Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Friday, February 17, 2017

How to Catch the Tooth Fairy by Adam Wallace, Andy Elkerton


Rating: WORTHY!

Gorgeously illustrated by Andy Elkerton, this was a riotous book about a cocky and adventurous little tyke who people are evidently trying to catch to take all her quarters, but she gives no quarter! She's too smart for them and knows all their tricks. It also dispenses sneaky teeth health advice along the way.

Written in rhyme, we learn of this pink haired tooth fairy who collects an average of 300,000 teeth in a night. She wears old time aviator clothes and rides a toothbrush! And she's very fast. I can't predict whether your kid will like this or not, but I loved it!


Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garett


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"After what felt like a millennia" should read either "a millennium" or omit the 'a' altogether. Millennia is plural.
"No I couldn't take let you do that." is confused!

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

I'm really sorry to post a negative review on this one because it had some good qualities and I think this writer is one to watch, but for me, this novel simply didn't make the grade. In the interests of full disclosure, this is the start of an intended series, and I am not typically a fan of series, especially not detective series. This one intrigued me, and while it started out interestingly and had some fun characters and a sense of humor, it quickly went downhill as the main character demonstrated an increasing level of stupidity and ineptitude. I don't mind a main character who starts out dumb and wises-up as the story progresses, but when it goes the other way, it's not a good sign.

The problem is that this main character, Dayna is going way above and beyond her initial purview and we're never offered any valid reasons for this. I do get that this is what these amateur detective stories do, and it wouldn't be so bad if we were offered even a half-assed justification for it, but we don't get any here. Her motivation was supposed to be that her father is at grave risk of foreclosure. There's a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest of the hit and run driver who killed this girl named Hayley, so Dayna starts thinking about how she can get that money. So far so good. This is perfectly sensible and reasonable, but it neither explains nor validates some of the ridiculous things she does.

Dayna is a little slow on the uptake in realizing that they have the offending vehicle on video, but this is forgivable, given that she was out partying with friends that night and wasn't exactly sober. Once she acquired the video though, she just needed to pass it on to the police and she was done, but she doesn't do this. She doesn't have to become a private detective, yet she does take this on in her own very amateur and bumbling way.

The problem here is that she ends up breaking the law and getting in the way of the investigation rather than helping move it along, blundering into situations where she's very likely to tip-off potential suspects and have them skip town or go into hiding rather than having them end-up being successfully fingered for the crime. This is where Le Stupide set in with a vengeance and I found myself cringing rather than laughing or being excited by the story, and it's where I began to lose interest in this character.

Whenever Dayna gets some information, she routinely fails to pass it on to the police - the very people whom she hopes will facilitate this reward so she can help out her dad. The police get it at best second-hand if at all, and this betrays her, because it makes her look less interested in helping dad than it does in being a busybody and a rubbernecker. She insists on following-up evidence herself without passing it on, or she withholds it from the police because in her very amateur opinion, it's never enough.

Because of this, by about sixty percent through the novel she's pretty much a bigger criminal than the one she's trying to track down - at least in terms of how many laws she's breaking. At one point she and some friends discover a robbery has taken place, and rather than inform the police right away, these idiots go trampling all over the crime scene, destroying any clues that the police might have found to help them track down the thieves.

In short, Dayna is moronic. She obsesses over leaving her prints on a baseball cap she finds, yet spares not a single thought for the entire crime scene she just destroyed, evidence-wise. She's thoroughly incompetent, yet never once did she get chewed-out by the police who in reality would have had this clown arrested for interfering with a crime scene, or perverting the course of justice, which she does repeatedly.

At one point Dayna comes into possession of security video tape which positively identifies one of the house burglars who is linked to the hit and run, yet instead of just passing it on to the police and letting them do their job, she takes off on another tangent on her own, all the time lying to her best friends that she's not pursuing this on her own. It was never explained how it was that these relatively amateur thieves knew there were no alarms at this particular house - which was in a very swanky neighborhood where alarms and high-level security were the norm, not the exception, so this robbery made very little sense to begin with except as a poorly-staged venue for Dayna to get a clue. Which she never really does in any meaningful sense, quite frankly.

Dayna herself was not a likable person, and she looked ever more dumb as the story unfolded. It's not surprising that the murderer targets her (so we;re told. I remain unconvinced, but this was around eighty percent in, when I had honestly lost interest altogether. I DNF'd this at ninety or so when the story, instead of smartly winding-up, devolved into an endless ramble. The novel was about a third too long and moved too slowly.

At that point I was wishing the near-miss traffic accident had not missed her. The driver would have done LA a service by getting this inept fool out of the way of the real police work. There are intelligent ways to write your character into places and situation she should not be -ways that don't make her look like a major buttinsky, but this story seemed bent on going the dingbat route every time, making Dayna look far more like dumbbell than some belle detective. Because this kind of thing was the norm rather than the exception in this novel, in the final analysis, I can't recommend this book as a worthy read and I will definitely not be following this series.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui


Rating: WARTY!

I can't give you a full review of this one because I grew tired of it so quickly and simply didn't want to read on when I have so many other books calling to me. I read about a tenth of it and I simply couldn't get interested in it. It moved so slowly and was so self-obsessed that it was tedious to read.

The basic plot is that psychiatrists are using a new device to invade dreams to try to help people with mental issues, but are being overtaken by the dreams and driven insane. Well yeah, since dreams are essentially meaningless drivel, it would be a nightmare for even the dreamer to try to unravel them - assuming that's even possible - let alone some stranger try to figure out what it means, so the premise wasn't exactly a charmed one and in the end, it just didn't appeal to me at all.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Rating: WORTHY!

The compiled results of a web comic, Nimona is possibly the best graphic novel I've ever read. It's certainly up there in the top five. I was quite blown away by it, for the artwork, the humor, the plot and the story. It's brilliant! Noelle Stevenson is of Lumberjanes fame. I reviewed a volume of that unfavorably back in May, 2016. I'm happy to positively review something else she has done!

