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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Big Book of Twisted Fairy Tales by Sue Nicholson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Personally I think 'twisted' is a misnomer for a quartet of stories about honesty, kindness, responsibility, and teamwork, but it wasn't my choice! Rest assured that the stories are only twisted in the sense that they're changed and updated in relation to the originals.

Cinderella, whose original story revolved around a shoe fetish, loves dancing of course, but what's she to do when everyone except for her seems to be getting new shoes for the newly-opening dance school? Cindy puts her best foot forward however. This story is aimed at teaching about generosity and kindness. Unlike Cinderella, Beauty has her wish granted, and is given a pony which she names Flick, but (and here actually is a twist!), the beast isn't the animal, it's Beauty! She neglects her charge and the horse charges away! Will her parents have to pony-up for a new ride, or will beauty become more stable? This story aims to teach responsibility.

One of the fun things about these stories is how the characters each appear in the stories of the others. They not only exist in the same world, they live in the same town! One of those other characters is Jack who, like two beans in a pod, is just as irresponsible as Beauty, and who ends up destroying the family's crop. This story is about honesty, though. Will Jack fess up and will mommie bean him for his behavior? Last, but not least, is Snow White, who unaccountably isn't white in this story, so "yeay!" for diversity, but "huh?" for logic. Snow's problem doesn't exactly dwarf the others, but it is serious. She's one of the best soccer players, yet she's paradoxically not a team player! Will she also learn her lesson or will there be a penalty for her behavior?!

I liked these stories and commend them as a worthy read for young children, offering useful lessons.

The Time Machine by HG Wells

Rating: WARTY!

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

Published under the banner of "Classics Reimagined", this is a reproduction of the text of HG Wells 1895 novella. I requested this for review mistakenly thinking it was a graphic novel. It isn't; it's an illustrated novella. In it, a man who is never named in the story, but referred to simply as 'the Time Traveller' (note that this is in an era when characters in stories were often named "Mr B_____" or Mrs "M______", or whatever, builds himself a time machine and travels to the year 802,701.

Why that particular year, I have no idea, but by then London, his starting point, has long gone, as has every vestige of the society he knew. In its place is what appears to be a purely natural world in which dwell two peoples, the childlike androgynous Eloi, and the subterranean-dwelling predatory, and of course ugly, Morlocks, who groom the Eloi as their prey. The time traveller befriends one of the Eloi who is unfortunately named Weena, which sounds to me like some sort of sausage. Why Wells made the predators ugly was to me a bad piece of writing. If you looka t nature, the apex predators are enver ugly - theylre sleek and admirably-appointed - think of the lion, the tiger, the leopard, the jaguar, the cheetah. Often it's the prey who look stupid or behave, well, like cattle. But each writer to their own.

Much of the story is spent with the time traveller blundering-around trying to find his time machine which has been hidden by the Morlocks, but later they use it to lure him into their clutches, not grasping that he can escape in it. For some reason, he next travels some 30 million years into the future where the Earth is dying (this was a little premature by Wells, but he was writing in some scientific ignorance, let's not forget). In that future, the Sun is dying, and Earth is degenerating, exhibiting only lower life forms. After he has returned and told his story, he takes off again, promising to come back, but he never does.

The story is told in a frame set by the time traveller's return from this expedition, where he narrates this entire story, never once interrupted by his guest audience, and his eidetic recollection is miraculous given what he went through, so there's a certain falsity or lack of authenticity about it. It was never one of my personal favorites, and the sad thing for me is that the only difference between this 'updated' version and the original is that it has some artwork added, created by the studio team of 'Ale + Ale'. While the art is quite good in its own right, it really contributes nothing to the story, and the story itself is unchanged. Indeed, the art is false too in some regards, because the Eloi depicted in the art don't match Wells's description in the text, which I found strange. If you're going to leave the text totally unchanged, why add art which differs and detracts from it?

Another problem with it for me was the formatting. There was random block-cap text at various points in the middle of the narrative (a quote from the regular text), and which was larger than the regular text font. It was inserted into the main text like this was some cheap tabloid newspaper with sensationalist headlines. This interrupted the original text and I found it annoying, especially since it was in different font sizes which often stepped on the toes of the rest of the text in the same quote. I saw only the ebook version of this so I cannot comment on the print version (assuming there is one), but to me, the ebook looked messy and unappealing, and that along with the rambling story and mismatched artwork made for a disappointing experience. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Ella May Does It Her Way by Mick Jackson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This young children's picture book was just wacky enough to appeal to my sense of the strangely amusing. Like me, she finds herself wondering from time to time why things happen in a certain way or why things are done this way instead of that way, and one day she decides to change it up by doing things backwards or opposite. It's not just a case of Ella May, but Ella does!

