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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri

Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that Kirkus rated this one as "highly imaginative" I would never have picked it off the library shelf! I don't think Kirkus ever met a book they didn't like which means their reviews are utterly useless. If I'd also known it was the first of a series I would have thought twice about it and definitely would have no interest in a series after listening to a small portion of this.

Bianca Amato has a charming voice and would be a delight to have a conversation with, but in telling a story like this, she sounded ponderous and slow, and the story itself moved at a glacial pace. I couldn't stand to listen to it, but had I the print or e-version, I still wouldn't have been able to stomach it, so I guess this author is not for me, and I am not for her! The only review I can give is this much: that I gave up on it at about 10% in (or slightly less).

One problem with audiobooks is that you can never tell where the prologue ends, so I ended up listening to much of it, and this served once again only to remind me why I so dedicatedly skip all such prefaces, forewords, intros, prologues and whatever. They're tedious and contribute NOTHING to a story. Enough with them already, you authors! Get on with the damned story!

This one was far too tedious to stay with. Life is short and books like this are too long and too common! Move along! This is not the adventure you're looking for!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wandering Koala Rides the Phantom Coach by Jeff Thomason

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a weird and wonderful comic book done in reds, blacks, grays, and white, with fairly minimal text. The artwork is engaging, and the coloring really attracts. It begins with a way overly dominant guy leading his girl out of the movie theater before the ending because he knows how it ends and he doesn't care that his girl wanted to watch it to the end.

He tries to play up the delight of finding an early bus which is largely empty as opposed to the crowded one they would have had to ride had they stayed in the theater, but the girl isn't convinced at all. The thing is that this bus is rather unusual, as they discover when the driver, who now looks like cross between Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Scarecrow from the Batman comics and movies, will not let them off the bus. Before long, ghosts start to materialize on the bus, and this normal couple now looks to be trapped in a nightmare that seems like it will hold them prisoner until Christmas, if not longer.

I enjoyed this because of the art and the weird plot. The only complaint I had was that the images did not occupy the full screen of the tablet in my Nook app. The page occupied only about three-quarters of the screen, and if you tried to enlarge it, it became a static image which you then had to close before you could swipe to the next page. Not ideal at all, and Nook app is usually a lot better than this. It's certainly a generation ahead of the crappy Amazon Kindle app, but this makes two comics now that I've had this annoying issue with. I recommend the comic, though.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Light by Rob Cham

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a magnificent work of art. Rob Cham is inventive and talented and has produced a visual feast of a comic which needs no words. The story is of a young character who is fearless and adventurous, and who goes out into his literal black and white world looking for something new. Deep in a cave world he discovers it in the shape of five hard-won crystals, each a different color. Along the way he makes enemies and friends, but when he returns and unleashes his treasure, his whole world changes.

The drawings are very detailed, and superbly drawn and shaded, even when black and white. The world is imaginative and the characters, all of them non-human, are fantastical in nature and fascinating. The comic is a hundred pages or so, but seems too short. It flies by too fast even as you take your time reading it. I recommend this comic book highly.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Shalilly by Elizabeth Gracen, Luca di Napoli

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this review is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the author and publisher.

I was so impressed with this novel that I began to think that the author had been through all of my reviews, made notes of the things which tick me off in YA novels, and then strove to avoid all of them in her writing. It was, frankly, a bit creepy! Obviously she didn't actually do that, but I have to say this was a remarkable read, and hit all the high notes for me (that's an inside joke - you'll have to read the novel to discover what it means!

Elizabeth Gracen has had an interesting history in film and print, and this is her debut novel. It's very good and refreshingly different - playful, inventive, humorous, original, and a truly engaging read. Illustrated with welcome insight by means of a few (too few for me!) delightful images from talented artist Luca di Napoli, this is written in an easy-going, quick-moving style if, I have to add, a little stilted on occasion in the conversations. It tells the story of young Filipina, heir not-so-apparent to the oracle Theano, and of Fippa's young friend Ision, a soldier.

It has a prologue which I skipped as I do all prologues (and I never miss them!). Chapter one launches us right into the middle of things, which is where I love to begin a story, with Ision being cast into another realm and Fippa electing to go after him in an effort to prevent the evil Timeus from succeeding in his plans, which rely on keeping them apart. The first thing Fippa does is to get drunk! How many times have you read that in a fairy-tale?! I was hooked.

Technically, Fippa isn't a fairy, but one of the butterfly girls known as Shalilly, and she really didn't intend to get passed-out drunk on the nectar. It was just so good! I mean come on. Tell me you've never drunk so much nectar you haven't passed out. I knew it! This episode does educate her and strengthen her resolve, however. It was honestly refreshing to encounter a young, leading character who quickly learns from her mistakes, and it soon becomes clear that Fippa is dedicated to her mission, and constantly re-evaluating strategies to achieve her aim. She has a lot going on upstairs and it was so nice to read of a female character written by a female author who had more on her mind than how studly her beau was (not that she didn't have that on her mind, too!). See, YA writers? It can be done! Elizabeth Gracen shows you how!

That's not to say Fippa is perfect though. She has a temper and a jealous streak on which she has to strive to keep a tight rein, and these are traits which do not help her circumstances. Fippa's experiences in Paradigm, the fairy-tale world which she volunteered to visit in order to save Ision are very entertaining, but she quickly becomes disempowered, and a prisoner - and a despised one at that. Now her job is all the more difficult, and she has only her wits to save the day, but she proves equal to the task.

In a page (or two!) taken from One Thousand and One Nights , she tells Ision, who is now ignorant of their critical past, a story in the hopes of educating him as gently as she can. I'm not a fan of flashbacks at all, but this was one way of doing this, and which didn't feel false. It didn't even feel like it was interrupting the story because it was an integral part of it. Nicely done! Some might find this section a bit long, and I confess I missed the Shalilly version of Fippa quite honestly, but never was there any point where I wanted to skip this part.