Nimona comes off as a young and ambitious girl who is ready to get her feet wet in the world of villainy. She volunteers to work with the evil Ballister Blackheart in his endeavors against his old friend, now arch-nemesis, Goldenloin, but in the course of this story, the question arises as to who is really a villain here and who is the golden hero.

Lord Blackheart isn't interested in having an assistant, but when he discovers that Nimona is a shape-shifter - and can shift into any shape - animal or person, he realizes she might have some value as a hench-man...woman...wench? The problem is that he has a code of conduct to which she evidently doesn't seem very interested in adhering. She's all for havoc and chaos, whereas his villainy is less brutal and more structured.

Nevertheless, they learn to work together and they discover the government is hoarding jaderoot, which is a deadly poisonous material and very dangerous to work with, even in small quantities. But how is Blackheart to get word out about the government's villainy in hoarding large quantities of a mateirla they themselves had banned, especially when he's a well-known villain himself? Maybe Nimona can help with that!

I dearly loved this story, and I consider it well worth the eighteen dollar asking price in the hardback print version I read. I recommend it highly.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare, Matt Wiegle


Rating: WARTY!

No Fear Shakespeare is a collection of "translated" Shakespeare texts - in other words, delivered in modern English instead of in the antique lingo with which Shakespeare was familiar. A PDF of Romeo and Juliet done in this way with the original English alongside it can be read online here. I reviewed Hamlet done this ways back in January 2017, and liked that one. This one just didn't get there for me, but it is a simpler introduction to Shakespeare if you want to try to get a handle on him.

Everyone knows the story to one extent or another, but to me this story has always been a really bad YA love story. In fact, in a way, if we include Rosalind, who despite being a no-show here, is an important player in the story, it's a bad love triangle. If John Green had written it (barf!), it would have had a truly pretentious title like, "The Absence of Rosalind" or some such trivial drivel.

Yes, Shakespeare does turn out a nice phrase here and there, but this is sadly canceled out for me by the sick bawdiness and the un-pc attitudes of every male character in the entire story, because they're omnipresent with their puerile attitude, and thoroughly out of place here. Yes, I get that this is what audiences wanted back in Shakespeare's day, but that's no reason to worship him today (or even toady). This is often praised as the love story to outdo all love stories, but it's not a love story at all. There's no love here, only a deranged lust and foolishness, shallowness and cluelessness. It's ultimately a story of the brain-dead and the vacuous, a Dick and Shame story, and if we can blame violence in society on video-games, TV, and movies, then we sure as hell can blame relationships gone wrong on Shakespeare's juvenile view of them.

I ask not "wherefore art thou Romeo?" but why Romeo & Juliet instead of Juliet & Romeo? The answer to that is that this isn't actually a story of a love, true and deep, between two people, it's about a mentally disturbed dickhead and his wasted life. Juliet is thirteen years old, and is nothing more than collateral damage here, not really a character at all, but merely a narcissistic mirror in which Romeo reflects himself in all his vainglory. Not that she has any more clue than Romeo, but he doesn't love her, he wants her only as an emollient for his rough and rudimentary lust and need.

Look how the story begins - with Romeo pining for Rosalind! He's all Rosalind all the time, and there never can be another until the instant - not after several weeks of growing to know her, but the very instant - he sets his reality-challenged eyes on Juliet. From that moment, Rosalind is out, passé, forgotten, so five minutes ago, and nothing but a flimsy fantasy. Now it's all Juliet. I call bullshit on that one!

Is this really how Shakespeare viewed love? Very likely. He married at eighteen a woman eight years his senior for no other evident reason than that he got her pregnant, so he was just as irresponsible as Romeo. Worse, he then turned into a deadbeat dad, and abandoned his family to head south to live a Hollywood life - or what passed for it back then. While he may have visited, he didn't actually return to Stratford until he grew old and retired. What did he know of true love? Nothing.

And what of positive influences in Romeo's life? There are apparently none. It seems that all he has known is violence, never love. He never talks to his parents nor they to him. He takes his advice (not that he really listens) only from kinsmen and "friends" who never once try to set him on an even keel, because they're just as shallow, belligerent, and moronic as he is!

There are no responsible women in his life, and no one at all in Juliet's - not close male family, nor female friends. She's completely isolated and essentially imprisoned, having to beg permission even to go to church and confess! What the hell sins does she have to confess? She never goes anywhere to commit any, and does nothing with her short life. She's thirteen for goodness sake, ripe for taking advantage of!

And what of their affair? They meet one evening and marry almost immediately. Instead of looking to how he can make his wife happy and how they can be together, he lets his temper get the better of him and without a thought for any consequences or for his wife, he kills someone from Juliet's own family - the very man he had sworn love and kinship to not an hour or two before! When Juliet says, "O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon" she should have used Romeo, not the Moon. The Moon is actually extremely constant, but Romeo is far from it.

For murdering Tybalt, Romeo is lucky enough to be banished, not killed, but even then he can't get his act together! At the same time as he's banished, Juliet's father pretty much threatens to banish her, so here's the perfect opportunity for the two of them to hit the road and start a new life somewhere, but neither has the smarts to see it! Instead, they both take the easy route out. In short, this story is a badly written one which could have been much improved. Not only did Romeo murder Tybalt, he also murders Paris. His behavior is one of constantly slithering away from taking responsibility for his actions. He won't own-up publicly to being Juliet's husband! paradoxically, he won't avoid a fight, yet he won't fight for his marriage. He's a train wreck not even waiting to happen and in the end the world is better off without him. The real tragedy here is that he derailed Juliet from her life, too. So much for love; try selfishness instead.

As for the graphic novel version, I can't recommend it any more highly. It does tell the full story - including the parts which the movies, even the definitive Baz Luhrman version, routinely avoid, but the artwork isn't very good, and apart from simplifying the story and making it somewhat more accessible, if that's important to you, it really doesn't bring anything new to the table.


