Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts

Monday, June 26, 2017

Prym and the Senrise by PS Scherck, Sheng-Mei Li


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a simple story which I was unsure about when I began it, but which I ended up enjoying immensely even though it’s written for a younger audience than I represent. I felt the story was slightly lacking in 'magical' although now I think about it, I have a hard time trying to define what I mean by that, and I'm not going to let vague feelings get in the way of a positive review for a story that well deserves it. The writing was engaging, and Sheng-Mei Li's artwork was a joy - one I would have liked more of.

The characters were delightful, and interesting, even though the story has its roots in established mythology of supernatural and fantasy characters. I had never heard of the Steigens, so this was a fun and new revelation, and I liked how they were represented. They're a sort of underwater fairy people, who live in the deeps and are related to vampires in that they cannot be exposed to sunlight on the surface, or they will suffocate.

This limitation does not please Prym, who has heard tales from her fishy and mollusc-y friends Daeggar and Seffy, that the senrise is the most beautiful thing, full of joy and color. Prym, who loves colors, cannot get the idea of watching a brilliant senrise out of her head, and so she sets about learning how it is she can get to see one.

I loved Prym, who is sensible despite her adventurous streak. She's a strong character who is possessed of self-confidence and derring-do, and she starts her quest in a library, which is admirable. And she succeeds, not by machismo, but by thoughtful approaches and inventive solutions.

There were a couple of minor issues with the text. I read, "...an arrow of pure energy would appear, knocked and ready...." An arrow is 'nocked', not 'knocked'. This is a common error and no big deal; most people probably wouldn’t even notice it. The other issues is more of a pet peeve of mine rather than an outright error because I've seen this done so often it’s actually becoming an accepted part of the language, but to me a book is 'titled' - not 'entitled'. Entitlement is something different entirely. Or is it tirely?!

The book worked both on the smart phone and on a tablet in a Kindle app, although the cover was broken inexplicably into about fifteen pieces on both devices. The rest of the artwork looked fine, especially on the tablet. One odd thing I noticed on both the tablet and the phone was the appearance of strange capital letters such as 'P' and 'H' apparently randomly in the text, such as at location 81, where it read (or red!): P"You know what I said...", at location 159, where I read, "...a skull Pthat looked...", and at location 180, where I read, "Cold hands Phad wrapped...".

There were several instances of this kind of thing. In the iPad they were red letters, on the phone they were the same color as other text (white on black by my choice because it saves the battery!). Part of the problem in my opinion is Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app which cannot handle anything that contains pictures or fancy text with any reliability at all. Barnes & Nobles's Nook does a much better job in my experience.

I don't know where the 'P's and 'H's came from, but the red 'I' at location 6 appears to be a drop-cap from the top of the page. It was missing from the start of the chapter, which began, "n the farthest reaches...' rather than "In the farthest reaches...". The 'I' which should have been up there was several lines below, between "In the beginning," and "there was only one magic creature". Weird, but that's Kindle for you. This is why I detest Amazon. The book was viewed on an iPad in the Kindle app and on an LG smart phone in the Kindle app.

But hopefully these issues will be fixed before publication. Or you can play it safe and buy the print version! I checked this out in the PDF version in Adobe Digital editions on my desktop computer and it looked beautiful there. The text looked (I imagine!) exactly as the author imagined it, and the images in particular were gorgeous, especially the one of Prym watching the sunrise. That needs to be a screensaver or a wallpaper!

In conclusion, I recommend this book for a fun read for younger children. It's great fantasy tale, well told, and even adults can enjoy it, especially if they're young at heart.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lightning Thief by Rick Rordan, Robert Venditti, Atilla Futaki


Rating: WARTY!

I failed the original novel because it simply was not entertaining, and this is no better. It's the same as the novel so if you came to this via the movie, be prepared for the two to be nothing alike. The movie was significantly better, even though it was average for a movie - and just as racist as this novel.

There is no Gorgon in the novel, which was sad, nor is there a visit to the faux Parthenon in Nashville, and no fight with a hydra. There is no lightning bolt hidden in a shield here, and no wise-cracking Rosario Dawson playing Hades's wife, which was a real highlight in the movie. The final battle isn't between Luke and Percy, but between the token black guy and Percy. Zeus is dressed in a business suit, and in the one single touch I did appreciate, Poseidon is dressed as a surfer dude!

Grover is white in the graphic novel, so I guess they made him black in the movie for no other reason than the one Hollywood always employs: we must have a token black person in this movie so they can't say we're racist. Well guess what, guys - and let me put this in an 'in a world' scenario so you in Hollywood can grasp it - In a world where the vast majority of people are not white, anything that doesn't fairly represent those proportions is racist, period. Get a fucking clue. Even the US is a quarter non-white, so where was that represented in this book? Yeah, you know it.

Every single person in the entire graphic novel was white except for one token villain, who has daughter who was white! I was done right there. This novel sucked and should be boycotted.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ocean of Secrets Vol 1 by Sophie-Chan


Rating: WARTY!

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

Despite her name, this author is not Asian as far as I know, but chooses to tell stories and illustrate in that style. I have to say, to be fair, that I am not a fan of manga, but this one sounded interesting. In the end I was quite disappointed by it. I think this artist can draw, and draw well, so I believe she has a career, but I am far from convinced this is the best story to launch it with.

For some reason, the author chose to put a message in between the introductory pages and chapter one, which I found annoying and inappropriate, and which completely took me out of suspension of disbelief. I actually quit reading another ebook just a few days ago because the author did something similar (and misspelled 'shekels' in doing so!). In this case I decided to continue on since I don't normally read introductions anyway, but when I did, the story did not thrill me at all. I quit before the end because it was not entertaining me at all. The story made no sense, and reading it 'backwards' for no good reason did nothing to put me in a favorable mood!

There was a watermark on each page which interfered with appreciating the art (and I realize that this isn't the author's doing). I cannot see the point of the watermark because if lowlifes out there are going to abuse this, then a sorry watermark isn't going to stop them, while for the rest of us, the majority of us, it's nothing but an annoyance which interferes with our appreciation of the writer's work, and worse in this case, with the artist's work.

To me the story was very weak and derivative, using as it does the baseless magic of the four 'elements' of air, earth, fire, and water (as does The Last Avatar for example), which have never made any sense at all to me. I do realize they are a popular go-to for authors who are too lazy to think up a new system, but they're way over-used and unless you're going to do something truly original with them, I think you need to find something else.

Worse than this, though, the story was very much an info-dump, which is a problem with series, and which is one of several reasons why I'm not a fan of series in general, although I'm always holding out hope that I might find one that breaks the mold. The plot made little sense to me and having to read it backwards (as compared with the norm in the west) did not help.

I don't get it in an English version. I can see how an author might be so enamored of the manga form that she might want to try her hand at it, and it would need to be that way if Asian sales are hoped for (who wouldn't want to go on a book tour in Japan?!), but in the electronic age, we could have a regular version for those of us in the west and a reverse version for those in Asia. It's not like it's difficult to achieve this with current technology.

In the print version it's easy-enough to read backwards with little effort. You can even number the pages accordingly, but in the e-version, the pages are numbered wrong because the e-reader is doing the numbering (there are no numbers on the actual pages themselves, and is all-too-common with comic books). Technology has yet to reach the point where you can simply flip your tablet and start at the back! Instead you must navigate to the 'end' to start, and then you have to overcome your swiping habit to go backwards! All of this detracted from focusing on the most important thing - for me more important than the art - which is the story! It was there that my biggest disappointment lay as it happens.

Note that I'm not saying you can't follow your dream and write a manga that has nothing to do with Asian culture, but I think you have to keep in mid that it's your dream, and your potential readers may not be willing to buy into it unless you give them some really good reasons to do so. For me there were insufficient. This is an English book throughout, set in the US (or more accurately in the air above central America), and it has nothing to do with Asia or any Asian topics so for me the justification was weak. If the story had been engrossing, I would have been happy to overlook other issues, but as it happened, taken as a whole, the package simply didn't work for me. It felt annoying and pretentious. I do wish the author every success in her career, but I can't recommend this one.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

This volume concludes the trilogy and is set a year after the previous one, when Gemma is about to come out to society. She's still at the Spence Academy, but finds she has lost her power to enter the realms at will. When she finally does get in she discovers the Pippa has been building a little queendom for herself and has changed significantly, now bordering on megalomaniacal evil. Pippa is unable to cross to the afterlife because she has become so embedded in the realms by this time.

