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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Love Me to Death by Allison Brennan


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known this was part of a series I probably would never have picked it up, and that would have been the smart decision, but there was nothing on the cover to indicate it was. But it is! It's the Lucy Kincaid series. Lucy is wanting to get into the FBI cyber crimes unit, which interested me, and as the story started it was interesting. She's working as a volunteer in a program which traps child predators and serial rapists, and she snares one of the worst.

So far, so good, but then we get a first person perspective into the mind of a serial rapist, and it's so badly written that it's like like a completely different book written by a really bad fan-fiction writer. I am not a fan of first person, especially not when it's written so woodenly, stupidly, adolescently, and as trashily as this was, and that was it for me; I was out of there!

You know an audiobook is bad when you prefer to listen to the sound of rubber tires on asphalt road than to listen to another second of the book! Audiobooks are always an exercise in prospecting untried ground for me, and while I've found enough gems to keep me digging, I've found far too much worthless talus in pulling out the shiny ones! This was one more to toss onto the slippery slope.


The Matzo Ball Boy by Lisa Shulman, Rosanne Litzinger


Rating: WORTHY!

An hilarious take on the gingerbread man from a Jewish perspective, this book is about the runaway matzoh ball boy who is chased by various people, including a rabbi, and who meets with the fox, but the story doesn't follow the expected route, which is the best part of all.

I found it funny, nicely illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger, and amusingly written by the author. I recommend it.


Help! The Wolf is coming! by Vincent Bourgeau


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a short young children's book; that is, its not a book for young children who are short, but a short book for all young children! It was a great idea, and it originated in France. The book is bright and very colorful, and a fun read. There's a wolf coming (and walking on two legs yet!) and it's heading right for you! Can you avoid the wolf?

Well the writer suggests various ways to get rid of it, by turning the book around and trying to get the wolf to slide off the page! It's a neat interactive scheme, because the drawings accommodate the idea that your actions are making a difference; then the author brilliantly suggests going back to the start to see if you really got rid of the wolf! I think you could occupy a young child for hours with a book like this while you get working some more on your own novel, so it's a great investment! I recommend it.



The Helmet of Horror by Viktor Pelevin


Rating: WARTY!

Having listened to, and enjoyed, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by this same author, I turned to this short story and was severely disappointed, It was trite, boring, poorly read by a cast, and tedious. I have now been turned off looking for anything else by this author.

While I appreciated this unusual take on the myth of Theseus, where people are locked in rooms and have access to the outside only via computer screen and a device which translates their spoken words into texts on screen that others in a 'chat room' can see (call it 'Theseus and the Monitor'), it was simply uninteresting.

These people were able to talk and see their speech and see responses in real time on screen, but the system X'd out any personal details they gave. Their screen names were preassigned and seemed to make no sense, but the story wasn't remotely engaging. I had no interest in their Internet or in any of the characters, and I simply didn't care who they were, why they were there, or what would happen to them. The parts were so poorly read that I gave up on it despite it being so short, because life is also short! Far too short to waste on something which doesn't grab and hold you from the off. I can't recommend this based on the half to two-thirds that I struggled to get through.


The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish


Rating: WARTY!

I simply could not get into this at all, from the awful whiny voice of the reader, Kirby Heyborne to the poor story-telling. It had sounded like it would be a risk from the blurb, but one I was willing to take since I experiment more with audiobooks, and sometimes it pays off, but this one wasn't worth my time. It's not aimed at me so maybe the intended age range will find it more palatable, but I can't say this is worth reading.

The story, for anyone who is interested is that Ethan lost his best friend Kacey. Tragically, of course, but exactly how, I don't know. Maybe it was from something stupid since the two were evidently into dumb 'adventures', but I couldn't stand to listen that far, not when there are so many other books out there waiting to be read.