As You Like it by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi, Chie Kutsuwada


Rating: WARTY!

So when we're reviewing a graphic novel adaptation of a Shakespeare play, do we review the original work? This isn't the original work. It's an adaptation by Richard Appignanesi. So do we review the adaptive work? Well it's not original, so we can't ignore that from which it was adapted. So what about the graphic portion of it by Chie Kutsuwada? That's the only part of this work that's truly original, but even so it's still derived from Shakespeare's. Aye, there's the rub!

So, in fact, we have to review all three simultaneously. All of Shakespeare's a stage, and all the writers and artists merely players. They have their successes and their failures, and each play in its time fulfills many roles. There are seven stages. First there is the writing of the original, then comes the acting of it on the stage by the original players, then the adaptation by many other actors. Next the catch-phrases enter the lingo, and works of art take the field depicting renowned scenes form the play. Movies then come along in their various forms necessarily shedding much of the original work in order to conform to a silver screen chronology. After this come the novelizations, and the death of the play wrought by crappy YA adaptations which pay little heed to the original and, let's face it, less heed to intelligent story telling.

I have to say if I were reviewing only the Shakespeare portion of this particular story, I would have to rate it warty. The reason for this is the same reason I've rated so many YA novels negatively, because of instadore. Some reviewers call it insta-love, but the fact is that it's not love. Love is a lot more rational than writers give it credit, even as it might seem completely out of control, but what was depicted here not once, but four times, was insanity.

The truth is that what's irrational is this falling in lust (which I call instadore) and stupidly mistaking it for love. Instadore is shallow and far to fast to be meaningful. You'd have to be a moron to trust that. It doesn't mean it cannot grow into love, but the overwhelming chances are that it won't, yet endless YA authors insist otherwise. Fie on them, say I! And fie on Shakespeare's crappy, meandering, confused, and ultimately meaningless of usurpers and exiles and forest foolishness.

What I did like here was the artwork and the adaptation. Both were well done. The art in particular, which was gray-scale line drawings, was very well done, integrated with the text well, and went beyond mere panels depicting the text. It truly was worth reading. If you want to get a handle on Shakespeare and not get enmeshed in his absurd endless punning, and his clueless idea of love, his thoroughly un-pc attitude, and his boorish male characters pandering to the lowest common denominator in his audience, then starting with something like this isn't at all a bad idea. I recommend this one.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Doctor Kangaroo by Gerald Hawksley


Rating: WORTHY!

I've enjoyed several of these crazy Hawksley books. They're not much for being educational, but not every book your kid reads has to teach something. Sometimes silliness is a valuable lesson to learn. In this story, Doctor Kangaroo's patented treatment is to send every patient to bed with a bandage round their head no matter what their complaint.

What I liked about this story is that it didn't know when to stop. Even after the Kangaroo story it plunged into yet more silliness, which felt like getting a couple of bonus books. I recommend this one for the fun and general all-around goofiness. The artwork is rudimentary but no one in need of a book like this is going to care about that.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Red Angel by CR Daems


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an interesting novel, and the start of a series which I'm not sure I want to follow even though I liked this volume. I'm not a huge fan of series. Once in a while I find one I like, but more often than not, series seem to me to be lazy, derivative, and unimaginative, essentially traveling over the same ground that's already been trampled free of all character. I prefer stories that take the road less traveled, which is impossible with a series, by its very nature. I'm especially not enamored of trilogies which everyone and their uncle seems intent upon writing, particularly in the YA world.

This novel had some issues. It could have used a good editor, because parts of it were repetitive, saying the same thing over that had just been said a couple of paragraphs before, but that didn't happen often. Additionally, the story had a juvenile feel to it - like fan fiction, but for me that wasn't really a problem. I'll forgive a writer a lot if they tell me a good story, and this was a good and original story.

Main character Anna has an interesting companion. Her entire family was dying of the Cacao virus when she was four, but this krait, a type of snake, latched onto her and bit her, and the venom held the virus at bay. It did not cure her, nor did it kill her. The rest of her family died, and had the snake left her, Anna would have died too, but for reasons unknown, the snake stayed with her into adulthood, living wrapped around her neck or on her arm or leg, biting her once in a while to feed on her blood, but keeping her alive in the process, so she learns to live with it and eventually considers it to be a friend and a pet. The friendship aspect is covered a lot more than the biting and blood-sucking aspect!

The snake is repeatedly described by the author as poisonous, but snakes tend not to be poisonous: you can eat them without dying! What the writer means is that the snake is venomous, and the venom in this case is usually deadly except to Anna. People avoid these kraits like they would avoid someone who has the virus, but once it gets known that this red-headed krait can 'cure' the virus, Anna becomes a target of desperate people who also want this 'cure', so it's hard to find her a secure location with a foster family.

After a bullying incident at a boarding school, Anna comes to the attention of a navy magistrate who ends up adopting her, and thus Anna is trained at a naval academy, and there she thrives. When she's eighteen, she's offered a job with an investigative division in the Navy and she accepts. The team begins to investigate a wide-spread smuggling operation and Anna is instrumental in the pursuit. It's never quite clear what they're smuggling, although drugs are mentioned a lot.

The only problem I have with this is my generic one with these space operas. Space is far too large and habitable planets too few and very far between to make any kind of commerce financially viable unless the products are considered extremely valuable. Why would anyone pay for something to be shipped from many light years away when the can fabricate the same thing on the planet where they need it? Most sci-fi writers gloss over this, and pretend it's not a problem, but it distracts me from the story, so unless the story is really very good, I can't take it seriously.

Other than that, the story wasn't bad at all. it moved quickly and was engaging. Once in a while it was annoying. For example, Anna was, we were repeatedly told, a very mature young woman, but she presented as a rather immature one most of the time. Fortunately this was not a killer for me. Neither was the occasional grammatical or spelling gaff. For example at one point I read, "he'll made admiral some day" when obviously it should have been 'make', not 'made' (and you can also argue that 'some day' should be rendered as a single word if you like), but I'm willing to forgive these too, if the story is a good one, so this one passes and I recommend it. I might even read volume two of the series should I ever come across it, but I don't feel compelled to rush out find it.