The humor was a delight, yet the story was also serious. I did find some unintentional humor, but more than likely it's just me being weird. One example I remember was at the beginning, where I read, "Ision felt the horse slow its pace as Fippa placed her hand on his." Now it's obvious what is meant here, but the way it's written, if you're as warped about writing as I am, it can be deemed that Pippa put her hand on the horse's hand. Hey, it's a fantasy - it could happen! And we know the horse was maybe fifteen or sixteen hands, so that's a lot of hands to go around! LOL!

Not that I'm going to downgrade a story for that kind of thing, but as a writer, it's worth keeping in mind that it's not only what you write, but also the way you write it. As it was, this novel was warm enough and such a joy to read that I could overlook more serious problems than this (not that there were any here), and that counts too: your readers will forgive you a lot more if you give them good reasons to!

Anyone who reads my reviews will know that I always find something to carp about, but it was really hard to find anything wrong here. Yes, there was the cliché of the heroic dude with the "gold-flecked green eyes" - gold flecks are way over done in YA literature - but it seemed like every time I experienced a growing fear that this story was going down to tropeville, the author took it in another direction and saved it. Hence my feeling that she'd been reading my reviews!

Sometimes the language seemed a bit overly modern for ancient Greece, such as when Ision says, "...chuck it all...", and other times there were questionable turns of phrase, such as when Fippa says, "What if they could care less if I am returned?" What she meant was "What if they couldn't care less..." Normally this wouldn't bother me because people really do speak like that in real life, but this was not modern life where that phrase has entered common use - it was ancient Greece (or a very near approximation to it), so it felt like this ought to have been more accurate.

The last thing I'd mention is that "I am a girl who has barely stepped foot..." is a pet peeve of mine. I don't like 'stepped foot' because to me it sounds odd and clunky. I know authors write this routinely, but in this particular case, I'd like to argue that the more traditional "set foot" would have been a better choice of words for a charming story like this. It's worth thinking about as a writer, but as a reader, none of this was worth down-grading a novel over, by any means, because it would be mean!

I've been to Greece more than once and I've actually been to the Delphi area. It was beautiful, and the writing really brings out the essence of the country and the scenery without going into excessive detail. The author writes it beautifully, and she depicts the ancient Delphi oracle to perfection in my opinion.

Talking of essence, this novel made me wish I could bottle the essence of how she wrote it so I could unleash it on my own writing! The novel is so good that it almost makes a fellow writer wish for its author to fall on her face in her next outing just so he can feel better about his own efforts! But since I fell in love with the Shalilly (shamelessly and inappropriately so, I confess) I'm going to be bigger than that, and instead congratulate Elizabeth Gracen on a really good novel, and wish her all the best. Grace-n is the perfect name for this author! I recommend this novel highly, and I now I must endure the agonizing (<-Greek roots word!) wait for her next novel! O the Phates! (<-Greek joke word!)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Wishing World by Todd Fahnestock

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy from Net Galley, for which I thank the publisher.

This is an amazingly good middle-grade fantasy novel about eleven-year-old Lorelei (or is she really Loremaster?), a young girl who lost her brother and parents, all of whom she loved very much - yes, even her brother - and not only did no one believe her story of what happened, no one was able to find her family. She was considered delusional for merely telling the truth about what happened, and was referred to a rather sinister psychiatrist.

This explains why, as we begin the story, she's climbing up onto the roof of her old home to try to get inside to find the 'comet stone' which she believes will deliver answers. Instead, she discovers that she's somehow called a griffon out of the peculiar world of Veloran, and he refers to her as Doolivanti. Before long, she's inside the fantasy land, and searching for a princess who can help her defeat the Ink King and return her family to her!

I loved how fast those story moved. It was perfect in that regard, but it wasn't all plain sailing. Pip, the toucan was annoying because he insisted upon duplicating every sentence he spoke! Other than that I had no problem with, and took every joy in the writing until the princess showed up. The attempt to make her speak in a pseudo medieval language didn't work. Maybe middle-graders won't notice or be bothered by this, but it felt fake to me, especially when she said "Prithee, to whence have I come?"!

Whence is a 'from' word, and it incorporates 'from', so you can't use it with 'to'. It's used in the form: "Whence this bounty?" if you should happen across an unexpected pile of gold for example, or a table laden with food. "Whence do you hail?" might be used to ask where someone came from. It's one of those antique words like 'wherefore', which doesn't mean 'where'. It means 'why?' When Juliet says, "Wherefore art thou Romeo?", she's asking why is he a Montague - the family so at odds with her own Capulet family? If he went by any other name, they would not be enemies. But what's in a name? As I said, the rest of the novel was so good that these things became minor considerations.

Kindle isn't known for being a solid app, and often Amazon's process for converting a novel to Kindle format merely mangles it instead. This one wasn't awful, but the Kindle formatting resulted in random lines being truncated half way across the screen, only to resume on the next line down. Also, and quite frequently, the Kindle version took the last line of a page and encased it in a number one at the beginning and a zero at the end, like this:--1 King in the dark. -0. I think perhaps the Kindle conversion process got confused with what was a page number and what was the last line on the page. Hopefully that will be resolved when the final release is published. On my iPad, in Bluefire Reader, the book looked perfect.

Kindle also loves to mangle images, and it did so with gay abandon in this case. The images are at the start of each chapter, and in the Adobe Digital Editions reader on my desktop, the entire book was formatted perfectly. On my phone though, Amazon sliced and diced, and even Julienned the images. I've seen this in many ebooks, and it was the reason I abandoned all hope of migrating images and special text formatting from my book Poem y Granite. I stripped all of the images out and formatted all of the text with the same font for the Kindle version.

One thing I found my imagination running away with in this novel was how Christmas carols seemed to be woven into the story. I'm reasonably sure the author never planned it that way and this is just my over-active imagination at work, but this is the kind of story, like Neale Osbourne's Lydia's Enchanted Toffee which I praised back in November 2015, that stimulates imagination and is the major reason why I'm rating this one a worthy read.

