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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Jason Fischer, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WORTHY!

I've slowly become a fan of this author, and this was no exception despite a new team coming on board, with Jason Fischer co-illustrating and Nathan Fairbairn coloring.

Katie Clay (as in 'subject to being molded') is a chef who is the founder and co-owner of a restaurant called Seconds, but she longs to start her own place, and has been putting money into this derelict place she plans on naming 'Katie's'. How she is the founding owner but also co-owner of this restaurant isn't explained.

She has an ex, Max, who seems to want to get back with her, but the reason why they're no longer together isn't given and Katie seems rather resentful of him. She's having a very casual affair with the cook instead, and trying to figure out the deal with this tall dark waitress, Hazel, who has been working the tables at the restaurant for a while, but who is an enigma to Katie, not least because she draws curious pictures of this odd-looking girl in her spare time.

Katie has two encounters, one with some magic mushrooms (no, not that kind!) growing under the floorboards, and the other with Lis, who is apparently the house spirit of the Seconds establishment, which is housed in a venerable building. Katie lives in the attic room of this building. One night, Lis appears and introduces Katie to the mushroom before Katie finds out where they grow. Katie gets a do-over and can fix problems from the past by writing her wish in a notebook which Lis also gives her, and then eating the mushroom while on the premises. In the do-over, Katie is the only one who knows that this is an alternate reality.

Katie's told she gets only one do-over, but she's not happy with it, and when she discovers the mushroom trove, she steals twelve of them. Despite Lis's angry admonishment, and she begins doing-over her do-over multiple times. In her do-vers, Katie becomes closer to Hazel and discovers that Hazel is drawing Lis, but cannot see her. Hazel is also the one who placates Lis by leaving clothing and bread for her in the rafters.

This story is in some ways reminiscent of the movie The Butterfly Effect in that her do-overs seem to progressively make things worse rather than better, and with Lis's help, Katie realizes that there's a third influence working against her wishes. In the end she manages to get what she thinks she wants - and certainly what she can live with.

The drawings are simplistic and offer limited coloring, but are nonetheless well done and charming. They tell as much of the story as the text does. While I wasn't sure about Katie's feelings for Max or why she had them, or why she misbehaved, I did enjoy the story. It's easy to get through and entertaining. I commend this graphic novel as a worthy read.


Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves


Rating: WARTY!

After reading about a third of this I came to the conclusion that while librarians may be experts on the concept and management of books, this doesn't necessarily translate to the content of a book. For a novel written by a librarian, this book was lacking far too much. It made no sense, was poorly written, and was larded with cliché.

The story is your usual teen trope: a new girl in a new town having acceptance problems. The author throws in the supernatural, but instead of this making the story better, it made it far worse. It didn't help that said teen, Hanna, wasn't remotely likeable. She was living with her aunt, but decided to hit her aunt over the head with a bottle, and leave, thinking her aunt was more than likely dead, to move to small town Texas, where her mother lives. This was a good move since both of these women were quite evidently sociopaths at best, and belonged together.

Hanna hears her dead father talking to her until she starts back on her meds, having negotiated with her mom a two week stay of eviction to prove she can make friends in her new school. Thus far there had been nothing remotely plausible in this story, but that was about to improve. Soon there would be nothing conceivably plausible.

Despite the school being possessed by some parasite that resides in the windows and can turn a living being into glass while sucking the life force and all organic tissue from them, not one single person: not her mother, not her teachers, nor her classmates, tell her a single thing about what's going on, nor do they offer a single warning to her, or a single piece of advice on how to protect herself. I'm sorry but no. The author has made the typical YA writer's blinkered assumption that every single person is exactly the same, has the same feelings and motives and will treat a newcomer to the school in exactly the same cruel manner. I've come to expect this from your average female YA writer; I made the mistake of expecting more from a librarian.

Worse than this, this supernatural crap has been going on at this school for months, yet not a single alarm has been raised about kids dying or going missing. No one from out of town has any idea there's something seriously wrong with this town?

There's also something seriously wrong with the majority of YA authors. A few of them are brilliant, but far too many of them seem to be incapable of creativity or imagination and end up taking the road of least effort, cloning everything everyone else has already written, and applying the same brain-dead ham-fisted techniques of authorship to it. YA is the most blundering, dead-end, mindless, derivative, festering swamp of unoriginality and cluelessness, rivalled only by chick-lit café and/or bakery 'sleuthing' genre (I flatly refuse to read any novel that carries the word 'sleuth' on the cover), and by the chick-lit 'poor spineless rejected girl flees back to her home town and meets Mr Ri-ight like that's going to happen, and he'll save her because he's a manly man and she's just a poor weak woman' garbage genre.

This particular example of all that's wrong with YA has the 'girl hating the guy that you know for a fact she's going to be swooning over in short order' trope. It has the 'no one tells her shit' trope; it has the 'throw the girl together with the guy she supposedly hates' trope. Frankly, it would be easier to list the tropes it doesn't have so I'll stop there. The thing which finally made me throw this book out before it made me throw my breakfast out of my stomach was when the girl and the guy were thrown together after she encountered the evil thing in the glass.

So this guy invites himself to her home afterwards, and she tells him he can't come in, but he pushes his way in anyway and she has no problem with that. At least now they both have the chance to sit down and finally discuss everything that's been going on, right? Nope. Not a word. He explains nothing and she's far too brain-dead to ask any intelligent questions. This novel SUCKED, period.


Fishtale by Hans Bauer, Catherine Masciola


Rating: WARTY!

Read acceptably by Adam Verner, this turned out to be a boring audiobook that had initially sounded interesting. The story is of this oddball family whose mother loses her wedding ring to a particularly hungry fish, which has bitten her finger and won't let go. Before it could be caught and made to barf up the ring, the little fish is eaten by a cormorant which in turn, while chasing another fish, is eaten by a much larger catfish in the shady water. It's rather like a nesting doll or maybe like the layers of an onion, but this doesn't mean the missing valuable is an onion ring!