This comes to a head when she begins walking everywhere backwards, and her mother decides to join her, and soon the whole town is doing it. But does Ella May stop there? Nope! A well-written, colorful, and very entertaining exploration of one child's take on life. If your child is in a reading rut, this will get them out of it!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hide and Seek, Little Chameleon by Anita Bijsterbosch

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun children's book which is short and colorful with simple images for the young. In most images, a chameleon hides and you and your kid have to figure out where it is. The book also talks colors and offers counting opportunities, so it's quite educational too.

Some of the chameleon finds were not so obvious, so this is good training. My one fear was that if a child had some sort of color deficiency in their vision, they might not see the chameleon at all, but when I took a little screenshot of some pages (the part of the book where the chameleon was hiding) and tinkered with them to change the colors, removing red, or green, or blue, and when I desaturated the image turning it to grayscale, the chameleon was still discernible, so I guess it's good to go! The only one where it pretty much disappeared altogether, was where it was hiding on a page featuring a lion, so I can't blame it for that! LOL! Besides, you could still see the eye even on that page. I'm happy to call this a worthy read for young children and a fun exercise in hide and seek!

Don't Let the Beasties Escape This Book! by Julie Berry

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a fun children's book which takes its inspiration from the fantastical creatures people believed existed back in the dark ages and earlier: unicorns, basilisks, griffins and the like, and pretends they really do exist in mischievous (but harmless!) forms that can come out and really disrupt your daily chores if you're not careful. They might even help in a purely accidental way! The drawings are amazing and detailed, and the colors wonderful. The book was a delight. I commend it as a worthy read for children - and even adults too. Why not?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Mermaid Upstairs by Jami Lilo

Rating: WARTY!

A Lilo when I was younger, was the brand name of an inflatable raft for floating around in a swimming pool or at the beach - a cheap plastic thing full of air that inevitably disintegrated before summer was over. That's why this author's name seemed so à propos to me since this novel seemed to be of the same construction.

The weak premise is that this girl's mom suddenly decides, apparently out of the blue, that she's a mermaid and bemoans her missing tail, etc. rather than get her the medical attention and meds she needs, daughter and husband sit home with her bewailing their fate and her fate and their inability to fix the problem, like a sorry bunch of professional mourners at a cheap funeral.

I couldn't stand to read any further than the first couple of chapters. If it had seemed like it had some life in it or some humor, or had seemed like it was going somewhere, I might have given it a better chance to impress me, but it just floated there full of nothing, not even sound and fury, trying to look inviting and shiny, but the air was escaping and the water was cold and it really wasn't remotely appealing at all.

Jackie Chan Adventures by Duane Capizzi, David Slack, Tomás Montalvo-Lagos

Rating: WARTY!

This was a small format graphic novel featuring two stories, "The Mask of El Toro Fuerte" by Capizzi, and "Enter...The Viper" by Slack. The artist in both cases was Tomás Montalvo-Lagos. The artwork wasn't bad, but the stories were really not particularly inventive or interesting, and worse, featured clichéd villains and uninteresting story lines. Why they're Jackie Chan adventures I have no idea because there's no kung-fu involved at all, not even vicariously. They were more like Indiana Jones adventures, but I guess Harrison Ford wasn't interested - either that or they couldn't afford to pay for the use of his name?

I dunno. The adventures were not the great. The first was about a magical lucha libre mask which gave extra strength to the wearer, and the other about some female thief which seems to have borrowed from a Doctor Who episode if I recall, but I really am trying not to! Admittedly these were written for a much younger audience than me, but even so they were pretty limp and despite being a fan of Jackie Chan, I can't commend this as a worthy read.

The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse

Rating: WARTY!

I think I'm done with Kate Mosse at this point! I liked the first one I read by her, but the next one and now this one, I did not like. I am not a fan of novels which have their title in the form: 'The ______'s Daughter' or ' The ______'s Wife' because it reduces the main character to an appendage of a man. I think that's an awful way to start a novel or to describe a person especially if she's female.

I barely got into this one because it was so filled with rambling and bouncing around between characters that I simply could not get with it at all. I decided to skip to the part where the body is found in the hope that it would pick up there, but it did not. The body is found in a creek, and it's found by the title character, whose actual name is Constantia Gifford, but rather than call for the police, the idiot gets someone to get the body out of the water. He's also an idiot because he doesn't call the police either. He drags the body out thereby destroying any evidence that might be connected with it as it lay in the water - face down and obviously a corpse.