Butterfly Palace by Colleen Coble


Rating: WARTY!

Colleen is such a sweet name isn't it? I picked this audiobook up because it purported to be a murder mystery set in Austin, Texas, in the early 1900's, where a serial killer is offing blonde servant girls who each seem to get a butterfly in a glass sphere as a present before they go under the knife as it were. So in some ways it seemed to offer itself as a cross between Silence of the Lambs, and Angels and Insects which was an intriguing mash-up to me. The problem with it was that the first quarter of the novel had nothing to do with tracking down murderers. Instead it was a dumb romance. Even when the murderer showed up, the novel gave him only a few pages and then went back to discussing chenille and tea services. In short, it sucked and I proudly DNF'd it.

Main character, Lily Donaldson, has suffered a degradation of her circumstances. In a prologue, her family farm burns down in Larsen, Texas, and she's forced to move to Austin to seek employment as a maid. I normally skip prologues, but sometimes they're hard to detect in audio books and hearing this one only served to reinforced my already strong feelings about them: they are a complete waste of time, and in print form, a waste of trees. The farm burning, instead of being offered as a boring and overly melodramatic opener, could have been included in chapter one as a two-sentence back-story and achieved the same end. I don't get this obsession which writers have with prologues and epilogues. Cut it out! Cut to the chase instead!

So this book could have saved trees (or in the audio book, fossil fuels in the form of the plastic in the CDs). Shame on the author. Anyway, Lily works for the Marshall family as a maid and has impressed her employer so well that she's assigned as a ladies maid to the bitch daughter of the family, who happens to have set her sights on Lily's ex-boyfriend, Andy, a jerk who abandoned Lily in Larsen and is now living in Austin in much elevated circumstances, and lo and behold! happens to run into lily on day one - or near enough. What are the odds? Well, in romance novels, quite obviously they're better than one to one raised to the power of trite.

So all suspense is lost. We already knew the serial killer would be caught, but at least we had to look forward to him being tracked down and caught, yet the story is less focused on him than it is on Lily's pining for Andy, and her being bullied by her mistress, who finds any contact between her maid and Andy to be objectionable, and on silk skirts and fine hats. This author needs to get her priorities straight. Meanwhile, Andy is apparently investigating the murders, and is leaning on Lily for help, thereby causing her trouble. In short, he's still a selfish jerk, yet she's still pining for him. I have no respect for a character like that.

Clearly the story is going to get these two back together, and make his obnoxious behavior all okay, but to me it isn't, and if I already know exactly how this story is going to pan out, where is my incentive to continue reading it, let alone recommend it, which I certainly do not?


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dream Big by Kat Kronenberg


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in Africa this was a colorful, fun, and inspirational book which encourages children that if they truly believe in their dreams and don't let negative people stop them, they will get their wish, like the caterpillar who wanted to fly, and the tadpole who wanted to hop and jump, and dance, and the flamingo who wanted colorful feathers.

Even the nay-saying baboon is forced to accept that he can dream big for his wish and it will come true. I liked the story for the colorful and entertaining artwork by Stephanie Dehennin, the fun characters, and the positive message.


Lyddie by Katherine Paterson


Rating: WORTHY!

I twice had mixed feelings about this novel, but both times in the end, it came through for me, and so I have no choice but to rate it a worthy read! That's my kind of author, despite the fact that she won a Newbery for some other novel she wrote. I started out int he first few chapters wondering if I could drop this at a quarter the way through, but as soon as Lyddie left her rural background and headed for the city, it picked-up and never stopped from there on out. That was when I began enjoying it.

This is the story of a young girl who lives on a farm with her mother and her younger siblings, but their father has left them and offers no hope that he's coming back. Their mother is weak and worn out, so it would seem that it's all up to Lyddie Worthen (come on - if she'd been named Worthy it could hardly be any closer!). She almost despairs when her mother announces that the family must be split-up in order to pay off the debt that's owed. Mother and the youngest are going to stay with relatives, but Lyddie and Charlie, despite their tender age, are to be let out as servants in order to start working down the crushing debt.

The paltry little farm will stand idle and Lyddie hates that. She isn't happy with her lot either although Charlie, in a luckier situation, flourishes. Lyddie hears about the money that's to be made up in Lowell, Massachusetts, working in the yarn-spinning factories, and she jumps ship.

The life in the factory pays well (by Lyddie's previous standards), but the work is long, long, long, and the conditions are awful. Get used to this folks because this is where the The Business President is aiming to take us all in the next four years. Lyddie struggles at first, but eventually becomes the best loom operator in the whole factory. It's piece-work which means that the workers have no peace, because they have to meet a quota and unfortunately, saving is slow and problems abound.

Some girls are talking of agitation for better conditions, and all the while the factory makes greater demands - running the looms faster, reducing pay and raising quotas. The horrible condition inside the factory are best exemplified in the BBC TV serialization of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South which stars Richard Armitage of The Hobbit fame. Several scenes in this show display in graphic detail how god-awful working conditions in a spinning factory were back then.

Lyddie has no time for agitation. She focuses on working hard, and being the best, so she can run four looms and make more money, but even as she almost literally slaves away, her family and farm situation deteriorate bit by bit. The ending seemed obvious and I was getting ready to down-rate it because it looked like this author was going to perform a YA weak, dependent, girl atrocity on her main character, but once again she turned it around and sent Lyddie in a different direction: one which returned control to Lyddie, and one of which I fully approved. It was this that really won me over, because the girl had not given-up. She had merely refocused her goal and went for it with a control-taking dedication which I admired and approved of. I fully recommend this read.



Friday, January 27, 2017

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Doyle


Rating: WARTY!