Feeling like her life is slipping out of her control, Gemma decides she has no choice but to follow every clue and discover what is really going on here since her mother was so utterly useless in helping her. After rambling around London following rather tedious clues, Gemma enters the realms again and visits the Winterlands in hopes of finding the so-called Tree of All Souls. When they touch the tree they get visions, and Gemma's is of Eugenia Spence telling her about this mysterious girl in lavender she keeps seeing. Evidently, the girl has a dagger which is somehow a threat to the Winterlands.

Felicity and Ann are becoming increasingly frustrated with Gemma's refusal to allow them back into the realms, and they discover that they don't need her because there's an alternate way to get there. When Felicity encounters the very dangerous Pippa, the latter tries to talk her into eating the realm berries which will maker her visit to the realms permanent so she can always be with Pippa - who's true love was evidently Felicity all along.

In a big showdown at the end, Kartik sacrifices himself to save Gemma who then does what we all thought she'd done in volume two which was to give her power back to the realms, robbing herself of power and sealing the two worlds from each other. She then retreats to the Americas which is what all young girls do when they have no power, of course!

Some issues with this last volume, but overall, I recommend it as a fitting finale to the trilogy. It's a worthy read, despite a few problems here and there (mostly there).


Rebel Angels by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Now we're two months along from the end of the first novel, and we learn that Kartik has been ordered by the anti-Order known as the Rakshana, to induce Gemma to perform a certain piece of magic and to then kill her. Gemma must go into the realms, and "bind" the magic therein, in the name of the "Eastern Star".

Unfortunately for Kartik's plan, it's Xmas and Gemma goes to London to finally meet her family. Her brother Tom is supposed to pick her up, but Gemma cannot find him and she believes she's being stalked by someone from the Rakshana. Rather brazenly, she accosts a nearby young man (of course), Simon Middleton, and feigns acquaintanceship with him. Middleton is from a wealthy family and is quite taken with Gemma, so he invites her family to dine with him.

It turns out that Middleton was very conveniently at Eton, a very manly college, with her brother. Moving around London, Gemma also runs into Hester Moore, who is known to Gemma because she used to teach art at Spence, and who now conveniently lives in London. Hester's replacement at Spence, Miss McCleethy, is the one who Gemma believes is really Circe.

While on the topic of complete, utter, and highly suspicious convenience, Gemma's brother works at Bethlem Royal Hospital a psychiatric institution (although that's not how it was known back then) from which we derive the word bedlam. Conveniently, one of Tom's patients is Nell Hawkins. When Gemma is conveniently with her one day, she conveniently rambles on about "The Temple" which is the very thing Kartik had requested that Gemma seek out in the realms! it turns out that Nell was once also conveniently a student at a school at which McCleethy once taught.

We learn here why Felicity requested power as her wish from the realms - when a girl called Polly comes to stay with them, Felicity warns her severely to lock her doors and not let Felicity's uncle into her room. Gemma's father is a drug addict and is not well, eventually winding up in a health facility.

In the finale to this volume, Gemma determines the real identity of Circe, and defeats her in open battle. She discovers the true meaning of the temple, which is quite messianic, and in discovering this, she finds she can distribute the magic democratically across the realms so it resides in no one person's hands.

Eminently readable and listenable, this novel was a bit too convenient in many places, but despite that, made for a worthy read. I recommend this as part of this complete series!


A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Gemma Doyle is a girl in her mid-teens who is rather less than thrilled with her lot with life with her mother in India. She dreams of going back to her native England where her father resides, and taking up the society life to which she believes she's entitled.

Gemma should be careful what she wishes for, because when her wish comes true, it’s at the cost of the tragic death of her mother. One day, out in the hot and dusty market place in Mumbai, Gemma's mother is approached by a man accompanied by a boy who is conveniently Gemma's age. The man relates a cryptic message to Gemma's mother, and her mum then demands that Gemma return home immediately. Gemma becomes so frustrated with her mother's secrecy that she runs away, and gets herself lost. She's visited by a horrible vision of her mother committing suicide, and when she finally makes her way to where her mother is, she discovers that her vision was true: her mother is dead, and subsequently Gemma is being hastily packed off to England, to be sequestered at the elite Spence Academy.

Gemma starts out by being the lonely newbie because of her derided Indian background, but when she discovers the snottiest girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation, Gemma finds herself elevated to the top notch of clique-dom. Finally, she's where she wanted to be. She begins to form a close relationship with Felicity and her two friends, Pippa and Ann. Gemma also learns that Kartik, the boy she saw with the man in Mumbai, is now in England! He warns her that she is in danger, and must close herself off to what happened to her mother if she wishes to remain safe.

Gemma increasingly has visions and one of these leads her to a cave in the school grounds, where she finds a 25-year-old diary written by Mary Dowd, a girl of Gemma's age, who also was a student at Spence. Gemma identifies with Mary because May also had visions which she shared with her friend Sarah Rees-Toome.

Gemma reads the diary and discovers that Mary was associated with a society known as the Order, initiates of which were able to open a portal to other realms. They could use this power to ease the passage of souls, and the power gave them prophetic insight and the power to create illusions. The four new friends create their own "Order", meeting in the cave.

As they read more of the diary and investigate the history of Spence, they discover that the two girls from a quarter century ago died in a fire at Spence along with the principal of the school.

Finally Gemma & Co travel to the realms which are weird, beautiful and wonderful. They do not travel there bodily but spiritually, leaving their bodies behind in the real world. Gemma is able to meet with her mother there, but predictably her mother is unnecessarily mysterious. She does, however, warn Gemma not to take magic from the realms into the everyday world because it would let them fall foul of Circe, who seeks this power and wishes to take over the realms. The magic of the realms allows them to have a wish granted. Ann, who is plain, requests beauty. Felicity, who feels abused, asks for power. Gemma wants insights into her self, and finally, Pippa seeks true love.

The girls begin a routine of secret night-time meetings in the cave when they visit the realms. Gemma discovers that her mother was Mary Dowd, who obviously she did not die in the fire but escaped and changed her name. She also learns that Sarah is Circe.

Gemma is the only one who can control the portal, and during one visit, Pippa is separated from them and is left behind as the others flee an evil power seeking them in the realms. Back in the real world, Pippa is now having a seizure. Gemma returns to the realms to retrieve Pippa, but Pippa has met her true Love there and refuses to return to real life and the arranged marriage which awaits her there. When Gemma returns to her own world, Pippa is dead.

I've also listened to the audio book version of this, narrated by Jo Wyatt, and I recommend that version, too. She does a thoroughly amazing job of narration and voices. I've had good success with Libba Bray, and although this is a series (a trilogy specifically) which I usually detest, this one turned out to be eminently engaging. I recommend it.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog


Rating: WORTHY!

I was so thrilled to read this book - an example of how to write a really well-done high-school romance. This book was amazing, and other writers of such works would do well to read this and learn from it. It was not perfect, by any means. I had a couple of issues with it, but those aside, the book was deep, well-written, passionate, amusing as hell, and amazing in how well the author controlled it, and brought it to closure.

Morgan Sparks is about to reach her sixteenth year and she gets to celebrate it with her lifelong partner, Cam Browne, who shares her birthday. That's the last great memory she has of the relationship, because almost from day one, things start going south. It turns out - hilariously, I thought - that macho football star Cam is a fairy. He was switched at birth with the Browne's newborn, and now he's about to turn sixteen himself, the fairies want him back. And Morgan isn't about to let that happen, but when he starts losing weight and growing wings out of his back, and Morgan is the only one who can see these changes, she starts to wonder if her dream romance is actually over for real.

A female fairy named Dawn arrives, and starts tutoring Cam in the ways of Fairy World. She's not supposed to be visible to anyone but Cam, yet Morgan can see her, which annoys Dawn. Dawn is, however, deadly. She has fairy magic and a mission not only to bring Cam back but to marry him and unite two fairy dynasties, and she is not about to let anyone get in the way of it, even if it means killing and maiming to accomplish her aim.