I know that there are idiots out there, but I don't have to read about them! It wouldn't have been so bad had there been some sort of discussion about destroying evidence, and there arose some reason for why they acted as they did - like the body was in danger of being washed away, or despite being advised to leave it where it was for the police, some jackass went in there and fished it out anyway, but there never was any such thing. In short, it's bad writing. I don't do novels about stupid people, especially not about stupid female main characters, and I certainly am not interested in reading poorly-written one which is so larded with exposition you could fry dry bread in it, and no action, so that was it for me. Based on what I read, I cannot commend this and will not be reading anything more by this author - not when there are so many authors out there and so little time to find interesting new ones!

Genius by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, Afua Richardson

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel that took a trip into a reverse perspective after a fashion. Instead of black people being shot by the police, it was the other way around when a neighborhood in Los Angeles sets itself up as a no-go area for police, and fights violently back at any attempted incursions. The police are trying to figure out who is running this show and consider that it has to be a guy with a military background, when in fact it's just a teenage girl named Destiny Ajaye, who happens to have read a lot, including Sun Tzu's The Art of War. I haven't read that book (it is on my ebook reading list!), but I somehow doubt it has much to say about urban guerilla warfare.

However, I let that go because the story itself has much to say and it unpeels like an onion. It was engaging and had some interesting perspectives, although none that have not been raised before. The initial cops who were killed, it turns out were corrupt and into all kinds of shady things, and the girl who leads the insurrection has a bad episode of negative police interaction in her past. As the violence escalates and ever more force is brought to bear by the police, including calling in the National Guard, the reader has to wonder where all this is going to end up. Destiny has, through violent means, united several gangs and turned them into her own personal army, but are they up to taking on what's thrown against then or is this Destiny's Last Stand?

This comic series garnered some praise for itself and some attention having been released coincidentally during the time of the Ferguson, Missouri riots over the shooting death of Michael Brown which was stirred up by a combination of inaccurate reports of how he died and bloody-minded people. I consider it a worthy if disturbing read, but I can't get with it all the way because there was too much convenient happenstance in it for it to be realistic, and too much omitted, such as taking out several Nation Guard tanks by using sticky bombs as depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan but without access to the anything like the comp B explosive they had.

The LAPD didn't use drones back in 2014, so I didn't expect that technology, but rooftop spotters? Taking out snipers from helicopters? None of this was explored and the police were made to look like complete idiots, which any police can do from time to time without any assistance, but they are not quite the reactive bunch of human 'drones' or ku klux klueless that they were depicted as here, which rather took away from Destiny's value as a master strategist.

That wasn't my biggest beef though. The biggest problem with it was once again the sexualization of female characters by comic book artists. Usually this lands at the feet of male artists, but in this case, we have another female artist who is selling her gender down this flood-stage river and I have no idea why. There was no sex in this story at all, so why is Destiny depicted as a this unnaturally posing, semi-topless Barbie-doll shaped bimbo? I would have complained - maybe even equally - had she been depicted as this bookish eyeglass-wearing nerd cliché too, or even as a Ian Fleming style 'flawed babe' with a scar or a limp or something, but surely there is a happy medium that could have been struck here? Why not simply depict her as a regular person?

Giving her an improbably narrow waist and pneumatic boobs does nothing to aid the story you're telling and in fact detracts from it badly. I live for the day when graphic novel illustrators don't have to be lectured about this and where male writers such as Bernardin and Freeman, and publishers such as Top Cow and Image automatically say no to such illustrations unless there's a really valid reason for using them.

That said, this is an interesting story so I decided to let that slide this time since it was only Destiny who was inexplicably depicted in this way. What this does mean however, is that I don't rate Afua Richardson as a valid comic book artist and I won't be inclined to read any graphic novel that she's had a hand in from this point onward, so no, I won't read the sequel to this: Genius: Cartel, not least of which is that I'm not a fan of retreading stories and selling them on as something new just to make a fast buck. It's bad enough that a $26 billion-earnings conglomerate like Disney is showing these days that all it can do is regurgitate without the rest of us jumping on its sadly derivative bandwagon.

Ironheart by Allan Boroughs

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a dystopian story which I normally avoid like the plague, but his one seemed like it might offer something different, and it did, so I was glad I gave it a chance.

India Bentley lives in what used to be London, on the north bank of the Thames, seeking a sad existence for her family by foraging and trying to avoid the evil people who live on the south bank, and who like to boat across there on occasion and kidnap people. Naturally for this kind of a story, her father went missing and her mother died, leaving her in the clutches of her evil stepmother who seems to be in process of being courted by a sleazy new guy in town who, it turns out, is angling to make young India his bride. So it's a bit of Indiana Jones meets Cinderella meets steampunk (kinda).

