaire, but who must be a complete stud-muffin in all other regards. excuse me while I barf. This book had no redeeming features whatsoever and I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Pinch of Poison by Alyssa Maxwell

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher. I have to remark that A Pinch of Poison is not an original title. It's already been used by Claudia Bishop and Frances Lockridge, so I think the author could have chosen a more exclusive one!

This is a book I had some issues with and frankly I dithered (yes dithered, I shall have it no other way!) on how to rate this. To me a novel is either worth reading or it's not. Some I like better than others, but I can't say a novel is fourth fifths worth reading or two fifths a disaster! I look at the whole thing and it's either worth my time or it's not. On balance, this one was even though I had problems with it, which I shall discuss shortly.

Set in and around an English boarding school for the idle rich shortly after World War One, this novel has something in common with a novel I negatively reviewed in December 2016: Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. The difference between that disaster and this charmer is that this isn't first person, and it's competently written! Both novels are YA in the sense that the main characters are in that age range, but there the similarity ends.

This is much more like a book for grown-ups, and there's a world of difference between how this is written and how your typical YA novel is written. It would serve well many YA authors to read the Eulberg book and this one in comparison, in order to learn how to really write, and how to avoid chronic YA pitfalls (such as writing in first person, and going to extremes in your characterization), and how to actually create and develop realistic characters.

This is part of a series, and while I am not inclined to read any more of it since I'm not a series fan (unless they're particularly compelling!), I did enjoy this one, which is second in the series. I was pleased that you don't have to have read the first in the series in order to get into this one.

Lady Phoebe is the middle sister (the one I married as it happens! LOL!) in a wealthy family (an earldom). Her parents are dead, so her supervision is somewhat lacking. Despite that she comports herself well and is very mature (especially as compared with your typical YA girl!). We find her doing good in the form of collecting supplies for war veterans, but this is as far as her good deeds seem to extend, so this felt more like 'tell' than ever it did 'show'.

Admittedly we see her only in the context of this murder mystery, upon the resolution of which she has set her compass and is firmly and determinedly engaged, but it would have been nice to have seen her character rounded-out rather more than we got - to have shown us she was a decent sort rather than simply being told it, and then shown that she really was no better than anyone else of her class in life. As it was she came off a little bit as a one-note character. Yes she's helping war veterans, a subject which is revisited in this story commendably, but on the other hand, elsewhere in her life she seems to be rather callous towards those less well-off than herself.

Naturally, this is in some ways to be expected since it's set in post-Edwardian times. Note that there is no traditional name for the periods after the Edwardian. Britain seems to have become disillusioned with its monarchy after King Edward and gave up naming times after the reigning monarch. Of course, King George was on the throne, and 'Georgian' was already spoken for, so maybe this contributed to the downfall.

The British monarchy needs to come up with new names instead of recycling ones from previous eras! Having eight Henrys should have taught them that at least, particularly the last one who was a disgrace. The first Elizabeth - the first monarch to give her name to an era in Britain - set the pace, but her failure to generate an heir was also disastrous. Maybe that's why they didn't have another female monopolizing the throne for a couple of centuries afterwards?

So yes, people of the upper classes were appallingly ignorant of, and disdainful towards those of "lower stations" - and still are, I'm sorry to say, which is why I personally have no time at all for the not-so-nobility. I get that much, but this story was not written in the inter-war years. It's a modern story speaking of an historical period and I think it would have been a lot nicer to have depicted Phoebe actually practicing what the author has her preach. Unfortunately, she doesn't.

Lady Phoebe's crime-cracking partnership has only one other member: the lady's maid named Eva, who is an interesting character, and who doesn't get anywhere near enough air time. This is fine as far as it goes, and it makes for an interesting dynamic, reminiscent of a similar one in TE Kinsey's A Quiet Life In The Country which I positively reviewed back in November 2016. That relationship was much more equitable though.

Here, even as put-upon Eva is helping Phoebe, her own job is being neglected because of Phoebe's incessant demands, and Phoebe just doesn't seem to get this or care about it. Yes, she pays lip-service to it once in a while, but never actually does anything to help her. This made her come across as self-centered and selfish. This is not a trait you want to broadcast about your main character when she's supposed to be the good guy! We're constantly reminded of how selfish the older sister Julia, is, but frankly I saw no difference between Julia and Phoebe. I really didn't.

Eva is shared with everyone else in the house. If she was solely Phoebe's lady's maid I could see this working, but she 'belongs' to everyone. This doesn't prevent Phoebe from selfishly monopolizing Eva's time though, and putting her way behind with her work. Never once does Phoebe stop to think of what she's asking of or doing to Eva. I kept thinking that this story would have been more interesting if Lady Phoebe wasn't the detective and it was all Eva. That would have been much more difficult for an author to work, though, since Eva was so tied to the house work, and heavily subjugated to the demands of two mature sisters and a younger one as well, but some author might welcome such a challenge.