The main character (maybe - I really couldn't tell from the story) is Sawyer Brown, whose Mississippi family has a catfish farm. After his mom is bitten by this ring-hungry fish, she gets sick, and sawyer decides that this is connected with her ruing the ring. Naturally he has to go on a quest to get it back. It was at this point that I lost interest in the story. It may well appeal to a younger audience, but I've read many stories aimed and younger audiences and enjoyed them. This one just piscined me off. There really wasn't anything in it to pull me in (the big fish notwithstanding!), even when I tried to see it through younger eyes than mine.

I can't therefore recommend it based on the 25% or so I listened to. One problem I had was keeping all the characters clearly defined in my mind. This may have been because I was driving while listening, and when I drive my primary focus is on the road, but the morning drive is usually quiet and uneventful and I don't usually have this problem, so I can't help but think this was because my mind was wandering for no other reason than that the story simply wasn't engaging it.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ice wolves by Amie Kaufman


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a fan of series, with few exceptions, but once again I find myself with the first book of a trilogy (the second of the "Elementals" series is due next year and the third the year after) which had nothing up front to indicate that this actually was the first in a series. That kind of thing really annoys me, and publishers really ought to be ashamed of this deceptive practice, but why would they care when readers keep supporting them? When they can lure someone in with a novel and later reveal it to be only a prologue? My advantage is that I picked this audiobook up on spec at the Blessed Library of Our Lady of the Sneak Previews, so it cost me nothing!

One of the big problems with a trilogy is that the first book is necessarily a prologue. This leads to the second problem which is that despite the pretense of this being a novel, it really isn't because there is a beginning, but no middle or ending to it!

I avoid prologues like the plague, but I ended up reading this novel because I wasn't informed ahead of time what it was. As it happened I quite liked it, but whether I will go on to read any more in this series is still an open question. I certainly am not going to read another until both the remaining two volumes are out, but by that time I'll probably have forgotten about this one!

If I'd known ahead of time and decided maybe this series might be worth a read, I could have waited until all three were out so I could read them one after another. This business of waiting a year between reads is frustrating, because by the time volume two comes out, you've forgotten a lot of what happened in volume one, and I sure don't have the time to go back and re-read it.

Anyway, that beef aside, this story is of an apparently medieval people who live on the island of Vallen, in the main city of Halbard (sp? This was an audiobook!). In the past, scorch dragons and ice wolves lived together in peace and cooperation, but something caused a rift. Now the dragons live who knows where, and the wolves live in the city. For some reason, periodically dragons attack the city, burning things and stealing children. So we're led to believe! I had a few suspicions about the real authors of these incursions.

Resident in the city are orphan twins Anders and Rayna, who eke out a living on the street. Rayna is the dominant partner. Anders is a bit of a wuss and definitely a follower rather than a leader. While trying to pick a few pockets during the monthly ceremony to find new ice wolves, the two of them discover something extraordinarily disturbing.

In the ceremony, children are offered the chance to touch the magical staff and see if they will transform into a wolf, which would allow them to join the Ulfar Academy and begin an apprenticeship with the ice wolf guard who protect the city from dragons, but this month, they're having a sorry time finding anyone who can transform.

Nothing happens until, during a fracas, both Rayna and Anders end up touching the staff in turn. Rayna immediately transforms into a dragon! Hounded, she takes off and disappears. When Anders touches it, he transforms into a wolf! He can't believe it. Twins should both be the same. How can his sister become a dragon and he become a wolf? Alone for the first time in his life, Anders joins the wolf guard and starts learning how to be a solider.

While trying to hide his street origins, Anders makes friends, particularly with Lisabet who has a secret of her own. He learns to become a wolf, but he can't produce their signature ice spears. Even so he finds a family with the pack, but all he can think of is finding his sister, whom he thinks has been kidnapped by dragons. With Lisabet's help, he learns of a way he might get to her.

Despite feeling 'tricked' into starting a middle-grade/YA trilogy, I ended up liking this story. It started out strongly; then it faded annoyingly at the start of Anders's apprenticeship, but it picked up again later when Anders began to man up and form his alliance with Lisabet, who was herself harboring grave suspicions about what they were being taught about wolves and dragons being mortal enemies. I really liked Lisabet, who was a strong female character with a mind of her own.

I commend this story as a worthy read.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater


Rating: WARTY!

It's my policy never to read books with pretentious words like 'Chronicles' or Cycle' or 'Saga' in their title, but this one slipped under my radar. It wasn't until I was almost finished with the novel that I realized it was part of 'The Raven Cycle'. Yuk! The thing is that while I did initially enjoy this particular volume, it was painfully slow, and when I discovered it was not even going to reach a conclusion, I began losing faith in it.

After I listened to the weak ending, I could no longer support it positively. If the author had moved things along, she could have included the entire four book 'cycle' in one volume, I suspect, made a great story out of it, and saved trees into the bargain.

As for me, I will serve the word! I'm not going to indulge the rip-off attitude of 'why write one novel when you can spin it into three or four?' which seems to pervade the fiction world these days. This is nothing but a conspiracy among publishers to milk money from suckers, and I refuse to be a part of it, which is why I personally will never write a series. Yes, there are one or two series out there which are worth the reading, but in my opinion they are as rare as a series should be. Not everything needs to be a trilogy. And yes, YA authors, I'm talking to you!

This story is about a young woman with the curious name of Blue Sargent, who isn’t a psychic, while her two eccentric aunts and her mother all are. Father is of course absent from her life, because god forbid we should have a YA character who has both parents in the picture and an otherwise normal life!

We meet Blue when she's out by a derelict church (sitting on a ley line of course) watching the ghosts go by. Blue can’t see them, but she has the ability to amplify signals for her psychic mom to pick up. It’s never explained why they need to go there to see these ghosts which technically aren’t ghosts, but premonitions of those people who will die in the coming year.

Blue never sees anything until this year when she sees this one ghostly guy. When she confronts him and asks who he is, he answers "Gansey." Later, of course she meets him and her mother warns her off him. Blue is instructed that he will die if she kisses him! Who knew Blue was really Poison Ivy?!

She meets him later of course, along with his three close friends. They're all students of the prestigious and snobbish Aglionby school. I only know that's spelled right because it's on the back cover. I listened to this on audio read by Will Patton, one of my favorite actors, and who did a great job. On audio though, it sounded like Aglin-B, like Zyclon-B - one of the gases used in the death camps by Nazis in World War Two, so I could not take that name seriously as a school! Sorry! My imagination gets out of hand often which, as a writer, is actually a good thing!