Published originally between July, 1891 and June, 1892 in The Strand magazine as serials, these stories were gathered together into one volume shortly after the last was published. It is this version, in a form recorded in the early 1990s for BBC radio, that I listened to. The stories are listed below with a brief commentary on each.

While I recommend the Holmes stories, particularly for any writer who aspires to write detective fiction themselves, I cannot recommend this particular audiobook version at all. It would not have been so bad were it not for the whining violins which periodically inject themselves and for the ridiculous "acting" if one can call it that, by the lead. The reading is a full-cast one, with a guy named Clive Merrison, who is amusingly a welsh actor playing the quintessentially English Sherlock Holmes, and Michael Williams who, until he died in 2001, was married to actor Judi Dench, playing Watson.

The problem with these two is that Merrison is way-the-hell over the top, cackling like a mad scientist at times, and his voice is brassy and jarring, whereas William's voice is understated and quiet, so I'm constantly adjusting the volume when listening to one or the other. I thought (more than once) of just giving up and returning this to the library, but it served my purpose to stay with it and see it through, to refresh my memory on some of these stories and on Doyle's writing style in particular, about which I'll have a few comments.

The recording quality is shamefully poor for the BBC. It sounds loud and brassy in parts, and awfully tinny in others, especially when we're forced to listen to an obnoxiously maudlin violin screeching at random intervals. The sound effects were more irritating than illuminating. There were also changes made to the stories in the name of "dramatization' which were overly melodramatic and quite frankly annoying. If you went to listen to this I recommend finding one where it's read, not acted, and avoid this particular edition like the plague.

  • A Scandal in Bohemia

The most remarkable thing about the Sherlock Holmes stories is how John Hamish Watson always seems to be conveniently arriving at 221B Baker Street just in time for Holmes's next adventure! Watson is supposed to be a doctor, but he never practices because he's always putting off his patients in order to take-off with Holmes. In short, he's a truly lousy and unreliable doctor, and it's rather surprising that he even has a practice. In this adventure, he shows up on spec and happens upon the beginning of the Irene Adler case.

The curious thing about Holmes, given his reputation, is how little of his famed 'brilliant observational deduction' he engages in, and how little of that is relevant to the case. Most of the deductive work for which he's famous is done at the beginning of the story, where Holmes first meets whichever person it is who will launch him on his case. In this particular example, he sets his sights on the "King of Bohemia," and it's fairly easy to see how he figures out who the guy is. This early display of 'brilliance' typifies the Holmes stories, leaving the rest of the story to simple detective work, with precious few flashes of the vaunted deductive excellence that are typically associated with Holmes in popular culture.

The king has a problem with Irene Adler, an American opera singer and actor, and ex-lover of his. Doyle introduces quite a few American characters in his stories, and seems to be rather an aficionado of the country. At one point, in one of these stories, Doyle has Holmes spout some absurd nonsense about the US and Britain reuniting, which felt to me like it was a clueless Doyle speaking through his character.

Adler has a compromising photograph of herself and the King, and she will not give it up. The King's agents have been unable to discover where she keeps it hidden. At 5½ by 4 inches, it's claimed to be too large for her to keep on her person (and evidently they don't consider that she might have cut it down a little), but it simply isn't the case that it's "too large." An eight by ten, yeah, but five by four? No! This is merely a contrivance of Doyle's to have the photo hidden in a fixed location somewhere, and therefore readily accessible for Holmes to discover.

If Adler were really as smart as she's popularly claimed, she would carry it with her just to thwart those who did think it not portable! Then I don't subscribe to this fiction that Adler was Holmes's match - that she was a brilliant tactician who outsmarted "the great detective." Yes, she did outsmart him, but to claim that the way she did it was genius is the same thing as saying that most women are idiots. She acted only in her highly-motivated self-interest, employing nothing more than commonsense in the process. There was no genius or brilliance involved. it was no great feat or her to disguise herself with make-up (having been an actress) and follow Holmes.

If Holmes were smarter he would have asked Adler why she wanted to keep the photo, but neither he nor the king seem to have considered for a minute that Adler had a reason other than blackmailing the king or spoiling his impending marriage. Holmes did not deduce this - he found it out purely by accident whilst spying on Adler. Prior to this, Holmes had simply taken the king's word for it that Adler is in love with him, so there's a heck of a lot of blind gullibility going on here which is hardly a hallmark of brilliance on the part of Holmes.

  • The Red-headed League

It would be hard to write some of the Holmes stories today because so many of them revolve around quirks and foibles of yesteryear, such as this one. One can imagine there would be a redheaded league a hundred years ago, and even more so that it was a fake one, but it's a lot harder to see that flying today.

In this adventure, a red-headed man visits Holmes about this 'occupation' he was hired for, purely because of his red hair. His job was to transcribe the Encyclopædia Britannica, for which he's paid handsomely, but after two months went by, the 'work' evaporated. When he showed up for it as usual one morning, he was told there was no more job!

Holmes is intrigued and investigates, and it turns out that the purpose of the job was simply to get the man away from his pawnbroker business so that thieves could use his basement to tunnel through to a nearby bank and rob it. There really was no great deduction going on here once you realized that the mystery was not the job, but why someone would want the red-headed Mr Wilson out of his shop for so long.

  • A Case of Identity

This is another story wherein the perp probably wouldn't get away with it today, since people are less trusting and less gullible in broad, general terms, educated no doubt by the plethora of detective stories which flood the market today in print and via video media.

In the story, Mary Sutherland is engaged to someone with the oddball name of Hosmer Angel. Where Doyle came up with these names is a mystery worth a Sherlock Holmes style exploration in my opinion, but this character is actually Mary's stepfather in disguise, and he's trying to make her so miserable over a ruined engagement caused by his last minute 'disappearance' that she will never look at another man again and in this way, he can keep his sticky fingers on her inheritance, which she would get were she to marry. Curiously, Holmes fails his client when he fails to tell her the truth about what happened, meaning the stepfather will get away with his plan. It's neither a very good nor a satisfactory story.

