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

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.


Oothar the Blue by Brandon Reese


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This story was so tongue in cheek that that I had to go see an orthodontist after I read it. Oothar isn't literally blue, notwithstanding the book's cover. In fact, Oothar is not withstanding anything. He ignores bedraggled dragons. He can't be bothered with railing, wailing wraiths. And he certainly isn't interested in gouging rouge rogue ogres. Nothing seems to bring him pleasure until he finds, after a fit of constructive rage, that a career change is in order, and suddenly, everything is coming up roses!

I'm not sure exactly who this forty-some page graphic novel book is aimed at, but I think it would entertain anyone, especially barbarians with its Aryan barbs. It did me, anyway. I recommend it.


The Wormworld Saga Vol 1 The Journey Begins by Daniel Lieske


Rating: WARTY!

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

I wasn't impressed with this story and it reconfirmed my rule of thumb never to read any story with the word 'saga' (or 'cycle' or 'chronicles' in the title). I didn't apply that rule to comic books and now I think I shall have to!

Of course it wasn't aimed at me and maybe the middle-graders it is aimed at will go for it, but for me it was too abrupt of an ending - it never really offered any sort of resolution because it was so determined to leave you on a cliff-hanger to draw you into the next one in the series. This is the problem with series, and why I am not very much a fan of them. I appreciate an author more who leaves you wanting to read on because he or she has done such as good job of investing you in the story rather than one who forces you into a choice by breaking the story in the middle of something.

The art work was colorful but a bit plastic in my view, so it left something wanting, although some individual images were really rather fetching. But the story really wasn't anything new: a kid finds a magical portal into some other world where they magical find themselves a special being. It's been done so many times that if you want to do it again, you really need to bring your 'A' game and I felt none of that here. Indeed, I felt like there was more story told in the blurb than ever we had in the actual story which I think is a first for me.

So all in all I cannot recommend this, although I wish the author all the best in his pursuit of this tale.


Once a King by Erin Summerill


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

There was nothing in the Net Galley page for this book to indicate it was part of a series. If I had known it was I would not have requested to review it. It does not stand alone well. I am not a fan of Sarah J Maas who recommends this. I should have taken her recommendation as a bad omen and steered clear. My bad!

I think books in a series, especially in a trilogy, and especially if it's a YA trilogy should carry a warning sign like on cigarettes. In general terms, and while there are exceptions, series are not known for being inventive. The whole existence is predicated upon derivation and cloning and that's what this felt like, even not having read the first two volumes. The earth, fire, water, and wind motif is overdone in books, and the way it’s depicted here is far too reminiscent of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series for it to be truly original.

I was really disappointed in this because it offered so little that was new. It's like the author read a dozen popular YA love stories and appropriated the most clichéd parts of each of them. I was still waiting for the king - the male interest - to be revealed to have gold flecks in his eyes when I DNF'd this out of disgust at twenty percent in. Out of sheer devilment I did a search to see if 'gold flecks' or 'gold flecked' appeared in the book, but it doesn't; however, in conducting this search I discovered that the king's other golden traits: hair, skin, eyelashes, are trotted out a sickening number of times, so in my book that counts just as badly as the gold-flecked eyes!

So this is your standard tired story of a man and a woman who hate each other and then fall in love, so there's nothing new there at all. I can't even give any credit for the author making him a king rather than a prince because really? If it had been the other way around and she was the queen and he the 'maiden-in-distress' character that would have made at least a bit of a difference, but as it was, I saw nothing here that I haven't read two dozen times too many in female-penned YA novels.

Why so many female authors pen themselves up this way is a mystery to me, but then I like to read something new when I pick up a new book - not the same tired old thing I've read a score of times before. Far too many YA authors seem not to care about that in their desperation to sell their trilogy, and neither do publishers, evidently. I think it's because, for too many writers, it's not about the writing, it's all about the Benjamins isn't it? They seem like they want play it safe by cloning trilogies of other writers, and recovering old ground endlessly, rather than take the road less traveled and bring us something truly sterling, and it's a crying shame. Rest assured I will never go down that path. It's too boring.

Funnily enough, that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was that once again the author of a YA story goes for the first person voice and then doubles-down on her error by making it dual first person. I read the first chapter (in the female's voice) and then went on into the second chapter not realizing it had changed to the king's voice. For a screen or two the story made less and less sense than it already had until I realized the author was using worst person times two. That's enough to turn me off a story even if the story is interesting, which I honestly can’t say about this one. Maybe if I’d read the first two volumes it might have made a difference - at least in that I would not have had to read this one?

