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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay if sometimes annoyingly by Charlie Thurston, this audiobook novel started out with an interesting premise, but got lost somewhere along the way and by about two-thirds the way through it, the author had lost me as a supporter by having the story ramble way too much. The blurb describes this debut novel as "clever and witty" but it's neither. And there's no "sharp-witted satire." In the end, what there was, was boredom and I DNF'd it. The writer is a comic book writer, but the novel doesn't read like a comic book; it reads more like a menu. A disjointed, rambling menu advertising yesterday's leftovers.

The premise is that a musician with the bizarre name of Will Dando (have prophecies, will dando?!) gets these predictions spoken to him in his sleep; over a hundred of them. With the usual computer geek friend, he sets up an anonymous website where be begins posting the predictions. The website is unimaginatively referred to as 'The Site' and the predictor is unimaginatively known as 'The Oracle'. There is a predictably ruthless jackass working for the government who wants to track him down and who hires a predictably tame on the surface, but dangerous underneath, older woman known as 'The Coach' to do the dirty. There is a predictably pissed-off religious leader with a predictably Biblical name who also wants him.

The predictions seems random, and will dandos around aimlessly, not knowing what to do with them except post them in batches on his website, but instead of posting them all and then severing all ties to the website, Will dandos on and on stupidly and gets tracked down, of course, because he's a moron. Monkey see, will dando. Yet despite being a whiny-assed moron, he has a "beautiful journalist" fall for him. Why it's important that she's beautiful according to the book blurb, is a mystery, except that only beautiful counts for anything in these novels, doesn't it? A smart woman doesn't work for this kind of story, neither does a capable one or one with loyalty, grit, determination, bravery, integrity, humor, or whatever. No, the only important thing to the misogynist of a book blurb writer is that she's beautiful because in his world, women have no other value, obviously.

Eventually even dandoing around as he does, Will figures out there's something going on here because the predictions, when combined and in hindsight, seemed aimed at orchestrating something. He's just too dumb to figure out what it is, and I simply didn't care what it was. I can't commend this.



Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Missing Barbegazi by HS Norup


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Helle Sidelmann Norup is Danish by birth and it shows in this work which would have been handled differently by am American author (assuming one had even thought to write this). The story is original, to begin with and not derived from some long line of stories rooted in a tired old fairy-tale, like so many US middle-grade authors do, but more than that, it's realistic and inventive, playful and fun, and tells an engaging and interesting story.

It's fiction, of course, but it would be so easy to believe something like this could happen or even has happened. Not being American, the author felt no compulsion whatsoever to set this in the USA, which an unfortunately large number of US authors seem to think is the only place in the world where anything worth writing about can take place. With an attitude like that pervading our literature, it was no surprise to me at all that we finally elected a president who is xenophobic and seems to think there's nowhere else on this planet other than the USA that merits any attention at all. Believe me, this book is a breath of fresh air in middle-grade writing.

Barbegazi are beings from the folklore of the French and the Swiss. The odd name comes from the French barbe-glacée, which literally means 'frozen beard'. Tessa - the main character in this story - grew up hearing of the barbegazi from her grandfather, who has recently died. Her grandmother isn't taking it well. Tessa feels that if she can locate a barbegazi, and prove - at least to herself and her grandmother - that her discredited grandfather wasn't deranged, it will help her grandmother to recover.

Well, guess what? She does find one! She finds a whole family of them and the family has a problem. Tessa is only too happy to help them out, but the problem is: barbegazi don't trust humans! Tessa will need to learn and grow, and take on her shoulders some adult values and traits. And she's equal to it!

She knows a lot about the barbegazi from her grandfather, but when she needs to know more, she reads the notes her grandfather left. Oh my - a girl who is shown to be intelligent by her actions, not from the fact that a lazy author simply told us she reads books! What a pleasant novelty! This is how you write a story about a smart young girl! You don't say she reads books, you show her studying a book to find answers! This author gets it. Far too many authors I've read do not.