It turns out, as India learns during a visit from a female version of Indiana Jones named Verity Brown, who is a tech hunter like her father and who becomes a figure of inspiration fro India, that her dad wasn't prospecting for oil, but for old technology from the time before the fall of civilization. He was seeking the almost mythical Ironheart, a rumored stash of well-preserved old tech which would be worth a fortunate to anyone who found it and which could potentially revolutionize what this society had devolved into.

Verity is escorted by an old tech military android which has the absurd name of Calculus and which serves as her bodyguard. This led to the first example of poor writing I saw in this novel. India meets the android and hears it speak and shortly after she asks, "Can it talk?" What? Yes, you just heard it talk, moron! This evidently came about because the author didn't read back through what he'd written - or more likely added the earlier speech and never read on through to catch the continuity error.

Worse is: "He tensed a thin bicep and invited India to squeeze it." I read this before I decided in a later story that I was very likely going to quit reading novels where the author quite obviously has no clue as to the difference between biceps and bicep. They're not the same thing and while biceps is the plural of bicep, it's not the plural in the way these authors seem to think. I've started to expect this ignorance in YA novels, though, so it wasn't a complete surprise. Just annoying and depressing to think what we're doing to our mother tongue. Another example is: "It is possible," he said eventually, "that you are experiencing some sort of psychic phenomena." Well, it was just the one, so 'phenomenon' was the word required here.

This aside, the story, despite it becoming a bit trope-y and boring in parts, was overall a worthy read with some interesting adventure and action in it, and I enjoyed it, but it was not enjoyable enough to make me want to read any more about any of these characters. As it stands though I commend this one as a worthy read.

Fierce Winds and Fiery Dragons by Nan Sweet

Rating: WARTY!

This was a middle-grade novel and unfortunately part of a series, but I wasn't going to hold that against it until I came across too many tropes in a row: the bullied girl who is granted magical powers; the cute girl who thinks she's ugly, and worst of all, something I expect to read in a bad YA novel, but not in a middle grade one: the character who has gold flecks in her eyes! I am not, kidding! You could make a fortune mining all that gold in YA characters' eyes. Anyway, based purely on that in the first few pages of the novel, I quit it and moved on. I cannot commend trope-laden, derivative, unoriginal nonsense as a worthy read, and this was all that and a bag of chips.

Unenchanted by Chanda Hahn

Rating: WARTY!

Rooted in the Grimm fairy tales, this story borrows a bit from the TV series named Grimm where this cop turns out to be a Grimm - that is not someone who is named Grimm, but someone who is hereditarily required to fight supernatural evil as it arises. Mina Grime is in a similar position. She's the rather nerdy unpopular girl at school, but of course in the way of YA trashy novels, she's gorgeous, yet only attracts the attention of the studLy trope school jock after she saves his life.

Mina has supposedly inherited the unfinished Grimm fairy tales whatever those are. This is so obviously the start of a series, which pretty much lets me out on the ground floor, not being much of a fan of series, in particular not of YA series which are far too often derivative and tedious. Predictably I grew tired of this very quickly, especially when I came across some clunkers in the writing, such as "just not one hypnotized Brody. His movements became slower, and he was transfixed by Claire's every movement" I think the 'one' should be 'on'. That was a relatively minor infraction.

Worse by far was "Mina watched as Claire's hand stroked Brody's bicep" - it's fricking biceps moron! I'm now dedicated to ditching dumb-ass books like this at the first mention of the singular bicep. That's probably what happened here although I really don't recall why exactly I quit this. It was probably because it was too dumb for words and the female supposed hero is really nothing without a guy to validate her as per usual in this kind of tripe.

So no - not a worthy read - a very warty one in fact.

Once Upon a Kiss by Various Authors

Rating: WARTY!

This was billed as seventeen romantic 'Faerie' tales. I detest those words: 'Fae' and 'Faerie', and I ought to take my own advice and refuse to read any more books that use it, since this one was rather less than satisfactory. Even 'Fairy Tales' doesn't technically cover these stories although some of them are.

My first problem with it was the content list. It was colored magenta. On a white background, this isn't a problem, but on a black background which I typically use to save power in my phone, which is where I read ebooks more often than not, it rendered the content list illegible. You could click from the list to go to the story but you could not click back to the content from a story, and if you're not careful, merely swiping to go to the second page of content would take you to a story instead of taking you to the next page, necessitating your having to pull up the slide bar at the bottom of the screen and slide all the way back if you accidentally hit the wrong story (something which is very easily done on a small screen where the list is very compact). So, too dark of a color and far too close together to tap accurately with a finger.