Anyway, the first of these friends is the unimaginatively-named Ronan, who is such a cliché that I did not like his character at all. I am so tired of USA authors writing about Irish characters and Ireland with such a condescending and unimaginative tone. Ronan is a stereotypical Irish boy who fights - physically - with his domineering brother who is unimaginatively named Declan.

Adam is a retiring, impoverished boy who has to work other jobs to finance his time at the school, and whose father is a brutal jerk. Noah is even more retiring than Adam and there's a reason for this, we learn towards the end of the novel. Richard Gansey is obsessed with tracing ley lines, and even more obsessed with finding the body of a Welshman. So why look in Virginia instead of in Cymru?

Owain Glyn Dŵr, often anglicized as Owen Glendower, but pronounced more like Oh-wayne Glin Duhr, was the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, who came off poorly in his uprising against the English (early 15th century), and spent his twilight years in obscurity. Because of this, legends have grown up around him, including the one that he's not dead but sleeping, like King Arthur, who was actually more of a tribal leader than a king, and who will sleep until his nation needs him, whereupon he will awaken.

Well, that was categorically disproved when Arthur failed to wake up for either of the two World Wars, so I think we can retire that legend! I mean, honestly, of what use will a medieval tribal leader wearing a leather jerkin and carrying a spear be in modern warfare? Will he toss his spear at a Raptor drone?

The asinine conceit of this story is that Glyn Dŵr went to the Americas, despite those not being discovered (or more accurately, rediscovered) until almost a century after he died. Yes, the Vikings knew of the Americas, but it’s unlikely that this information would have found its way to Glyn Dŵr and even if it had, what incentive did he have to abandon his family and move there? None! Although I did develop a theory that Ronan is really Glyn Dŵr in disguise.

This is a problem with readers in the USA: far too many of them are so lamentably and irrevocably provincial that they seem quite loathe to embrace any story that's not set in their homeland. This is why Hollywood lifts so many foreign movies and recasts them in the USA, even if the recasting makes little sense to the story, so this whole Glyn Dŵr angle is nonsensical. You would think someone of Steifvater's stature would have the guts to step away from trope and safety and and set her own course, but I guess she's as unimaginative and chicken as far too many other YA authors.

Anyway, these five (Gansey & co, and Blue) discover a place on a ley line in the forest where time seems mixed up and where a body lies. Here's where the story went downhill because it became obvious all of a sudden who the murder was and what his relationship with the boys and (I believe) also with Blue was. I don't normally catch things like that so it had to be very obvious if even I saw it!

So they story moved slowly, wasn't exactly a mystery, and Blue was a little too subdued and passive for my taste for a female lead. I confess I did enjoy parts of the story as far as it went, but overall, I cannot commend it as a worthy read, and it was certainly not something I'm interested in pursuing into another volume.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The End of Summer by Tillie Walden


Rating: WARTY!

This was a nonsensical graphic novel which I did not enjoy because I had no clue what was going on despite wasting my time reading right to the end!

The story is of this extended family which lives in a palatial home in some location where the winters last three years. How that works is an unexplained mystery. Usually the winter (or the summer) is a function of axial tilt and orbit. If the axis of the planet isn't parallel to the axis of the star, then for half the year one hemisphere will be more or less inclined towards its star, the other half of the year inclined away.

This is how the seasons work, so aside from bizarre orbital systems or multiple stars, the only way a three year winter is going to work is if the planet takes six years to orbit its star, which means it would be so far away from the star that winter would be all year! The planet could have a highly elliptical orbit, bringing it closer to the star in summer and further away in winter, but this would be a one year winter from a subjective perspective. It makes no sense to talk about a three year winter, but we're expected to accept this, and that the winter requires that the people have to lock themselves inside the house for three years.

Fine, let's accept that and move on; next up is this giant cat. It's exactly like a cat, but it's the size of a horse. There's no explanation for this - it just is! They don't even turn the cat outdoors for the night! Anyway the house is shutting up and then what? I have no idea what. The story is vague to the point of non-existence. It shows the family eating, playing games, relaxing, sauntering around, riding the cat, but suddenly it's like a kid is missing and no one knows what's going on. Is someone dead? I have no idea. Is there a killer on the loose? You got me.

The artwork was so scrappily bad that it was truly hard to distinguish one character from another, and they were all so uninteresting that I gave up trying. I read the early part and then read and skimmed to the end without having a clue what was going on or how it panned out. That's how blandly bad this was. I cannot commend it, not even slightly. It's nothing but a long, drawn-out winter of discontent for the reader.


La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

I listened to the audiobook read very ably by Welsh actor Michael Sheen. He doesn't sound very Welsh here it must be said. He often plays a weasely villain in movies. You might remember him from the first three Underworld movies where he played Lucian. He's also played Tony Blair, HG Wells, Kenneth Williams, David Frost, and Brian Clough! He did get a bit overly dramatic, even frantic at times in his reading here, but otherwise I enjoyed his effort as I enjoyed the book. It's a worthy addition to the 'His Dark Materials' canon and I commend it, although it's far from perfect, it has to be said.

This particular story is a prequel to the original trilogy, when Lyra was literally a baby and had to be rescued from the machinations of the Consistorial Court and also from a vengeful scientist by this young boy Malcolm Polstead and a moody girl named Alice Parslow.

The other two volumes in the series will cover Lyra at later stages in her life (this is why Pullman has described it as not a prequel, nor a sequel, but an equal). The story is very much told from Malcolm's perspective, but blessedly not in first person. Pullman is a writer who gets just how pathetic and limited first person voice truly is. The story is aimed at a young adult readership, but be warned it has bits of quite brutal violence and swearing throughout the narrative.

Malcolm's parents own the inn where Malcolm helps out and Alice works. Across the Thames from the inn lies a priory wherein nuns are caring for an infant girl named Lyra. Malcolm plies this river in his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage and he helps at the priory, too.

The more Malcolm learns, the more involved he becomes and when a flood prophecy from the Gyptians proves to be true and a once-in-a-century deluge hits, and Oxfordshire is swamped, Malcolm is unexpectedly thrown into a chase across three countries trying to deliver Lyra safely to Lord Asrael in London. He finds himself throwing in his lot with the antagonistic Alice to save the child.