Humans (and many animals, are predisposed to see patterns in things. It's what keeps us alive if we're paying attention, and is part of what law enforcement and the military call "situational awareness." The downside is that it's the kind of thing which also fuels conspiracy theories and inane beliefs in UFOs, the Loch Ness "monster" and sasquatch. On the other side of that coincidence, if people didn't hold such beliefs, I'd never have been able to get away with Saurus, so I can't complain!

But I digress. I was impressed by the mysterious Silent Knight in this novel, and this got me on the Christmas carol track. Silent Knight? So, were the three characters Lorelei first meets, the three ships that came sailing in, or the three kings of orient (it's always three, isn't it?!). When I started thinking of Lorelei and Ripple, the aqueous-addicted princess of the antique language, as the Holly and the Ivy, I realized my imagination was indeed running away! You can warp anything to fit your "conspiracy" if you're willing to shed rationale and logic and let your imagination run riot!

So, before I let my imagination run away any more, let me say that I loved this novel, despite a minor issue here and there, and I recommend it highly. It's fun, it's fast-paced, it's inventive, it's amusing, and it's well worth reading even if you're not middle-grade! I look forward to Todd Fahnestock's next work with warm anticipation!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Aquila the Eagle by Yaa Asabea Boafo, Dennis Owusu-Ansaa

Rating: WARTY!

Note this was an advance review copy obtained from Net Galley for which I thank the publisher!

There are some amazing names here. It's copyrighted to Miriam P Boafo, and nicely illustrated by Dennis Owusu-Ansaa, and this book is for young children. It follows a small family of bald eagles. Dad is described with a pronoun which has an initial cap ("Himself") like this male eagle is a god, but it's his wife who is doing all the work in laying the egg! An eagle egg is about three inches long. That's some size to have to deal with!

The story is accurate in that eagles do mate for life, and they build huge nests over time, so the one depicted here is a starter kit, evidently. Young Aquila appears when snow is still on the ground, and the impression we get is that this story will follow his adventures, but in the end, it was nothing more than a prologue, and I was disappointed in it. Other than the eagle being born and our meeting the two children, nothing happens in over thirty pages!

I first looked at this on my phone, and I have to say that is not the best medium for reading this! The images are oddly broken-up and the text is badly formatted. Viewed in Adobe Digital Editions on a desktop computer, it looked much, much better, and displayed the artwork to full advantage. I haven't seen a print version or been able to look at it on my iPad yet (Net Galley was down when I tried to download to the tablet), but I imagine it will look good there.

The eagles, I have to say, are very anthropomorphized. This will work for young children, but it's rather misleading. Eagles, aside from their lifelong pairing, are solitary. By that, I mean that they don't flock, yet there is a gathering depicted here, and young Aquila is declared special by a matronly wise-old eagle. This story has a religious agenda, and Aquila is evidently some sort of Messianic figure. Eagles can live for half a century, but young Aquila is just beginning his life. He has golden down, which is unusual, and is eating all his food. He's going to grow strong. Meanwhile, we meet Benji and the oddly-named Faithlyn, playing in their house because of the snow and cold outside (eagles nest very early in the year). They see an eagle, a grown one, but do not meet any, so the cover illustration is very misleading.

So my main problem was that the story really isn't a story; it's an introduction, and introductions and prologues are the very thing I routinely skip when reading a book, because they rarely deliver anything that's worth the time spent in reading them. Another problem I had with this is that mom is shown in a traditional role in the kitchen. There's nothing wrong with being a traditional mom, but it's depicted so often in children's books that it amounts to brainwashing girls: you are hereby found guilty of womanhood! You are sentenced to life in the kitchen without the possibility of parole! I wish writers and artists would allow girls to decide for themselves what they will do with their life. Instead, just like the eagles, they're imaged and imagined as fulfilling no role other than one traditionally set in stone - or in this case, in the kitchen - and this when we're about to elected the USA's first female president! We need to ditch that paradigm - or at least show dad in that same role just as often. No dad is in evidence here, other than Aquila's dad, BTW.

Given these issues, I really cannot recommend it in good faith. I wish the writer success in her endeavor, but it's not one with which I can get on board.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another argument against series. This was a humongously long novel, and the reason for that is that the author evidently graduated Summa Cum Loudly from the Stephen King Endless Education in Verbose Yearning (SKEEVY) school, where it painfully obvious that the golden rule is" "Why use one word where fifty will do?" No one gets out of bed in this world unless it takes a paragraph of minutely detailed description to convey the 'action'.

This is truly sad, because I liked the idea of the novel and was waiting for the novel the blurb described, and it never arrived. The reading voice was that of no less than Morena Baccarin, one of my favorite actors, but ever her dulcet tones couldn't rescue this. She also, on occasion, read too fast. Not that I blame her given the size of this tome, but it made some of the text rather difficult to understand.

Emma Carstairs is, we're told, a Shadowhunter who lives for battle against demons, yet in the one half of this novel I could stand to listen to, there was precisely one brief battle and that was it! The rest of the time, she's leading such a tediously un-entertaining and mind-numbing life that makes my own relatively sedate one look like a summer action blockbuster movie. I honestly could not believe that I was listening to such a herd of paragraphs that were better not heard, but still they came, one after another of soul-deadening detail and palaverously prolix prattle! See, anyone can do it!

I was so sick of hearing about the minutiae of Emma's life that I simply gave up and ditched the book back at the library. I cannot recommend even half of this first volume, let alone a whole series of this. Life's far too short to waste it on the mundane even on a Monday!

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, Dallas Middaugh, Niklas Asker

Rating: WORTHY!