Clearly publishers still have a lot to learn about formatting ebooks. Some of these stories had a prologue, an epilogue, and chapter markers and all of these sub-headings were listed on the content page meaning it ran over three screens! This kind of crap is why I never put a content page in my own novels, but then those typically do not contain a variety of stories from an assortment of authors so I could see the point of one in this case. I just wish it had been better thought through; just a list of the author's names would have been quite sufficient and occupied much less space, meaning each name could have been bigger so it was easier to tap the name and go to the story on a small screen.

Anyway, here's the list below with my comments on each story:

  • The Glass Mountain by Alethea Kontis
  • I didn't like this. It seemed pointless and went on far too long. It was a story of a woman being trapped in a glass mountain and working with a guy who was also trapped there to get out. It was supposed to be a love story but the guy was highly antagonistic and verbally abusive from the start, and the author failed to convince me that this relationship could possibly turn around, so a big no on this story. I have no better idea what it was based on than I do how a female author can write a story like this. Does she think she's Becca Fitzpatrick or something?! (No, that's not a compliment).
  • The Bakers Grimm by Hailey Edwards
  • This was a story about two competing bakeries and the children of the bakers getting together, and it failed to move me at all. I barely even remember it.
  • Galatea and Pygmalion by Kate Danley
  • This was about a sculptor named Galatea, who sculpted a guy named Pygmalion - in short, just the opposite of the myth. That really was the only twist and the story wasn't that good.
  • Red by Sarra Cannon
  • This was about a witch, part of a coven, looking for a cure for her sister and meeting a guy held prisoner in a cottage in the woods, who in turn helps her. The coven isn't everything she thought it was. Again, it failed to move me. At one point I read, "The Order had expressly forbid me to go looking for any kind of cure for my sister." The author evidently doesn't understand the distinction between forbid and forbade.
  • Princess Charming by Yasmine Galenorn
  • An epistolary story with the twist being that the 'Charming' is female. I have no time for tedious epistolary novels, and in my amateur opinion, I already wrote the definitive Princess Charming when I wrote Femarine, so this one fell on deaf ears. I read, "I think they were getting used to being in human form. I have no clue what, now that their gig is over." I have no idea whatsoever what that piece meant!
  • Mad About You by Jennifer Blackstream
  • Based on Alice in Wonderland, this one was about Alice trying to repel the Mad Hatter (who was paying suit to her) by getting a charm from a witch, but then changing her mind (If I recall - which I may not). I wasn't interested in the story.
  • The Sea King's Daughter by Anthea Sharp
  • Based on The Little Mermaid. I have a severe allergy to stories which are titled in this format - making the main female character an appendage of a guy instead of her own person: The So-And-So's Daughter, The So-and-So's Wife. You shouldn't have to tell female writers that words carry heft and weight, and remind them that diminishing women like this only prolongs a detestable historical precedent. I read "They would not provide cover any long, which meant she must seize her opportunity now." It should have read 'Any longer'. It's sad when you can't even grammer- and spell-check a short story properly, but I guess most of us have been there!
  • Romeo and Juliet: The Afterlife by Julia Crane
  • This story carried Shakespeare's original over into the afterlife to see what happened there which is similar to an idea I had myself, but did nothing with. I wasn't impressed by this effort to explore that, os I guess the opportunity is still there if I wanted to pursue it!
  • Soot and Stone: A Fae Tale of the Otherworld by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
  • Any novel that uses 'fae' and 'faerie' instead of fairy is chickenshit as far as I'm concerned, and I have no time for that kind of cowardice and posy-footing around That's all I have to say about his one.
  • The Huntsman's Snow by Mandy M Roth
  • This was a shifter story and I typically have no time for those, so no.
  • RumpelIMPskin by Debra Dunbar
  • Based on Rumpelstiltskin of course, this was mildly entertaining, but nothing special. I read, "His smug looked changed to one of utter shock when he saw us" and it should have read, 'smug look'.
  • The Glass Sky by Alexia Purdy
  • This was a short story and still it had a prologue and chapters - all of which were listed in the content page! Yuk! As soon as I saw it was first person and the main character's name was Star Rickton, I skipped it. No. Just no.
  • Rush by C Gockel
  • This is a story about someone named Rush who, due to a transgression, is required to find true love in two weeks which is nonsensical, so no. I read, "...several octaves too loud" which is plain dumb. An octave isn't a measure of sonic volume!
  • Perchance To Dream by Phaedra Weldon
  • This was about your usual female underdog in a magical world and it failed to leave an impression. I read, "The two waved as they approached and an matrons woman yelled at them from Rose's left." An matrons woman? Any grammar checker will find that, so this was a truly sloppy error in an unmemorable story. I can't even guess what she was trying to say with that nonsensical phrase.
  • The Toad Prince by Nikki Jefford
  • So, I am tiring of going through each of these, especially when I really don't recall them. I think at some point I not only stopped reading each story before it was over, but I stopped even reading the next story because I honestly don't remember a thing about some of these. In this I read, "Isabel's best features were hidden beneath her bulky wool gown." So here we have a female writer, writing about a female character, and clearly stating that all she's worth is her body. Forget about her mind - forget about any qualities such as smarts, loyalty, integrity, grit, honesty, capability, or whatever. Her body is the only thing of utility. I'm sorry but writers who write like this are assholes, period. There's a difference between a character thinking something like that, and the author stating it in the narrative, and this one is a jerk for for doing so.
  • Crafted With a Kiss by Shawntelle Madison
  • This one wasn't bad, and I do remember it, Pynnelope is a wooden warrior who seems invincible until in her last battle she's taken down by a guy who is more powerful. She's taken prisoner, but there is more to the story. I quite liked it. There was one mistake in it. At one point I read, "Either way, I had until dawn to force Pynnelope to do the unthinkable" and this came just two paragraphs before we're told he has only until midnight. Someone's not reading for continuity!
  • A Small magic by Devon Monk
  • I've read at least one novel by Devon Monk and liked it, so I guess it wasn't surprising that I liked this one, based on Hans Andersen's The Princess and the Pea. It was an amusing and quirky story, but it's sad that there was only one really likable one in this whole collection.