The murder is of the headmistress of the school - by poison - and Lady Phoebe is set on discovering the truth about it even as the police inspector wants to wrap up the case. She has a lot of work to do and I loved how the author had her patiently progressing through it, feeling like she was up against a brick wall, and then finding another way through with the ever-patient and long-suffering help of Eva, who was a charmer through and through. I loved her character.

I know that women of Phoebe's station were considered marriage prospects back then - like this was all women were good for, but this pairing of Eva with the police officer and Phoebe with Owen was a bit much for me. It's very reminiscent of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries with the pairing of the well-to-do Phryne Fisher and her paid companion Dot Williams with two male characters, Dot being paired with constable Hugh Collins. The upside of this is that this author is no YA hack and so she didn't make the chronic mistake of YA authors: instadore! The relationships are building slowly (over the series, it looks like) so that at least was welcome.

That said, I have to consider this a worthy read when viewed as an entity, since it did hold my interest. It felt like it ought to have been a shorter novel than it was. It felt like it was getting a little long in the tooth towards the end, and I liked the last twenty percent less than I did the first eighty, but overall, I consider this a worthy read, especially if you're into historical mysteries, so i recommend it.

Emma and Snowbell by Mary Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three reviews of children's books by Mary Lee. They're seasonal, and this one is obviously aimed at Christmas. The little girl who is at the heart of these stories is named Emma, which happens to be the name of a niece of mine as well as the title of a Jane Austen novel.

Each of the three novels has rhyming text patterned after a song or a nursery rhyme. The Christmas story follows the rhythm of Jingle Bells. The composer of the original rhyme, James Lord Pierpont, is offered no credit for the song the author riffs off, which is sad, but since it was composed in the mid-nineteenth century, I guess that's the way it goes when your copyright expires! Jingle Bells, originally title One Horse Open Sleigh, tells of sleigh races which were held in the early nineteenth century./p>

Emma doesn't have a sleigh, one horse open or otherwise, so she's trudging through the snow until a reindeer takes pity on her and gives her a ride - in the sky, as reindeer are wont to do. I liked this story. The do-over of the song was amusing and the artwork was, as usual, fun, so I recommend this one.

Emma Had a Little Turkey by Mary Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second of three reviews of children's books by Mary Lee. They're seasonal, and this one is obviously aimed at Thanksgiving. The little girl who is at the heart of these stories is named Emma, which happens to be the name of a niece of mine as well as the title of a Jane Austen novel.

Each of the three novels has rhyming text patterned after a song or a nursery rhyme. The Thanksgiving story follows the rhythm of Mary Had a Little Lamb. The composer of the original rhyme, either Sarah Josepha Hale, or John Roulstone (or both!), are offered no credit which is sad, but since it was composed almost two hundred years ago, I guess that's the way it goes when your copyright expires! The interesting thing is that it was written about a real person, Mary Sawyer, who actually did have a pet lamb she took to school with her one day - I guess for ewe and tell?!

That said, Mary Lee's re-wording of the song is amusing. The turkey's feathers are soft as snow, and it followed her everywhere, including to a school soccer game where it proved to be such an adept player that the team won the game! I liked this story and the amusing rhyme, and again the artwork was sweet, so I recommend this one.

You Are My Pumpkin by Mary Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of three reviews of children's books by Mary Lee. They're seasonal, and this one is obviously aimed at Halloween. The little girl who is at the heart of these stories is named Emma, which happens to be the name of a niece of mine as well as the title of a Jane Austen novel.

Each of the three novels has rhyming text patterned after a song or a nursery rhyme. The Halloween story follows the rhythm of You Are My Sunshine. The composer of the original song is somewhat of a mystery, but is apparently thought to be Paul Rice. The author offers no history or credit for any of the songs she riffs on, which is sad.

That said, her re-wording of the song is amusing. Instead of 'sunshine', we get 'pumpkin', as Emma views skies that are black with bats instead of blue with sunshine, on Halloween night, and she plays with the owls. I found it a bit sad that the author retained the line "you'll never know pumpkin ['dear' in the original] how much I love you" - I would have thought that loving parents would find ways to communicate that much! They may not understand the cost of such love, but kids sure understand its power.

That said, I liked the story and the easy rhyme and the fun artwork, so I recommend this one.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Mighty Zodiac Starfall by J Torres, Corin Howell, Maarta Laiho

Rating: WORTHY!

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

In the fantasy world of Gaya, where animals are human (and in a refreshing change, the rabbits are evil!), the great dragon guardian of the sky - which curiously looks just like a constellation! - dies before the replacement is ready, and the rabbits, which had been banished to the moon, are free to come down to Earth. The fall of the dragon was literally a star-fall, hence the subtitle of the graphic novel. Six stars came down, and if the rabbits can destroy them all, then chaos will reign.

