Showing posts with label fairy-tales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fairy-tales. Show all posts

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Big Book of Twisted Fairy Tales by Sue Nicholson


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Unenchanted by Chanda Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Once Upon a Kiss by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Replacement by Brenna Yanoff


Rating: WARTY!

This was my first and last Brenna Yanoff. The story started out sounding like it was heading somewhere, but it never did! At least it had not by halfway through which is where I abandoned it out of boredom. Main character Mackie Doyle is some sort of elf or fairy who was left in the crib of the real Mackie years before. Mackie knows he isn't human. He suffers daily and reacts badly to iron, so the entire first half of the novel is him whining about how bad his life is.

I kept thinking that something was going to happen - something had to happen - to change or bring change, but it never did. The closest it came is when someone in the know told him that he was dying, but even that didn't seem to be the kick in the pants this story needed badly, and that was where I quit it. At that point I would have been happy had he died, since I have better things to do with my time than listen to a main character whine almost non-stop about his life. Maybe if he had died, a more interesting person would have stepped up and told their story, but I didn't care by then. This book sucked. Period.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner


Rating: WARTY!

I didn't like this at all. I got interested in it because it sounds like the kind of thing I might write, but the story changes were such obvious ones that it didn't feel inventive or ambitious at all, and so after reading a couple of pages of the first one, I started skimming others and after two or three of those, and seeing that they were much the same, I was done with this book. Maybe it will amuse you more than it did me. The three little pigs was mildly amusing, but I couldn't rouse much interest in it, and none at all in any of the other stories. I can't commend it based on what I saw of it.

The stories the author covers are as follows FYI. The book is only a very short book so each story is really short:

  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • The Emperor's New Clothes
  • The Three Little Pigs
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Three Codependent Goats Gruff
  • Rapunzel
  • Cinderella
  • Goldilocks
  • Snow White
  • Chicken Little
  • The Frog Prince
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Songs of Our Ancestors Vol 2 by Patrick Atangan


Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "The Silk Tapestry and Other Chinese Folktales", this is the volume two I wondered about when I positively reviewed volume one back in October of 2018. This one was less than enthralling for me, so while it did hold the charm of the original to a certain extent, the stories seemed a lot less engaging, and I left the book feeling dissatisfied with it, so I cannot commend it.

The first story was of an old woman and her longsuffering daughter. The woman meets a water spirit one day at the river and is inspired to create a tapestry, based on vivid dreams that she has, of living a life as courtesan, but the story rambles on a bit too much, and then seems to completely fizzle out at the end so I wasn't at all sure what exactly happened. I didn't like it.

The next story went to the opposite end of the scale, featuring young, not old, and male, not female, and was about a boy who could paint pictures that took on a life of their own, rather reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon. This story was entertaining, and the artwork was good, but it never really seemed like it wanted to go anywhere. The third one is a creation story bearing a lot of resemblance to the Biblical story (or vice-versa), and featuring a lonely god who separates waters from waters and creates things. It was boring.

So overall, I was not impressed and unlike after reading the first volume, I do not feel inclined to pursue this series any further.


Monday, October 1, 2018

The Yellow Jar by Patrick Atangan


Rating: WORTHY!

This is supposedly volume one of a series of graphic novels exploring Asian folk tales, although to my knowledge there have been no others so far. This first one was compact, with dimensions barely larger than a novel, but in hard cover and in landscape format rather than portrait. It told two tales, the titular one and another, shorter one, Two Chrysanthemum Maidens, which was my favorite of the two.

Drawn in ukiyo-e style, and beautifully rendered and colored, both stories were eminently enjoyable. The Yellow Jar tells of a fisherman who nets a...you guessed it, a large, stoneware yellow jar. Actually it’s more like a pithos, which is what the Greeks would have called it. I have no idea what the Japanese would have called this, but it was big enough to hold a person, because when he opened it, it contained a woman who was conveniently looking for a husband. These days they do it over the internet, but back then? Fishing net! LOL!