I liked this story from the start, and though I'm far from middle-grade, it maintained my interest throughout. It was original, realistic, thoughtful, and fun. Tessa was shown authentically: not perfect, not a genius, not a dope, not cowardly, not super-powered, not squeamish or squeal-ish - just an ordinary girl who has a few things to prove not for herself, but to help others. This author nailed it completely, and I'm happy to commend this as a worthy read and a fun novel. It's one of the best I've read this year so far, middle-grade or otherwise!


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke


Rating: WARTY!

I think I'm done reading Cornelia Funke because my results with her tend to be dissatisfactory. This was like the final straw. It's not that I haven't liked anything by her, but the ratio of successes to failures has been very poor for me and I am not a good member of the sunk cost fallacy club!

This novel, aimed at middle-grade, is about this eleven-year-old kid in England who gets sent to boarding school because of a conflict between him and his new stepfather. Way to go, mom - show the kid how much you love him by kicking him out in favor of your new husband!

So he goes off to school and starts fitting in, but at one point he realizes he can see ghosts, and these are not passive ghosts, but ghosts who have been for several centuries now, hunting down his family line and killing them off. I guess they haven't been very successful in their quest, because they still haven't wiped out the line - and how hard could that have been?

The kid recruits a girl who also attends his school and she believes him when he talks about murderous ghosts. At her suggestion, the guy also recruits a knight who died in mysterious circumstances even more centuries ago, and is looking to redeem himself. A ghost sword can kill a ghost right? Well, not if the ghost had an onion skin under his tongue when he was hung, because then he gets to relive his life several times over.

This audiobook got off to a slow start, redeemed itself somewhat, but then went downhill big time, and became utterly boring. I couldn't finish it, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!


Friday, January 11, 2019

Despicable Deadpool Bucket List by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Christian Dalla Vecchia, Scott Koblish, Ruth Redmond


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a fan of the movie universes created by Marvel and DC - if you can call that latter a universe - so obviously more of a fan of Marvel than DC, but Wonder Woman is still the most kick-ass female hero so far in those movie worlds. Comic books have never been my thing. Even as a kid I was not a great fan, although I read quite a few. Since I left that phase of my life, they've mostly felt too juvenile for me, although I've read a few recently which transcended that problem. Comic books in general still have some big fish to gut before they can fry them, sexualisation of females being the prime one.

But that wasn't the problem here. The thing here is that there's nothing more asinine than two people locked in a supposed life-or-death struggle and exchanging quips throughout the fight. It's utterly ridiculous, but it's de rigueur in comic book hero fights. It occurs twice on the early pages here, once between Deadpool and Rogue, and once between the merc with a smirk and a villain who was too laughable to take seriously. And whose name didn't even register.

Not that there ever is an actual life-or-death struggle in comic books because no matter how "final" a demise is, the character always comes back whether they're good or evil. It doesn't matter, so the story itself didn't matter when you get right down to it. It's a farce and not even amusing in the best tradition of British farce.

Comic books are a Buddhist's worst nightmare - trapped on the eternally cycling wheel of suffering, and while a good Buddhist would never espouse this, the only solution is to kill off the villain! Don't lock them up in the same prison they already escaped from fifty times before. Slay them! Burn their bodies to ash! Seal the ash in lead, put that urn on a rocket, and fire it into the heart of the sun! End of story. Invent a new and different villain for next time instead of resurrecting the zombie villains of yesteryear. Quit taking the lazy way out.

Frankly, it really is boring to have the same hero battle the same villain over and over again, or if not the villain, then the villain's evil daughter - or some other relative. These writers need a new shtick. The Joker is a joke. The Mandarin is as toxic as Agent Orange. Find fresh villains for goodness sake! It's reached a point now where one universe isn't enough for the comic book writers and they have to bring in other universes/parallel worlds for no other reason than that they can lazily repeat the same stories, but with non-different characters.

By that I mean the character is supposedly different, but not really, and so we get the same stories warmed over with a different color palette. Winsome repeat is all they seem to have. This is why I quit watching The Flash TV show because every season was an exact repeat of the previous season: a "new" villain just like the one from last season - evil and faster than The Flash - and Flash had to defeat him, and always did. It was tedious.