Morgan herself is psychic, yet she has a hard time seeing her own future, and has never seen future for herself and Cam. Her assumption has been that it will work out fine and they will always be together, but is it so? Or has she been so blind that she simply invented their future and now is about to find out the cold truth?

I loved this story and will look for more by this author. This story reminded me, a bit, of a story idea I have for a fairy tale, but fortunately this one is very different from what I had in mind, so I don't need to scrap mine! Phew! I did like this one. I liked that it was different, and that the author wasn't afraid to take a path less traveled. How sorry it is that far too many authors of this kind of story fail so dismally precisely because they're aping everyone else's stories? Kudos to Cyn Balog for blazing her own trail.

And kudos again for being unafraid to call it what it is: a fairy story. Nowhere in this book is there 'fae' or 'faerie'! It's 'fairy' all the way, and the author is proud of it; it's right there on the front cover. Good for her. If you're going to write a story like this and then let yourself be too embarrassed to use the word 'fairy' then I don't want to read your book anyway. And kudos to myself or being smart enough to recognize that this one might just be different! LOL!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rowan of the Wood by Christine Rose, Ethan Rose


Rating: WARTY!

Today I have three sorry reviews - sorry that I started reading the book in the first place! I read only a few chapters of each and was so disappointed that I DNF'd. Some idiots argue that you can't review a book when you haven't read it all, but they're morons. Yes, you can reject a book if it's garbage and or simply fails to move you anywhere other than irritation.

This is one of a pair of novels I picked up on close-out at a local bookstore. It was written by two fellow Texans, but I don't know the authors and probably would not have much in common with them if I did, they being evidently into to renaissance fairs and fantasy, and me...not so much! The books looked interesting, but when I finally got around to reading the first one, it was so loaded with fantasy trope that it turned me off. Tolkien did it all, so unless you have something really new to bring to the genre, what's the point?

This is my biggest problem with fantasy novels: they are so derivative and in a stagnating rut bordered on one side by the embarrassing lack of imagination prevalent in modern rip-offs, and on the other by a staggering absence of invention. Worse, in the case of this novel, the authors couldn't bring themselves to set the novel in is native Europe. I've seen this repeatedly in books and in so many movies. Gods forbid we should ever create a story set outside the USA. What's the point? There is nowhere else! Right?

So after an antiquated prologue so brief it may as well not exist (which I skipped as usual), we have another prologue in chapter one, which is fine. I advocate putting your prologue, if you must have one, in the first chapter. But then it skipped to the USA! Yes - let's get European fantasy and rather than set it in Europe, let's bring it to the US because really, who cares about anywhere else?>

And this from authors steeped in renaissance? You know there are plenty of third-world countries where people are perforce living lives of the same quality as those renaissance folks 'enjoyed'! Those who want to immerse themselves in that life can always move there if they really want an immersive experience. Yes I know, it's outside the US! Oh god what a quandary! Does even 'a place outside the US' exist in reality?

And do let us forget about the fact that the US has its own fantasy traditions abundant in Native American folklore. No! Those are simply not good enough! They're too primitive. Too childish. No, it must be genuine USDA grade A fantasy imported from Europe to count, but it must be set solidly in the good ole US of A to validate it. Sorry, but no, I don't shop there. The goods are tainted. This is why I quit reading this. There are many other books out there and more than a few of those get it right, I'm not going to waste time on reading any which are so very wrong-headed, and committedly-so right from the second chapter.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Book of Sight by Deborah Dunlevy


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"inch by inch, certainty of death foremost in his mind, not daring to breath." - should be 'breathe'
"It had been wo weeks" - two weeks, presumably? Or maybe that unspecified number of weeks had been rather woeful?!
"Its hot pink color was already, and it was taking on the even brown tones of Dominic's hands." 'already fading'?

The problem with series, and one reason why I'm not really a fan (except for a few rare cases), is that they are by nature derivative and repetitive, and worse, they mistreat the reader by only offering a part of a story while still trying to charge you the full price! This series is going to run to at least four books. Worse than this, the first volume tends to be a prologue for the rest, rather than an actual story, and I don't do prologues. They're tedious and antiquated.

In this case I decided to make an exception in the hope that this one would be a different experience, but I had mixed feelings about this right from the start, and my worst fears were realized when it came to an abrupt ending (I don't read epilogues any more than I do prologues, but I doubt the epilogue moved the story very far!). The ending was abrupt and a cliff-hanger of a sort, which I never appreciate. So it was indeed a prologue, but that said, the story wasn't bad for the intended age range, so I consider it a worthy read for that group. For myself, I have no interest in pursuing this any further.

It started out routinely enough, and that was part of the problem: the trope kid (in this case, 14-year-old Alex) at a loose end of one kind or another with one or both parents absent. In this case it was both because, even though dad was present, in effect he was also absent since he was a poor father who neglected his child while he pursued his publication of his moderately successful comic book series. On the first day of her summer holiday from school, a weird-looking guy who claims he's some sort of delivery boy shows up at Alex's front door.

We're given a reason for Alex to be trusting enough to open the door because she thinks it's one of her father's graphic artist types, but the guy claims he's a messenger. He hands her a parcel and doesn't require a signature. He tells her it's a book, and then he leaves. The fact that none of this makes Alex even remotely suspicious (he requires no signature and knows what's in the parcel) tells me she's not too smart. I don't do books about dumb girls. There are far too many of them out there (YA authors I'm looking at you), so I'm hoping at that point that Alex gets smarter fast, but I'm not confident that she will. In the end she is a bit smarter, but the kids as a group are not very smart in their behaviors generally speaking.

At one point the author writes, "...which with characteristic creativity she had dubbed 'dad days'." I'm not sure if that's meant to be sarcastic, or if it's just badly written! Alex has shown no evidence that she has a sarcastic demeanor to this point, and that title certainly isn't creative. This is one of the reasons the book failed to properly resonate with me: there were parts I really liked, but other parts that fell flat. Also the book, while commendably not in first person voice, switches perspectives between kids and I didn't appreciate that approach. There's a lot of telling in place of showing, too. Again, kids for whom this is written may not notice or may not care about these things, whereas I tend to

There were one or two errors, but aside from that (which was no big deal for me as long as it was relatively rare!), what bothered me most was the trope. I mentioned the disaffected teen; next came the 'things appearing but disappearing as soon as you look away' trope which is tedious and way-the-hell overdone. In Alex's case it was the appearance of a tiny man after she had begun reading the book. She sees him, looks away, and looks back and he's gone. She does this twice. It's annoying! And so common in this kind of story that it's become a suspension-of-disbelief destroyer for me. There's also the trope two characters who dislike each other, but you know they're destined to be together. The sad thing is they're named Adam and Eve! I am not making this up - the author is! Yet despite this no one remarks on their names!

That aside, the book was intriguing and the way Alex struggled to read it and then suddenly got it, was a joy. The words appeared to be nonsense, but as she started pronouncing them, she was transported in some way to another world where a story unfolded about a king and four brothers and a magical jewel. Visons, ideas and dreams lead Alex to a place where four trees are grouped together. When she visits it, she discovers a marking on one of the trees, but then the trope male character predictably the same age as Alex shows up and I became annoyed again, because it seemed like the "required" (when it's not at all) romance is going to trample all over the story. In the end it didn't, so this fear never materialized and I thank the author for that!

In general the story was well-written, with a clunker or two here and there, such as when Adam is trying to locate a particular place in the vicinity. It's by a dried-up creek, yet when he approaches it, I read that there was "a dark green line on the other side of another grassy field. It had to be a creek." The thing is, if the creek was dried up, there would hardly be a dark green line marking it, since the vegetation would be dried up, too - as is confirmed when he gets closer.

That aside there was some good and commendable writing, particularly about team-work and getting along, and owning up to mistakes, which I really liked. Sometimes the teamwork aspect was overdone, but as I said, overall, I think this will do well for the intended age group. It's just not for my age group!


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Igraine the Brave written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke


Rating: WORTHY!