The couple get along well and everything is peachy until it’s not. Of course something goes wrong. He has lied to her about where she came from - claiming the jar was lost and she was afloat in the ocean when he found her, but she discovers the jar buried in the garden and because he lied, she leaves. The man chases after her but leaves it too late and he spends three years looking for her only to find she's now being held captive by this demon in a castle in the mountains. Fortunately the demon is a gentleman who insists on her acquiescing to his desires rather than ravishing her by force. And of course the fisherman rescues her.

In the second story, this man's beautiful garden is invaded by what appear to be two weeds - which are depicted delightfully as tiny women. In the end they prove to be pretty flowers, and attract wide attention, but when he splits them, moving the less appreciated one to a hidden location, it wilts terribly, but all's well that end's well as Master Shakespeare would have it.

I thought this volume was a delight and I commend it.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Last Jungle Book by Stephen Desberg, Henri Reculé


Rating: WARTY!

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

In Rudyard Kipling's original Jungle Book stories, Mowgli is first introduced as a wild man living in the forest who is recruited into the forest ranger service because of his extraordinary jungle craft. He marries, has a child, and returns to the forest. In later stories, his childhood is related, but it really isn't quite like the sanitized Disney version (is anything?!).

I was very disappointed in this version, which let's face it is more of an introduction than a story. The blurb was completely misleading in that it suggests that Mowgli (rhymes with cow-glee) has returned to the scene of his childhood to write the last chapter in it - which I presumed would the the dispatch of his hated enemy Shere Khan (which means 'Tiger Chief', not 'lame'! 'Lungri' means lame - it was a nickname for Khan, who was lame). The problem is that none of this happens, nor will it since Mowgli is a silver-haired old man now in this story.

All we get is a pictorial re-telling of the popular version of Jungle Book with nothing new added. It makes Mowgli's vow at the end - to drape Shere Khan's pelt over the council rock of the wolves, all the more hollow, since no such thing ever happened in this story. It did happen in the original jungle books stories - not the draping but the capture of the pelt, so maybe there are more volumes to come, but even if there are, I was so disillusioned with this one that I have no interest in reading any more. This contributed nothing new, and while the artwork was acceptable and the writing not awful, neither of these offered anything truly new, original, or outstanding.

I can see why this was on Net Galley's 'Read Now' shelf. I cannot recommend it. I'd recommend going to Kipling's original material and reading that - and I believe it's all out of copyright now if you're looking for story ideas!


Power to the Princess by Vita Weinstein Murrow


Rating: WARTY!

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

Although I was enjoying this book I can do none other than rate it poorly because of the truly poor reading experience I had with it.

The book interested me because in some ways it's similar to one I am currently engaged in writing - variations on fairy tales. It perhaps doesn't need to be remarked to serious readers that there are too many reboots of fairy tale stories such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast on the market right now. I blame Disney and YA writers. The genre has become flooded with cheap knock-offs, and this means that if you have an idea for such a book, then you have to write something truly different to make a splash.

That's my plan and that was obviously also this author's plan. What I had feared was that she had beaten me to it, but our ideas are very different thankfully, and mine is aimed at grown-ups whereas her is aimed at a younger audience, so I am continuing with mine!

The thing is that you can't copyright an idea for a novel! You have to turn that idea into a book before you can consider it finished and this book truly is a well-finished work. It consists of several short stories based on traditional folk tales and commendably it goes back to the original roots of the stories, but then it amends them in diverse and inclusive ways. It's a great idea. There's no Disney all cis-gendered, all white-washed tales here thank goodness (at least based on what I managed to read)! The first three were Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Snow Queen.

Amusingly if annoyingly enough, the Snow Queen was where I was frozen out. Quite literally. I read the first two stories, but ran into increasing problems with the book ”sticking” such that I could not swipe pages nor enlarge or reduce them (the text is quite small even on my iPad so I had to enlarge each page for a better reading experience, not having falcon eyes!). I was reading it in Bluefire Reader on my iPad - an app I recommend highly.