The only thing standing in the way is the once Mighty Zodiac. Refreshingly based on the Asian zodiac (Dog, Dragon, Goat, Horse, Monkey, Ox, Pig, Rabbit, Rat, Rooster, Snake, Tiger) instead of the western one, that's about as far as the story delves into Eastern beliefs. The Asian zodiac is tied to the twelve-year orbit of Jupiter, and the animals are associated with "elements" such as water, metal, wood, fire, etc), but none of this impacts this story.

The eleven non-evil warriors are dispatched to recover the stars, to keep them safe from the machinations of the "rabbit army" which sounds scary and looks scarier! The eleven don't necessarily get along, and there's friction and politics, but in the end they pull together. The story continues in other volumes. This was well-illustrated by Corin Howell, beautifully colored by Maarta Laiho, and nicely written by Joseph Torres. I recommend it as a worthy read!

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Accidental Demonslayer by Angie Fox

Rating: WARTY!

I liked the oddity of this story and the title, but when I began reading it, I ran into some issues. The first is that it's your usual cliché of the ignorant special snowflake coming into their power and knowledge of who they are. The main difference here is that the demon-slayer here isn't your usual wilting, vapory YA girl. Lizzie Brown is an older woman who teaches kindergarten. We still get the story in first person though, which can be annoying, but in this case, it wasn't awful. She lives alone (save for her Jack Russell Terrier dog), in a loft apartment and is an adopted child, her mother having given her up when she was a baby. So lots of trope. The differences were not only in her age, but also in that there was humor here, some of which missed the mark for me, but some of which was funny, such as when she tells her little dog "Feel free to protect me from butterflies, the vacuum cleaner, my hair dryer". I thought that was great.

On Lizzie's birthday, her grandmother shows up out of the blue riding a pink Harley Davidson motorbike, and she locks Lizzie in the bathroom. She's wanting Lizzie confined while the latter undergoes her slayer transformation. Why this happens when she turns thirty (or whatever age she is) is a mystery, and it's even more of a mystery why her grandmother locks her up and refuses to tell her anything - this again is tedious trope. What goes wrong though is that a demon shows up intent upon killing Lizzie, but it's told in more of a humorous vein than a dramatic or scary one. After this event is when Lizzie starts to get her education. She also realizes she can hear her dog - which talks like a frat boy rather than a dog might talk if it could - and which became annoying quite quickly, the occasional humorous comment notwithstanding.

The story really started sliding towards oblivion for me though, when the clichéd muscular, protective male showed up. I'm not a woman (I've never even played one on TV, believe it or not), but if I were a woman, I think I'd be a bit pissed-off with some stranger showing up trying to lay a claim on me and arguing with my grandmother about who has dibs on me! But the problem was much worse than that. Here we have this almighty demon-slayer, who comes along only once in three generations, and who is so scary to demons that they launch an orchestrated campaign to kill her off, and yet she needs protector? This immediately devalues her and renders her as little more than a maiden tied to a stake awaiting Saint George to come along and slay the dragon before he carries her off on his pretty charger (and by that I mean horse, nothing untoward!).

It felt like a betrayal to me. It's fine by me if she has a guy who is an equal partner, and it's also fine if, assuming it's done intelligently and realistically, they fall in love by the end of the story, but to set up this woman as some exceptional demon destroyer and then slap us (and her) in the face with "well, she's really just an air-headed and weak flibbertigibbet" is inexcusable.

It was at this point that I decided this book was not for me - or for anyone else who likes a smartly-written urban fantasy and female protagonists who have a healthy self-respect and are not in dire need of some abusive male to validate them. As soon as Dimitri (seriously? You couldn't come up with a better name than a Vampire Academy retread?) started asserting ownership of Lizzie, and literally manhandling her around - like dragging her into a corner to lecture her, and insisting she leave her bedroom window open so he can "talk to her later," and actually kissing her without so much as a by-your-leave - I'm leaving! Lizzie should have kicked him in his balls right there and then. She didn't. She's having palpitations and marveling at his muscles instead. He's just man-meat and she should have been marveling at the lack of muscle in his head. If you like moronic female leads, and guys who are outright dicks, then this is definitely for you. For me, I couldn't bear to read any more of this nonsense.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Love Vol 4 by Frédéric Brrémaud, Federico Bertolucci

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been following this series from the start, but I think it's now time to part ways after two disappointing volumes in a row. After the first two volumes (The Tiger and The Fox, I found I didn't like the third one, The Lion. The problem for me is what seems to be a steady deterioration in the artwork, and a complete lack of growth in the series.