Written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke, this tells the story of Igraine, who is the younger of the two children of Sir Lamorak (which sounds a bit like caramel backwards!) and Lady Melisande. The parents are fine magicians and are proudly raising their magician-in-training son, Igraine's older brother, Albert. Igraine though, has no interest in magic. Enamored of the life lead by one of her grandfathers, Igraine longs to be a knight. It's soon to be her birthday and her parents are working long and hard on a magical gift for her - a magical, lightweight suit of armor - which she longs to see, but is not allowed.

As her patience wears thin, doing her chores around the aged and slightly crumbling castle, such as feeding the water snakes and cleaning the stone lions and gargoyles which help protect her home, Igraine learns of unexpected developments in their neighborhood, namely: the disappearance of their neighbor, and the usurpation of her power by her unscrupulous nephew, who now has designs on the magical singing (and talking) books owned by Igraine's parents. These cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy, but Igraine's parents are confident they can repel any attack from Osmond the Greedy.

This all turns around when, in process of adding a finishing flourish to Igraine's armor, the parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs. Worse, they are out of giant's hair, which is essential to turning them back into humans. Since Albert must remain to guard the castle, being in the only functional magician left, it falls upon Igraine to go get the giant hairs. Why these hairs could not be summoned by magic is. I think, a good question, and one the author didn't see fit to address!

Igraine sets off alone, and eventually finds the giant, Garleff, who happily gives some hairs because Igraine's parents were very kind to him. On her way back, she visits the Sorrowful Knight, aka Sir Urban of Wintergreen, who is pretty much in an isolated sulk because he failed to beat the evil "Hedgehog," Osmand's henchman, in a joust. Somehow, this sulker is the guy who teaches Igraine about chivalry! Go figure!

He decides to accompany Igraine back to the castle to make sure she get home safely and ends up challenging Rowan Heartless (aka the Iron Hedgehog because of his spikey armor). On the way back they encounter a three-headed dragon. I am not at all sure why this bit was put in. I thought the dragon might be connected with the disappearance of three princesses, or that it might come help them fight the usurper, but it just disappeared. Maybe the author forgot about this plan? Maybe there was no such plan.

Likewise, I'm not sure why such a big deal was made of Igraine's desire to be a knight, and her special armor, because at no point does she enter into a fight of any kind, or put the armor to any test other than getting it wet (and it doesn't rust). Maybe the author has some plan she forgot as she wrote this, or maybe her plan changed. It just seemed odd; however, Igraine was strong in other ways, and so this is why I liked her. To me a strong female character isn't necessarily one who can kick your ass, she just has to be kick ass, and Igraine was.

Obviously Igraine wins-through in the end. I liked the story and I recommend it, despite it being somewhat bland. I had hoped for more. I'm not sure why this was so lacking in some respects, but it was amusing and entertaining, and this is why I consider it a worthy read.

It's worth noting that this story is bears some references to Arthurian tradition. Igraine was supposedly the name of King Arthur's mom. Maybe this Igraine grew-up and married, and her offspring became England's legendary king? (or a Welsh hill tribesman, depending on how much legend you swallow!)? Who knows?! Melisande is a Germanic name, also found in other languages, meaning strength, and was the name (in the form of Melisende) of the Queen of Jerusalem in the mid-twelfth century. Sir Lamorak was a knight of Arthur's purported 'Round Table', and Albert was, of course, the name of the German who married Queen Victoria!


Friday, February 10, 2017

The Star Thief by Lindsey Becker


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
"The Mapmaker took in and impatient breath." - presumably should be "an impatient breath"

This was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher and author.

Don't be misled by the resemblance of this middle grade novel's title to The Lightning Thief. I'm not a fan of the Riordan series, but this is as different as you can get, and this author had me at the very first sentence, which is what all we writers should strive for, but few achieve! That first line read, "Honorine realized it was going to be a difficult night when she stepped into the east parlor to do a bit of light dusting and found it on fire." That struck me as hilarious and an awesome start. It's like she knew exactly how to begin this to bring me on board!

The book continued to impress as I read on. It's an easy and fast read which hits the ground running and never stops. It's something of a steam-punk fantasy for kids, and has the interesting premise that the constellations are really mystical animals who have powers, and with whom regular people can interact. There are also rather evil creatures in this story too, so in some ways it's like reading about angels and demons.

Honorine is a young housemaid who works for the wealthy Lord Vidalia who has disappeared. She's also something of an inventor. When odd events get going in the manor that night, starting with the fire and progressing to curious discoveries Honorine makes, and then to visits from two different factions on the same wild night, both of which claim that the other guys are the bad guys, Honorine has to choose who to trust. But she's torn. At first, she sides with the group which has her childhood friend and young lord of the manor, Francis, working with them. She had thought he was away at school. After this she gets to spend some time with the Mordant, which is what these constellations are called.

There are few mordant on their magical 'ship' and the reason is that there's a battle going on between two sides, one of which is trying to capture all the Mordant, and the other of which is trying to prevent that. Maybe both sides were bad! Yes, it was exciting, adventurous, action-packed and confusing, and my hope was that the author had it in her to keep up the pace. It turns out she did. There is never a spare moment, and always something new to find.

Like a seasoned professional, the author keeps on peeling back layers and just as you think you have a good handle on things, another layer strips away and reveals a deeper understanding. Honorine is thrown into the middle of this turmoil, and is constantly trying to determine who is right and who is wrong, what's really going on, and where she fits in. In the end, this strong young female figure takes things into her own capable hands, because she knows, ultimately that she's actually the only one she can trust to do the right thing.

I loved the story, the plot, and the characters, all of them, but especially Honorine, who is a true hero and a great role model. I recommend this book without reservation.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Land Without Color by Benjamin Ellefson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a middle-grade ebook and it was odd because the first chapter seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the chapters that come after. The first chapter is about four kids named Brandon, Derek, Paul, and Steven playing kick-the-can with some younger kids; then they go fishing. They disappear from the story at that point, and in chapter two and every chapter after that, the story is about a kid named Alvin, who gets this never-pop bubble gum for his birthday, and finds he can blow giant bubbles without the gum popping, one of these bubbles which carries him into a magical land where everything is grey. There are no other colors because they're been stolen by the goblins.

I began wondering if the grandfather who the kids visit in chapter one is the same person as Alvin, and the story is a flashback starting in chapter two. The last chapter confirms that it is. It just seemed like the writer had forgotten what he started writing about! There were one or two other, minor, issues, such as this sentence: "he saw the path before him stop directly into a sheer cliff" which could have been worded a lot better! There was also a disconnect between some of the images and the text, for example where we're told a general is wearing a "camouflage military uniform of red, orange, yellow," but where the illustration shows no camo, only your usual olive drab (or in this case gray drab!). In general, the story was well-written.

I have to question some of the choices here, though. The underlying theme of the story is that good nutrition brings color to your life and health, and I concur that good nutrition is sorely lacking in far too many lives. A third of the US adult population is obese, which adds something like one hundred fifty billion dollars to national healthcare costs, and it also means that the overweight are paying $1,500 dollars a year more for healthcare. That's the real reason behind the health industry trying to get people to lose weight. Don't ever forget that they're not charities, and their motivation has nothing in common with actually caring, rest assured!

Thirteen million children in the USA are obese, but a healthy diet needs to be more than simply eating vegetables. Fruit is mentioned, but it's the overriding obsession with vegetables I don't get. There's no mention of cereals or dairy, or of a balanced diet. A real diet needs to be a whole mind and body affair, including exercise and yes, including some moderated junk food. Remember, your body needs sugar, it just doesn't need as much as you think it does, and the excess goes straight to the fat factory.

The oddest thing about this ebook though, was the images, which are black line drawings on a white background. I typically have my Kindle app set to white text on a black background to save on battery power. I imagined that the images were designed with a white page and black text, so I tried to switch colors to see if it made any appreciable difference to how the images appeared in the text, but the only options the Kindle app on my phone offers for background screens is black, sepia, and pale green! Who ordered that? It's one more reason why I call it a crappy Kindle app. You'd think with all the money Amazon is minting, they could offer a better app than this, but maybe they don't care. Maybe they'd rather have you shell-out for a Kindle reader with the attendant limited functionality. I've been there and done that. I don't want to go back.