Normally I have zero issues in Bluefire Reader, but it was becoming increasingly unresponsive with this book open, and it eventually locked up the app entirely. I closed and restarted only to run into the same problem. On a second restart, the novel wouldn't even open. I tried a reboot of the iPad, but this changed nothing, so I deleted the book from Bluefire and went back to Net Galley for a fresh copy only to find I could no longer download it - it's archived! I hope this isn’t indicative of the experience a regular reader will have.

I have to allow that I was irritated, to put it politely, at being frozen out like this, especially since I'd only downloaded this a few days ago. To me there's a contract when I agree to review a book: I will post a review, guaranteed. It would be nice to feel the publisher felt the same way and made the book available until the review was published, but I'm just an amateur reviewer and although I'm just as dedicated to this craft as professional reviewers (perhaps more so since I don't get paid for this!), I don't merit such considerations. That's just the way it is - and an argument in favor of print books, huh?! LOL!

It occurred to me that perhaps the book began misbehaving on my pad because it had been closed on Net Galley? I don't know, but they understandably have so many protections on these things these days that it would not surprise me if that happened. Usually when that happens, there is a note in Bluefire telling me the book has expired (in a non-fatal way!). So all I can conclude is that this was a poor or corrupted download copy. it would have been nice to have been able to fix that and finish reading it.

As I said, I was enjoying the book prior to this, but I cannot rate a book positively that gives such a poor reader experience, so this is why I rate this negatively.


Friday, June 1, 2018

The Enchanted Chest by Jean-Francois Chabas, David Sala


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note this is not a graphic novel despite being listed as one! it is instead a short-story with illustrations on alternating pages.

This was a super-cute story with great artwork. A fisher pulls up this ornate chest from the ocean and ends up having to turn it over to the emperor. It's locked, and he tries in vain to get it open by means of calling-up one official and expert after another: the Locksmith, the Strong Man, the Magician, the Alchemist, and finally the lynx who can see through anything, including the emperor's shallowness.

This was different: a fun, well-illustrated and nicely told tale, and I recommend it.


Friday, March 30, 2018

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which I enjoyed. I read and liked Zeeley by this same author. This one is a short collection of African American folk tales, sadly fueled by the USA's history of slavery and assembled here by the author. It was ably told by Andrew Barnes, and these tales were some of the most weird-ass tales I've ever heard (and that's saying something!). As much as I enjoyed this, I was rather disturbed that this was in the children's section of the local library, because there were some rather gory tales!

For example in one story a man kills his grandmother and tries to sell her body in town. Another tale is a Just-So story of how the tortoise got its shell pattern - which was by being beaten by a magically animated cowhide! I plan on having a word with the librarian at my library to ask them if it really is best suited for the children's area or if it should be in the adult area - or at least have an advisory attached tot he case. These are not your simplistic, fluffy, bouncy fairytales. On the other hand, some of the Grimm fairytales were rather...well grim, with witches dining on oven-fresh children, so maybe it's not that bad in comparison?

The titles in this collection are:

  • Animal Tales
    1. He Lion, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Rabbit
    2. Doc Rabbit, Bruh Fox, and the Tar Baby
    3. Tappin, the Land Turtle
    4. Bruh Alligator and the Deer
    5. Bruh Lizard and Bruh Rabbit
    6. Bruh Alligator Meets Trouble
    7. Wolf and Birds and the Fish-Horse
  • Tales of the Real, Extravagant, and Fanciful
    1. The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower
    2. A Wolf and Little Daughter
    3. Manual Had a Riddle
    4. Papa John's Tall Tale
    5. The Two Johns
    6. Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man
  • Tales of the Supernatural
    1. John and the Devil's Daughter
    2. The Peculiar Such Thing
    3. Little Eight John
    4. Jack and the Devil
    5. Better Wait Till Martin Comes
  • Slave Tales of Freedom
    1. Carrying the Running Aways
    2. How Nehemiah Got Free
    3. The Talking Cooter
    4. The Riddle Tale of Freedom
    5. The Most Useful Slave
    6. The People Could Fly

I loved these stories and moreover, they're a great source of inspiration for writers looking to write something that's not a tediously warmed-over fairytale.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce


Rating: WARTY!