I didn't mind that the original was rather brutal in places, and I even let slide the fact that we were erroneously shown piranhas in Africa. I was happy with the second volume because it seemed to indicate that the authors were interested in varying their plots and telling real stories, but with the third volume, not only was the art poor compared with the first volume (where it was particularly good), the series also seemed to be taking a distinct turn toward the gory, and this doesn't interest me - especially given how much it betrays the series title! This trip down mastication lane not only continues, but is deliberately ramped-up with this fourth volume excursion into prehistory, featuring endlessly predatory dinosaurs, some of which probably would be unlikely to be found together in history, at least based on extant fossil finds.

This is an ongoing problem where predators are featured, particularly of the prehistoric variety. We see it in TV shows and movies all the time: the portrayal (and betrayal for that matter!) of predators as constantly hungry, and dedicated to unnaturally and persistently hunting prey which they normally either do not encounter, or simply don't bother within real life. Yes, a really hungry predator will go after pretty much anything that might make a meal, but most of the time, predators - even warm-blooded ones - are doing nothing!

They hunt only when they're hungry, and when the hunt is done, they're done, and they go back to their sedentary life until they're hungry again. Their usual prey wanders past them all the time when they're in this mode, and they really don't care. To depict the dinosaurs as constantly chasing down food is not only wrong, it's boring. I have to ask: do these two authors have no other story to tell than that of one animal ripping another apart? If that's the case, as it seems to be, then this series is of neither interest nor use to me. At any rate, I cannot recommend this volume. I wish the authors all the best in their career, but it's not one I shall be following anymore.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas Best by Diana Kizlauskas

Rating: WORTHY!

Here's an interesting story for young children with a Christmas flavor. Or is that just another way of saying it's a turkey? Just kidding. I thought this was nicely illustrated by the author, but it seemed to send a mixed message. In the end I decided to recommend it because it can be used a a really good teaching tool about choices and consequences.

It doesn't work too well on a tablet though - this book will be of more utility as a print book I think, but it's very short, so tree-abuse is limited. The reason it doesn't work well on a pad is that instead of individual pages, all of the "pages" in the book are offered as double-page images, so you can only see them as relatively small images unless you spread them with a finger and a thumb, which is a nuisance. If you turn your pad sideways, they can be seen as a double-page spread, but then they're quite small. They're legible at this size, but not ideal.

The story is about job satisfaction, so it's very relevant in this day and age. Written in scattershot verse, we read of five elves, none of which is very happy with their lot in life making toys for International Santa Corporation. Why Santa gets such good PR when he clearly is running a sweatshop and making extensive use of slave labor is a mystery to me. I detest the little dictator, but that's just me.

Anyway, I guess the elves work in Texas or some place which has the same labor laws because they just walk out, offering no notice and decided to try something new. Baking isn't their forte, so they migrate to being choristers, mail carriers, present wrappers, and so on, but they are so poor at doing these other jobs that they give up and return to Santa Corporation to resume their original employment.

This actually offers room for a great discussion with your kids about working and job satisfaction, and loyalty and job training, which no on seems to offer these guys and girls. Should we stay in our little world trapped by our limited perspective and our exemplary skills in a job which offers only broken dreams, or set forth upon a sea of jobs and by embracing, mend them?

What if we fail? Is it a failure to try something new even if it doesn't work out? Is it okay to return to the sorry world we left if there appears to be nothing better? Can we be happy with what dissatisfied us when we realize there's no hope for an alternative out there, or do we have to mesmerize ourselves into being happy even when we're not? I recommend this book for its bold exploration of elvish existentialism and charming artwork.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Little Mermaid Against the Shark by Chloe Sanders

Rating: WORTHY!

I really did not like Chloe Sanders's My T-Rex Gets a Bath, but this story was altogether different.

Frankly, this book sounded from the title like it was a rip-off of the Disney Movie or of the original story itself which Disney ripped-off, but it wasn't. I can't blame it for the title: every author needs to try and get an edge, after all - and the story was original, fun, instructive, and has a wry sense of humor running through it. It was faultlessly-written, and beautifully illustrated (by the author, who is a talented artist - and who is not to be confused with the actor of the same name!).

Celia the mermaid is out looking for her friend Billy the dolphin so they can go play, and as the two of them set out, they encounter a bullying shark. Here is where the book departs from what you might have expected at this point, and Celia really comes through and shows her smarts, making a friend instead of an enemy. A great lesson in diplomacy! I recommend this one.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Rating: WORTHY!

At one point there's a woman described who is wearing a T-shirt with an inscription on it referring to a breed of dog. Now it's entirely possible given the appalling grasp of good English in this country that a T-shirt could be misspelled, but I'm not convinced this was intended by the author - if it had been, I feel something would have been said about it in the test. The misspelling is of the name of a dog breed: Pekingnese. It should be 'Pekingese'

Note that this is a review of an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is the kind of novel which I don't normally like, because in a real sense, it's just an author's trip down memory lane, which is as boring to me as a memoir usually is. Such trips are very personal and not all that meaningful to others unless those readers led a similar lifestyle and are of a similar age - and grew up in the US. In this case, we get a lot of references to 80's culture, but either the author doesn't remember the era very well, or he hasn't properly researched it.