The most annoying thing about this particular volume is one that seems to be common in Marvel's arena: writers cannot produce a comic about a super hero these days that doesn't grandfather-in a host of other heroes and villains from the Marvel stable. So we have Deadpool, who I love in the movies, supposedly going through a bucket list of items, each of which is apparently a cameo appearance of other notables from the Marvel world. Although I confess I did find Stevil Rogers amusing.

Deadpool cannot die. This is a given, so at least they're owning that fact of comic book super hero life up front, but why he thinks he's in a position necessitating a bucket list is a mystery. This was volume 2 and I didn't read volume 1 because celestials forbid that a publisher should actually inform the reader right there on the cover of which volume in what series this is! So maybe it was explained, but let's run with it, ready or not.

So anyway Deadpool starts out fighting Rogue, who he evidently had a thing with in a previous volume. Rather than sit down and talk, they start smashing the hell out of each other. That's a great plan for a relationship isn't it? Never once did she consider bringing along a collar from the Ice Box and snapping that on him to take him down. Nope! They smash-up everything around them and take no responsibility for it. It's like Sokovia never happened. And given comic book penchant for redux up the wazoo, maybe it didn't in this particular universe.

So the story is that a male writer has a female hero take the brute force approach rather than an intellectual or cooperative one. You know, someone did a study of comic-book violence in terms of who perpetrates it, and it turns out that the super heroes are more violent than the super villains. How did that come about? It's reported at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/aaop-gi102218.php. But I digress.

Rogue has apparently acquired many powers, including the power to fly and hover, as well as to recover from what would otherwise be debilitating - if not death-dealing - injuries. Good for her. After Deadpool escapes her, he takes on a complete nonentity and has Marvel guest star The Collector pick him (or her) up and cart them away; then it's Marvel Guest Star Captain America putting in an appearance to star in a redux of the Deadpool origin story where he gets pinned to the cement by a large, shaft of steel. Who says male super heroes aren't sexualized?!

After that we get a visit from Colossus and Kitty Pryde, which frankly sounds like the name of a cat toilet product. I'm sorry, but there really was no story here. It was all one long and tired cliché, and I refuse to commend something as unimaginative as this.


Battlepug by Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua


Rating: WARTY!

I may have been unduly precipitous with my declaration that this is the year of the pug and not the year of the pig.

This was a rather bizarre story in which a small amount of entertainment was lost among crimes against women. The story is related by a woman to her two pet dogs, a pug and a small bulldog, both of which constantly argue with each other - yes, they can also talk. Why the woman had to be lying prone on her bed, gratuitously butt-naked in telling the story I do not know, but look at the gender of the creators, and all becomes clear. Y-Chromosome Norton is the writer and also the artist, and Y-Chromosome Passalaqua did the coloring.

As far as the story went, it had interest and humor, and the art was decent, but this was overshadowed. It featured a Tarzan-type character known only as 'The Warrior' and who was purportedly the last surviving member of the Kinmundian Tribe, a claim which I personally did not buy. My guess is there's also a female survivor out there somewhere, but this book was only the collected volume one.

The Tarzan impersonator reluctantly teams-up (which curiously isn't the opposite of teaming down any more than undertaking is the opposite of overtaking) with a giant pug and a wizard, to take on the villain. If it had been just that, all would have been well and good, but the nudity? Not appropriate. The guy wore a loin-cloth, so no real nudity there. What happened to equal time? And why only a loin cloth when he had been raised in the frozen north?

There was no reason at all for why the woman narrator, Moll, was naked. She could just as well have been clothed, but throughout the narration, she lay bare-assed and unembarrassed on her bed. She could have been putting the dogs to bed and telling them a bedtime story over a cup of cocoa while wearing a robe herself. It could have been a naked guy telling the story about a warrior woman, but that would have been considered odd now wouldn't it? And it would have been just as inappropriate.

If there's a valid reason for the nudity, then fine, I have no problem with that, but there usually isn't other than an enduring male writer's need to sexualize their female characters, and there certainly wasn't any reason for it here other than that these guys with the evident mentality of frat boys wanted to see a naked girl on a bed.

The comic was published in print form in 2012 after a life as a web comic, so it's not like it was written with antique sensibilities. I can't commend a comic that has female nudity without any reason other than male comic book writers and artists have evidently still not yet left the stoned age. It's for this reason alone that I rate this as an unworthy read, notwithstanding any other qualities it had.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Unbalanced by Courtney Shepard


Rating: WARTY!