This was a novel I bought thinking it might give an interesting take on the Snow Queen story, but while it started out great, it failed about halfway through when the main character stupidly left her car unlocked with valuables inside, stupidly chased after the men who stole from her, stupidly ran into their trap, and stupidly got captured by "gypsies" who of course were magical people and knew all about the Snow Queen and could help this totally ineffectual non-hero of a main female character. Stereotype Much Jackson Pearce?

The Snow Queen (aka Snedronningen) was originally written by Hans Christian Andersen and was first published, appropriately on or about the winter solstice of 1844. He gets absolutely zero mention or credit, not even in this author's acknowledgements. What an ingrate of a rip-off artist she is. Now I like her less than I liked the main character! She even steals the name of one of the main characters from Snow Queen - Kai, for the guy Ginny goes tumbling after like Jill down a hill. That's Ginny, because the author evidently wasn't interested in ripping off the name Gerda (the main girl in the story) even as she ripped-off pretty much the entire story!

The Snow Queen has no name in the original (not that Andersen chose to share, but she was modeled on actor Johanna Maria Lind, better known as Jenny Lind so why call her Mora? Why not Johanna? Did the author not know or care enough about the original story to think of this? Names are important in stories, but apparently not to this author who didn't care enough about her characters to think about what the names mean. If she didn't care, why should we? Just FYI, Kai is really form Kaj which means Earth.

Andersen apparently fell in love with Jenny, but she wasn't interested in him so he modeled the icy heart of the snow queen on this rejection. That's a far more interesting story than this author delivered. Wh not name her as an anagram of Snedronningen, for example, Rennin Songend? Gerda comes form a Norse word meaning protected, which makes sense when you think of the story. The best the author could come up with as a replacement was Ginny? Which means Virgin? The two are nothing alike! Alexia and Shamiria both mean pretty much the same thing as Gerda. Would not one of those have been better? Oh, but it has to be an all-American white girl, and it has to be set in the USA because it's YA! Never mind!

The book was first person because the law requires that every YA novel to be first person, or the author will end up in the cooler, right? Wrong! It especially has to be worst person voice if it has a main female character, right? No! This author admitted what a juvenile mistake she'd made when she had to add chapters (and a prologue, which I skipped as usual...yawn) in third person from the perspective of Mora, the name of the Snow Queen in this novel. Mora is Gaelic and means 'star of the sea' so it has nothing whatsoever to do with ice, snow or cold! This author is pretty dumb when it comes to names. Those third person chapters could easily have been left out. It was very amateurish to include them and it spoiled the book even more than the author was already managing to do.

Like I said, I got about halfway through and asked, "why am I even reading this?" I had no good answer and dropped it like a melting icicle. Unlike such an icicle, it was going nowhere and the main character was too limp to care about. I cannot recommend this. It'll be a cold day in Georgia (USA) before I read anything else by this author. If her next work is anything like this novel, then it's a waste of a perfectly good tree. I'd rather look at the the tree.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Harry's Lovely Spring Day by Nathan GK, Janelle Dimmett


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an out-and-out old-fashioned romantic fairy-tale starring Harry the Mouse who lives in a box on a street in what looks a lot like a French town, although the author is British and the artist American! Janelle Dimmett's illustrations are painstakingly detailed, even down to individual leaves drawn on trees!