For example at one point, one of the characters is surveying magazines on a rack in a store while waiting for someone, and he mentions that there are articles on the trial of Bernard Goetz, who shot four passengers on a subway rain, and on Gary Hart suspending his presidential campaign because of the smell of scandal. Yes, Gary Hart ran in the 1984 campaign, but the scandal with Donna Rice was during the 1988 campaign, and the shooting by Bernard Goetz took place in late December 1984 after the November election. His trial was in 1986 (with a civil trial a decade later).

All of this took place in the novel during a boring and dumb sequence in which the young boys were trying to get their hands on a Playboy which featured Vanna White, but that edition came out in 1987, so the timeline is wrong if we're trying to encompass all three of these events. This definitely has to be 1987 based on the arrival of the IBM PS/2 computer, so the Goetz reference was the confusing part.

The story would have been just as good with the Vanna White nonsense left out, and the with timeline touches of color omitted. Maybe some people will like that, but for me they were way overdone, and I could have also done without the constant references to music. It was like the author was showing off how much research he'd done, but we know how well that worked! Taht said, there was a point wher eosme of the music references had a purpose, but that was overdone as well, for me.

I say this because for me the story became interesting not because of all the endless, annoying timeline references, but in spite of them. To me they were distractions and irritations and the endless Vanna White obsession cheapened the story. The power of this novel came through the interaction of Mary Zelinsky - a commendably strong female figure, and an unusual one in a story like this - and main male character, Billy. Mary is one of the coolest characters I've read about in a book like this in a long time. I quickly reached a point where I was willing to positively review this based on her alone! LOL! The boys let down the story but she stood above all that and rescued it for me.

One thing which troubled me is how much access to endless ready cash these boys seemed to have and how profligate they were with it. Whenever they needed money they always had it, and lots of it, yet only one of them seemed to hail from wealthy circumstances. That felt unrealistic, but these things are offset by cool stuff, such as when Billy first meets Mary and notices that she has her nails painted with binary digits, reading 01111101010. The problem with this is that they go to eleven! Unless Mary has eleven fingers and thumbs, there's one too many digits! Or from a different perspective, one too few. Binary is based on multiples of two, so whereas decimal - the system we routinely use - goes up in multiples of ten when reading digits from right to left (the number 100 quite literally equals zero units, zero tens and one 'one hundred'), binary goes up in multiples of two, so 100 in binary would be zero units, zero twos, and one four, equaling four in decimal.

Eleven characters makes no sense in terms of translating the numbers to letters, all of which have an eight character code (or would have back then). At best it should be eight or sixteen, or if divided into groups of four, it should be eight or twelve. If she'd had a binary digits on each finger, this would have given the expected eight. As it was I couldn't translate it to any text (I had initially thought it might be her initials).

The decimal equivalent of the binary number we're given is 1,002, and you don't need the preceding zero, so maybe that's a typo. I guessed that it had something to do with Mary's mother - maybe she died on October 2nd? You'll have to read it to discover what those numbers really meant, and to discover that they were used in two ways. There's an old but amusing binary joke for which you have to keep in mind how the numbers are translated (multiples of two). It goes like this: there are only 10 kinds of people in the world - those who understand binary and those who don't!

Assuming the book is printed as it appeared in the ebook format, it's horribly wasteful of trees! It has seven pages to swipe past (or 21 screens, depending on whether you're reading on your phone or on a tablet), and most of this is not necessary. A lot of it is disgustingly gushing mini-reviews and recommendations, which to me are as pointless as they are nauseating. If you already have the book, what is the point of these? Why are they even there?

Does the publisher think that reviewers are so weak-willed that the opinion of others will sway them into liking a book they might have disliked otherwise? Maybe they appear only in the ARC, but to me they're a waste of time. I want to read this and decide for myself; I honestly don't care what others think, no matter who they are! But this is on the publisher, not the author, so it's not his fault. For me, it's yet another reason to self-publish.

The chapters are numbered with stretches of numbered BASIC programming code which is amusing and brings back some memories for me. When you're programming in that style, which is antique, you number the lines in tens not in units, so if you later realize that you missed something between lines ten and twenty, you can add it as line fifteen, and escape having to renumber every line. In terms of numbering chapters, this meant that chapter one for example, began with half-a-dozen lines of code numbered 10, 20, 30, etc., which was a bit of a cheat since it ought to have been numbered in the 100's.

All the other chapters were numbered appropriately - chapter two using 200 and above, chapter three using 300, and so on. I thought that was cute, although the programming syntax on each numbered line will be completely obscure to anyone who has no programming experience and perhaps to many who do if all they know is modern stuff like Java. Even Visual Basic and VB .NET are a different world from those older languages. It was fun though, and about the only memory lane portion of this book that I liked!