Note that there are spoilers here which might make you regret trying to read these books in order. I recommend starting with the original 'His Dark Materials' trilogy (Northern Lights published in the USA as The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) before tackling this one. You may also be disappointed. This book is much more mundane that the initial trilogy, and the chase across the flooded landscape goes on with almost metronomic repetitiveness, so for me it sagged rather during that time.

I understand the print book is some 450 pages long. I listened to the audiobook and it didn't seem that long at all, because I was enjoying it so much, I guess! That said, I think Pullman could have used some self-editing here. The repetitive cyclic nature of the 'slow speed chase' rowing across the endless water, finding an island, rowing the water, finding an island might turn off many people, but for me in was just interesting enough to keep me reading and I'm looking forward to the next volume.

There were problems with this journey: almost no other humans were ever seen during the long aquatic trip, and the few that were, were always the villain, Gerard Bonneville, or the Consistorial Court boats. At one point we learned the Gyptians were out looking for Malcolm but they had only half as many boats as the Court, yet never once do we see one of those Gyptian boats, nor any boats bearing anyone else. How the Court and Bonneville managed to so expertly track Malcolm and Alice when no one else could was a bit too much to swallow and felt more amateurish than I thought this author capable.

I read some negative reviews that complained that Malcolm was boring and Alice never changed, and their roles were genderist, but it really wasn't that way at all. Just because Malcolm was in charge of the boat (his boat that he was an expert at using and Alice wasn't), doesn't mean she was confined to a traditional female role! This is not set in 2018, but at some time in the past when traditional gender roles were the norm, so this isn't a surprise, but Alice came through repeatedly, including decking Bonneville at one point, and Malcolm was repeatedly shown to have what might be termed a more traditional feminine side, so I really don't know what those reviewers were complaining about.

There's nothing weak about being a woman! There's nothing weak about playing to your strengths whatever they are. Some women want to be jet fighter pilots, others want to be homemakers and to chide the one for being traditional is insulting to the woman who choses such a role. Alice was doing what she chose to do and often telling Malcolm what's what. He consulted her frequently and she had no problem expressing her mind at will. How is any of that weak?

I recommend this as a worthy addition to the cannon. Just don't expect too much from it!


Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Good Demon by Jimmy Cajoleas


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Errata:
“...tinny screen light” - perhaps should be 'tiny screen light'?
"...shown a pure white light..." should be 'shone a pure white light' - this is the problem with pronouncing the word 'shone' as 'shown' rather than as 'shonn'!
“I mean the whole dum lot of them” - 'dumb lot'?!

I wanted to read this because it reminds me in small ways of my own Nature of the Beast, although the two stories are very different. I liked this one just as much as I like my own!

Clarabella once had a demon whom she called 'Her' and referred to as 'She'. Given the power which is typically assigned to knowing the name of an entity in stories like this, I concluded early that Clare's lack of a name for her demon might be significant as the story played out. I was wrong! That was the hallmark of this story - it kept me guessing! There is no doubt though, that when She and Clare were united, they were pretty much in love with one another. They talked like the closest of friends, and were of course always together.

She looked out for Clare's welfare fiercely. It was because of this ferocious protection (She could take over Clare's body at any time) that they were finally 'outed' and separated. Ever since then, Clare has been miserable and determined to get back together with Her, and it appears that She was counting on this. She left cryptic guidelines for how this reunion could be achieved. Why they were cryptic, I do not know. There seems to have been no valid reason for it, but it’s fun to see how Clare discovers these and goes about interpreting them.

Throughout the story - which I read avidly - I could not help but wonder about this demon. Was this truly an inter-spiritual love affair, or was the demon playing a devious long-range game? If you think you know, it probably just meets the author wrong-footed you again!

Having interpreted Her wishes, Clare finally finds herself in a position to make a deal to get Her back, but the wish-granter demands a price, of course. Clare quite gullibly agrees, misled into thinking that the boon will be a mere trinket, but it occurred to me that She was far more devious than Clare ever would have expected - and for once, I correctly discerned what the boon would be. So then the question became: is Clare so desperate to be reunited that she will quite literally pay any price?

That successful interpretation was pretty impressive for me, because I'm usually completely wrong when I try to prognosticate about such things in novels - and also in World Cup soccer it turns out! LOL! When the women's World Cup comes up next year, be sure to ask me for my predictions, and then be sure to bet in a diametrically opposed manner to whatever I say, and you may well become rich! Or maybe my inverse predictions only work in men's soccer? I make no guarantees!

Anyway, this book was a very worthy read, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton


Rating: WARTY!

This was another in a set of children's books written by celebrities that I'm reviewing and they're a sorry bag, I'm saddened to say.

I loved Tim Burton's Beetlejuice which I thought was inspired, and also his original Batman, both starring Michael Keaton, curiously! In my opinion, Micheal Keaton is underrated as much as Johnny Depp is overrated. That said, I did enjoy Burton's Ed Wood (no relation!) starring Depp.

I did like the movie of Nightmare. It was fun to watch once, but unlike Batman or Beetlejuice it doesn't compel me to go back to it. I'm acquainted, slightly, with one of the animators who worked on 3D clay sculptures for it, and I reviewed her book Lily Pond favorably very recently, and that work on this movie was exquisite, but I cannot say the same thing about Burton's book, both written and illustrated by him.

The illustrations, while perfectly competent, simply don't capture the presence of the characters in the movie. If your child adores the film and really, really, really wants the book then I guess they will not be so very disappointed in this, but for me it failed to capture the essence of the movie. It simply didn't have the weight and charm, and so I have to wonder why it was ever created in the way it was. As it is, I cannot commend it.


The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman


Rating: WARTY!

Published in 1990, for me this was the weakest book in the quadrilogy so far (I have one more volume still to read). Frederick is dead. Sally has had his child from their one brief dalliance right before he died, and it's this child, Harriet, who is at the heart of this story. Sally's closest friends and associates: Frederick's brother Webster Garland, Jim, and Charles are off in South America on a photo expedition.