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

I gave up on this Net Galley novel called "Unbalanced," because frankly, it was. On the face of it, the plot was actually appealing: it was about these four women who are evidently sisters who were separated at birth, but I don't know why. They each have one of the four elemental powers: air, earth, fire, and water. Not that any of those are actual elements, but I was willing to let that slide for a fun, or entertaining story, even though the names of these characters are a bit improbable if not laughable.

The blurb tells us that each generation brings out four sisters to fight against a fanatical, secret faith, but all this really tells me is that the sisters are useless in that they've obviously - and repeatedly - shown they're incapable of truly defeating this faith! The blurb says the sisters are born to fight this battle, but are unaware of what awaits them? Maybe that's why they fail? LOL! Or maybe the blurb-writer is just clueless. It's been said that when you do the same thing over and over with the same result you should try something else - or just check yourself into an institution. Evidently these girls are too dumb to own that.

The main character is fire, and her name is Asha. The earth character is named Ivy. The water one is named Mere. I forget the fourth. These are names from a parody, not a serious novel, but I was even willing to let that go for a good story. The problem is that Asha is initially portrayed as this fierce warrior woman, yet when she was captured by this guy who was originally sent to kill her, this supposedly tough young woman became immediate putty in his hands.

I started having serious problems with it at that point, but the next chapter introduced Ivy, who was kick-ass - in this case literally - but just as I was starting to like the novel again, back comes Asha, who despite her power being fire, leaves me cold, and she was even more putty-er in this chapter than the previous one. No. Just no. That was just less than 25% in, but I couldn't stand to read any more of this.

Asha hadn't been this guy's captive anywhere near long enough to be suffering Helsinki syndrome, nor had she been in his company long enough, and even had she been, she's supposed to be this bad-ass girl, yet the story began reading like a cheap BDSM "romance." I could not both keep reading this and keep my stomach contents. I chose my stomach.

I am so, so tired of YA female authors who have quite obviously never heard of the #MeToo movement, creating these supposedly strong female characters and then turning them into wilting violets and objects of gratification at the first whiff of testosterone. I cannot support a novel with this dedicated level of disrespect for women. It's unacceptable and honestly? The author needs to get a clue - and a more original title.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WARTY!

This was sitting on the library shelves and it was by the author of The Hunger Games, which I loved and favorably reviewed, so it seemed like it might make for an interesting read. If I had known it was part of 'The Underland Chronicles' I would never have picked it up. I make it a policy never to read anything with the word 'chronicles' (or 'cycle' or 'saga') associated with it, but once again the idiot publishers failed to put a warning on the cover that this was part of a series, much less a chronic one! Personally I think they ought to have a warning affixed similar to that one attached to packs of cigarettes, worded o the effect that it was written by an unimaginative, or washed-up, or outright lazy author who can't do original work anymore, but that's just me.

I began listening to it before I knew any of this. It was poorly read by Paul Boehmer and the story was poorly written for my taste, so I quickly gave up on it. It was too young for me. According to Wikipedia, the story begins thus: "Eleven-year-old Gregor is left home alone in his family's New York City apartment to watch his sisters and grandmother. When Gregor's baby sister Boots falls through an old air duct grate in the building's basement, he dives in after her. The two fall miles below into the Underland: a subterranean world home to humans with near-translucent skin; giant sentient bats, rodents, and insects; and an escalating conflict between the human city of Regalia and the rats' King Gorger."

So maybe this will appeal to a younger audience, but based on my admittedly limited experience, I cannot commend it.


Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack


Rating: WORTHY!

I encountered this in my luscious local library, and I could hardly not pick it up after writing Cleoprankster! I was curious, since both Maihack's Cleo and mine are roughly the same age (middle grade) what he had done with her.

I'm happy to report that this graphic novel is entirely different from my chapter book. Whereas I tried to be historically accurate and make the book educational - both to an extent! - this one went the other way and made a complete fiction of it, but I enjoyed it and consider it a worthy read.