The story - finally, yes I'm getting to it! is that Billy has his own Commodore 64 computer which was all that and a bag of chips in its day, but he realizes that it's an amateur machine (and was half-way through its lifetime in 1987) when compared with the brand new PS/2 which boasted the power of IBM behind it. He's into programming games, and his school work is suffering because of it. When he learns, from Mary, of a competition in which he could win the IBM computer, he starts seriously working on his game, but his program is sluggish.

He turns to Mary for help and discovers that she is better than he is at programming, and she delightfully knows the names of some stellar female forebears from the earliest days of computing: Dona Bailey, Jean Bartik, Fran Bilas, Margaret Hamilton, Brenda Romero, Marlyn Wescoff, and Roberta Williams. The two begin working together and this is where the story really took-off for me. The time they share is quite wonderful, and you can see them growing towards each other. Call 'em software moments if you like!

These parts are written well, and make a refreshing break from the ridiculous instadore encounters typical of YA literature. This is only bordering on the young edge of YA and is more akin to middle-grade, but the romance is handled in a very mature and realistic fashion which is at times truly magical, such as the time when the lights go out in the back of her dad's store where they meet to program, and the two have a few moments in total darkness and close proximity. This was beautifully written.

Of course, you know there are going to be potholes in this road, and at one point the story got too dumb, and I feared I was going to have to rate it negatively, but after that part, it turned around again, and really settled back into a pleasing cadence. I liked the way life imitated art towards the end when Billy was trying to get back with a rather distant Mary.

She has a secret that juvenile Bill has been blind to, and her behavior is less than exemplary, but in the end, they both come to understand each other at a deeper level, and realize that there is more to them than juvenile attraction. I really liked the ending and it was this, and Mary as a character, which were what made me want to positively rate this story. I loved the way it worked out, and how well the Billy-Mary interactions were written. I recommend this as a worthy read.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Evelyn After by Victoria Helen Stone

Rating: WARTY!

"She smile sheepishly" (smiled, not smile)
"Evelyn dug hem out of her drawer and put them on" (them, not hem)
In chapter 22, third paragraph beginning "Evelyn found herself strangely disappointed..." is repeated as the fourth paragraph.

I had mixed feelings about this book, which started out strongly, but seemed to come unraveled rather quickly. In the end it was a disaster. Around sixty percent in I really wasn't feeling it at all, and I kept hoping it would turn around, but it went further south by eighty percent. I should have quit but I foolishly didn't and the ending was the worst part of all. It read more like bad fan-fiction than a professional novel.

The book was replete with routine flashbacks (chapters were labeled 'Before' or 'After', but I didn't always notice that on the Kindle version on my phone, and so sometimes the text was a bit confusing, although I admit in those cases it was my fault). The problem with flashbacks in general though, is that they bring the story to a screeching halt and I am always immensely resentful of that. Sometimes a flashback can serve a useful purpose, but usually to me they merely indicate laziness or incompetence on the part of the writer. In this case the flashbacks were unnecessary and should have been dispensed with. What little they revealed that was not about stalking and that was not boring could have been woven into the story

My biggest problem however, was with the main character Evelyn (a name apparently is pronounced the British way, as three syllables as in Evelyn Waugh). I really did not like her at all. She was far too self-serving and whiny. I don't think it's impossible to enjoy a novel whose main character you don't like, but I do assert that it's much harder to do so, and Evelyn kept making things worse by behaving stupidly, or irrationally, or obnoxiously. She isn't someone I would want to know. She's two-faced at best and a low-life at worst.

The story begins with her discovery that her husband Gary has been having an affair. I don't blame Evelyn for this but there are things she could have done, but failed to do, which would have improved her lot. She's whining that the baby fat she has from the birth of her son is a problem, yet it's been seventeen years. She could have shed it if she'd put her mind to it. She whines that she gave up on her art, when the fact is that she has never needed to work. Her husband is a highly paid psychiatrist, and she could have worked on her art projects all day long, but she chose not to. She dug this hole for herself and didn't even realize she was in one until things went sour in her marriage.

There is another much more serious issue which I don't want to get into for fear of giving too many spoilers, but this issue is worse and Evelyn's reaction to it really turned me off her. When she confronts Gary over the affair, he claims it's over and that he wants to put this behind them and get on with their life together, but while Evelyn claims she forgives him, it's clear she does not. she claims she still loves him, but it's clear from her behavior that there is no love there, and there hasn't been for a while.

This kind of thing made her dishonest at best and a liar at worst. She refuses to let Gary back into her life even though they continue to share the same house. Her motive is ostensibly that she cares too much about their son Cameron to break-up her marriage, but her behavior isn't conducive to a reconciliation - it's quite the opposite - so her behavior and her stated aim were completely at odds. She claims she doesn't trust him, but she believes everything he tells her, and never once questions his account of the more serious event. Not too smart!