I tried this novel in the form of an audiobook not long ago and was disappointed in it, which itself was a disappointment because the premise is an intriguing one. When I saw the graphic novel version on the shelf at my lovely loquacious local library, I decided this was the way to go, and I was not wrong. I really enjoyed the novel in this version. The story was adapted by Dallas Middaugh, who evidently hails from the Slash & Burn school of adaptation, because this was stripped right down to the bone. This might not appeal to everyone, but it appealed to me because my biggest problem with the audiobook was how much it ramble and meandered. The art work by Niklas Asker was fine.

The story is, I assume, aimed at middle-grade readers, since the main characters featured here were quite young. Whether they match the age as envisioned by the original author I can't say. The City of Ember is in perpetual darkness and relies on an increasingly unreliable electrical system to keep it lit during the "day." The citizens lead deprived and unhappy lives, constantly unhappy and often short of food. Corruption is rampant. They're assigned work at a young age, and have no choice in their occupation. Our two main characters, Lina and Doon (Lorna Doone anyone?!) however, buck the system and exchange jobs, both getting the one they preferred, but their collaboration doesn't end there.

The two of them start feeling like there are secrets being kept and that living this life in this city isn't all they and their fellow citizens were meant for. They pursue their suspicions and discover an amazing secret. Amazing to them, that is! It's pretty obvious to the reader by then what's going on. The 'ending' was beautiful. I put it in quotes because of course it's not an ending: it's the start of a series. Yet despite that awful and debilitating drawback, I recommend this graphic novel as a worthy read.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Rating: WARTY!

This one I could not get past the second chapter. It was first person PoV, and I am so deathly sick to my guts of that PoV that I honestly can hardly stand to read it any more even if the story isn't too bad. In this case it was too bad. It was bog-standard trope from the off. Hey lookit me! I'm a special snowflake teen! Lookit how I move and fight! Lookit how I'm the one girl in a manly man's world! My friends are named Caleb and Marcus and Linus! I'm so awesome! Snoopy's probably around here somewhere doing a happy dance because I am genuinely so superlative! Hey, lookit me again! I'm in training, and I am a klutz, but you know I'm going to become the most important person in the universe! No, seriously, lookit me some more! I'm so wonderful, it's magical! No, focus on MEEEE! I have a secret!

Who the hell cares? Seriously? I hope the necromancers do get you, because you are tedious to an extreme. Bye Bye! I have to go find some serious anti-nausea medicine at the nearest store.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Raelia by Lynette Noni

Rating: WARTY!

I had three strikes against this novel going in, so let me list them right here up front. Firstly, I am not a fan of series because they are rarely well-done and all-too-often spread what's at best a single novel over three or more sorry volumes, which is a dire waste of trees to say nothing of a waste of time in my opinion. Given a choice, I'd rather have the trees. Once in a while an author can make a series shine, but for me that's a rare treasure to encounter.

The second problem is first person PoV which almost never works, and it's astounding to me that so many authors, especially in the YA world, make the mistake of wooden-headedly jumping on this insane bandwagon. Thirdly, this is book 2 of 'The Medoran Chronicles', and I suffer from a long-standing revulsion towards any book which has 'chronicles', or 'codex', or 'cycle', or 'saga' in the title. This one, strictly speaking, did not have it in the title as such, and I thought that the simple one word title, Raelia, sounded pretty cool, but that fact that it was part of a chronicles did leave a bad taste in my mouth. Mitigating against that was the blurb, which suckered me in, making me think that this was an interesting story. It wasn't.

For one thing, the main female character was far too stupid to be of interest to me. Alexandra Jennings is a 16-year-old whose archaeologist parents are thoroughly irresponsible. They did not even notice that she had gone missing for an entire summer in volume one, evidently (I did not read volume one). Now Alex is coming back for her second year of champagne wishes and caviar dreams at the Akarnae Academy and in the words of Robin Leach, I don't know why!

Alex was a special snowflake in volume one evidently, finding herself roommates with the Princess of America and eventually becoming 'The Chosen One'! Yes, this is set in the US for obscure reasons, but everything is renamed. The US is Medora and inexplicably, it has king and queen. Even though this is in a parallel universe, I have no rational or logical explanation for how this came to be. Nor do I get how Alex can be openly threatened, at the birthday party of her best friend, the princess, by Aven Dalmarta, the man who kidnapped Alex in volume one, and not think once of calling out to everyone that this guy is openly threatening her. Again. Instead she deliberately knocks over the king and queen as they're dancing, in a dumb attempt to 'protect' the princess from a non-problem of a dramatically lesser magnitude. None of this made any sense at all to me.

The next dumb thing she does is to facilitate the princess going unescorted downtown, when the king has ordered his daughter to remain in the palace. Alex is dragged into an empty house by Aven, who somehow magically knew exactly which route Alex would take, even down to which side of the street she would walk on and at precisely what time, even though she has unexpectedly changed plans and done something even she had not expected to do! Alex gets no blame for this excursion. Only the princess is held responsible! That's how special Alex is.

It was at this point that I quit. I could not stand to read any more. The author is evidently a big fan of Disney movies, and it shows too much here. It was too hard to take this seriously. The novel is supposed to be about young adults, but it's written as though it's a middle-grade novel. It would have read better had the main characters been four years younger. I've read some good middle-grade novels, but reading this for me was like trying to walk on a floor made of giant, sticky marshmallows and wishing you could ski on the fresh powder instead of choking on it. While I wish the author all the best with this series of course, it's not for me, and I cannot recommend it.

Here's a thought I had after I posted the review and explains another part of my discomfort with this novel. There is this one section which reads thus:

King Aurileous was tall and intimidating, but even from where Alex stood she could tell he had a kind face with prominent laughter lines. His eyes were warm as he scanned the sea of cheering people and his smile made her feel relaxed despite the overwhelming atmosphere. Queen Osmada seemed, in a word, lovely. She was beautiful, with her dark auburn hair, and her smile was even more calming than the king’s.
Note the difference between how the man is described (Kind face, prominent laughter lines, warm eyes), and how the woman is dismissed: "She was beautiful". That's it - 'pretty' much. Once again a female writer tells us that the only value a woman can offer is to look pretty and smile as she hangs on the arm of her kind, warm owner. Barf!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: Castaways by David McDonald

Rating: WARTY!