In this introduction story, Cleo is abducted from Egypt and transported to a futuristic school out in interplanetary space, where she learns combat and weapons inter aliens. Fortunately everyone speaks Greek (which was Cleo's native language, although she spoke many others - at least as an adult - including Egyptian, which none of her Ptolemic forebears ever took the trouble to learn) so there are no language difficulties. Or maybe there's a universal translator in the air. I don't know. It's been a while since I read this! Anyway, Cleo goes on a mission and performs exemplary work, and that's about it. But then this is volume 1, so presumably there's more to come. I don't feel any great urge to rush out and get volume 2, but I might at some point, assuming there's one to be had.

As it is, I commend this as a fun and breezy story, although it won't tell you a thing about Cleopatra. She never did, for example, have a Louise Brooks-style 1920's bob. More than likely she was bald! Because of the head lice which were rife in Egypt, everyone shaved their heads, and kids ran around butt-naked. Cleo would have worn, if anything at all at that age, a wig which she could happily take off and have cleaned and maybe a short skirt. But its fiction, so what the hell!


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Watersnakes by Tony Sandoval


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an entertaining fantasy story - which had a hint of gothic horror to it - and the irresistible call of the sea. I really enjoyed it.

Mila is out swimming one day when she hears someone call out a warning, "Water snakes!" and realizes that this new girl, Agnes, has played a joke on her. The two are immediately attracted to one another despite Mila's slight shyness and Agnes's definite weirdness. She claims her teeth - the selfsame teeth which completely fascinate Mila - are really ghosts that go out on adventures every night.

The two begin spending time together and Mila has an odd feeling of repulsion and attraction at the same time. It does not help to stabilize things when she discovers that Agnes is a soldier trying to protect her king, and that there is an army of Angnes-like soldiers and an opposing army they must fight.

I though this was fresh, original, engaging, well illustrated by the author, and entertaining, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not normally given to reading this kind of fantasy, and I should have known better, but I picked this up because the blurb looked interesting. It began well, but took a rather downward turn once the main female character with the unfortunate name of Malora encountered the centaurs. I can't take centaurs seriously; they're asinine on the very face of it, but like I said, I let the publisher fool me with a blurb. Shame on me!

This girl had lost all her family to some large, bat-like predatory flying creatures, and was living alone with a growing herd of horses on the plains for three years until she was around fifteen, when she became a captive of the centaurs, the very people who apparently wiped out a lot of humans many years ago.

When her mother sent her from the village shortly before it was wiped out, she warned Malora to steer clear of these people, but the girl ran into a hunting party by accident. I had no idea if the author planned some sort of YA romance here between horse girl Malora and centaur prince Orion (seriously?!) which would not only be distinctly perverse, but would be insane given how cruel the centaurs have been.

I'm guessing there was some sort of back-story which would explain how humans persecuted centaurs and they fought back, thereby absolving them of genocide, but the premise still seemed thin to me and it failed to explain Malora's asinine and contrary behavior once she became their captive.

The author owns horses, so I'd tend to bow to her superior knowledge, but this one paragraph I read was nonsensical, especially if you're someone who knows horses. Malora has only been living with these horses for three years. She started out with just this stallion she was riding, but a wild mare took up with them shortly after Malora struck out on her own. The author tells us this pair (the stallion and the Mare, not Malora and the stallion!) produced six foals - in three years.

That struck me as too much too quickly, so I looked it up and it turns out that horse gestation is variable, but runs around 340 days - a lot longer than humans and very nearly a whole year. Twin foals tend to be rare in the horse community, so how they managed six foals in only three years is a mystery to me, especially given that foals in captivity tend to be weaned at a minimum of three months. In the wild I am guessing the weaning would take longer and that the mare is unlikely to be receptive to mating again while still feeding a foal.

It looked worse than that on first reading because it looked like they had produced twelve foals in that time period, but on re-reading the paragraph, I understood the latter six were over a longer time frame. Still, those first six are not credible in such a short time and an author who knows horses ought to have known this. Either that or should have written the paragraph more explicitly, if that's not what she meant.

When you create a world like this, it needs to hang together within its own framework. You have to consider how the population of living things in a world evolved together. You can't just put random things in there and have it make guaranteed sense. I had this same problem with James Cameron's Avatar. I loved the movie, but the world being so relentlessly hostile made no sense at all.