I don't get why her husband stays with her. He has no reason to want to be with her whatsoever, yet he hangs around putting up with her crap like he's totally dependent upon her. His character made no sense whatsoever, and the "big twist" at the end, about about what really happened came as no surprise even to me, because it was so patently obvious. Once again, Evelyn ain't too smart.

Worse than this, she turns into a stalker, both of Juliette Whitman, the sylph-like diminutive blonde her husband was unfaithful with, and that woman's husband, Noah, with whom Evelyn herself has an affair. This isn't just cyber-stalking either; she literally spies on these two people, and harbors the most abusive attitude towards Juliette, referring to her repeatedly as a whore, yet she never describes herself in those terms no matter how many times she goes at it with Noah. The sex scenes were quite well done, but the joy of those is tarnished by the fact that I really was starting to dislike Evelyn before they began, and they were juvenile.

Abandon' scarcely begins to describe this couple's approach to getting it on. At one point I read, when Noah offered to get a condom: Evelyn shook her head. "I have an IUD.", but no IUD is going to protect against venereal diseases, and neither of them stops for a second to think about this. She knows who Noah is, and evidently assumes he is clean because he's been married to the same woman for many years, but she has no idea if he's been faithful, and she knows for a fact that his wife has had at least one affair, so she has no idea what Noah's sexual health is, and he hasn't the faintest clue about hers, yet they go at it like rabbits without a hint of discussion regarding health. The only concern is that she might become pregnant (which is possible. She's only forty-one after all).

I never did get the back and forth over going to see a therapist about fixing their marriage. Evelyn mutely chides her husband over dithering on it, but when he pursues her about it, she reveals (to the reader, not to him) that she has no intention of going to one because she considers the marriage to be over! But the author herself forgets what the status is of their therapy plans. At one point in chapter eleven, and later in chapter nineteen, then again in chapter 24, Evelyn discusses with her husband the prospect of choosing a therapist from a list she's prepared and given to him. He says he likes the first one on the list, but then in the next chapter, he's saying he got her list, like they've never discussed it before. Later still, in chapter thirty, they're still harping on this. It made no sense at all!

When Noah abruptly breaks it off with Evelyn purportedly out of guilt, after their weekend "retreat" - or more like a weekend advance - she coldly dismisses him from the hotel room with every overtone of finality, but then she frets over why he's not calling her or sending her a birthday greeting? She's a moron. he feels so little guilt, evidently, that he goes at it agian with her as soon as she calls him to remind this guy whom she threw out of the hotel, that he forgot her birthday! No, I'm sorry, but no. Why should I want to read about a callous and selfish bitch like this, let alone empathize with her?

I'm sorry, but that's exactly what she was. Over the course of the story She turns into a creepy stalker, which is really where she's being going this whole novel. That's her only growth. She's vindictive and selfish, and gives precious little thought to this son she's supposed to be protecting. She helps cover up a serious crime and feels no guilt whatsoever about it. In the end she gets away scot-free with her behavior and is in fact rewarded for it. No. This novel is not worth reading, and I felt resentful of the time I wasted on it hoping it would improve or that there was some big moral lesson coming. Neither option happened.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Complete Marvel Cosmos with notes by Guardians of the Galaxy by Marc Sumerak

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

While this may have limited appeal, specifically to Marvel geeks and younger readers, I found it interesting and amusing. What does that say about me? Let;s not get into that! The book is a lot of text, but is also heavily illustrated, so it showed well only on my Bluefire Reader app on a tablet, and on my Adobe Digital Editions app on my desktop. In Amazon's crappy Kindle app it looked horrible. The images were tiny and disjointed and the text was all over the place.

What you see is what you get here: a tour of the Marvel Universe in all it's exotic improbability. Some of it is nonsensical, some whimsical, some engrossing, and some entertaining. The Guardians of the Galaxy have handwritten comments between paragraphs making wry and sarcastic observations on the text. Some are a bit trite and predictable, but many are amusing. There is a lot of mentions, of course, of Marvel's super hero stable, but the book is more of a tour guide, discussing cultures and interesting sights, with little "what to wear" and "where to eat" features which can be funny.

Covered are the Kree Empire, the Shi'ar Empire, and planets such as Asgard (including the ten realms), Battlerealm, Chitauri Prime, Earth, Ego, Halfworld, Moord, Planet of the Symbiotes, Weirdworld, Planet X, and the moon Titan, as well as non-planets such as Cancerverse, Dark Dimension, Darkforce Dimension, Knowhere, the city of K'un-Lun, Otherworld, The Superflow, the Negative Zone, the neutral Zone, and so on. It's pretty extensive!

I recommend this for anyone who wants to dig deeper into Marvel's extensive universe and have some fun along the way.

Dalmatian in a Digger by Rebecca Elliott

Rating: WARTY!