I enjoyed Harry's Spooky Surprise by NGK, not to be confused with scientist GK Nathan, so it was perhaps to be expected that this one would also pass muster. Harry is helped by passer-by Katie the mouse when his house is blow away in a storm. Those refrigerator boxes are not what they used to be since Trump's steel tariff, are they?! LOL!

Anyway, Katie kindly donates her umbrella top Harry to help him out. She doesn't need it, she claims, because she's off to the country to live where it evidently never rains! She hops on the bus and away she goes (mice can hop really, impressively high!). Harry decides he must find her and thank her and well, romance happens!

Told in simple rhyming couplets, the story is quite charming, and will doubtlessly and endlessly entertain young kids. I read in an author interview about the concept of paying it forward, although Harry actually isn't paying anything forward here, he's really just taking advantage of a kindness - but not in a mean way. He is thankful Katie and that's important too. But for readers and kids, the story doesn't have to end when the book does. Kids and their grown-ups can take the story on, discussing how it might unfold if Harry had donated his newly-acquired umbrella to someone else, and so on!


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum


Rating: WARTY!

This novel is a product of its time and in some ways shouldn't be judged based on modern standards, but this review is not about how children in 1900 will perceive the 'modern fairytale', but how children and parents in the 21st century will, and I have to say up front that the book is long, tedious in parts and worst of all, decidedly gory. It's also - unsurprisingly - clueless when held up against our modern sensibilities. I did not like it and I cannot recommend it.

This is a print book that I got on close-out at a book store. It's a classic, heavy, solid tome, with glossy pages and illustrations, so it's a nicely put-together book overall, but the illustrations are bizarre; they make all the characters look like zombies on drugs! Austin-based artist Michael Sieben illustrated this book, but I have to say how disappointed I was with the colored drawings. They were ugly and unappealing. There were also pages where a quote from the text was strewn across the double-page, writ-large like it had been hand-printed in block caps. Who did these and what the point was I have no idea, but they contributed nothing positive to the overall appearance of this edition.

Prior to this reading, the only knowledge I had of this story was from the movie, which in its own time really wasn't a huge success (it took a decade to break even!) and which had multiple problems in filming and abundant continuity issues in the finished product. The movie only really took off once it began to be shown on TV, and while the two (book and movie) are the same in broad general terms, some of the details are quite different in the book as compared with the 1939 movie. I read somewhere that there are some forty differences which I guess isn't so surprising given Hollywood.

What jumped out at me is that there is no interaction between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West in the early part of the book. That was all added to the movie to create dramatic tension. Nor did Dorothy meet Glinda until the end of the novel. She met merely the Good Witch of the North at the beginning (Glinda was actually the good witch of the south), who gave her a mark on her forehead by means of a kiss, that protected her rather like the Mark of Cain!

In fact, the movie makes no sense in having Glinda appear and outright lie to Dorothy that she has to see the Wizard in order to get home! You may recall that Glinda tells her later that she's always had the power by clicking her heels Nazi style. Why would a good witch lie to keep her from going home? The book doesn't have this problem.

There's very little interaction with the munchkins either (and no singing!). Dorothy is off along the yellow brick road pretty briskly. One thing I did note is that during their journey, the scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Woodman really step-up, thereby disproving their supposed brainless, cowardly, and heartless traits by the things they do to help get their party to Emerald City.

A better writer than Lyman Frank Baum would have gathered these threads together at the end of the story and had the wizard point this out instead of having him hand out worthless baubles. The wizard claims to be a good man (and a bad wizard) but he's actually a deceitful con-artist who does nothing for his adopted people and gets away with it.

I was really surprised by how gory the book is. I know this was penned in an era of wild and crazy fairytales and he was writing a modern version of those (so he claimed), but I think it's far too much for young kids even in this era of overly violent video games, TV, and movies. Sensibilities were different over a hundred years ago in a time when fairy stories were having witches eat children, but Baum did not need to go that route, but he made the deliberate choice to do so

The Tin Woodman, for example is described as being that way because he was once a flesh and blood person, but the evil witch, by means of enchanting his axe, cut off in turn, his arms, his legs, his head, and finally cleaved his body in twain. Each time he lost a body part, the local tinsmith replaced the missing part, but not his heart. I can see why they wouldn't want to go into any detail about all that in the movie!