Neither does it make sense to have creatures prey on humans with such dedication. That's why the bat-creatures in this novel were too much. Any organism that overruns its food source inevitably becomes extinct. The same thing is going to happen to us if we're not careful.

If humans were all but wiped-out by the centaurs, then the bat creatures would have died out had their food source been humans. If they had survived by taking other prey, which we know was readily available, then why suddenly turn to scarce humans? It made no sense. Any author creating a fantasy world needs an understanding of science and of biology and evolution in particular. They would create much more engrossing worlds if they had such knowledge. This author does not, but it wasn't actually that which turned me off this story about a quarter the way through it.

What went wrong here was that yet another female author trashed her own female main character. This author turned her Malora from a reasonably tough and self-sufficient girl into a simpering fangirl in the space of a few paragraphs.

She was captured by the centaurs because they had run her (along with her horses) into a dead-end canyon which was then hit with a flash flood. A bunch of her beloved horses drowned. There's a paragraph where it describes her seeing all the corpses, yet instead of being intensely upset and in turn, angry with centaurs, she has no sadness and no anger at all. Instead she begins to idolize the centaurs. Barf. Totally unrealistic even for a fantasy novel.

Listen Kate Klimo and clones: if you'd wanted some horses dead and the main character to take up with the centaurs and make it realistic, why have the centaurs responsible for the death of the horses? Why not have Malora trapped by a flash flood which had nothing to do with the centaurs, her horses dying, and prince Orion swoop and rescue her? At least that would explain her selling out afterwards. If you wanted any tension between them, create that later from something else. This isn't rocket science! As it is, you wrote a sorry-assed simpering YA love story and it sucks.

That was it for me. And that's it for me reading anything else by this author who evidently has nothing to offer that a hundred other female writer clones don't have. if all you've got is poor writing, half-assed 'plotting', and pathetic female leads, get a clue. Do something the others are not doing: write well, make your female main character strong and at the very least street smart and don't have her do dumb-ass things - or at least let her learn fast from doing dumb things and become smart. And Good Lord don't have her start out strong and independent and then become a total wet rag as soon as a guy shows up. There are a lot of authors out there I haven't read. I see no point in going back to try something else from one who has proven to be a poor author when there are new voices to be heard. I'm done with this one.



Saturday, December 1, 2018

Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup


Rating: a warty reading experience! See below:

I can't rate this entire thing because I couldn't really listen to it. I got it from the library on CDs, and when I tried to play it, the first five tracks didn't work, so that was chapter one unlistenable. Consequently I started at chapter two. The next two disks I barely heard because I was driving in pain-in-the-butt traffic and was more focused on that than on the disk. The fourth disk I had under perfect listening conditions, but it was also defective, so I decided to give up on this and maybe revisit it in print!

I couldn't see anything wrong with disk four except a minor scratch which didn't seem to account for the problems it had. I'd suspect that the lens on the player is dirty, but it played two and three without problems. It turned out that the first disk wouldn't play because there was what appeared to be a melted section of the disk - like it'd had a magnifying glass focusing sunlight on it in this one spot about a half inch in dimeter, which appeared very slightly bubbled. Just bad all around. Like I said, I may get back to this later in some other format!

The story, very briefly, is that Princess Adela who admirably wants to live a life before she settles down to marriage, and who is so interested in nature that she can't keep Botany at Bay! She notes that something seems amiss in Lady Hortensia's garden. Let's not get into how amusing the Lady's name is. It's actually not hard to see the issue: every flower is in bloom even though it's October. And no, the garden isn't in Texas! It's not that warm there in October. "Is it possible that Hortensia is a witch and the magpie an enchanted prince?" the blurb asks. Well I'm guessing the cover artist didn't read the blurb since he/she illustrated a Blackbird, not a Magpie. Ahem!

This is a peril of reading - so many formats, so little reliability! Ebooks can have formatting screwed-up (Amazon Kindle I'm looking at you), downloads can get garbled, print books can have torn and misprinted pages, disks can be damaged. Will there ever be a perfect reading medium that doesn't destroy trees, lard up the environment with plastics and other pollutants, or require boatloads of energy? I doubt it. Everything costs something. But you can mitigate effects by for example, using your phone to read ebooks instead of buying a dedicated reader such as a Nook or a Kindle, or by buying used print books - aka recycling! And recycle your own new print books to a library, a school, or to a place like Goodwill that can resell them.