I was interested to read this novel from Net Galley based on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy graphic novel series. This was a prose book, however, not a graphic novel, and although (judged by the cover illustration) it seeks to align itself closely on the characters from the movie, it fell far, far short of that movie I'm sad to report. It was a really fast read, fortunately, otherwise I would have quit reading it and relegated it to the DNF pile a lot sooner than I did.

I'm not a huge consumer of comics and graphic novels although I do peruse a few here and there, so I'd never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before I got a chance for a sneak preview of the movie before it was released, and I was in awe of that. It was the best Marvel movie I'd seen to that point and I look forward eagerly to the sequel, so I thought in the meantime that it might be fun to read a novel about these characters. The problem was that this novel in no way captured the people I'd seen in the movie at all. It failed to add anything to that and unlike the movie, it was bizarrely humorless. It felt like a backward step for me in more ways than one, so this was a no, I have to say.

People who are familiar with the comic book characters might have a different take on this - perhaps the characters in the comics are different from the one sin the movie, but the stellar movie versions were all I had for comparison and the novel did not compare at all well. All of the characters except for Quill were put in the back seat for one thing, so there was pretty much none of the team interaction which the movie exploited and highlighted so very well.

This story was pretty much all about Quill and he was, contrary to the movie version, rendered completely unlikable for me. He was portrayed as a smooth-talking and rather callous womanizer, and this felt so unlike the movie character that it was honestly nauseating. Yes, in the movie he was a smooth talker and evidenced a strong hint of womanizing, but as the movie got into gear, he was all about the job and he had great depth. The character here in the novel was about as shallow and uninteresting as you can get. Does the public really want to read about yet another "heroic stud" who consumes women like so many hamburgers? I sure don't. One Captain Kirk is more than enough!

The movie was about dangerous misfits who paradoxically learned to become a family, yet here it was the precise opposite: a family who broke up, became completely domesticated, and disappeared almost entirely into the background scenery! Hi-tech was abandoned wholesale as the team landed on a planet, arguing with each other, and were hit by an EMP bomb which disabled their spacecraft. So, they left it behind and went their separate ways! It made no sense that the ship would not be shielded from EMP.

This planet had apparently become locked in medieval times, so instead of the Guardians of the Galaxy I was expecting, I got Star-Lord of the Rings - complete with giant flying animals, castles, and pitched battles. All the medieval people spoke like modern Americans, which unleashed a very effective bomb itself, one which disabled my suspension of disbelief. I don't expect Shakespearean English in a novel like this, but neither do I like stories where no matter how far into space we go, every habitable planet is populated with people who think, speak, and behave like Americans!

Perhaps the worst thing was that there was zero humor here. This was another thing which the movie did brilliantly. It was completely absent from this novel which was quite evidently far more intent upon exhibiting brawn and brutality than ever it was in showing off brains, bravery, and ingenuity. Given that, it was paradoxical that Drax was all but absent. Gamora was effectively reduced to being a school teacher. Rocket and Groot were as invisible as Drax.

As I said, it was all about the Peter, and for me, he raised far more disgust than interest. Rather than spend his time trying to figure out a way to fix his ship, he uncharacteristically retired from life and became a hanger-on at the court of some Duke, posing as the Duke's champion. This made no sense to me. What happened to the guy who was focused on his ship to the point, almost, of obsession? He was AWOL in this story, and I felt that this betrayed his character completely.

I made it to just past page two hundred in this 240-some page novel, and I quit because I was so tired of the lack of an engaging story, and the seemingly endless fighting. I cannot understand why the Guardians were hobbled and suffocated like this, and I cannot recommend a novel that offers them as little air as deep space.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Princess Knight Vol 1 by Osamu Tezuka

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second of two different "Princess Knight" graphic novels I checked out of the library. I had never encountered this particular sub-genre before so it was odd I picked two out on the same trip. Sadly, neither of them was very impressive, so I guess I'm done with Princess Knight stories!

This one is actually titled Princess Knight and is the one, I believe, which gave rise to the genre, although the original Japanese title said no such thing. Ribbon no Kishi means 'Knight of Ribbons'. That title made less sense, however, since no ribbons were involved in this story! It's a gender-bending story which I typically love, but this one irritated me from the off. The story here wasn't very good and was larded-up with everything (I believe I may even have seen a kitchen sink in there somewhere).

The premise is that angels add a heart to genderless kids right before they're born, determining their gender, which immediately disrespects everyone who isn't bog-standard binary. That was cruel. I thought they might be using this 'gender assignment' as a target to take down, but that wasn't what happened. Note that while this particular candidate (referred to consistently as Princess Sapphire) was issued both a male and a female heart at birth by a mischievous "angel" unoriginally named "Tink" (Tinku), yet despite this, genderism was rife throughout this novel, with the princess side of Sapphire constantly being put in its place. At one point near the end, Sapphire is engaged in a sword fight when the 'boy' heart is ripped out, and immediately the remaining 'she' feels weak and useless, and cannot fight the dastardly villain. That was the last straw for me.

Note that this was written in the mid 1950's, so it was in some ways ground-breaking for its time, but it was still a traditional view. It wasn't like the rest of the story was that great either, and even after 350 pages, it was nowhere near resolution. The reader was invited to the conclusion in volume two! No thanks! I'd already read far too much to want to read another volume of this. I began liking it because the artwork - black and white line drawings - was charming and elegant, and the writing was fun for the most part, but it just dragged on and on without going anywhere and without doing anything with this great premise. Despite having both hearts, Sapphire was feminine no matter what guise he/she was in, and it was absurd to pretend that there was this big doubt about whether sapphire was male or female.