  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery

This one involves Inspector Lestrade who essentially fulfills the role of clown. The police are routinely and rather insultingly rendered as idiots in the Holmes stories. The crime here is the murder of Charles McCarthy and the "open and shut case' against his son, James. Of course, Holmes proves this wrong. I found this story boring and rather lacking in the brilliance these stories are supposed to exhibit.

  • The Five Orange Pips

This story is nonsensical from the beginning to the end. The five pips from an orange are purportedly a warning from the Ku Klux Klan, but Doyle proves himself profoundly ignorant of this petty, amateur racist movement which never has had a large following and which was dead as a dodo when Doyle wrote this story. The KKK name comes not from the sound of cocking a rifle as Doyle writes, but from the Greek word for circle: kyklos, with the alliterative "Klan" added for effect.

It makes no sense whatsoever for them to send the warning, and especially not of a pathetic five orange pips. Why did they not simply visit the man who had the damning written evidence and demand it from him, or kill him and burn his home to the ground if they were that desperate? The whole story is absurd and is essentially nothing more than a variation on the Irene Adler story.

  • The Man with the Twisted Lip

This one is equally stupid. A man who falls into debt discovers that he can make more money begging on the street than he can by actually working, so he kits himself out with an ugly disguise which rather than disguise him draws more attention to him such that he's very well known to the police. Hardly much of a disguise if we deem a disguise to mean something to prevent him being noticed. despite the police attention, no one has ever noticed his disguise!

One day his wife happens to be in the neighborhood of his lodgings. Why he needed those is never satisfactorily explained, especialyl givne how expensive they are to maintain. Why the man's respectable wife even be in such a lowlife area of London is even less explicable, but sees him in a window. By the time she can get up there with the police, he's donned his disguise, Literally thrown his coat across the street and into the Thames on the other side (which is impossible if "Swandam Lane" is anything like its real life counterpart, Swan Lane), and even his own wife doesn't recognize him? Absurd! This is really the Hosmer Angel story over again with a few plot points changed.

Unintentional humor is rife in these stories, such as in this one, where Watson says "...a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up..." LOL! Wet dreams in Holmes stories! There is rather a lot of ejaculation going on in this book. Of course I'm sure Doyle didn't mean what a prurient mind twists it to mean, but this particular mention of it was perfect!

  • The Blue Carbuncle

Blue carbuncle is just another name for a blue garnet, but 'carbuncle' is wrong because it refers to a red gemstone, not to a blue one. This story is almost literally a wild goose chase, and involves no brilliant deductions on Holmes part, merely an understanding of avarice and a trick to try and lure in the villain who "hid" his stolen gem in the goose by forcing the poor doomed creature to swallow it.

It makes no sense that, having successfully made it all the way home with the stolen gem in his pocket, he would then risk losing track of it by depositing it in a goose which is likely to abruptly disappear since it's Christmas season; then the guy evidently isn't too smart, so maybe he would. This was not a very satisfactory story.

  • The Speckled Band

According to Wikipedia, Doyle considered this to be his best Holmes story, but I have to say I think it's the worst. It makes zero sense from start to finish. The speckled band is a snake. Who in their right mind ever refers to a snake as a band, speckled or otherwise? The very premise is nonsensical, yet the entire 'mystery' depends upon it.

Helen Stoner (the name probably explains a lot!) visits Holmes because two years before, her twin sister had died under odd circumstances while in her bedroom, and now Helen is forced to sleep in the very room where her sister died because of unnecessary modifications to the house. The clues are a bed fixed to the floor, a bell-pull that doesn't work and which hangs from a vent in the ceiling right over the bed.

The idea is that a 'swamp adder' is controlled by a whistling sound and on activation, it descends the bell-pull and bites the sleeping victim, retreating back up the pull afterwards. Since there is no such thing as a swamp adder and no venomous snake which could climb or descend something as insubstantial as a bell-pull, and since snakes are effectively deaf (they can detect sounds if their jaw is in contact with the ground, and perhaps some low frequency airborne sounds, but nothing else), then whistling to control one, even if such fine control of a snake were possible, is absurd. If you want a snake that can climb, why invent a swamp adder? Why not a 'tree' adder or a 'vine' adder? And which snake, exactly, drinks milk? Doyle clearly knew nothing about snakes.

This really wasn't very inventive on Doyle's part, and to me it's a poorly thought-out story which contains very little of Holmes's highly praised deductive skills. There's nothing he does here that any person of average intelligence and an inquiring mind could not have done. And why does Stoner come only when her own life is in danger? Did she not care enough about her twin to pursue inquiries into how she died? I thought this a weak and amateur effort.

  • The Engineer's Thumb

Victor Hatherley comes to Watson's attention having suffered a severed thumb and blood loss. After treatment, Watson refers him to Holmes. The engineer had been contracted for five times his asking price to consult on a malfunctioning hydraulic press. When he gets too inquisitive, his employer comes after him with an ax, and he escapes through a window, losing his thumb to the ax in the process. Holmes uses some simple deduction to figure out where the engineer was transported in secrecy late at night, only to find the house burned down and the perp escaped. It's hardly a case of brilliant deduction, and certainly not one in which Holmes "gets his man".

  • The Noble Bachelor

Lord Robert St Simon marries an American woman only to have her scarper immediately after the wedding. Holmes, with Lestrade's help(!) discovers that Hatty Doran was married to Francis Moulton, who was reported to have been killed by Apaches in New Mexico. Doyle does get it right that this is Apache territory, but New Mexico wasn't a state until after this story was written. It was however, a very large territory. Hatty had married Frank and when she thought he was dead, she felt free to marry Lord Robert, but Frank showed up at the wedding and rather than raise objections, snuck away with the bride. Again, the story made no sense, because it was Frank who wanted to tell Lord Robert the truth, so why did he not raise an objection at the wedding? Again no brilliant insights here, only 'elementary' deduction my dear Holmes.