The main female character, whose name I already forgot, is not an actor, she is a thing which is acted upon: just a girl who can't say "No!" The blurb even tells us that "...when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no" and maybe it’s a bit cruel to quote that, especially since authors have nothing to do with their blurbs unless they self-publish, but this is actually an accurate portrayal of her weakness. She is controlled and buffeted like an insect in a bathtub drain, and if she'd shown some sign that she was rebelling against this and taking arms against this drain of troubles instead of being the tool of men (take that how you will), I would have at least had the temptation to continue, but she offered me nothing. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot recommend this novel based on the thoroughly unoriginal and uninventive part I could stand to read.


Mae Vol 1 by Gene Ha


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Some of us amateur reviewers don't get to pick the cherry off the top. Once in a while we get lucky, but often, we're reduced to going after the Read Now offers on Net Galley, and this was one of those. It's always a bit 'potluck' in the Read Now bleachers, but every once in a while a gem comes along and this is what I found here. Although it seemed to borrow a bit (there were elements of CS Lewis (the portal to another world), Doctor Who (the many headed robot and the arachnid girl) and even Star Wars (some of the creatures were rather reminiscent of the appalling Ewoks), but that aside it was a fun and original story with a kick-ass female times two, and I typically enjoy that kind of story.

As the blurb has it, Mae is missing her older sister who disappeared several years ago and all Abbie has is memories. Now Abbie's back, from inner space, she's just standing there with that ferocious look upon her face! She is telling fairy tales, and she is making poor Mae wail, but it turns out that Abbie isn't lying as Mae learns, up close and personal, when some of these creatures come over from the parallel work and start going after Mae.

Inevitably the sisters travel back to the other side where everything Abbie told her sister is confirmed, and Mae in turn confirms that she's just as awesome as her sister when it comes to being a strong, decisive, inventive, and imaginative young woman despite the odds. The artwork was really intriguing to me because it had elements of computer-generation and hand painting, so I am not sure how it was done, but I really liked it. I also like the script which was snappy and kept the story moving, but wasn't overly wise-ass or juvenile, and the female characters were portrayed as real females, not as pneumatic adolescent male fantasies, which was a big plus for me. This is a great fantasy, I enjoyed it very much and I look forward to the next volume.


Friday, June 1, 2018

The Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian


Rating: WARTY!

Sixteen year old Theodosia, yet another in a long line of dumb, boring, derivative and pointless YA princesses has convinced me that YA princesses are now officially overtaking Disney princesses as the most interchangeable, generic, blandest princesses of all. Disney is showing some improvement, YA writers in general are not.

I now am honestly and seriously wondering what is wrong in particular with female YA writers that they cannot get out of both this princess rut and this asinine and tedious trilogy rut they are in. I guess money is more important to them than writing a good story. They so desperately want that book contract, don't they? And Big Publishing™ so desperately wants a story it can milk no matter how many times it's been done before, doesn't it? I'd rather never be published than play that game or get stuck in that rut.

So here we have Princess Dumbass, who saw her mother the Fire Queen killed on the order of the evil invading king, and now we're conveniently ten years on so we can have a princess in her mid-teens so we can have a moronic love-triangle, we find the princess is best friends with the daughter of the man who literally killed her mother, and falling in love with the son of the evil invading king. Barf. Is it even possible to have a dumber princess than this? Is it even possible to have a story that is more mix-and-match than this, with every single element taken from other YA stories?

Why, if the land of Theodocile was so powerful with the force (magical gems or air, earth, fire, and water barf) was it even possible for the invading king and his people - who have no magic - to win this war? And having won it, why would the invading king even leave anyone alive who was remotely connected to the ruling family? IT. MAKES. NO. SENSE. But it's a YA story written by a female author featuring a cloned princess, so why would it make any sense? There are, thank goodness, female YA writers who get it, but there are so many more of them who simply do not get it and never will. This author is one of them. She has drunk the YA Kool-Aid™ and the princess Flavor Aid™

From the first chapter I could see exactly how this would all pan out. I could tell, even though the book itself gave no indication of it on the cover, that this was going to be a trilogy with a love triangle. It was so painfully obvious that this book could well be a parody of itself. Having decided this was not for me, I read a few reviews on it, and the negative ones all agreed with my assessment. Don't even think of saying you can't review a book after reading so little of it. Yes, you can, when it's patently obvious that this is a cookie-cutter, YA, troll-ogy, female lead, female-written, love-triangle, uninventive, unimaginative, paint-by-the-numbers-of-dollars-you're-aiming-at, piece of tree-wasting garbage.


Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell


Rating: WORTHY!

The initial of this title spell 'woo', and that's exactly what this is! Magical woo where the warrior princess appears to have magic and the magician prince appears to have warrior skills, and ne'er the twain shall meet - so the rule says, but you know that's not going to happen. This is a new series by the author of the How to Train Your Dragon. I am not a series fan and do not plan on pursuing this since it's for a younger age group than mine, but just this one story was a worthy read as far as it went.

Wizard children come into their magic at thirteen, give or take, but the wizard lord's son Xar hasn't got his. He decides to help things along by capturing a witch and stealing hers. In this book witches are horrid hybrids of birds and people and you do not want to mess with them. The story is that all witches are extinct, but Xar doesn't believe it - and he's right not to. He takes some of his friends and magical creatures out into the Badwoods which are, like in Harry Potter, off limits, along with, like in Harry Potter, a magical sword with special powers, to build a trap to catch a witch, and he ends up meeting the princess warrior of course.

The princess warrior is named Wish and she is on a mission to return her pet magic spoon to the Badwoods and set it free. Here's where the book blurb is clueless. The 'Evil Queen' is wish's mom, and she's not actually evil. There is evil in the castle, but no one is aware of it until Wish and Xar find themselves face to face with it and try to defeat it.This was an audiobook experiment that paid off. David Tenant did an able reading of this novel, although his voice characterizations were sometimes a bit much for my taste. That said, some of them were really amusing. Overall, I found it entertaining enough for a single story; just not for an entire series though. I am not a fan of series! They're boring and derivative, with few exceptions. So I shall recommend this here, and leave that there.


Rat Queens Vol. 3 Demons by Kurtis J Wiebe, Tess Fowler, Tamra Bonvillain


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of these that I had not yet reviewed. It was slightly odd, reading them out of order, but it really didn't spoil my experience because I really loved these characters and this series. I look forward to the next one! Tess Fowler took over the art work when Stjepan Šejić stepped down due to ill-health. She had illustrated a special issue introducing transgender Orc warrior Braga and stayed on for this volume which brings together individual issues 11 - 15 and also includes the Braga story as an appendix.

This story was mostly about Hannah the mage, who it turns out got her magic in a somewhat unorthodox way, and now it seems the tab has come due. The four Rat Queens (Braga is not yet with them) return to Mage University so that lingering business can be taken care of, and they find all is not well. Dee hooks up with her brother whom she hasn't seen in quite a while. Betty the Halfling befriends a dragon, and Hannah confronts her past about which there are conflicting stories. Violet the dwarf is about the only one who has a quiet story.

The art and coloring were great, and it was nice to get some back story on at least one of these Rat Queens. Hannah not only has Mage issues, she also has family drama going on. I really liked this one and consider it a real contender for my favorite of the series, but I think I shall have to read them all again before I decide. I recommend this volume, and this series.


Rat Queens Vol 4 by Kurtis J Weibe, Owen Gieni


Rating: WORTHY!

I've been following this series, but somehow I missed volume three (newsflash - not any more!). I love it. I loved this volume. This one is about the adventures of Betty the smidge, Delilah the human witch, Hannah the elf, and Violet the dwarf teaming up with Braga the transgender Orc to find work again after a brief layoff. Vi is still not sporting her beard, and her brother, perhaps concerned about her shaving habits, has suddenly started turning up with his own team - aimed at mimicking hers. He has someone teleport him to the site of the Rat Queens' proposed work, so he can take some of the credit for it and claim some of the reward. This does not please Vi at all.

This series has been plagued by issues with the artist - not the artwork, but the artist. Original artist Roc Upchurch was arrested on charges of domestic violence in late 2014, so Stjepan Šejić came in to replace him, but he left in mid-2015 for health reasons. Tess Fowler took over and then she left (due to creative differences, apparently) which led to a hiatus in early 2016. In late 2016, Owen Gieni was brought on board for this volume 4 aka 'High Fantasies'. Rat Queens can also be found in web comic adventures.

As usual, this was a fun read and as usual, I recommend it.