In the 'run away' mode that's usually seen in pathetic chick-lit romance books where the cowardly main character flees back to her hometown and magically meets the love of her life (barf!), Ethan and his family move to a tiny town where he magically meets his savior, Coralee, who apparently has secrets of her own, Who cares? Really? I cannot recommend this one based on how badly it starts out. It was nauseating.


The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks, Cris Peter


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks I've read, and this was better than the first I read, which I also really liked. I loved the irreverence of the story, the artwork, the coloring, and the overall presentation. it was told in a series of vignettes, presumably a compendium derived from a web comic, colored for the graphic novel by Cris Peter who did a great job.

Superhero girl has all of Superman's original powers. Most people forget that he did not used to be able to fly - he used only to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He had other powers too, but a lot of what we understand about him today is actually an accretion of things which grew as he developed from his original form. Superhero girl has not developed. She can only leap a building if it's eleven stories or less. But she does have heat vision! Bullet proof? Unknown!

She's a very amateur super hero, never quite having enough confidence, desperate to find real villains to fight, and in search of an arch nemesis, which she can't even find. The best she can do is some skeptical dude who constantly belittles what she can do in relation to 'real' super heroes. I adored her relationship with the 'evil' ninjas ans her behavior towards he average criminals whom she seemed to eventually control almost by mind power so fearful of her were they. Take >that< Superman! >Pow!<

Unfortunately, she already feels this way because her brother is a 'real' super hero, with corporate sponsorship, and a sterling reputation - and your standard spandex costume. Superhero girl has a cape (which shrinks in the wash, and a stick on mask which she typically forgets to stake off and which hurts when she does. When he comes to visit it makes her feel so belittled, but she is the eternal optimist who will not sell out, and she presses on and wins through regardless. I fell in love with her pretty easily. She is one of the most engaging and strong female characters I've ever read about, and I completely and unreservedly recommend this book.


Percy Jerkson and the Ovolactovegetarians by Margo Kinney-Petrucha, Stefan Petrucha, Rick Parker


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not sure why I picked this up. The title should have warned me it would be awful, but I did not go with my gut instinct ('get out of here while the going's gut'). It was awful. This is one of a series of parodies by this same team. The titles of other entries are equally bad: Harry Potty, The Hunger Pains, Breaking Down (although I admit that last one - for Breaking Dawn, is amusing to me.

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Rick Parker's artwork was average, but the story-telling was pathetic. It was neither entertaining nor engaging and didn't really tell a story. It felt like a series of set pieces riffing off parts of the original story. The jokes were bad, and worse, they were made about a story which is poor to average to begin with, so I didn't see the point.

I mean what could be more dumb than a story about Greek gods entirely set in the USA? The very premise is asinine and one more example of the Americanization of the entire world, like this is the only country, and we have the only stories, and if other nations have stories to tell, we'll simply move them to the USA instead of having the courage, decency, and smarts to relate them in their original setting. I spit on such cowardly and unimaginative writing. Such stories have no need of a parody.

This wasn't even funny and I won't recommend it. Diagnosis: too dumb to live.


Ghost Pяojekt by Joe Harris, Steve Rolston


Rating: WARTY!

I began thinking I was not going to like this graphic novel which I picked up at my local library, but it turned out OK. Not great, but at least a worthy read. The cover was very cool: I found out by accident that it glowed in the dark! Yes, it was gimmicky, but still fun. Joe Harris's writing was okay, btu nothing to write (home) about. Steve Rolston's art was average. Dean Trippe's coloring was entertaining, but again nothing spectacular. And who cares who lettered it? Seriously? Print the damn thing. Letterers need to retire.

This made me more disappointed when I began reading the story because it offered too much disjointed mystery to start with and was confusing. It was set in Russia though, which I approve of because it's tiresome to read story after story set in the USA as though this is the only country in the world - or at least the only country which has stories worth telling or people worth learning about.