  • The Beryl Coronet

In this story, in another unintentionally funny sentence, Holmes, talking about shoes, says he disguised himself as a loafer (vagrant or slacker)! LOL!

A banker discovers his son holding a damaged coronet. Like a moron, Arthur refuses to give an account of himself and like an even bigger moron, his dad immediately leaps to the conclusion that his son has stolen the piece of the coronet which was broken off. There is no brilliant deduction here either, Holmes merely following a trail of footprints and surmising that Arthur's cousin conspired with an outside agent to steal.

  • The Copper Beeches

Violet Hunter is unknowingly hired (and overpaid) for the purpose of impersonating a woman who is being held captive at that same location, Violet's role is to impersonate the woman so an outside interested party is fooled into thinking that she's there of her own free will and is enjoying her time. Holmes figures it out, but there is no great deduction involved. This story is really an amalgamation of three others, because it incorporates elements of The Engineer's Thumb (someone is hired for a ridiculous fee), The Redheaded League (hired for a particular look, and to occupy a certain place on certain occasions), and The Adventure of the Yellow Face, which is not included in this collection, but was with m The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and in which a woman in disguise is required to be visible in a window.

So, like I said, skip this and find a different version. I can't recommend it.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Princesses Don't Become Engineers by Aya Ling


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples:

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

Here's a particularly shameful one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreadnought by April Daniels


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"With Dreadnought's dead" Makes no sense. 'With Dreadnought's death', or 'With Dreadnought being dead' makes more sense.
Camouflage misspelled at start of chapter 14
Bicep on p115 needs to be biceps!
I wouldn't keep let mom bribe me p115 makes no sense. 'I wouldn't keep letting mom bribe me', maybe?

I'm not a fan of series in general because they tend to be bloated, repetitive, and derivative. I like my novels fresh, not warmed over from the previous volume in the series! Once in a while though, a series comes along that's worth reading, and though it's premature to say so after only one volume, this series, Nemesis, of which Dreadnought is volume one, might be one I can finally stomach! Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the author and the publisher.

Let me address some issues I had with it first. The story was in first person. I have no idea why authors are so addicted to this, but usually it sounds awful, self-obsessed, and totally unrealistic. Once in a while an author can carry it off, and in this case it wasn't bad until it got to about 80% of the way through when the big action finale began, and then it really showed what a poor choice this voice was. No one narrates like that when experiencing horrors or trying to figure out how to set wrongs right in emergency situations.

Yes, I would agree that the actions and thoughts of Dreadnought in some ways showed how new she was to this job, but in other ways it was steadfastly undermined that by how analytical and detailed she was in relating what was happening. Even accounting for the inexperience, for me it was almost completely lacking in credibility. It wasn't god-awfully bad, but the scenes needed to be tightened considerably. There was way too much fluff and filler, and with the first person voice it simply didn't feel realistic. Overall, the finale was not bad in terms of being a finale. It was just poorly executed, I thought.

It may seem strange to make this point with someone like Trump in office, but the extremes depicted in the novel, in terms of how people despised Danny, the mtf transgender girl who became the super hero Dreadnought, were too polarized. It’s like there was no one on the fence - they were either totally supportive or psychotically antagonistic and to me, this lacked credibility. I know there are many people hostile to the LGBTQIA community, and for the next four years, we're going to see them crawling out of the woodwork, emerging from the shadows, and slithering out from under rocks, I'm sorry to say, because they've been invited to do so by one of the most bigoted and insensitive public figures I've ever seen, and unfortunately, because of the complacency of registered voters, he's now in a position of way too much power for four years.

As far as this story is concerned, more nuance would have served it better. Danny's high-school friend, her dad, and the Graywych character at the super hero building came off more like caricatures than actual people, and this robbed them of their power, although Graywych's perspective was an interesting one, I grant. Instead of being threatening though, they were more like "representative' cardboard cut-outs, or placeholder set up to mark a particular perspective without making the perspective feel real.

That said, I really liked this story overall, and I loved how it brought the character into being with a history and a legacy already in place because of the way the mantle is passed on from one Dreadnought to another. Like Danny needed any more pressure! Danny is a girl, Danielle, as she'd like to be, born in a boy's body, Daniel as he was known.

She has felt trapped for seven or eight years, and is desperately counting the days until she's eighteen, and can get a job to save up for the surgery which will make her outward appearance match her inner self, or at least as close as modern medical science can render it. She did not ask for super powers, but once she gets them, and realizes that part of this transference grants some wishes to the recipient we quickly discover (like it was any surprise!) what her dearest wish was, and this is what she got.

Some reviewers, I've noticed have had issues with how 'beautiful' and 'curvaceous' she became, and I’d have an issue with it if that was all she became, but there was more to it and it’s wrong to focus on one aspect to the exclusion of others which turn out to be more important.

That said I would have preferred it if it had been toned-down, or if it was only Danny who considered she was 'beautiful'. This is for two reasons: one, because I'm tired of female super hero tropes where they're essentially nothing more than pneumatic Barbie doll clichés instead of real people, on the outside, and guys on the inside. Two: I think it would have made for a more powerful story and a more compelling character had Danny been just 'ordinary' looking, but was so thrilled to finally 'be a real girl' that she felt beautiful. But that's just me!

One problem here is that she wasn't really a girl, though, not biologically speaking. This part made little sense to me. She got the proportions and outward appearance of a girl, including a 'healthy cleavage,' but inside she was still XY, with no womb. There was no overt discussion of what her genitalia looked like exactly, just the hint that it was entirely female, so what I didn't get was why? Why did she have this limitation? If the mantle could confer femininity on her, why could it not go all the way?