In turn, the Tin Woodman shows no qualms about cutting off the head of a wildcat chasing mice (thereby proving he does have a heart). He defends Dorothy from the wicked witch in defeating forty wolves by means of simply cutting off their heads one by one. Dorothy, waking up to a pile of headless wolves, shows no reaction whatsoever. No wonder wolves are scarce in California! Yes! Unsurprisingly, Oz is southern California. Dorothy crossed a desert from Kansas to get there - where else would it be?!

That sam,e night, the scarecrow defends her from evil crows also dispatched by the witch only to be dispatched themselves by means of his wrenching their necks one by one. The cowardly lion proves he isn't cowardly by scaring off the witch's henchmen. The scarecrow proves he isn't brainless by devising several means to help them on their journey. Contrarily, his movie-self proves he is brainless by screwing up his lines and getting the Pythagorean theorem wrong!

One amusing thing to me was that tin doesn't rust like iron does. It oxidizes of course, as most metals do, but it's quite resistant to this, so the tin man, were he were truly made from tin, likely wouldn't rust and seize-up as he's depicted as doing in the story. This isn't really important in the grand scheme of the story though, which moves along at a brisk pace when it isn't sitting in the doldrums inexplicably. It drags on at the end though when it ought to wind up smartly.

The real problem is that it's not very inventive, nor is it very interesting, except for me in noting the differences between it and the movie version! The writing is a bit leaden in tone, and too grown up. It's very politically incorrect being a product of the nineteenth century, so parents might want to consider whether they want their kids reading something so violent, so unappreciative of nature, and with little to redeem it.

Dorothy is hardly the modern girl. She's like a character from your typical modern YA story: helpless, weepy, and needy, and really never takes charge. She's very selfish and ungrateful, and hardly a strong female character, nor is she a resourceful one. She defeats both evil witches, yes, but not through smarts and bravery (or even by good looks!), but by pure accident in each case. In the first instance, her house falls on the witch and kills her, and in the second, she simply throws a convenient bucket of water at the witch and melts her!

Why a witch susceptible to water damage would keep buckets of water lying around her establishment is an unresolved mystery, Clearly Baum didn't think his wiring through at all, but that's a common problem with writers. Hopefully it's all clear now why I cannot recommend this. There were too many issues with it, and there are far better stories about intelligent and self-possesed young women to be had. I'd recommend looking for those in place of this one. The Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen have told a few.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Frozen by Jennifer Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

From a story by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Shane Morris, and a screenplay by Lee, who also directed this as a movie - the most successful animated film of all time - this book for young children distills the epic movie which I, who am not a big Disney fan, really loved, and brings it to a level where young children can enjoy it at their own level and their own pace. It was read appropriately by Andi Arndt.

When I say read appropriately, I mean that Andi Arndt gets that the voice needs to be a little slower and well-pronounced, and she does a fine job. It felt odd to me at first because the voice sounded rather pedantic, so I had to keep reminding myself that this was for very young children, and it's been a while since I've had those around the house!

I'm not going to go into the story at all because it's the same as in the film, with the same dialog, but without the songs, and it's much shorter, of course. Pretty much everyone knows this film now, whether you have kids or not(!), and if you don't, this is a great way to learn what it's about with your young child and decide if you want to outlay the cash for the actual film. I recommend this as a worthy read (or in this case, listen!).


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola


Rating: WORTHY!

I considered this a worthy read, but it's the first in a series and I don't think based on this one, that I'd be interested in a series, but then it's not aimed at me; it's aimed at young children who might find it worth their time.