The problem with setting the story in a non-English speaking country is how to convey that it's non-English being spoken. I've seen several tricks employed to achieve this, none of which is 100% successful, but some work better than others depending on how you employ the technique. I personally think you need to establish the setting and then trust the reader to fill in the blanks - but don't lard it with too many blanks!

Some writers do it by using foreign words followed immediately by their English translation. No-one talks like this and it's really annoying to me. I prefer an occasional foreign word where the context makes the word intelligible even when you don't know what it means. A better alternative is to simply make your setting convincing enough that you can use plain English with no foreign words.

Here they made a bad choice because they did the annoying repetitive thing, but hen when it came to measurements and weights, they used American values: pounds, instead of kilos for example, which was a glaring faux pas. Sometimes writers simply do not think their story through. They also used stupid Russian interpolations, such as calling one of the characters 'Operativnyk so-and-so' instead of simple calling them 'Operative'. Every time I read this I thought 'amateur'.

Once the story got into its swing though, it took off and became quite entertaining as long as I let slide the aforementioned annoyances. The story seemed to be about biological warfare agents, and there was an American on Russian soil trying to track these down and dispose of them. He had some internal problem sustained form a previous unsafe encounter with a bio-weapon, but as soon as the supernatural element started to come into play, it became obvious he'd find a cure for his condition, and he did.

That was trite, but the story was unusual and I appreciated that. I like the girl ghost even though her behavior sometimes made no sense, and the story moving quickly and changing scenes lots of times. The characters were occasionally dumb and overall, not exactly overwhelming, but were okay for a graphic novel. The female Russian agent was average in her characteristics, so nothing special there, but not awful, and in general, it was an engaging story once it hit its pace, and I consider it a worthy read.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Andrew Bromfield, and read beautifully by Cassandra Campbell, who at least in this novel has one of the most charming and captivating voices I've ever heard, especially when she does the Russian accent. I have a feeling that if I had read this rather than had Cassandra Campbell read it to me, I might not have liked it quite so much, but this audiobook pulled me in almost from the first word even though it's not my usual cup of tea.

I'm not given to reading werewolf (or shapeshifter novels) for one thing, and neither am I a great fan of social commentary novels, and this was both), but I find something very intriguing about a werefox story, and in this particular case, I felt almost like the leading lady had used her magical hypnotic werefox powers successfully on me!

It was not all smooth-riding. Sometimes it felt a bit like the author was a little too pleased with himself, and sometimes it felt like this was a guy writing from a female perspective (which it was of course!), but for me those were so mild that they were never really an issue. Truth be told, I hope authors are pleased with themselves, because writing a novel is a lonely, intensive, and all-too-often thankless pursuit, and it bears a certain amount of self-satisfaction to have completed one, even if it's one not destined for stardom.

I read some negative reviews of this to see if I'd missed anything, but I was more impressed by what those negative (and all other reviews that I read) had evidently missed: the light treatment of a rape scene. No one mentioned that at all, which was truly disturbing.

I think if a woman had written this, we would have had a different sort of novel, but whether it would have made for a better or worse read, I can't say. Here's the rub though: if a man writes and makes the woman too much like him, he's accused of writing about a man and pretending she's a woman (man-with-tits syndrome), whereas if he makes the woman more traditionally feminine, he's accused of making her traditionally feminine! You can't win, so my advice to men writing about women and women writing about men is full speed ahead and damn the slings and arrows of outraged readers. You can't write for everybody, and most of the time you can reliably write only for yourself.

The werefox is named A Hu Li, the pronunciation of which is apparently, in Russian, an insult along the lines of 'go have sex with yourself'. Though she's Chinese, she hasn't lived in China in several hundred years, so I found it a bit short-sighted that this author was accused in one review of being mistaken in putting her last name (Hu Li) last. On the other hand, if she's not human (she's a werefox who looks like a young Chinese woman despite being two millennia old), then why would she look Chinese? This isn't explained in this novel.