The prince who falls in love with her is categorically unable to recognize her when he sees her without a blonde wig. So much for the depth of his love! For me the story betrayed males, females, and everyone in between and beyond. That's not the only thing which is confused: despite the setting being medieval Europe, the currency is dollars! Another one of many annoyances. So overall, I can't recommend this. While I loved the artwork, the genderism - the very thing I had imagined a novel like this would completely negate - was nauseating.

The History Major by Michael Phillip Cash

Rating: WARTY!

This is another short novel I got from Net Galley, but unlike the previous one I blogged, this was not a 100 page excerpt from a four hundred page novel, this was the entire novella, and it was less than ninety pages. It contained two pages of self-promotional, positive reviews which I found to be weird. I already had the ebook, so what is the point of two pages of reviews when I'd already picked it to read? Leave 'em out and save a tree! The reviews were mostly from Foreword and Kirkus. I have zero respect for Kirkus, who never met a novel they didn't like, so their reviews are utterly useless, and I always skip forewords(!), so these two pages were wasted on me.

The story itself is hard to critique without giving away major spoilers. Let me just confine myself to saying that it's never a good sign when the author has to include a note at the end explaining what they just wrote! It was obvious what the author was trying to do. We've all been there, but stories of the type where it turns out it was all a dream in the end, or something along those similarly twisted lines, are typically more of a let-down that an uplift. The main problem with this one for me, was that it was so flighty and disjointed that it was just one long aggravation. I think this would have worked better as a short story than anything longer.

I think it would have been hilarious had JK Rowling ended the Harry Potter heptalogy by having Harry wake-up on the Hogwarts Express as it arrives in the station on that first trip, the entire seven book series having been a dream. Then, the ending would actually have been a real surprise. This was not such a dream novel, but there were no surprises here, only a torturous circular journey that felt more like a Disney ride than an engaging novella. While I wish the author well in his endeavors, I can't recommend this.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

White Sand by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin, Mercy Thompson, Julius Gopez, Ross Campbell

Rating: WARTY!

The problem with reading an advance review copy of a graphic novel is that you can never be quite sure if what you're looking at on your tablet is what you would see had you bought the comic in print form. In this case, the drawings were poor and the colors muddy and posterized, as if they had been de-rezzed for the ARC. This made for a comic which was more appalling than appealing, but I decided to give this the benefit of the doubt and read on. For me the story is what matters most, even in a comic. Unfortunately the story, which began with a great potential to draw me in, failed to keep stirring my interest as it progressed.

The drawing also lacked good dynamics, as it happens. The character portrayals looked wooden and decidedly odd in many frames, notably the ones where the characters were moving. The frames themselves were deliberately skewed - no square corners anywhere. Sometimes this can work well, but in this case it felt like it had been done not because it suited the presentation for the page, but because the creators of the comic thought it looked super cool or something! That's never a good idea.

The weak presentation was owned-up to on many pages because we had little arrows showing us where to read next instead of being able to determine that from a soundly-designed page. To me, this was just annoying. The skewing and sharp angles worked against the idea of a culture which magically controlled the silky, snaking flow of sand. Some images were purposefully sliced through with a frame border even when it wasn't entirely necessary to split the image. This felt amateur and pretentious to me. On the other side of this coin there was some unintentional humor, such as on the bottom frame of page 139, where an unfortunate juxtaposition of characters made it look like the sand master was feeling-up his friend! LOL!/p>

The story began an a fairly engaging manner despite some grammatical gaffs, such as when one character said, "This council may do as we please" as opposed to "This council may do as it pleases," but on the other hand, this was a character's speech, so perhaps the character just had bad grammar?! Anyway, I was drawn into the story to begin with, but a lot of it made no sense. It's set on a planet called Taldain, which appears not to rotate, since one side appears always to have sunlight, whereas the other, known as "Darkside" evidently has none.

I can't imagine a planet like this being habitable, since the one side would be baked to a crisp and the other frozen. Perhaps an existence might be eked out on the dusk/dawn border between the two extremes, but this wasn't what happened here. There was no logic to the character's skin colors, either. The people who were apparently never exposed to sunlight, coming from the dark side, were inexplicably dark skinned, whereas the pale faces came from the perennially sunlit side. This made no sense!

The pale skinned people we meet first are supposedly "Sand Masters" pretentiously referred to as "mastrells" for reasons I could not fathom. This same pretension was employed by using made-up words for some things, yet not for others. These made-up words necessitated an asterisk and a common English word at the bottom of the frame. This struck me as idiotic. Just call it a water bottle for goodness sakes! The sand masters are supposed to be able to make sand do their bidding, but how this came to be and to what end it was manipulated was entirely unexplained. All I ever saw it used for was as a weapon and as a means to avoid climbing stairs. It had the potential to be something awesome, but it was a fail for me because it seemed so pointlessly squandered.

Note that this is a part of Brandon Sanderson's "Cosmere" universe, with which I am completely unfamiliar. Perhaps if I were, I would have had more out of this story, but given that I am not, a little help from the writers would have been appreciated. It was not forthcoming. I routinely skip prologs and introductions, but I went back this time and read the introduction, and it failed to shed even a photon of useful light, being more of a rambling self-promotion than a candle in the Darkside.

That just goes to prove my case that prologs, prefaces, introductions, and so on are a complete waste of my reading time. Anyway, when the sand masters are all-but wiped-out by some barbaric tribe, this one son of the master mastrell is one of the few survivors. He thinks he can be the new lord because he's the son of the old one (good luck with that!), even though he has had no proper training and history for such a position. He throws his lot in with the Darksiders who are traveling the light side for reasons which were as a muddy as the art work. I can't recommend this comic at all.