    So very little to engage me here, and overall I cannot recommend this as a worthy read, but at least it informed me of over a dozen authors I don't need to bother reading ever again from this point onward!

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Rating: WORTHY!

This is something of a Cinderella story and it was also another of those audiobooks I seem to have been listening to lately which gets off to a great start, falls flat in the middle, but picks up again towards the end, so overall I consider it a worthy listen, but it had an issue or two here and there along the way. It was read by Bianca Amato who did a good job.

Wilhelmina Silver has had an amazing childhood in Zimbabwe, despite losing her mother at an early age. Her father was still around and she was allowed to run wild, learning all she needed to from her daily adventures and from the extensive library her father had in their ranch. But when he dies unexpectedly and his nurse movies in on the family and starts taking over, Wil suddenly finds herself on the outs and is eventually and summarily packed-off alone to an English boarding school while her home is sold.

To Wil, the people in her school are as cold as the weather and her spirits as dampened as the climate. Wil runs away from school and lives on her own on the streets (and in a zoo!) for a while before finally returning to the school and finding a place there. The novel tells a good and interesting story when it finds its pace, but there are times when it rather drags and you're wanting something to happen which doesn't. I'm not a big fan of school bully and cruelty stories, so I disliked that part. It wasn't so bad, but it was a bit overdone and too black and white for my taste. I found it hard to believe that girls of breeding who attended this school would have been so relentlessly, uniformly, and openly cruel as depicted here. It didn't seem realistic to me.

The worst part about this story is that Wil is presented in the early chapters as fearless, feisty, and indomitable, but in England she seems completely the opposite. Yes, she has some grit and some inventiveness, but she seems like a different character from the one we'd been introduced to earlier, and while I get that being torn from a comfortable and happy home and dropped unkindly into a new life for which they're completely unprepared can knock the stuffing out of a person, it felt a bit like a betrayal of Wil that she was so consistently and so interminably presented as weak and lost. It felt wrong and inauthentic, and did the character a disservice.

That said, she took charge and bounced back and that's where the story improved for me, so while it has its faults, it's not too bad of a story for an age-appropriate audience.

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina

Rating: WORTHY!

I used to know someone by the last name of Medina with an amusingly rhyming first name! Marriage will sometimes do that to you but you gotta go with your heart, right?! This audiobook was read by someone with the feisty name of Almarie Guerra, and she read it well. It's a very simple and very short story for younger children that's in English, but which teaches some Spanish along the way by inserting the occasional Spanish word in place of an English one. Usually, but not always, you can guess what the word means by the context. I'm a big advocate of that in writing, so I approved of this teaching method. If you're going to use a foreign word, don't pedantically add the English translation right after it because it sounds stupid and it's both tedious to read and listen to. Instead, simply put it wisely in context and your reader should have little trouble if any, in understanding it.