I really can't approve of a book for young children which shows such dangerous and destructive behavior, although I do thank the publisher for this advance review copy.

I can understand the impulse to write a book for young children about heavy machinery. Who isn't impressed by the power of these machines we've built? They're loud, and colorful and mighty, and they're especially impressive to children, but when you get right down to it, such machines could equally be defined as destruction machines as they are typically defined as construction machines, right? I think it's interesting how we choose to consistently define them positively when what they really do is remake nature in our urban image.

It's a necessary evil, I admit, but I would question how necessary. I think it's arguable that these are not the answer to everything. In relation to this specific story though, all we are really celebrating here is the mindless destruction of a virgin forest by these machines, for no better purpose than to build a tree house, which in the end seems to make use of nothing that these machines have done! So why was this pristine forest pillaged and razed?! I think it sends entirely the wrong message to a young generation.

It's a bad precedent when we as a race are destroying our climate through our thoughtless activities, to present as a positive thing, the destruction of nature in so frivolous a fashion, but the sad thing is that this isn't even the worst problem with this book. We have here four very dangerous (if useful) machines: a bulldozer, a crane, a dump truck, and an excavator, and the young Dalamation, who stands in as surrogate for our own child here, is shown clambering all over them as they operate. Seriously? There is no warning to be found anywhere how dangerous this is, or how the kid should stay clear.

I think it's a mistake to show children playing on machinery like this and and especially thoughtless to show them on these things when they're actually working! If you wouldn't show the kid holding a working chainsaw, then why show this? I can't recommend this book. I really can't!

The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

Rating: WARTY!

I was completely misled by the book blurb here. I know that's what book blurbs do: it's their job, and you can't blame the author for them unless the author self-publishes, but a blurb usually has something to do with the story it's purportedly describing. This one really did not - at least not as judged by the first fifty percent of this novel, which is all I could stand to read.

I thought I was getting an advance review copy of a supernatural story: the Devil and all His Works kind of thing - but it turned out to be nothing more than a slasher book, worthy of the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies. I gave up on it at fifty percent because of this. I was thoroughly disgusted with it and completely turned off by it.

The blurb tells it like it's all about Siobhan, the young daughter of a nun who committed suicide, but the first half of the book is not about Siobhan at all, except in the most cursory sense. It consists of long, tedious excerpts from her mom's secret diary, which are told in first person voice - the very voice I most detest.

One major reason I detest it is because of the utter lack of credibility in first person accounts which are unbelievably detailed and far too precise to actually be a first person account. Any cop listening to a story like that from a witness would immediately dismiss it as made-up at best, and outright lies at worst. No one tells a story of something that happened to them in this manner except in novels and it's so unrealistic that I cannot stand to read it. It's very rare to find a 1PoV novel that's worthy of reading. This one didn't even come close.

The worst part was the account of the rape. I've never been raped and I can't pretend for a second I can speak for anyone who has, but speaking from my own PoV and from what I have read about this topic, including people who had been forced to suffer it, this account by Siobhan's mom was ridiculous in the extreme. To me, it was insulting to those who have been violated like this and cheapened the real horror and brutality of it. I recommend that the author read some of those accounts, and completely rewrite this section of the novel, and then he might avoid clunky dialog like, "As my body was violated I felt defiled." Seriously?

Even if this had happened to Siobhan's mom the way she said, I honestly could not believe for a minute that she would write the account of it the way she did in, so much lurid detail with word-for-word conversations - not in an account intended for her own daughter. It felt like she was telling a story rather than recounting something horrific which had actually happened to her. And why would she? Why not just say "I was raped and made a pact with the Devil, and I took my revenge on those who attacked me"? It made no sense whatsoever that she would write it like this for page after page, after page, and it made me fully aware throughout the entire time that I was reading a sensationalized and revoltingly-misguided attempt to stir up sexual emotion rather then tell a realistic story.

This is the problem with 1PoV. Siobhan's mom could not have been present for some of this story, so there is no way she could recount what happened, and there's no way that someone who had been traumatized like that - broken and injured, and put into a coma - could (or would even want to) recall so much detail of what happened. Even if she did, I cannot believe for a minute than any mom would share all this to her daughter in so much gory and sordid detail. It was like the author thought that rape alone wasn't bad enough, and unless he went into immense detail about it, there really was no crime to "justify" her behavior afterwards - like this woman hadn't really been raped unless she was further violated with all the nasty fine points.

The diary goes on to describe not just the rape in excruciating detail, but also how her mom took bloody revenge on those who had abused her, killing them in brutal fashion worthy only of cheap B movies. It was too ridiculous and at this point was so far from what the blurb had told me I'd be reading, that I quit in disgust. I cannot recommend this book based on the misleading blurb and the fifty percent I read which treats rape so lightly. If you're into splatter-punk, then this might be for you, but if you wanted a supernatural thriller, you're in the wrong book.