The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an advance review copy which I was happy to read. It's aimed at middle grade (eight to twelve-year-olds) so it's not for me, and parts of it were not to my taste, but for the intended age group I think it's absolutely perfect. Isabella and younger sister Henriette have moved to a new home (why goes pretty much unexplained - yes, grandma died and left them her home, but they didn't have to move into it!). Izzy learns that the woman next door, through the woods, is a witch! is she? Maybe! Izzy and Hen go to spy on her and shortly afterwards, Izzy sees Hen disappear into the forest, hypnotized by flute music!

Feisty and capable Izzy chases after her and ends up in fairy-land with three outlaw changelings. What's going on here? Izzy has to find out and pursue her kid sister before the evil queen can...what is she going to do with the little girl? I have to say that these characters were beautifully drawn with words. Both Izzy and Hen were strong female characters, self-motivated, strong at heart, and independent. The thee changelings were fun, interesting, and complex. I was particularly intrigued by Dree. Lug (from the name on down) was a bit of a cliche, but even he wasn't all trope and no substance. The evil queen was delightful and also self-motivated. She was just on the wrong side, unfortunately, but nonetheless very real and believable. And the enigmatic Peter? Did he really deserve the title "Good"?

I loved this story overall, and I recommend it for middle grade readers who like a good adventure, and are too old for paper-thin Disney Princesses. If I had any complaints, they would be about the claim that King Arthur was just a made-up character. He's really not! Yes, the shining knights at the round table are fiction, but there really was a man beneath the legend. One of the characters said this, however, and there's no reason a fictional character could not be just as ill-informed as a real person! The other thing, and this really bothered me, was when one of the characters said "Just don't make me a goblin or a fat lady." It is unnecessarily cruel to put this idea into young children's minds: that overweight people, females in particular, are akin to goblins? Not a good idea. Fortunately that as the only distasteful part of this book. Even authors with awesome names shouldn't be allowed to get away with dissing people because of their weight! And yes, I know a character said this, but that doesn't make it go away. For the rest of it - it was great!

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Rating: WARTY!

The Demon King is part of some sort of series, but at least it said that squarely on the front cover "A Seven Realms novel". I have no idea if this means it's just set in the same world as other novels, or if it's part of a series, but it read like a stand-alone - at least in the way it began. The impression I get from fellow reviewers though, is that this is nothing more than a five-hundred page prolog for the other books in the series. Yawn. I blame the money grubbers in Big Publishing™ for fostering a culture of series in YA novels, and authors for tamely going along with it like so many sheep about to be shorn.

While I'm not a fan of series, I don't mind stories set in the same world. It would be truly foolish to do so! Unfortunately, this started out larded with trope and cliché, and in the beginning, it managed to avoid pissing me off with that, but it danced so shamelessly with those banes of young adult authors that I harbored serious doubts I would get very far. In the end I made it a little over one-third the way through before it became far too mired for my taste.

The sad thing is that this novel is just over five hundred pages long, and yet in that first third, all it had achieved was to establish a love triangle between the princess, the son of the captain of the guard, and the son of the palace wizard. Yep. That's all it did. The author could have put this into a prolog of a few pages long. I would have skipped it as I always do, and everyone would have been happy! But no, we have to spend a hundred-fifty pages crawling through this overblown set-up. Oh, and yeah, there's some dude whose people are rooted in American Indian culture too. Han Alister is the Luke Skywalker of the story - a powerful person of honorable descent who has spent his young life in ignorance of his power and destiny. Blecch! And yes, there's a Darth Vader (the head wizard), and a Han Solo (the guard captain's son), and a Princess Leia, er Raisa.

Wait, there are American Indians (close enough) and a queen? Yes. Believe it or not, there are. Even after a hundred-fifty pages, I still had no idea about this world, so poor as the world-building. It could have been Star Wars! I couldn't tell if it was in the very early days of the wild west, or in steam-punk Victorian times, or more modern even than that. Obviously, it was a fantasy world, so there are no direct ties, but even so, I felt lost. After we had been introduced to the captain's son, who, now back from military school (where warring tribes all train together? What?), is tall and muscular and chiseled, has a square jaw, and has girlish eyelashes and flecks in his eyes! Barf! It was at the point that I went looking for a good dose of Phenergan to stem my nausea, and ditched this novel post haste. Are YA authors medically incapable of originality? It would seem so. It's the precious few who are off the reservation whom I seek out, and they are a rare and treasured breed. This author isn't one of them.

In terms of writing, there were some common errors - common to many YA novels I've read of late, that is. One was where a snake was described as poisonous: "As if he had a large poisonous snake in there" but snakes aren't poisonous, they're venomous. A native would know the difference between venom and poison, especially if they collect herbs and fungi for medicinal purposes and trade, so this one tugged me out of suspension of disbelief briefly.

On the very next page, I read an example of what is evidently fast becoming a change in the English language as yet another author used 'staunch' where 'stanch' was desperately seeking employment. Personally I am a staunch supporter of those who stanch blood flow from open wounds, but I guess this author is not! It's sad to see this from young writers, but the English language is without a doubt extraordinarily fluid and dynamic, and never more so than it has been of late. But this and several other such issues - when added to the tedious love triangle, and a frankly limp and lackluster female main character - were enough to persuade me that this was not worth finishing, much less pursuing into 'seven realms'.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pop Gun War Vol 1 Gift by Farel Dalrymple

Rating: WARTY!

Frankly this comic book was a complete mess. I read the whole thing through and had no idea what the author was trying to relate! The story began with some young kid picking angel wings out of the trash and discovering he can fly with them, but he does nothing, goes nowhere, learns nothing, and delivers nothing. And I have no idea what the title has to do with the story!