The story simply tells of Juana and her friends during a school day, and the adventures and problems they have, and it was quite charming even for me who is way beyond the age at which this is aimed! I liked it, and I enjoyed the reading of it, so I commend it for age-appropriate audiences.

Frank Einstein and the Space-Time Zipper by John Scieszka

Rating: WARTY!

I have to say up front that this audiobook (read averagely by the author and Brian Biggs), was far too boring for my taste. Younger children might like it, but I am far from convinced. Maybe it'll put 'em to sleep which would be of some utility. There was just something off about the book, and I'm not sure I can really put my finger on it, but it was not a pleasant listen at all. It was just tedious and didn't seem like it had any ambition to go anywhere interesting.

The story is about a bunch of chimps in a primate facility who have apparently taken over the operation and are running it themselves. I have no idea what they story was actually about because I simply could not get into it, let alone follow it, and soon I started skimming. It did not improve or become any more intelligible. Maybe chimpanzees will understand it, but it didn't feel like it was of value to humans, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.

There's No Place like Hell by Janis Hill

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I read an earlier novel by this author and liked it, so I was asked by the publisher if I would like to read another of her works for review and I accepted. Then I was shamefully lapse in getting to it, so this review is long overdue and I apologize for that, but I literally only just finished reading it. This is why it's first up on my June reviews.

The good news is that I commend the book as a worthy read! The bad news is that this is volume two of a series and I was not invited to read volume one, so I came into this blind. There are a lot of references to an earlier life in this novel, which made me think, even before I knew this was volume two, that there was a previous novel, but it wasn't necessary (at least not from my perspective) to have read that one in order to enjoy this one. It would have been nice had the cover at least mentioned it was part of a series though. Publishers seem almost abusively negligent of advising readers about that, and I have to say I resent it.

Overall, the novel was too long for my taste. I like 'em more pithy and I felt it could have been shortened and tightened, and would have made for a better read. There were also some grammatical errors which presumably will be removed next time the author gets to do a makeover of it. I list the ones I can remember below. Other than that, I enjoyed most of it. There were bits where it dragged, and I failed to see the point of resurrecting this character from the previous volume. For me he contributed nothing, but at least he wasn't a love interest, and I really appreciated that.

The main character, Stephanie Anders, is very much her own woman and not dependent upon some guy validating her, so I fully approve of a writer taking that approach. It's not that I object to a main female character having a love interest, or that I think it necessarily weakens the character to have one, but all-too-often this is what writers do to their women, especially in Young Adult novels. This author avoided that and I commend her for it. If the love interest is there solely to be the love interest, then lose him - or her. It spoils the novel for me; and if your main female character has a male character who smothers her, dominates her or otherwise detracts from her story, then I won't read your novel. I can't stand stories like that, so I'm glad this wasn't such a one.

In some ways this novel reminded me of Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston, not because the two novels are the same - they're very different - but because they share the same playful attitude and irreverence, and I like that, so even though this novel was first person - a voice I typically detest, it was very readable.

Stephanie works for the Egyptian deity Isis, helping protect souls from the dark side. Yes, this is one of those novels that insists there is and must be a balance between light and dark and also one in which humans have to do the work of gods and angels because apparently gods and angel aren't up to it. I never have understood why there had to be a balance (or why evil would agree to any such balance!), or why gods are so paradoxically weak and reliant on humans to do their dirty work, but in this case, again, the story was original enough and amusing enough that I was willing to let my loathing of this genre slide. So kudos to the author for drawing me in.

The main story here is that the man who instigated the split between Stephanie and her husband - something which still smarts - is now begging for her help after drunkenly selling his soul. It's a credit to Stephanie that she takes on this job rather than letting him slide into hell - and she seriously takes it on. Being the Protector of Souls she really can't refuse, but she goes into it full tilt and doesn't give up despite the odds being heavily stacked against her. She is deadly serious about her job.

I loved the humor, the original take on an old premise, and how inventive Stephanie is in doing her job. She's always skirting the edge of rule-breaking without technically going over the line, but being a woman what would she do but skirt? You can't trouser the rules! They're already trousered. This behavior naturally - or supernaturally - brings her grief and praise, but it also makes the reader a little nervous that maybe this time she's gone too far. I loved that - that she had a fine mind and it never stopped ticking, so this story was definitely a worthy read.

This book could have used a bit more proof-reading. Here are the errors I found:

"He is my weapon's instructor" - unless the guy was instructing the weapon rather than Stephanie, then he was her 'weapons' instructor - no apostrophe necessary!

"without the aid of Isis' Light I may add." Isis is a name, not a plural, so it needs an apostrophe s, not just the apostrophe: Isis's.