I didn't buy the flim-flam we were given that it was too much for the mantle to confer. Men are really just mutant versions of women when you get right down to it, and there are direct parallels between a male and a female body. What's referred to as a penis in a male is nothing more than a distended clitoris. Men have an X chromosome, so if the changes somehow called for a man to be raised to the power of X to put him on par with a woman, then why couldn't the mantle achieve this? What couldn't the Prostatic utricle become a uterus? Was it because the man-tle was designed by a man?! You could argue that you would lose your transgender character if this had happened but I would disagree with you!

I like the way Danny came into her powers, and I speak not of the initial transference here, but her growth into them over the story, her reluctance to blindly throw in her lot with the Legion, and her willingness to learn everything the mantle could show her, and put it to good use. The other side of this coin is that it made little sense that she didn't stand up to her father earlier, but when you're beaten down so hard for so long, it's very hard to get back to your feet with any strength of conviction, so I was willing to let that go. I felt bad though when Danny's first thought on waking after Calamity's injury was not that of going to see how she was, but a lot of selfish thoughts about how much she was having to put up with herself. That felt like a real betrayal

I adored Calamity. This seems to be my lot on life whether I like the main character (as I did here) or not: I like the 'side-kick' more, although Calamity never was a sidekick, and even had the balls to call Dreadnought her sidekick at one point, which was both beautiful and funny. So enough rambling. Overall I really did like the story despite some issues. It's the first I've read of a series in a long, long time that has really stirred my interest and made me seriously want to come back for more. That's about the biggest compliment I can give it, and from me, it's a heck of a lot!


A Fox and a Box by Tanja Russita


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with A Pig, a Fox, and a Box by Jonathan Fenske, this consists of three short, illustrated stories with very simple text designed for young readers. The stories are fun and repetitive, aimed at getting the kids to get the words. The stories revolve around learning what an unusual new pet is, finding out what's wrong with someone's nose, and learning what the fox found in the box.

I couldn't stop thinking about that viral internet song, Box in a Box which was written and sung by the talented Leah Kauffman and acted in the video by Melissa Lamb & co, but it has nothing to do with this book. That's what happens when catchy rhymes get in your head, I guess! This set of stories though, is fun and seems eminently suited to achieving its aim, so I recommend it.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Witch Hunt by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is yet another in a series of short stories by Annie Bellet that I've been reviewing lately. These stories are available for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads.

You can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free. Karin Slaughter, I'm looking at you!

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to an author's main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general. I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time, but that's it.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mom Goes For a Walk by Tanja Russita


Rating: WORTHY!

I liked this new take on an old story idea, whereby the child takes her parents for a walk rather than the other way around. It was different and inventive, and very playful, and the illustrations, in color, were great. It looked good on a tablet computer. I can't speak for the print version, but I have no reason to believe it wouldn't look good there too.

The child is all about mom and what she does on their walks - like reading while sitting on a swing, drawing wildlife, knitting, getting some sun. It's odd, but there seems to be very little actual walking going on here! I can confirm that the child is ensuring her mom gets fresh air and learns to play nice with the other moms! I liked this book for the watercolor art, the playful tone, and the fresh take on a story.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Last Dance by Salvatore Albert Lombino aka Ed McBain


Rating: WARTY!

Salvatore Albert Lombino legally became Evan Hunter in 1952, but wrote most of his novels as Ed McBain. He wrote under several other names, too, such as John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten. The only name related to him that he never wrote under was his original name! The Last Dance was written in 2000, just five years before McBain died, and was part of his 87th Precinct series.

I'm not a series fan, but out of curiosity, I'd picked up a book of his that the library was selling off, and which contained three stories. I hadn't yet got to it when I saw this one on the shelf and decided to give myself a sneak preview. If I liked it, all well and good, but if I didn't, I'd save myself the trouble of getting into the print book, and I could take it off my overburdened shelf!

Because of an unwisely situated library bar code sticker on the case, what I didn't realize until about half-way through the audiobook was that it's actually read by McBain himself. For me, this made it more interesting, because he has an odd way of reading. He reads it like it's a list or something, not like it's a novel, and I wonder how much of what I hear from him informs as to how he wrote his books.

He puts inflection into the speech he reads, but sometimes he carries the same inflection over to the text outside the quotes, like it's inflected the same way the speech was! It sounds a bit weird. His voice sounds very New York and eh has no idea how a Cockney sounds. McBain grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx from what I've read about him. He doesn't do too bad of a job - just an odd job. I'm a big proponent of authors reading their own novels for the audiobook version, assuming they're not awful at it, so I'm not going to complain about this! Except for one thing: like too many Americans, McBain conflates Cockney with Londoner. The two are not synonymous.

The oddest thing about this novel for me though, was that these detectives, who are the main characters, had been in two gunfights by the halfway stage, yet in neither fight did any cop fire even one round. I find that completely incredible. I know this is fiction, and I know that novels (and TV shows and movies) often have too much gun-play, but to have a detective meet an informant in a public place, and have two assassins come in to the restaurant and gun-down the informant, and the detective who's with him not return a single shot and worse, to not follow the guys out into the street when they left so he could maybe get a license plate from their getaway car or something, was ridiculous.

In the second gunfight, there was about a half-dozen cops going to bring in this assassin. They were armed and wearing vests, and expecting trouble, but they had to go through this single door into an apartment. The guy inside had to get from his bed to a drawer, pull out the gun and start shooting, and he did this without any cop shooting back at him. The assassin, so-called, hit only one cop, and that was in the leg. He shot all his rounds, then dropped the gun and surrendered! No cop fired back. I'm sorry, but it's simply not credible. Even in real life, and in both of those situations, the cops would have been firing back. I don't get it at all.

That said, the story overall wasn't too bad to begin with, just a bit annoying and odd. It even had some humor here and there, but by about halfway through it, I was beginning to tire of both the reader and the story, and towards the end I was skipping tracks just to get it over with. it was a short book, but too long for my patience, so I can't recommend this at all. As far as the print book is concerned, I'll give that a try to see if it sounds better when I'm reading than it does when I'm simply listening, but I hold out less hope for it now than I did before I listened to this book!


Winter's Bite by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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