The thing with the white image background is that it butts up right against the text, making the text look like it was cut off. The first image I saw, I thought it had been accidentally placed right on top of the text, but I realized after a moment that it wasn't. If the images are at the left of the screen, then there's a gap between them and the text, but when the images are on the right, as almost all of them are for reasons unknown to me, the text butts right up to the white image border and looks truncated. I am not fond of Amazon's Kindle app!

On the iPad, the kindle app does have the option for a white background and the images and text looked fine there, but I still prefer to have white text on back for battery conservation so maybe authors should give some thought to how they design their images. The more wear and tear on the battery, the sooner it's going to die and have to be junked, and a new one purchased, which costs energy and resources to make. Recycling doesn't start at the trash can. It starts when a product is produced.

This image issue is a definitely a peril for writers who try to illustrate their stories. You cannot count on the ebook rendering them as you envisioned them for the print version. The simple solution would be to have the image background transparent, so that it merely shows through whatever background the reader chooses for their Kindle reader, but if your background is black and your line drawings are also black, then the image will disappear into the background if your reader chooses a black background screen, so you can't really win! I like my ebooks, but this is one reason why ebooks fail when compared with print books: the writers and illustrators lose all control over how their work is viewed.

The other issue I had with the images was that the way Alvin was drawn made him look like a grownup! Seriously. He did not look like a middle-grade student; he looked like a midget adult. So for me the images were a fail. They really contributed nothing to the story, and were not particularly well-done. They weren't a disaster by any means; they were okay, and maybe younger children will like them, but for me they didn't work. That said, the story was engaging and descriptive enough that it would have done well without images. It had lots of oddity and weirdness which I tend to like.

Having been carried into colorless land, Alvin tries to find people to ask where he is. On a point of order, gray is a color! If there were literally no color, then the world would be black (and part of this world is), but since we consider black to also be a color as opposed to what it really is (the absence of light and color), then using gray, as most writers do, is fine, I suppose.

The first 'person' Alvin meets is a squirrel which can talk and which becomes his traveling companion. He next meets a mouse which also talks. All the people he meets are gray except in rainbow city, and even there, they are struggling to maintain their color, eating free junk food dispensed by the King, which supplies some color. Some of them are missing their head. The junk food is also part of the underlying theme, and I commend the story for that.

I did have a bit of a problem with this being a 'great white hope' story where the interloper rescues the natives who can't help themselves. In addition to that, it was a case of a knight in shining armor rescuing the helpless princess, which is far too Disney for me, but balancing that, the main character was a black kid, which is far too rare in stories, so it gets kudos for that! What a tight rope the author walked, in trying to get past my filters! LOL!

On this same topic, the author has a short bio note at the end in which he proudly mentions his "four beautiful daughters" and I have to take issue with this as well. Is the only thing a writer can say about women is that they're beautiful? It's degrading. And no, I don't buy that it was meant in a generalized sense either, because then he could have said "four wonderful daughters" or something along those lines. the problem with endless claims of 'beautiful' is that the word becomes completely meaningless. If everyone is beautiful then the word has no value, because it literally means nothing to describe a woman as 'beautiful'.

My problem here though, is that I have to ask: do these daughters have no other qualities? He couldn't have described them as "four smart daughters"? Four industrious daughters? Four accomplished daughters? Four loyal daughters? Four talented daughters? Four loving daughters? The only thing he can think of in relation to a woman is skin deep? It's shameful. It really is; however, this is a different issue the story he tells, so I'm not going to grade his book on his attitude towards women when that misguided attitude isn't expressed in the novel, so he gets a bye on that one!

Meanwhile, back at the story, Alvin has to battle sinking land which, when he illegally picks flowers, delivers him to the underground prison for goblins. He has to deal with the idiot Crimson Guard, the idiot King, and a two-headed dragon. He has to visit the goblins who strike terror into everyone, and he has to figure out the real reason for the color drain, in which he gets a lot of help from the mouse who seems to know everything.

All in all, and criticisms aside, this was a fun story and will offer young minds a lot to think about. It has a lot in common with Gary Ross's movie Pleasantville which has a similar basic theme, but which is a different story intended for an adult audience. It also has some things in common with Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey (which has nothing to do with the "fifty shades" trilogy. I recommend this novel for middle-graders, but I wouldn't want to read a sequel to it.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Princesses Don't Become Engineers by Aya Ling


Rating: WARTY!

I'd hoped to have something better to offer you on Bessie Coleman day. I had been hoping I could review a refreshing novel with a strong female character, but unfortunately, I cannot. Yes, it was going to be this novel, but no, this novel which so promisingly started out, started doubt and then went so far downhill so fast that I almost got whiplash from it.

I'm not a fan of series and this novel is part of a somewhat disconnected trilogy, in that the stories are about different people in the same world, but there's a lot of crossover. The other two are Princesses Don't Get Fat and Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts, neither of which I've read. I'm unable to rate this one positively because of some serious issues I have with it, and while I confess I was initially interested in reading the '...Fat' novel purely out of curiosity since it's not a topic you usually find in books such as these, I changed my mind after learning more about it, and being increasingly disappointed in this one to the point where I DNF'd it at around 75%.

That said, the reason I chose to read this one is that it sounded like it might take a different path from your usual princess story, but in the end it didn't, so why would the '...Fat' novel be any different? I don't know, and I certainly have no faith that it would be. The engineering and steam-punk elements were quite obviously nothing more than sugary frosting adorning a doomed attempt to disguise on the usual stodgy "beautiful girlie princess meets strong, handsome, manly man and falls in love" cake. Those tales are not for me and are the very reason why I wrote Femarine. I had hoped that this one would be in the same vein as Femarine and was very disappointed when I discovered it would not be so.

This novel appears to take place late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, but there are anachronistic problems. Note that this is an alternate reality novel, which has huge similarities to our own reality, but which is also set in a fantasy world. No dates are given, so it's hard to place it on any kind of intelligent timeline as compared with our own. Roller skates were invented (to our knowledge) in the mid-eighteenth century, but were not widely known until early nineteenth, so would skates have been part of the vernacular? Probably not. The wheelchair was in use by the late eighteenth century, yet this story has Princess Elaine inventing it. The same applies to the parachute, which she invents.

She also invents the wristwatch, which didn't show up until the mid-nineteenth century in our timeline, but the real problem with this is that the premise for it failed. According to the story, Princess Elaine was inspired to think of a watch for the wrist because a guy who had been overwhelmed by her beauty (more on that shortly) had dropped his pocket watch and it broke. The problem is that pocket watches routinely have chains attached, so it's hardly likely, no matter how startled by her 'stunning beauty' he was, that it would have ended up on the floor.

None of this would be an issue had Elaine been frequently shown tinkering and inventing from the beginning, but she was not. She was shown only with a penchant for escaping out of her window, which was amusing, but hardly inventive. The stream of inventions which are ascribed to her was becoming ridiculous by about sixty-percent through the book. Not a one of them was original in the sense that it had never arisen in our timeline.

All of this inventiveness consisted of simply ascribing something to her which already exists on our world, and most of it was very simple - so simple that it did not take a genius to invent it. In fact, it was actually derivative, not inventive: all she did was add wheels to a chair, add a strap to a watch, and so on. Straps and wheels, chairs and watches already existed, she just proposed a "novel" use for them.

The printing press was invented in the fifteenth century, yet she invents this, too! And exactly how she does it is rather conveniently glossed over. She's supposed to copy out a text twenty times as a punishment, and handwriting is specifically mentioned, yet she thinks she can get away with inventing a printing press and printing twenty copies. The fact that she would have had to typeset the entire work beforehand (or represent the text in some other way) is completely ignored, as is the fact that if she did it by typesetting, she would have had to create the individual characters, too! In only three days! So her inventiveness and her inventions felt amateurish at best and cynical at worst.

Either way they were very klutzy, and we're never shown anything in the way of how she develops her thought processes or where the ideas originate. They just suddenly spring up magically, already completely formed and bubbling out of her head, like Aphrodite ejaculating from the foam of Uranus's sinking genitals.