Monday, November 5, 2018

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"The guard held open the door. Enrique walks inside. Tristan was waiting for him" - seems to be a mix of verb tenses.
"clove of tins" - that's the round way wrong!
"A man from the Italian faction raised his fan. "500,000 to Monsieur Monserro." The Italian faction has a Monsieur?! Not a Signor?
"Enrique pulled a Forged spherical detection device -one of her own inventions -from his pocket. His or hers? Whose invention?
"...there are ways for the Sia formulation to act like a honing mechanism." Homing?
"a triplicate bee goddesses" wrong article.
"Am I pronouncing that correctly, Laila?" "It's Bruh-mah-ree" - these two lines are run together without a carriage return.

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

There was nothing on Net Galley from whence this came, nor appended to the novel itself to indicate this was volume one in a series. Had there been, I wouldn't have request it. I'm not a series person because I don't buy into the popular idea that the only thing better than one novel is three novels all telling the same bloated story. Publishers buy into it because it makes them money and it's getting to the point these days where it seems that you can't sell a novel - particularly if it's a young adult novel - to a publisher unless you can promise them a tree-slaughtering trilogy. This is why I personally have no truck with Big Publishing™ in terms of selling my own work.

I read this authors A Crown of Wishes over a year ago and had the same problem with that that I ended up having with this - a strong start followed by a slow decline into boredom as the story rambled on too long instead of staying on topic and getting to the point. If I'd known that Kirkus had reviewed this positively, it would have saved me some time. They never met a book they didn't like so their reviews are meaningless. Any time I see them gush about a book, I avoid that book like the plague on principle.

Set in 1889 Paris in an alternative universe where magic exists, and only two of the original four powerful magical houses of France remain, the novel follows the story of wannabe house leader Séverin Montagnet-Alarie and his ragtag band consisting of renowned stage performer Laila, artificer and socially-inept Sofia, botanist Tristan, and pretty boy, the Latin Enrique.

The group are thieves, and Séverin seems to think this will lead him back to greatness, especially when he's approached by Hypnos, an alienated childhood friend, and the enigmatic leader of one of the two remaining houses, who offers Séverin a way back to heading his own house for his help in acquiring something for Hypnos. This kind of story has been done before, but here it was given a glaze of bright paint that was fresh enough to initially render it quite appealing, but the more I read, the more translucent that glaze became, and the underlying mess bled through.

I was truly disappointed, but not altogether surprised, therefore by the ending which wasn't an ending. It was dissipated and rambling all over the place when it should have long before come to a satisfactory conclusion. It never did because this wasn't a novel - it was a book-length prologue and I don't do prologues. It never explained the title, either - or if it did, it went by so fast that I missed it. Yes, the crew wore wolf masks on occasion, but why? I have no idea!

I was truly disappointed in the author, and felt robbed of a good story by her. What we got in place of an ending was a cliffhanger, so this and the rambling story-telling turned the whole book around for me in a very negative way. While I'd liked the beginning, the book was way too wordy and draggy and started losing me in the second half, and that ending was the last straw. This is why I don't like to invest my time I reading long novels! This was nearly four hundred pages and only about half of it was worth the reading. The only thing it was missing was a good editor. I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hal by Kate Cudahy


Rating: WARTY!

I was interested in reading this because in some ways it reminded me of my own novel Femarine, but in the end - or more accurately in the middle since I never reached the end, it was quite different. Hal is the abbreviated name of the main character - either that or some computer got a body for itself and is seriously going after Dave, because Hal is a duelist, so we're told. Really she's a prizefighter and gives most of her take to her slave overlord because she's too much of a wimp to go it alone.

She's also an idiot. And a lesbian. All of these preconditions come together to trip her up big time when the daughter of a rich and powerful merchant falls for her, and inexplicably so, because Hal is arrogant and selfish (as their 'love' scenes confirm). I have no idea why either falls for the other, so that wasn't really giving me an authentic story, and what story I got was made worse by Hal's appallingly dumb behavior.