What Sally doesn't know, but finds out very quickly, is that her foe from the first novel in the series has very carefully, sadistically, and expertly been putting in place her downfall, as she learns when divorce papers are served on her by a man named Arthur Parrish. This is a surprise to Sally because she has never even heard of Parrish, has never met him and has certainly never been married to him or to anyone else.

As she digs into the claims and accusations, Sally realizes that she has been set up in a way which will be very hard to fight, and especially so for a woman in that era. This situation is exacerbated, sadly, by the fact that the tough and capable Sally Lockhart from the previous two volumes is also dead. She has been replaced by a replica, exact in every detail except resolve and fortitude. This new Sally has the constitution of a wet biscuit, which is inexplicable. Why Pullman chose to do this to her is a mystery and a serious mistake.

The original Sally was not perfect by any means, but she did not let the fact that she was treated as a second class citizen (being a woman in Victorian times) get in the way of turning her life around in the first volume, or of taking down a dangerous and advantaged foe in the second. I know that here we have a child to consider, but to me this should have made Sally even more formidable, not less. That's not what we get.

The Sally here is weepy, lackluster, hesitant, nervous, distracted, aimless, clueless, and is pushed around by everyone she meets. It's sad to see a completely different person from the one we have loved in two successive volumes. Rather than stand up and fight, this sally effectively runs. Yes, she engages a solicitor, who in turn briefs a barrister to represent Sally in court, but both of these men, and particularly the barrister, are complete jerks. They aren't even willing to consider that the marriage never took place, and they treat her like a whore (the common term for a single mom in those days) and a victim.

Sally never once stands up to them much less fires them. Instead, she simply fails to turn up at her own trial, and of course loses - something she pretty much knew her barrister was going to do beforehand. She goes on the run with Harriet, which is ill-advised at best. In that era women, regardless of what they had or who they were before the marriage, became effectively the property of their husband once married, and he took possession of everything they owned and all of their children. They had no rights. Sally, therefore, as a now 'proven' wayward wife, lost everything. She knew this was coming yet took not a single step to counter it. She's not your Ruby in the Smoke sally, sorry to report.

Just as in the first novel, she's now penniless and on the street, this time with a very young child in tow. She could have transferred her ownership of her home and her business interests, and although that would have been challenged, it would have been something - a delaying tactic at least. What she could certainly have done is remove every penny from her back account, but she failed to even consider this, much less actually do it. Now her "husband' has everything and she has nothing.

Once again a man comes to her aid. He's a Jewish agitator who is also up against Parrish for his exploitation of Jewish immigrants. His associates give her shelter and hide her and Harriet from the police and Parrish. One of these, a man named Dan Goldberg, reveals to Sally that Parrish is a criminal who is running frauds and scams all over London, including houses of prostitution and exploitation of minorities. She learns from him that the man behind Parrish is known as Tzaddik, and it's he who is really doing all this to Sally, but Sally doesn't make the connection to a man named Lee with whom she had a run-in - and shot, but not fatally - back in book one, the events of which took place many years before those occurring in this volume.

Tzaddik is outright evil and to bring him down Sally takes a job in his house as a maid. he doesn't know what she looks like, and it all works out in the end, including Sally magically forgetting about the terrific romance she'd had with Frederick and having no problem shacking up with a different guy that she hardly knows. It's not a great story, and I cannot recommend it. The only thing which made me want to read volume four is that it's really a different story altogether, otherwise I would have quit right here.


The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

This was first published in 1986 as The Shadow in the Plate and is set six years after the previous volume The Ruby in the Smoke, this novel takes place in 1878. I know that they tended to go in for long engagements in the past, but six years seems like an awfully long time for nothing to have changed between Frederick and Sally. Indeed, it's like things have actually gone downhill. They are frequently at odds and outright name-calling arguing in this volume, so perhaps the long-term outcome was all for the best.

The dark stories continue with both Frederick, who is inexplicably a private investigator now, working with Jim, and Sally tackling different ends of what turns out to be the same problem. Sally, now with her own financial advisory business and a large dog, is trying to help a client recover the three thousand pounds which she lost after investing it on Sally's advice. The company went bust and Sally just knows that it wasn't any accident or poor planning. On the contrary: the collapse of the company was planned in detail by Axel Bellmann.

Meanwhile, via Jim, a showman and magician Alistair Mackinnon has had death threats. Mackinnon supposedly has the power of psychometry - being able to divine things from touching objects, and through this he has become aware of a murder. At a séance conducted by Nellie Budd, Jim and Fred learn of the very death which Mackinnon has seen. Evidently Nellie has psychic powers despite the fraudulent medium game she pursues.

Bellman sends a lackey to threaten Sally, who works alone out of her home. He has documented many visitations from men - obviously seeking financial advice, but Bellman plans to spin it as a house of prostitution if Sally doesn't back off. Sally doesn't back off.

To further his interests and influence, Bellmann plans on marrying the daughter of Lord Wytham. I have two observations here. The first is purely regarding my own amusement when I read this sentence: "Lord Wytham was a handsome man" to which I wanted to append, "Lord without 'em he was ugly as sin," but that's simply frivolity. It does, however, offer an insight: you should be careful how you write things, and also how you choose your character names if you don't want to provoke unintended mirth amongst your readership! Moreover, why were his looks important? No answers are to be found here.

The second thing relates to this with regard to the complementary sex (not opposite, surely!) in describing female characters as beautiful. It's almost like there's a law forbidding female characters from being ordinary or plain. It seems that male characters - even major ones, in novels can get away with any amount of ordinary and average, yet females are required to be young and beautiful - not pretty, not attractive, not good-looking, although these do occur, but outright beautiful. I think it's a poor choice and worse, a clichéd choice against which I've railed on more than one occasion

I want to give here, thanks to Philip Pullman, an example of how it can be done and made to work well. Frederick, the photographer, has his breath taken away by Lord Wytham's daughter, Lady Mary. The text reads, "...beautiful wasn't quite the word. The girl was astoundingly lovely, with a grace and shyness and delicate coral coloring which made him want to reach for his camera..."

So here is the first part of it - a photographer's view. Note that it's not the author telling us she's beautiful, but a character observing her to be so, and he's doing this because he is a photographer - someone who we would expect to react to beauty whether it's in the face of a woman, or in a sunset, or a flower, or something else.