"who'd obviously heared all that stuff I'd not said out loud." 'Heard' has only one 'e'.

Demons do not breed to begat demons!" This was the wrong verb tense. It needs to read 'beget', not begat and don't you forgat it!.

But those didn't detract from enjoying the book at all, and I enjoyed it overall.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Scavenger Scout: Rock Hound by Shelby Wilde, Yana Popova

Rating: WARTY!

This was a children's book that was available for free in ebook format, so I got hold of it because it had a similar theme to a children's book I'm working on (over three-quarters the way through it!) and I was curious to see how another writer was doing on this topic, and I have to say I was not impressed. This book was rooted in fantasy - mermaids and space travel which is not my thing - not for my book anyway, and while this one started out rhyming, it soon devolved to prose text.

The book opened with a promise that this azurite rock would be on every page to give a child something to search for - make 'em feel part of the adventure, which is fine, but the rock wasn't on every page at all. It wasn't even on every double-page spread, so any kid taking that advice literally was going to be disappointed or frustrated; not a nice thing to do to a child.

That wasn't the worst part though, and I don't know if this is the author's fault or yet another example of Amazon's crappy, Kindle conversion process, so I'll blame both equally: the author for not checking how well or poorly this worked, and Amazon for adding another sick joke to its bloated mega-empire of such jokes. They're unapologetically listening in on you now! Did you know? If you run Alexa, Amazon employees can, without warning or permission, listen in on your conversations in your own home, ostensibly to help Alexa to comprehend you better. This is yet another reason why I will have no truck with Amazon or its publishing business.

But I digress. I typically read books on my phone, and this works great for text books, but for children's picture books, not so well. In the iPad it's better, although still unsatisfactory since most books are still created as print books with little thought given to the electronic format. That's what happened here. The book announces, proudly up front, that it contains "pop-up text" which is a feature that pops up a plain text box with the text in black and white so that on a phone or small tablet for example, you can read it without enlarging the page, which brings its own set of issues. The problem was that once you've triggered the pop-up box - which seemed to happen at the slightest touch of the page - you could not get rid of it, and it blocked the image, not just on that page but on every page after that, too.

There seemed to be no way at all to get rid of it! I tried swiping it away, tapping it away directly on the pop-up, and tapping off the pop-up elsewhere on the screen - which as often as not, swiped the page to the previous one or the next one. I tried a host of other ideas, but nothing worked. This rendered the entire reading experience as an exercise in irritation and aggravation. The only way to get rid of these text boxes that I could find was to go to the contents and tap the next page there, which seemed to remove the pop-up, but as soon as you accidentally tapped on the page again, that blessed sticky text box came right back. I tried spreading the page with a finger and thumb to enlarge the text so I could see it that way instead of having to use those annoying text boxes, but that failed and simply popped-up a text box. It was intensely annoying

That said the fantasy adventure itself wasn't bad, but I had lost interest in this book by that point. The illustrations by Popova were cute and colorful (she can pop-over and illustrate one of my books any time!), but the reading experience sucked. I cannot commend it for that reason.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Who Laid the Egg? By Audrey Sauble

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a colorful little book for young children about eggs and the creatures that lay them. It poses a question at each egg illustration, and offers some possible solutions as to who laid it. Sometimes there are many suggestions, sometimes a few, sometimes only one! Children can have fun guessing who did what, and comparing the kinds of eggs to see if that can be used as a reliable clue. The animals include birds, turtles, dinosaurs, and even a mammal! This is a fun book for young children and I commend it.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec by Jacques Tardi

Rating: WORTHY!

I came to this via the Luc Besson movie. This first volume includes two stories: "Pterror over Paris," from which the movie was made, and "The Eiffel Tower Demon." The former is about a pterodactyl which magically pops out of a fossil egg in a museum in Paris, and begins to terrorize the city. The second involves the scary appearance of the demon Pazuzu, whom you might recall from The Exorcist. This demon is thought to have been conjured-up from the nether regions by a cult in the city of Paris which reaches into some of the highest levels of government, but all is not what it seems! In fact, I wouldn't mind meeting a demon like that! Oh wait, I did! And I married her! Adèle Blanc-Sec is equal to both challenges though.

The drawing is good and the script, set in and around 1911, is entertaining. While I enjoyed this particular volume, this is not a series I feel a huge compulsion to pursue. It was entertaining enough, but not completely engrossing and life is too short! Adèle Blanc-Sec is very much a female Indiana Jones, especially as rendered in the movie, so that was amusing and entertaining, and I do consider this graphic novel a worthy read.