The printing machine ("You asked the carpenter to make an automatic printing machine that you designed yourself?") was an oddity not only because it was not automatic, but because one of the princess's goals was to present an invention at the quadrennial engineering exhibition, and her printing press should have qualified easily, yet no one ever mentions it even as a potential candidate for exhibition. Instead, she obsesses on building a flying machine for the next exhibition, four years on. It seems that this was done solely to allow her to mature those four years, but it leaves a huge hole in her story. Meanwhile the printing press has spread like wildfire and made books available to the masses. It made no sense at all that she had no recognition of any sort for this.

Another anachronism was that, given how advanced some of these discoveries were (steam-power, for example was in wide use), why there would be would-be knights still training with lances and swords? Where were the firearms? Again it felt like the story had been thrown together without any real idea of what kind of world this was, and it made it seem amateur, piecemeal, and disorganized.

One example of poor planning was when Princess Elaine learns of Titanium, and decides it's exactly what she needs for lightweight tanks for her flying machine. Aluminum, which is also known in her world, is far lighter than titanium, far easier to work, and just as suited to making tanks as is titanium. It's in wide use in our world for SCUBA tanks. If Elaine had been anything of an engineer, she would have known these things, and not had to have discovered Titanium by accident from seeing it used as armor by the tournament competitors.

So the story itself was bad in many parts, but worse, there was a shockingly poor use of English. I don't mind the occasional author gaff - we all make them. I find them in my reviews on occasion when I have cause to revisit one, but there was a lot of them here, and many of them could have been caught with a spell-checker and some careful reading of the final copy before it was published. There really is little excuse for this.

Here are some examples:

  • "...the right course of action is to take it up to the king, not resolving to pranks." - should be 'not resorting to pranks'.
  • "...why are we supposed to learn those vocabulary when no one knows about them?" - should be 'that vocabulary'.
  • "She's in the kitchens noe" - should be 'in the kitchens now'.
  • "Francis Wesley, who would and probably already had, delight in reporting every single of her failure" - the mixed verb tense could have been easily fixed by re-wording.
  • "Elaine pulled apart the curtains of her window and stared outside. Outside, Valeria was taking Baby Charles for a walk." Repetitive 'outside' could have been avoided.
  • "Hasn't Samuel taught you that you must show, not tell?" Author, heal thyself! There's far too much tell about Elaine's engineering desires, and no show to speak of!
  • "Elaine sailed into the Dome as though she were on roller skates" One doesn't sail on roller skates, one glides!
  • "There was a pot of oil burning by the door. She lighted a fire in the pot" - if it was already burning, no lighting was needed!

  • "...plus three inches taller. Add the bun on top of her head and she was five inches taller than her usual height. No wonder the servants seemed to have shrunk." This doesn't work! Wearing three inch heels would make the servants appear subjectively three inches shorter, but the two inch bun of hair on top of her head would add no further height to her eye-level, and three inches is hardly sufficient to make the servants all seem to have shrunk.

  • "Own tried to elbow Alfred out of the way." Should be character name 'Owen', not 'own'

  • "...her dodging skills remained as sharp as evet" - should be 'ever'!

  • "...the cylinder was promptly finished..." and "Elaine carried it off...," - note the singular references here, but later we have "two titanium cylinders..." Where did the second one come from?!

The biggest sin, for me, was the nauseating obsession with beauty in this novel. The novel is supposed to be setting out to show that Princess Elaine was more than your usual ridiculous Disney princess, or a pretty royal façade, but the author constantly tripped herself up in this regard by repeatedly drawing our attention to the shallow and the skin-deep. I don't mind a character being described as beautiful as long as she has other qualities, but to obsess on it in the narrative (which is not the same as having a character mention it - although that can be overdone, too) is just stupid and abusive to women everywhere.

If your novel is about runway models or actors, then I can see how looks might play a part, but to make this one of the major focuses of the novel is appalling, especially when the novel is supposed to be about her other traits and skills as evidenced by the choice of title. The only thing you're achieving by doing this, is to instruct your readers that you are a shallow author who values beauty and nothing else in a woman, and by extension, that if your reader isn't beautiful, then she'd better get with the program otherwise she'll be worthless for the sole reason that there's no other trait a woman can have which can compare with beauty. Seriously? I'm not going to reward appallingly abusive behavior like that with a positive review, and female authors who routinely write like this ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, as should this author.

It's not so bad in the early stages, where the princess is only twelve, but as the story goes on, the constant references to how beautiful she is are truly stomach-churning. And hypocritical. Here's what the author says, just over half-way through the novel: "...most people still hadn't seen past her face. They valued her beauty more than her work." Well who is to blame for this? The Princess's admirers, so-called, or the fact that it's the author who has repeatedly bitch-slapped the reader with the princess's sheer beauty - not her smarts or her engineering skills, or any other trait, but her beauty? The overriding importance of beauty not just in the princess but in all young women of nobility is pounded into us from the start of the novel.

Here are some examples:

  • It was unquestionable that the Linderall princess was the most beautiful woman in the Academy
  • Despite a lack of regard for her appearance, [the princess] was still remarkably beautiful.
  • "Your Highness is the most beautiful girl throughout the kingdom."
  • "While her beauty certainly didn't measure up to Elaine's..."

Here's a particularly shameful one:

Elaine grimaced. Part of her was flattered, but since she was used to have people fawn over her beauty, she still genuinely regarded the attention a nuisance. She liked to be admired, but not by strangers. "Well, Her Highness is sixteen already! And she's the most beautiful girl in the world!"
That's not only a grammatical issue, wherein it should read 'used to having', not 'used to have', but also makes her main character look like a female Narcissus. She liked to be admired? How does this even fit the character who has shut herself away in a laboratory for months? The same sad shallowness applies to male characters, too. The phrase "how tall and strong he was" put in an ugly appearance in one form or another more than once. It was as though, if a guy isn't tall and strong, then he's a piece of shit. I'm sorry, but I don't subscribe to that blinkered garbage for men any more than I buy beauty as the sole measure of a woman, especially in a novel which purports to offer a princess with something more about her.

Princess Elaine wasn't always the nicest of people, either. For example, at one point she's approaching André, her unrequited love interest, to congratulate him on his inevitable win at the tournament, when a redheaded girl rushes past her and congratulates him, kissing him on the cheek. Elaine dismisses her with this thought: "that redheaded chit' which seemed especially mean.

Elaine has no idea who this girl is. It could be his best friend, his sister or cousin, or a colleague at the academy, yet she has these inappropriately hostile thoughts right from the off. She didn't seem like a nice person at that point, but perhaps her sour attitude came from the fact that even at sixteen, her servants and her family still conspired to infantilize her, with her brother calling her 'Pumpkin,' and her maid referring to her as 'Little Princess'. It's abusive and annoying. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a young adult novel and not a middle-grade one because it sure seemed like middle-grade even after the princess grew up.

The princess's schooling at the university bore no relation to what university was like in the nineteenth century. It seemed to be based on a twenty-first century high-school model which made it sound ridiculously juvenile. There was too much of this amateur approach, which detracted from the parts of the story I did like - such as the princess's rebelliousness.

The oddest thing about the school was that not a single person showed any deference to Elaine. Don't get me wrong here. I feel that this is how it ought to be! I have no tolerance for upper class privilege, but this story was about that very thing, so in the milieu of the story, while she was a princess royal, people were not only talking to her like she was a commoner, they were treating her like one. Even the teachers had no respect! They called her by her name instead of addressing her as 'Your Highness'. Again, I'm all for that, but in the context of this story, it felt ridiculous and amateur. The story felt more like fan-fiction than ever it did a professional novel.

In addition to that, Elaine is repeatedly shown as spoiled, inconsiderate, lazy, and privileged without a thought for people less well off than herself. This is startling because André is not privileged. If she cared for him so much, then why would she not spare a thought for others like him? Again, she's not a nice girl.

This whole affair with André felt odd. Usually the problem in these YA princess romps is that the love isn't love, it's what I call instadore, and it fails because it's not real and doesn't even feel like it might be real. In the case of André it was slightly different: there was a long time for them to get to know each other - four years to be precise, but this entire period is skipped over by the author, so we experience nothing of their interaction with each other apart from two brief, too brief interactions very early on. What this means is that this "love" felt just as bad as if it had been instadore, because it had no history for us to follow and it made Elaine look immature and stupid.