Later, another character says to the main character, Sally Lockhart, "...Lady Mary's beauty would fade. Yours is not dazzling, but it is a beauty of mind and character, and it will grow stronger...." To me, that is exactly how it should be approached and how it can be done well. Anything else is cheap by comparison and insulting to women in general.

In addition to Sally, there is another strong woman in this novel - she's an ardent admirer of Mackinnon's who has no illusions about her own lack of beauty. Her face is disfigured by a birthmark, but she shows her inner beauty by how strong she is in the face of her poverty and in her lack of a more ordinary-looking face. She is the one who shows them a newspaper clipping which confirms the visions both Mackinnon and Budd have had. It's someone Bellmann killed in a duel. We also have confirmed something which has been a growing suspicion for attentive readers: that Mackinnon is actually the son of Lord Wytham and Nellie Budd.

Sally has by now learned that Bellmann is building an automated steam gun. His belief is that once every nation owns these guns, peace will inevitably reign because no one will dare start a war. He's delusional of course, as the arms race between the US (United States) and the US (Union of Soviets) conclusively proved. The big guys simply pay the little guys, one way or another, to fight proxy wars. As long as there are haves and have-nots, war is inevitable. But this is not the problem with the steam gun as Sally discovers. It's confined to railway tracks. With such limited mobility, Sally determines that it's intended to be used against a nation's own population, not against foreign aggressors. But Sally has a plan.

Pullman evidently likes to kill off main characters with the glee of a Joss Whedon or a Jo Rowling, and he manages to slaughter both Sally's dog and her fiancé, as Frederick is by then. Bellman is also dead, and we're left with the knowledge that Sally's one brief dalliance with Frederick has borne fruit. I recommend this as a worthy read.


The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman


Rating: WORTHY!

Published in 1985, and set in Victorian times, 1872, this is the first of a quadrilogy, three-quarters of which I enjoyed overall. It's been a long time since I read this though, and I still have to read the last volume in the set!

I have multiple problems with Goodreads (not least of which is that it's owned by the unforgivable Amazon), but one of them is that the blurb for this book begins: "Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty." I don't see what that has to do with anything. If she were sixteen and plain would her story be not worth telling? Are her age and her looks her most important qualities? Goodreads makes me sick at times.

Yes, maybe that blurb was posted by some reviewer, but if Goodreads librarians were not among the most useless people on the planet, they would fix things like this. I'm surprised that Pullman himself hasn't complained about it. I know I would if someone characterized one of my main characters so shallowly. But then he's not listed as a 'Goodreads author' whatever the hell that means, so maybe his voice doesn't count since they don't own him? Or maybe he gives less thought to Goodreads machinations than I do? I dunno.

The Wikipedia entry isn't much better! The entry doesn't talk about beauty, but it's so obsessed with TV and stage adaptations of the book that it completely fails to say a word about the plot! Pathetic. An encyclopedia entry that says not a word about its subject! LOL! That's sadly underperforming for Wikipedia I have to say.

Take it from me that Sally Lockhart's looks are unimportant in this story. It's her character that's the critical quality and she has that in abundance. She's an orphan, her mother some time past, and her father having died in a shipwreck. She's under the care (so-called) of a cold bitch of a woman, but this doesn't hold sway for long.

Sally is called to the shipping office to which her father had ties and she learns of some information there that sets her on a course of conflict with the bad guys, which consist of a mysterious Asian and an evil woman who works for him and who isn't entirely lacking in similarity to Marisa Coulter of the 'His Dark Materials' hexalogy. Sally bests them both and makes a friend of Frederick with whom she has only a short-term relationship, it turns out.

I really liked this story and commend it as a worthy read. I also commend the TV adaptation starring two Doctor Who alumni: a very young Matt Smith and Billie Piper.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fearless girls, wise women, and beloved sisters edited by Kathleen Ragan


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "heroines in folktales from around the world" this was a mixed quality book which I nonetheless commend as a worthy read. I picked it up because folk tales are always fun; plus I'm currently working on a book based on a fairy tale, and I was hoping it would contribute to enriching that book, but it really didn't! It did give me some entertainment, and those ideas are now percolating in my brain, which is always a dangerous thing.

This book, be warned, is a very long book, and it took me some time to get though in my leisurely, meandering, idiosyncratic manner. It's divided into somewhat arbitrary regions of the globe from which these various tales are derived: Africa, Pacific, Europe, Asia, North and South American, etc., and each story indicates the people it came from, so the variety (and the quality, as I mentioned) is immense. It does mean that there is something for everyone.

After each story, the editor adds a paragraph about the thrust of the story or adds some personal observation, or something about feminism. The book is after all, as you can guess, comprised of stories wherein the main character is a woman, and some of them are based on legends of real historical women.

My favorites were Molly Whuppie, A Wonderful Story, Davit, and Anait, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy many of the others. Now I've commended it, I can recommend it!

Sailor Twain or, The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel written and illustrated by Siegel, which I read a while back and had forgotten to blog! I do not know how that happened, but now I'm correcting that mistake. I really enjoyed this. It went on a bit long to be truly perfect, and the ending was somewhat confused, but overall it was a worthy read.

I'm not a big fan of mermaid stories, despite having an idea for one of my own! They have never made a whole lot of sense to me, but to have the, what might be called 'vagina-shaming' and erroneous insult of a fishy smell taken ownership of in so graphic a manner whereby the lower half actually is a fish, is too delicious and intriguing a concept, and I have to love it.

My lack of fanship for these stories is admirably attested to by the fact that I've reviewed only one mermaid book in my entire blog of many hundreds of reviews, and I liked that one. I know I have another somewhere on my shelf which I should read and blog, but for now, this is the only other one. That said, I watched and enjoyed an entire TV series about these mermaids who live on the coast of Queensland, Australia. it was called H2O and had a kick-ass theme song (Ordinary Girl) written by Shelly Rosenberg and performed by Kate Alexa.

The reason I made this drastic decision was that I was working on my Terrene World novel Seahorses, a follow-up to Cloud Fighters, although featuring a different cast (I'm not a fan of series!). My characters are not mermaids, but they do have special powers in this environmentally-themed, female-empowerment novel for middle-graders which was also set in that same general vicinity, and I wanted some local flavor and accent, and in the end I became quite a fan of the show because it was so cute and amusing! Plus I've always been a softie for Australians.