Hall knows perfectly well she's walking on thin ice with this girl, and she also knows she's being spied on, and she's warned repeatedly by two different people that trouble is heading her way, but she stubbornly keeps her blinkers on and walks right into it. It was at this point that I decided I have better things to do with my time than to read any more of this, so I moved on.

The book needs a little work too. At one point, I read, "a large pair of double doors." Is that four large doors? I don't think so! So why write it like it is? 'A large pair of doors' or 'a large double door' is all that's needed. Later I read, "Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she span round" Nope! She spun round! So yeah, work. I can't commend this.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an hilarious middle grade (or lower) illustrated sci-fi chapter book about Astra, the only child of a space-traveling family who were put into cryogenic sleep for the 199 year trip to Nova Mundi, the planet where they will live. Philip Reeve, better known for his Mortal Engines series (the movie for which is due out this year - 2018), does a fine job with the writing, and Sarah McIntyre goes to town on the charming, somewhat sepia-tinted illustrations which literally run riot through the story.

Unfortunately, Astra was a bit peckish before settling down, so she headed off to the dining hall to request that the AI there bake her the most scrumptious cake ever - a cake unequalled. It did exactly as she requested. As passengers slept, it experimented with making cakes and eventually created ravenous cakes - not cakes that you want to eat ravenously, but cakes that will eat you! These cakes begin roaming the spacecraft, and poor ardua ad Astra, who wakes early, has to do battle with them.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the spacecraft is drifting off course and is overtaken by multi-eyed pirates who are seeking to rob it of all its spoons. Yes, spoons. Don't give me that - like you have no idea how valuable spoons truly are. You're fooling no one with your feigned ignorance. Can Astra save the day?! Of course she can. Why even ask such a dumb question? Well, to tell the truth, I'm working on my blurb writing skills and they consistently ask ridiculous questions like that. You have to really disrespect the reader to be a successful blurb writer, and treat them like morons, so how did I do?

But seriously, I thought this book was a joy! Some readers might find it a bit trite or silly, or caked with sugar, but I'm guessing the readership at which this is aimed will love it. I did, and I'm not ashamed to admit it! I commend this as a worthy read, and I promise you it's not half-baked.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Evolution's Shore by Ian McDonald


Rating: WARTY!

Published originally in Britain as Chaga, this novel has too many pages and too little happening in them, and this rang the death knell for it for me. To make it worse, it's merely book one in a dilogy, which means it's a prologue. I so don't do prologues.

The story is supposed to be about an alien invasion after a fashion, whereby the aliens send a conversion process to planets they want to colonize, which spreads unstoppably and converts local organic material to reprocessed organic material. In short, these aliens are evil no matter how benign their aim might seem.

So this meteorite hits Africa and starts changing everything it touches and becoming ever more widespread. Never once do people think of nuking it for reasons which went unexplained in the portion I read - which admittedly wasn't much. If they didn't want to nuke it there are other ways, such as chemical treatments or burning. None of this seems to have been considered, although I did not read far beyond the point where this begins spreading.

From the reviews of others I've read, apparently even the author thought this story was too boring to pursue, so he felt compelled to turn this into a love story. Evidently he needed to validate his female lead, Gaby McAslin, with a man, and so he had her taken in hand by someone with the highly appropriate name of Shepherd! From that point onward, so I understand it became a love story and the spreading contagion was nothing but backstory. Go figure. I'm glad I quit when I did.

I skimmed here and there beyond the point where I quit reading properly and saw nothing about any change to the woman. The book cover artist appears to be as utterly clueless here as book cover artists typically are everywhere, which I why I pay little heed to book covers. There is no transformation which involved a woman growing butterfly wings so why the artist chose that remains a mystery. I saw two different book covers and both featured a female rear elevation. I can only guess this artist (or these artists) love painting women's asses. In each case though, her hair is entirely wrong since the novel informs us it's long: down to the small of her back. So this is yet another case where the artist hasn't even read the book, a situation which is otherwise known as bait and switch for those idiots who buy books to read based purely on their cover.

I cannot recommend this based on the sorry portion of it I read.


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.