Based on this observations, and despite liking this novel in the beginning, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. In the end, it would seem the engineering idea was really no more than a flimsy veneer on top of a story that does nothing to buck tradition. The very reason I gave up on this in disgust at 75% was that the author started channeling Austen and not in a good way - it was Austen at her most maudlin worst.

In an exact parallel to the portion of Sense and Sensibility where Willoughby happens upon Marianne after her injury and speeds her home on his horse in the pouring rain, Elaine gets injured in the pouring rain and is carried by André who was evidently stalking her. She immediately starts sneezing, like rain gives people cold viruses and the virus peaks instantly!

I would have had no objection if someone had ignorantly remarked "You'll catch your death of cold" because there are stupid people. What I don't have time for is stupid authors. For an author to actually subscribe to the brain-dead notion that getting soaked in a rain shower gives you instaflu is monumental horseshit and a disgrace for a writer to buy into. This kind of moronic writing is par for the course in the majority of asinine YA "romance" novels though, I have to admit.

Elaine's dash into the deadly 'flurain' was to collect her flying machine invention, which she;d left up on the roof, and which consists of two titanium cylinders for compressed air, a leather harness to strap it on, and an engine. What? An engine. That's what I thought you said. Excuse me, but what does the engine do? I have no idea, and apparently neither does the author. It doesn't compress air, because she had to land when the air tanks run low. There was no mention of propellers, so it;s not that. How the thing worked is a mystery. Why it needed an engine is a mystery. Where she got the compressed air is a mystery, but there it is: yet another cockeyed invention from someone we're told is a genius but who we;re shown is a rip-off artist at best, and a clueless time-waster at worst.

I don't buy it, and you shouldn't either. Spend your money on someone else's novel! This one is trashy and derivative, clueless and cheap, and I actively dis-recommend it.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Witch Hunt by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is yet another in a series of short stories by Annie Bellet that I've been reviewing lately. These stories are available 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.

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. Karin Slaughter, I'm looking at you!

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to an author's 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. 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, but that's it.

I have none that lead into my main novels, and although several of my novels take place in the same world, rest assured I shall never write a series unless it be a young children's series, which I consider more of a theme than a series per se. I have better things to do with my valuable and always dwindling time than to waste it on a repetitive and derivative series, so I have no 'worlds' I've created in terms of fantasy, or sci-fi. In the unlikely event that I decided to take time out from other writing projects, and create short stories set in the same world as existing, full-length novels, I don't think you're going to see this approach from me, vlaid and useful as it is!

This novel I nearly didn't read. I do not like first person novels, of which this was one, although in this case, the author carried it pretty well, so it wasn't nauseating. it did not, however, make any sense since the person narrating the story neither spoke nor wrote, which begs the question as to how the story got told in the first place! But I let that slide! Strike one avoided.

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I am not a fan of series unless they're especially good and for me, fantasy rarely falls into that category, but sicne this wasn;t the series but a glimpse into it, that was strike two avoided! Strike three was what brought this down in terms of my having any desire to go on and read further. I flatly refuse to read any novel which has any of the following words in the novel or series title: 'chronicle', 'cycle', 'saga'. There are probably other trigger words, too, but these are the ones which first come to mind. This one was of The Gryphonpike Chronicles, so that kills it right there!

It began with the usual trope characters - elves, pixies, goblins, ogres, humans and so on, a tired cliché which typically makes me laugh. Annie Bellet writes well though, so I'm willing to grant her more leeway than I would many other authors. Except at one point she writes one character saying, "Makha and I consulted maps. We have solution" and I had to wonder about the juxtaposition of the correct grammar in employing 'Makha and I', followed by the pigeon English! It really jumped out at me and reminded me that I was reading a story. This was a minor issue lost in the large problem I have with fantasy, so I let that one get a free pass.

The story revolves around a group of misfits who are trying to earn a living by solving people's problems as roving trouble-shooters, but they've dilly-dallied too long on their journey, and now need to get to a guild city soon to pay their dues or they'll be in trouble. What that's about went unexplained, but they end-up going to a small city which evidently has a witch problem - as Sherlock Holmes might describe it, it was in fact a three-witch problem.

The band battles the witches, wins, and is heavily worn out and wounded but none of them die. That's it! Like I said, this kind of thing is just a bit too silly for me to want to read a full-length novel (let alone a whole 'chronicle' about it, but in terms of carrying a story, and in terms of laying out a glimpse of a world that others might want to pursue, I consider this a decent job and a worthy read.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter's Bite by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

Winter's Bite is a beautifully titled, good old story. It's short and bittersweet, and it has an ending that really isn't an ending, but this worked well, as it happened. This is another free short story by Annie Bellet available through book outlets and one that presumably introduces us to another one of her fictional worlds. I've had consistently goods results with this author.

Ysabon is a retired warrior woman, living on the outskirts of a village in a fantasy land, running a forge and helping raise two girls and a boy with her brother. She's hardly antiquated, and is still physically active, but she feels the weight of her years and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from her adventuring days, and old wounds. When a party skis by (the story takes place in in dead winter), heading off to the nearby garrison, to report the forays of a pack of Widowhulks, which are some sort of intelligent, hairy hexapod with a thirst for blood, they ask Ysabon, who is known for her military past, to accompany them, but she refuses, saying she's too old.

Instead, her nephew volunteers to go. She resents it, but can't stop him since he's a grown lad. It's not long before he comes back, reporting that their party was set upon by the widowhulks and he can't be sure anyone got through to the garrison. Ysabon now realizes that it's up to her, because if no one goes, then the widowhulks will simply keep on laying waste to the villagers until no one is left. She cleans her old sword and sets out with her nephew, and along the way they encounter a wounded survivor of the previous party. The story ends with her nephew heading off across the river to the safety of the garrison while Ysabon and the survivor turn to face-down the widowhulks, and hold them off at least long enough for her nephew to report the village's predicament.

I liked this story and the ending, but I had some issues with it from a writing perspective. The major one was the widowhulks. Authors often make a mistake when writing about predatory animals, making them endlessly hungry and bloodthirsty. It's rarely realistic. Predators rarely prey. When they do, they prey only on what they need to eat, and then they back off and idle their time away until they're hungry again. To portray them as endlessly bloodthirsty and dedicatedly hunting down humans is ridiculous on the face of it.

Yes, they do sometimes hunt humans, and sick animals sometimes go off the reservation, but we're not the natural prey of any animal, and it's rare for them to attack humans, especially just for the hell of it rather than for a needed meal. That said, these are not your usual predators that we're familiar with from Earth. Maybe they are more human than animal, in which case they may well have a legitimate agenda in harassing the human population. There isn't enough in this story to determine what's going on, so I was willing to let it go, but it would have been nice if the author had addressed this, however briefly or in passing.

The only other complaint would be the incomprehensible sentence I found on page five. Ysabon is advising the initial ski party on how to avoid this dangerous pack of widowhulks and she says: "Your best hope is speed. Safety might come with numbers, but with that many widowhulks out there, the only chance to reach the garrison before the hunting group finds you." The sentence looks like it needed to end with two more word: is speed. Either that or that last clause ought to have begun "speed is the only chance" or "it's the only chance," but I can forgive a mangled sentence here and there. We all do it. It's harder to forgive if there are many such mangles in one short story, but this author has not proven herself prone to that kind of sloppiness.

In short I liked this and the world where it was set sounded interesting.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Flashover by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is another short story by Annie Bellet set in one of her many worlds. I liked the first two I read, so I decided to see what else she has out there, and she has several short stories tied to one or other of the worlds she's created, each one serving as a peek inside, each free as of this writing.

As I mentioned in other reviews, I think this is a good idea. It lets you get your feet wet without being soaked with price tags for books you don't like! Karin Slaughter could take a leaf out of Annie Bellet's book! I liked the previous two I read and this one, a fantasy, began in a likable manner, too, despite being first person - a voice I really don't enjoy, particularly in YA fiction. This isn’t YA, though and the voice fortunately wasn't nauseating.