Anyway! Sailor Twain plies the Hudson river in New York and he lands a mermaid one day. She's sick and he keeps her hidden in his cabin as he nurses her back to health whereupon the two become quite attached. The story then becomes highly embellished with shady characters, mysterious females, and undersea enchantments, and apart from the somewhat confused ending, it tells a fun story of intrigue, fantasy, and mystery and does quite a good take on mermaid mythology. I recommend it. Or maybe just commend it. I mean, why would I recommend it when I haven't commended it in the first place? Okay...so I commend it, and now I recommend it! Yeah, that's it!


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst


Rating: WORTHY!

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

THIS BOOK WAS FREAKING AWESOME!

Let me say here, right up front, that I am not a fan of were-books: shape-shifters and the like. I particularly detest the plethora of werewolf novels that have flooded the market in the wake of the execrable Twilight garbage. It should have been named Twee Light. What I respect are not those authors who jump on the latest big trilogy bandwagon (it's alway a tedious trilogy, isn't it?), but those who take the road less traveled, and I had a feeling about this one. So it's congrats to the blurb writer for once!

Anyone who follows my reviews has to know that I have little respect for publisher's back-cover blurb writers. I have to love a blurb that doesn't ask a totally brain-dead question at the end: "Will she find the love of her life?" (after the spineless chicky has fled back to her hometown?) Duhh. Of course she will otherwise what's the point of your dumbass romance? "Can Jack-Me-Lad-The-Hero ex-Marine special forces cowboy save the wilting maiden in distress and take her in his manly arms?" Who the heck cares, really? Can the young fresh filly in the werewolf pack win the hardened heart of the aloof, troubled, damaged, warped, out-of-whack, blemished, besmirched, gun-shy, bad-boy alpha male? Or should the bitch just shoot him like the rabid cur he is? Do those blurb writers really think their readers are that stupid?

But I digress! I decided take a chance and it paid off. I am not a fan of first person novels at all, but this one was first person and I loved it. See? It can be done - if you know how to write, and two things Sarah Beth Durst knows are how to plot and how to write. I was enraptured from the start and flew through the pages like a were-dragon through the sky, and talking of which, Sky Hawkins is my new go-to-girl.

The story is quite short, but packed with amusement, action, and awesomeness. I can't give it a better compliment than to say I wish I had thought of this first! I guess I'll have to stick with Saurus! The story is of the Hawkins family - once well-to-do in the wyvern world, but now rather disgraced and humbled, their mother having failed in her last heist (wyverns are famous for their heists), and also having shamefully disappeared without a trace.

Well, Sky isn't going to put up with it, and if her frightened brothers and father aren't going to help, she's going to put together her own crew, and find out exactly what her mother was up to on that fateful night trying to rob the vault of her boyfriend's...sorry, ex-boyfriend's (he ditched her after the scandal) father. I won't insult your intelligence by asking if she knows what she's doing! I'll just say, read it and leap!

I came across a couple of notes I'd made to myself that I only just uncovered recently. Here they are! At one point, Sky observes of the dragon land that she calls home: “'Home has robots?' When I’d pictured a dragon homeland, I hadn’t pictured, well, Star Trek" Excuse me, but Star Trek has no robots! It’s one of the big problems with it, just as the problem with Star Wars is too many ridiculous and annoying robots. We have robots and drones already, here and now. I makes no sense whatsoever to posit a future where they no longer exist - not without a really good explanation for it which has yet to be forthcoming.

The other thing was that on p132, Novi, the portal guard has to return to her post, but then four pages later, she’s still there with Sky! These are only minor issues, and have nothing to take away from the overall enjoyability of the book. I don't doubt that we've all made the Novi error or something like it, but it is something a professional editor should catch even if the writer doesn't. So I still recommend this work as a worthy read. Just wanted to tidy up and close out the review!


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Alex and the Monsters: Here Comes Mr. Flat! by Jaume Copons, Liliana Fortuny


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Translated from the original French by David Warriner, this book (curiously originally titled Arriba el Sr Flat!) was a bit young for me, so while I found it entertaining and I recommend it as a worthy read for middle-grade readers, it's also the start of a series, and I don't intend to follow it beyond this volume. I'm not much of a series kind of a guy!

So Alex is a middle-grader who is totally irresponsible and I'm not completely convinced that he learned his lesson by the end of the book! His room is a mess and his homework assignments - while he does them - do not get turned in. Frankly I think his teachers are as irresponsible as Alex is if they don't require the kids to turn in their assignments regularly!

Alex discovers that this plush toy he finds (which he calls a 'stuffie') is actually a real monster from a book (so the monster claims). The monsters all got kicked out of their book by the evil Dr Brut. The monster, Mr Flat, brings a change to Alex's life by interesting him in reading, but aside from Mr Flat going missing, that's about all that happens in this short novel.

The novel is illustrated by Liliana Fortuny, and has some comic-book like pages, but mostly it's a chapter book and it's mildly amusing and entertaining, and the pictures are sometimes funny, so I consider this a worthy read for its intended age group.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I recently favorably reviewed this artist's book Tug of War. I had slightly mixed feelings about that, but this book is not so much an order of magnitude greater, as it is in a different universe. It's a pure pleasure to read.

For some reason, this book did not want to download from Net Galley, but I'm glad I persisted. After three attempts it finally came down - dragons are like that! - and it turned out to be one of the most gorgeously-illustrated children's books I've ever read.

The cover looks like it's lit with neon lights, and the interior is one breathtaking image after another. Maud is a rainbow joy especially when compared with the earth tomes of the other dragons. I read this in my iPad, but out of curiosity I downloaded it to my iPhone too, and it still looked good on there although the text is too small to read without stretching the image on the screen, but the pictures are worth having in your pocket!

Maud is a very shy night dragon and while her four colleagues (they're not really friends) launch every evening to spew out soot and darken the sun for night time, Maud sits and dreams. Her only true friend is the mouse who urges her to fly, but Maud is shy.