Frankly, the Asians annoy me because they tend to look so young when they're really much older(!), so this discrepancy didn't bother me, but this nationality issue is one of several that went unexplored, which annoyed me even more than young-looking-but-really-not-Asians, but because the author explored so many things (and amusingly so for me), I was willing to let other things go unexplained.

Besides, she's a werefox who can change her appearance to some extent. When she becomes foxy, she typically doesn't change her appearance into that of a fox. Her only unchangeable attribute is her tail, which can change impressively, but only in size. It cannot disappear, so she has to keep it well-hidden to pass as a human.

A, who has sisters who all evidently sport names starting with English alphabet vowels (Russian has vowels, and more than in English: а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю, и, but we don't see any names prefixed with those). Doubtlessly Chinese has vowels too, but I'm not remotely qualified to get into that. Besides, this is set in Russia where she's lived for at least two centuries, so it's really disingenuous to look outside that nation for explanations or cultural attributes.

Additionally, this was an English translation of the Russian, so maybe the vowels were translated too! We hear about her sisters occasionally, and they're just as interesting as she is, but given the werefoxes apparently cannot reproduce, how they are sisters is another thing which slipped by unexplained. Maybe all werefoxes consider themselves sisters even though they really have no gender. They just look like women; they really aren't women. Or men. But given their lack of reproductive organs, their entire existence is unexplained. They are supernatural creatures though, so I let that go, too.

A is nominally a prostitute living in modern Moscow, and preying on her clients for the energy they release during sex, which is collected in her tail. I thought this was hilarious given that one abusive term for women (at least in English) is 'tail'. This tail is ostensibly a curiously masculine organ, since it become erect (after a fashion: enlarging and 'pluming out'), but given that the penis is really just an enlarged and slightly re-purposed clitoris, it's not masculine at all when you, so to speak, get right down to it.

She uses her tail to send hypnotic suggestions to her client, making him (or her, lesbians apparently love werefoxes) believe they're having sex with her when they're really just masturbating and she's sitting off to one side reading books by Stephen Hawking. So she's paradoxically a prostitute and a virgin. Until she meets a werewolf who rapes her. How can he do this when she has no sexual organs? She has a penis catcher which is an extensible pouch underneath her tail and which is there solely for tricking males into thinking they're had penetrative sex with her. This seemed like an oddity to me, but again, she's a supernatural creature, so I didn't worry about it.

It bothered me more how accepting she was of the rape. Not only did she 'get over it' quickly, but she entered into a continuing sexual relationship with her rapist. Again, supernatural creature, but even so it was hard to read and I had mixed feelings about how that rape was depicted and wondered (as I had several times reading this), how it might have been written by a female author. I also wondered if some form of punishment was coming, and for the longest time it did not, but in the end it did, so this lent a form of justice to the horror, although there really is no meaningful justice for rape.

At the same time I tried to keep in mind that neither one, the rapist nor the one who was raped, was human. They were more animal like than human too boot. On top of this (or beneath this if you will), she had no actual sex organs, merely a flexible bag of skin expressly for containing stray penises (or large clitorises, too, I guess). This did not mitigate the rape, but it did put an unusual spin on it.

The two of them are both human-looking (at least the wolf was until he got her scent when she tried to take him to the cleaners), but they're paranormal. She rarely becomes an actual fox, and he becomes a wolf only when sexually aroused (and that;s when he loses control apparently).

This certainly doesn't make rape permissible; nothing does, but I wondered if these supernatural human-animal hybrids viewed what had taken place in a somewhat different light to we humans. Had a woman written this, I think this would have been explored and the reader would have got a lot more form it, but we were left without any exploration of it, and this was the worst aspect of this novel for me. As it was, all we had was a largely barren thought-exercise on how animals behave in the wild. Is there rape in the animal world? Yes. That much is quite clear. How do the animals view it? That's a lot less clear.