This world is that of Remy Pigeon, who is a psychometrist. One morning he's visited by a fire elemental which has taken over a young woman's body for the purpose of attracting his attention. It works. I have to say at this point that I didn't like Remy. I think this first person approach taken here is to set-up the story like the old-style private dick novels where the PI tells the story in a male chauvinistic and hard-bitten style. For me that doesn’t work because I've never been attracted to that style of story-telling. It makes me laugh at how pretentious and self-important it is, which tends to spoil the drama of the story!

So the fire elemental's problem is that someone is making it burn down buildings. I've never bought into this idea that names hold power and if someone knows your true name the have power over you! It's nonsensical, but this is the trope employed here: someone knows the elemental's true name and can therefore control it, and are making it do their dirty work. The elemental resents this, naturally. It's up to Remy to use his power of touch to see if he can find out what these fire victims have in common and who the elemental's name has been told to. Only one of the victims actually knew the name, and she's dead, so Remy can’t just ask her. Thus we have a PI story featuring a psychometrist who does no psychometry, and a serial arsonist who sets no fires!

There was one minor writing issue other than first person (which for me is frankly a major writing issue), and that's when the Remy tells us about his drive across town: "I nursed a complaining Renault, my beater Toyota, across town..." It looks like the author had one vehicle in mind and then changed it, without deleting the old reference! No biggie. We've all made goof-ups like that one! I don’t care about screw-ups like this quite frankly (it's a Renault BTW), if the author is telling me a decent story (or even an indecent one). I do care if the story is larded with them, but I readily forgive minor gaffs for a good story. Yes, my name is Ian and I'm a book slut! Welcome Ian!

The story felt like ti was a bit too short and too easy, but other than that, I liked the story for what it was. It's not something which would lure me in, because I'm not typically a series fan and I didn't like Remy who seems a bit obnoxious when it comes to women (no wonder he gets no dates!) and a bit ineffectual in what he does, but the story itself was a worthy read.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Delivering Yaehala 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 fantasy tale set on a different world where unicorns and other exotic animals exist. Set iIn a land delightfully evocative of the Middle-East, a young woman named Alila, who is an outcast from her own people, is harvesting frankincense from trees which dangerously overhanging a precipitous drop. She spies a rider on a horse.

At first suspicious and fearful, Alila discovers that the rider is a princess royal, and a pregnant one at that, and in dire straits at that! She is apparently with a male child and this is why she is on the run. She's part of a harem, and the oldest member of the harem fears the younger woman's ascendancy if she provides the male heir which the older woman could not. Killing the pregnant Yaehala seems like the best solution. It feels like a twisted take on Henry the Eighth!

Against her better judgment, Alila takes it upon herself to escort the princess to the coast, where Yaehala's own people will take care of her until the child is born. At that point the threat to her life will transfer to the child, and she will be safe! The two bond as they ride together, pursued by the ruthless minions of the older, vindictive princess. I liked this story for how evocative it was of the world, and for the realism of the adventure even as the story was imbued with imaginative fantasy elements. Alila was never portrayed as Supergirl, but she was strong and resourceful and Yaehala's story was authentic.

I'm not a fan of stories that have a woman's name in the title. They pretty much uniformly tend to be a waste of my reading time, but I do have a fondness for stories which sport a name on the cover which is not the name of the main character because I did this same thing with my "best seller" Femarine. I call it a best seller not because it actually is, but because it generated more interest than anything else I've written, and I am still trying to work-out why! But that's just me. This story, Yaehala, was a really enjoyable one, and has attracted my attention to this author. I will be pursuing the perusing of more stories from Annie Bellet!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lydia's Golden Drum by Neale Osborne


Rating: WORTHY!

Disclosure: After I positively reviewed (yes, I'm positive I reviewed it!) Neale's Lydia's Enchanted Toffee back in November 2015, he and I became email friends, so I am definitely biased here, but I loved this book! The writing is so rich that you feel like you've eaten a tin of toffee by the time you're done reading. You might even get an empathic if not emphatic tooth-ache!

If I had a complaint it would be that the book felt a little bit long, which was fine with me since I was very much into it, but which might not appeal to some readers. I also felt the print version might have been kinder to trees in being a little more compact (the lines were widely spaced), but I have that complaint about a lot of print books, including my own, which is why I refurbished them all last year.

That said, this book is poetic and rich, it's endlessly inventive to an amazing and humbling degree, and it was a joy to read. Lydia is once again called into action with her toffee tin drum and magically empowering toffee, which gives her control over metal (probably including metal dental fillings!). The Jampyrs are evidently on the move and someone has to stop them. Lydia's journey involves meeting up with friends and traveling her Candi world to collect the tools they will need to defeat the horrific jampyr menace and save their planet. Can she succeed? Can she suck toffee? I think you know the answer to that! I recommend this one. It's a sweet read....


Messenger by Lois Lowry


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third in Lois Lowry's "The Giver" quadrilogy. I negatively reviewed the first, The Giver back in April 2016, and now I'm certainly not planning on reading the other two in the group: Gathering Blue, and Son. This one can at least be read as a standalone, but like in The Giver, the world-building here sucks! And monumentally so.

Main character Matty was far too much of a Mary Sue in this novel, and while it started out decently well, it went on too long (despite being a short novel!), and it dwelt so long in the horrific gore of the forest that it was sickening. The end was so predictable that it was even more sickening. Even the puppy lived!

Matty is the adopted son of 'Seer'. Every adult in the village has a really dumb-ass "true name" given to them by "Leader" who is head of the village. Let me just interject at this point that I'm not a fan of this "names have power" bullshit or of the "true name" fallacy. I laugh at stories that follow those tropes. Names do have meaning but that's not the same as saying they have, much less give, power.

Matty wants to be named Messenger, but doesn't get his wish. Instead he gets a predictable and different name. Read pretty decently by actor David Morse, the story's material and plot let it down badly. They were drab and lifeless, and ultimately boring. The village was sad-ass, but we're told - not shown - that it was a happy and comfortable place. As the story takes off, we're being hit over the head with the regularity of a metronome by how much it is changing for the worse. It's as if Donald Trump got elected and the entire country began rejecting huddled masses and becoming very insular and closed-off. Oh wait, that really happened!

Despite all these people having gifts, they're hobbled in a trope way by not really being able to use the gifts to any great advantage. Some of the gifts make no sense. One guy is called Trademaster and is in charge of the villagers trading their personal goods with each other. I'm sorry, but what? What the hell that's all about is a mystery, and I found it laughable. So anyway, Seer doesn't see a whole heck of a lot especially since he's predictably blind. Leader, who is also a seer, can't see very far into the future. Why the author called one of them Seer but gave the power of seeing to a different character is a great mystery!

The village, which is called Village, is surrounded by a dense and increasingly hostile forest which is called Forest. Seriously? Donald Trump clearly took his manifesto from this novel because the villagers have decided to build a wall around the village and not let anyone else in. Why anyone would even want to try and get in, given the nightmarish and brutal forest and the asinine way village life goes on is an unexplained mystery as is everything else in this story. It suggests that the rest of the world is in even more dire straits than is the village, yet when we see another part of this world, there is no problem with it! It's just like Village minus the psychoses and psycho forest.

The villagers have tools and fire. There's no reason they couldn't burn down the whole forest and sow salt on it, but they never think of it. They simply accept it. No explanation is given for this, either.

Maybe some of these things are explained in the previous two volumes, but they sure aren't here. The only thing of any interest at all in this story is Matty's last minute desperate dash through the forest to bring Kira, Seer's daughter, back from outside into the village so he can see her again. How selfish is that? She left the village and though she said she would return, in several years she's made no effort to do so, and now Seer essentially wants her dragged back through a dangerous forest with no warning, for his own selfish ends? What a jerk!

Matty, who has always been able to pass through the forest unharmed, now finds that it's attacking him. Why there is this change is unexplained, Why the forest is alive and hostile is unexplained. This portion of the novel just went on and on with increasingly obnoxious descriptions of pain and torn flesh, and suffering that I could barely stand to listen to it. It contributed nothing to the story, and it was all washed away and undone by Matty's magical power which we'd been told about right from the start, so no surprises there.

If this novel had been a first-time novel by a new writer, it would never have got published. I'm just sorry it ever did.