One afternoon the other four dragons have a party - Maud isn't invited it needles to say - and afterwards the others are so sleepy that they fail to awaken to start the night. It's all up to Maud! It turns out that Maud really isn't like the other dragons after all. Instead of sooty, dark sunsets, she breathes out the most fiery orange, startling yellow, deep red, heliotrope, and gold sunsets you ever saw. She flies all around the world delivering this brilliant bounty of beauty, and finally comes into her own - as any artist will given sufficient encouragement and support!

I loved this book and I recommend it as a worthy read for children young and old.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Unwanted Quests Dragon Captives by Lisa McCann


Rating: WORTHY!

I didn't realize, when I picked this up, that it was part of a larger world, and maybe even a series. The publisher/author all-too-often doesn't tell you on the book cover, "Hey dummy, this is volume 2 - go read volume 1 first!" This is one reason I am not a fan of series.

However, this book can be read as a standalone which was my inadvertent approach, and it was an enjoyable read - the one gem in a pile of dross that is my experience of selecting audiobooks off the library shelves. Although I have to say up front that this was a gem which lost a little of its luster before the story was over.

This world appears to me to be a bit like the floating "Hallelujah Mountains" of Pandora from the movie Avatar, excepting that here they're more like worlds - or at least large islands in space. It may be that previous books in this world have defined those other islands since each is named "The Island of..." but I can't speak to that. There is apparently no way to get from one island to another except by magical means, and it so happens that the world in which sisters Phifer and Thisbe (spellings may be off since this was an audiobook) exist, there is magic. Predictably for a book of this nature, the child in question either doesn't have it, or they're not yet fully mature in it.

The latter is the case with the sisters, and their unreasonable older brother Alex happens to be head magician of their world. but he will not let them learn magic until they show responsibility. The problem is that they cannot control their magic very well, and often cause harm and do damage with it. Why idiot Alex thinks denying them lessons will improve things is a mystery, but this is his position, so they sneak around picking up whatever magic they can from wherever they can.

In a rip-off of Harry Potter, there is a dark and dangerous forest where they're not supposed to go, so of course they go and get into trouble, and this in turn leads to their decision to go help the dragons on a different island after their bother refuses to do so. This is where they end up in trouble, and I'm sorry to say this novel ends in a cliffhanger and so isn't really a novel, but episode one, which to me is a downright cheat. That said, I enjoyed this book as far as it went, and I recommend it as a worthy read, especially for people who enjoy series with cliffhangers!

One of the reason I enjoyed it so much was the spirited reading by Fiona Hardingham. I don't know if she's British or not; I'd never heard of her, but she inflected these charming British accents for the two girls and quite won me over. Her only misstep in my opinion was in one of the animal characters. In this world, there are animated stone statues, and this really what makes the forest dangerous, Why wizards didn't go in there and re-freeze all the harmful statues is an unexplained mystery, but not all of them are evilly-intentioned. One of these is a cheetah. This species comes from Africa and India, but for inexplicable reasons, the reader gave it an American drawl! It made zero sense and took me out of suspension of disbelief every time it spoke.

The story went downhill somewhat towards the end and the abrupt non-ending was annoying, but the early part of the story and Hardingham's reading had won me over enough by then for me to let that slide. I recommend this, but I do not feel so excited by it that I want to read more. For those who do, there are many other volumes set in this world as far as I can tell.


Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor


Rating: WARTY!

I read and enjoyed Daughter of Smoke & Bone but not so much the sequel and I never did finish the trilogy because I cannot drum up the enthusiasm to start on book three after book two turned out to be, though readable, rather disappointing. My verdict on this book has nothing to do with the fact that the title shares its initials with Sexually Transmitted Disease, I assure you!

Since this was a different story (I had not realized it was a trilogy when I picked it up on audio) I decided to give this a try and maybe work my way back to finishing the other trilogy, but it wasn't to be and now I'm done with Laini Taylor. As I've said before of books, it was more like 4F so it was definitely not 2B! The story was boring. That was the biggest problem.

It began well enough but it took forever to get anywhere, and I only made it to ten percent in when I decided to quit because it was dragging and dragging and dragging. The reader, Steve West did not help at all. He pronounced each sentence like it was...well, a sentence! Sonorous, monotonous, tedious. As pronounced by him, everything carried so much import that it made it not only meaningless, but tiresome to listen to.

The story perked up slightly and I thought maybe I could get back into it, but then it went totally off the rails and into a completely different story which I did not appreciate because I liked that one even less. I am sure the two stories join up at some point, but I had no interest whatsoever in this other intrusive story so it was no incentive whatsoever to carry on, and I decided this book was too long to read on faith. Might it turn out to be a worthy read? I really didn't care. I have better things to do with my time than indulge in what was increasingly looking like a sunk cost fallacy.

The story is about (supposedly!) orphan Lazlo Strange, long-obsessed with the now mythical lost city by the absurd name of Weep. It's miles across the desert, so though he longs to go find it, he has no resources, until people from that selfsame city arrive in his own city asking for help. Apparently 200 years ago some disaster befell them, and now they need the expertise of outsiders to recover their civilization, so they're asking for people from Lazlo's city to join them, help them, and reap the rich rewards. Lazlo signs on and it was then, when I sincerely hoped things would actually get moving, that the story ground to a juddering halt and morphed into this thing which seemed like a completely different story. It was then that I resolved to give up on Laini Taylor and return this to the library so someone else can suffer instead of me! I'm sure there are others who will enjoy it, but I cannot recommend this based on my experience of it.


Chimera Book One: The Righteous & The Lost by Tyler Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have no idea what this graphic novel was about, even having read it! It made no sense and was so choppy and disjointed, jumping back and forth between sometimes seemingly unrelated events that even when they turned out to be related offered no clue as to what they were actually all about.

The art work was fine enough, but there was no coherent story there so all we had was a coffee table art book. The blurb claims that "...a crew of thieves is hired for a covert mission in the midst of a galaxy being ripped apart by an interstellar holy war." but I don't recall ever a crew being assembled. There was a rag tag group of four creatures who might be the crew referred to, but not a one of them was appealing as a character.

I did see relentless images of an artist's attempt to invent bizarre and threatening alien creatures, none of which had any inventiveness about them, and some made zero sense, which is what happens when an artist with no idea of biology, or evolution tries to invent alien organisms. I cannot recommend this at all.