My biggest problem with it was that the story was really not original. It's merely a retread of the Sorcerer's Apprentice story. This guy works for Strega Nona (this term means grandmother witch). One day he sees her make spaghetti using a spell, but he misses a crucial part to turn-off the charm, and so when she's out and he makes his own pasta, it never stops spewing out.

Soon the whole village is being strung along but even they can't eat it all. Fortunately, Grandmother Witch returns in time to stop the issue and then the poor assistant has to eat all this pasta until he is fed up of it.... It was a fun read, but not really al dente enough for me to order a second course.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

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.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire


Rating: WARTY!

I liked the previous novel I read by this author, but this was another failed audiobook which went on too long and was far too rambling to hold my interest. The title was curious. It sounds like one David Weber would have chosen for his Honor Harrington series. Maybe I missed it but I never did figure out how the hell the title fit the story.

There are parts I liked and parts which amused me, but the author got off-topic way too many times and overall, the novel was a drag which I gave up on about two-thirds the way through. She seems to keep forgetting that her detective is supposed to be hunting down a missing teenager.

The novel is also brimming with tired trope and klutzy cliché. I've mentioned oddball names for fictional detectives before, no doubt, but the one in this story almost takes it to another level. She's called October Daye and goes by Toby for short. On the other hand, this isn't your usual detective, since it's a fantasy novel, with fairy characters. Toby herself is half fairy.

But the annoying first person voice is here, which I typically detest, although some writers can make it far less nauseating than others. Here, it wasn't too bad, but I think the reason for that is that it was seriously helped along by Mary Robinette Kowal, who read this book (and who is also an author in her own right), and whose voice I could certainly listen to for a long time without growing tired of it.

That doesn't mean the story didn't drag, and I feel that if I'd been reading a print or ebook, I would have quit it a lot sooner than I did, so this author owes this reader! But Seanan McGuire definitely seems to have a knack for attracting sweet readers to her books. Amy Landon's voice in the previous novel I listened to by this author (a stand-alone titled Sparrow Hill Road, which I rated positively despite the fact that it also dragged here and there) was really easy on the ear, too.

The problem, I felt, was that the author is so enamored of this little world she's created here that she goes off on tangents talking about aspects of it, and she forgets that she's actually supposed to be telling a story and not just describing scenery and character quirks.

I am definitely not one for those kinds of stories, and this is part of a whole series of such stories. In fact, it's number six in a series of thirteen as of this writing, but there was nothing in the blurb to indicate any such thing, which is how I came to read this one first. I'm not a big fan of series, either, and this novel is a great example of why not.

It's technically not necessary to have read the other five before reading this one, since it's a self-contained story, but there's also a history that's referred to often, and there are ongoing story arcs that cover more than one volume, and which meant nothing to me since I was got in on this in the middle.

There were more issues in that Toby was a coffee addict. Barf! Can we not find some new trait to give our first person voice detective? Please? She also had an old car that got damaged, so there really was nothing new here except that it was set in a fairy world rather than the real world, and that simply was not enough to save this poorly-told tale.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an awesome graphic novel about a princess whose father is the biggest slacker in the kingdom, laying around in bed all day feigning illness, leaving his daughter to do all the work, which she handles with aplomb, and industriousness and she takes charge of the various castle staff of mummies, and ghosts, ghouls and zombies, and receives werewolf guests, and so on.

When the cook quits and she hires Count Spatula, who is an awesome cook and a very supportive friend to her, there's trouble in the castle. The king's spy reports back to him and he insists Dee fire the guy, but it all works out in the end, when Dee puts her foot down, and the king learns he must reform.

I though this was slyly hilarious and I recommend it. I will be on the lookout for other work by this author.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Burnhill


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a truly great fairy-tale which did precisely what I always advocate - take the road less traveled. There's nothing worse than a cookie-cutter novel which tells you the same story and in the same way you already heard it a thousand times before. Kelly Burnhill gets this.