If this is "more about a feeling you, the reader, get from the story", then what I got was disappointed. Very. I'm sure the author knew what he was putting into the page, but it failed to come out on the reader's side for me! The artwork was black and white (99% of it anyway), very heavy on the black, and the story jumped around so much and was so light on text that I was lost most of the time trying to figure out what the heck the story was doing. While I am always glad to have a chance to read cutting edge advance review copies of graphic novels, some of them just are, quite evidently, not for me, no matter how interesting they sound from the blurb. I can't in good faith recommend this one, although I wish the writer/artist good fortunate with their career.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Toothless Fairy by Timothy Jordan

Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated in nice and colorful detail by Matthew LaFleur (and alternately written by Skeeter Buck according to Goodreads!), this rhyming story for young children was quite entertaining, and I liked it. Note that this was an advance review copy, and there are kinks in it which I hope will be worked out before it goes on sale. For me I was glad to have had a chance to read it.

One problem I often have in trying to read children's books on a phone is that the text is too small to read. Well, don't read them on a phone, you say, but I'm thinking of parents caught with a troublesome child in a waiting room, where the phone might be the only thing to distract them. And to support my case, this book was quite legible on my phone. The problem here was that pretty much every word in every line was run together, making it hard to read because of that. This was significantly irritating! This is one problem with ebooks. When you get a print version, you're getting what the author envisioned. Amazon's Kindle app doesn't necessarily agree with the author and renders its own version for better or for worse!

So take a pad next time, you advise. Well, I looked at this in the Bluefire reader app on my iPad, which is usually a sterling way to read graphic works and there, it was a quite different problem with the text! It was WAY TOO LARGE! It was so large that it was not readable, because aside from literally two or three letters, the entire text was off the page - and it wasn't possible to pinch the page to make it smaller and shrink the text! In short, this ARC version of this book is definitely not ready for prime time as it is! However, I treated this as if it were going to be fixed by publication date and pressed on, and it proved to be a worthy read.

This story might have been written by a dentist - and I mean that in a good way: as in written by someone who cares about your health. Poor dental hygiene can lead to serious ailments well outside the region of your mouth. The toothless fairy knows this, and she doesn't want children to end up like she did - eating too much sugar and ruining her teeth - so she takes action, replacing one child's candy with a musical instrument which is of far more use to the girl. Success! This is what we did with our kids as it happens - trading them cash for candy (while leaving them some, of course!). Lately as they've grown older, we've taken to going to a show or a movie for Halloween, especially one where we can get a square meal as we watch. It's worked out great.

But I digress! I liked the message in this story, and the fact that the fairy wasn't shown to be some impossible paragon of beauty. Quite the opposite in fact. I liked that the story was educational and fun, and very positive. I think it would be a great book to read to your kids in the weeks leading up to Halloween - or at any time when there's likely to be a chance to eat far more sugar than ever is good for a growing body!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

Rating: WARTY!

This book is a good reason why I don't read series. And another reason why I detest first person PoV novels so vehemently. This is number one (but it felt like number two) in the so-called "Prospero's War" series. There is no war here - not even close, so even the series title is a complete fraud. This is a novel set in a world where magic is real and available to anyone who wants to study it, yet nowhere in the portion of the book that I read (I made it to just over half way) was any magic used for anything! How dumb is that?

Dirty Magic sounded good from the title, and even the blurb, but this was 380-some pages of a bit of story and a heck of a lot of numbing filler. For god's sake this is a series! You have endless tedious volumes to fill, yet you keep interrupting the action in volume one to ramble about a meaningless blue plate lunch which moves the story not one inch? About a history with some non-villainous "villain" who looks more and more like he's going to be part of a triangle, when there's a murder investigation (not) going on? You ramble about your neighbors, about this dumb kid you're talking are of, and about your nasty partner - who is inevitably going to be the other leg of the triangle - and meanwhile what's happening with this critical murder investigation? Literally nothing. I'm sorry, but no! You don't get to treat me like that, and keep me as your audience. You don't get to insult my intelligence with trope, cliche, and rambling tedium. There are far too many other books out there competing with you, to diss your readers like that.

I kept turning another page and skimming a page or two here in the increasingly faint hope that at some point, a fire would light under Propero's ass and she would get into high gear, but it never happened, and if it ain't happened by the half-way point, then you don't get to have me as your reader for the other half. I have better things to do with my time.

The problem with magic stories is that once magic gets in, the rules of physics go out the window. This puts the author in the position of having to make up arbitrary rules which all-too-often make no sense - such as was the case here. As that great magician Winston Churchill said, never has so much trope and cliche been stuffed into so few ideas by so mindless.

Get this: the police were not allowed to use magic! Because it wouldn't stand up in court?! So they used none - not even magic to get hard evidence which would stand up in court! What is the point? If all you're telling is a drug story about a cliched cop then why add magic, and if you're going to add magic, why not actually let people use it? This story was pure bullshit, and I refuse to even remotely recommend it.

Friday, April 22, 2016

World Tales Volume 7

Rating: WORTHY!

This is another in a series, several of which I reviewed back in March 2016. This one featured two stories as usual: Pinocchio read by Danny Aiello, and Tom Thumb read by John Cleese. Again there was music attached to each story - which I could have done without because it was too intrusive. There was a brass band theme to Pinocchio (why do I keep wanting to type two 'n's for that?) by a band called Les Misérables, of whom I've never heard, and Elvis Costello did a sort of free-form background music to Tom Thumb. Not impressed.

Everyone knows Pinocchio, I imagine, but the actual original story is much shorter than the Disney-fied version. No songs, for one thing! Danny Aiello - of whom I am a fan - does a really, really good job. I recommend this one. The story is short - the music pads it out to less than a half hour.

I had no idea what the Tom Thumb story was about other than that it's the story of a guy who is literally as big as a thumb - or as small. And no I'm not going to give Tom Thumb the finger! I liked this story too, although I confess I thought John Cleese was going to go over the top when he first began. He didn't. He reined (or reigned or rained) himself in and did a good job. Being of Monty Python extraction, he obviously does pompous Brit accents to perfection. The story was fun. Tom is at a loose end, and ends up joining the knights of the round table. Again the story is short: under twenty five minutes. I liked it. It was funny and I recommend it.