In a mirror world, which was a bit annoying because it wasn't explained until the end of the story, lives Princess Violet, who is not beautiful - not at a shallow skin depth anyway, but who is gorgeous inside, with her mom and dad. She's a tomboy and a tear-away, and feels not quite like a 'real' princess because she's been shamed by all those fairy-tales which have a princess who is typically defined to skin-depth and has nothing else to offer but her heart to whichever wandering jackass claims it. Yes, Disney, I'm looking at you! Although even Disney seems to be getting the message of late.

When Violet and her buddy Demetrius discover a sinister painting hidden in the depths of the castle, and her mom dies shortly after yet another stillborn baby, while her dad is off hunting dragons, things start going south badly. The kingdom is suddenly at war, and The Nybbas in the painting promises Violet she can be beautiful and have everything she wants if only she will listen to him. Dad returns with the dragon he captured for studying, but everything seems to be falling irreparably apart!

The story did start dragging a bit in the last third. At over four hundred pages, it was about 25% too long, and should have been edited better, but that aside, this was an awesome story and I fully recommend it. The only real problem I had was with Iacopo Bruno's illustrations, which once again bore little relationship to the text of the story.

How an artist can be so blind and disrespectful to an author, or how an author can be so uncritical is a mystery. Maybe she had no choice and was saddled with this by the publisher. I don't know, but if that was the case then the question becomes that of how a publisher can be so utterly clueless! This kind of complete disconnect is why I flatly refuse to go with Big Publishing™.

Let me detail a few of the problems with the illustrations. We're quite clearly told that Violet has mismatched eyes, not just in that one is a different color to the other, but that her eyes are literally different sizes. She also has wiry hair and bad skin. None of this is visible in any of the illustrations. She looks ultra cute in all of them with fine hair, great skin and tediously ordinary eyes!

After Violet is transformed, she's essentially exactly thew same as she was before the transformation! So where is the contrast? There was none. Yes, her hair is longer, but the artist even screwed that up. The author makes it quite clear in the text that Violet's feet have shrunk and her hair grown to Rapunzel proportions. Not a single one of the illustrations shows these changes. To me, this means the artist is quite simply stupid or incompetent. I'm sorry, but what other conclusion is there? That he's a lousy coward maybe, and doesn't have the courage to illustrate this the way the author wrote it, thereby undermining the very message the author is trying to send? Or did the author chicken out? There really is no excuse for sabotaging the writing like this and whoever is responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

On a related topic, there was one part of the text where Violet and Demetrius crawled through a small gap in a wall. The text makes it quite clear that they're reduced to crawling, yet the illustration shows them walking through the gap like it's a regular doorway! In another instance, the text says a door handle made a mark in the plaster when it was thrown open angrily, but illustration shows the door with rope handles! Rope is hardly likely to make a mark in the plaster! So I score a zero for the illustrations.

Even the map which is included inside the front and back covers makes little sense, not only in relation to the story, but also with regard to the map itself. I mean why does a trade route not visit any cities, for example?! Given this, why even mark it when it has nothing to do with the story?

There were writing issues, too. I mean, did this castle really have plaster for the door handle not to make a mark in? Such a thing is highly doubtful given the context of the story and the state of the castle in general, but it's a relatively minor issue. More problematic is a description of a horse being "So black he was nearly blue." Excuse me? So dark blue he was nearly black makes sense, but it's idiotic to put it this way.

Also problematic is that at one point we're told that the king has only two days to get ready for a war, and then nothing happens, but later, there is a bustle of activity aimed at this very readiness, none of which had a remote chance of being completed in two days! And yeah, all the "my loves" and "darlings', especially those from the story-teller, were frankly creepy.

So yes, there were some writing issues that the author really needed to have nailed down. These are somewhat less important in children's stories since they tend to be less exacting, but some children might notice things like that. Do such children deserve less because they're children? Not in my books!

That said, I really liked this novel and consider it a very worthy read, so I recommend it to adults and children alike, and particularly to writers who want to break the mold, as this author has done so definitively here.