That aside, the rest of the story was entertaining and quite fascinating, The werefox was completely entrancing and I enjoyed listening to her and learning about her. The werewolf was pretty much what I expected from a werewolf, and is why I do not find their stories interesting. On the contrary: they're boring, and telling endless more stories about them brings nothing to the table at all. Werewolf story writers need to get out of the fathomless rut they're in, and you can interpret that in any way you like. But I recommend this for the easy story-telling, the fascinating werefox, and the ever-present but very subtle humor.


The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very slim and very uninteresting volume. I am sure it would have been quite the ticket in the later eighteen hundreds, when Bierce was at his most prolific (not that these particular stories were published in Bierce's lifetime, but by today's standards, they leave a lot to be desired and I cannot recommend them.

I didn't read them all because they were not interesting to me, but the ones I did read all seemed to be the same story redressed with a few changed details and trotted out as something new. One trick pony describes it well, I think. There were too many of them which were rooted in darkness and icy chills blowing hither and thither, and on purportedly scary footsteps, strange marital discord, vague descriptions of bad things happening, and one line conclusions. It really became too tedious to read them after the first three or so.

I found myself skimming a couple more and gave up on it as a bad job about half way through. Maybe other readers will have a different experience, but this was definitely not for me, despite my liking An Occurrence at Owl Creek, which was why I picked this up in the first place. Ambrose Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1914 whilst covering the revolution there, and was never seen or heard from again. I think his own story told as fiction would be a lot more interesting than this collection was!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


Rating: WORTHY!

Ti was a long listen on audiobook, and some parts of it were frankly tedious, but overall the majority of it was a very worthy read (or listen in this case). The novel runs to some 400 pages and was originally published as three volumes, which was the done thing at the time it was written. I really enjoyed the movie starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt, and the reader of this novel, Josephine Bailey, did a first class job, actually sounding rather like Gainsbourg, which for me made it perfect.

The basic story is no doubt well-known, but briefly: Jane Eyre is an orphan who is sent to live with her uncle on her mother's side after both her parents die. Her uncle dies, her aunt is mean and treats Jane like dirt. Considered to be a problematic child and a liar, she's passed off to Lowood school lorded over by a tyrannical clergyman, but Jane excels there and eventually becomes a teacher.

When her mentor and favorite teacher dies, Jane elects to move into the role of a governess for the daughter, Adela, of Edward Fairfax Rochester. The two grow fond of each other and eventually plan on marrying, but Jane discovers that Rochester has a wife - who is insane, but kept at the house (and not very securely evidently). Jane leaves Rochester and briefly falls on hard times, but eventually discovers she has inherited money from an uncle she knew nothing about for the longest time. She is now financially independent, and learning that Rochester's home has suffered a fire, and he has fallen on hard times, she returns to him and the two of them live out their lives together.

I have to say that Jane has way more forgiveness in her than is healthy for her. Rochester's behavior was inexcusable. He outright lied to her after she had showed him nothing but consideration, kindness, and love. He treated her with hardly more regard than did Lowood school when she first arrived. It made no sense that she went back to him, but this was a nineteenth century novel and this is the way they were written.

That said I liked the story overall, although some parts were hard to listen to because of the cruelty, but Josephine bailey;s voice really did a wonderful job and kept me engaged even when the writing became a bit bogged-down in what was evidently Brontë's idea of romantic banter. I recommend this as a worthy listen!


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ghost in Trouble by Carolyn G Hart


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known this audiobook was part of a series I would never have picked it up, but as a one-off (as I thought it was) it sounded like it might be worth a listen, and I tend to experiment more with audiobooks than other formats, so I decided to give it a chance. In the end I decided I'd rather hear the sound of synthetic rubber on asphalt than listen to any more of this in the car, before I turned it back in to the library! LOL! The southern belle accent of the reader turned me off as much as the amateurish writing.

The problem with writing supernatural tales is that you really need to come up with some sort of intelligent framework in which to set them. It doesn't have to be cast-iron reality by any means (because it can't be!), but it does have to make some sort of sense. None of this did.

All the author has done is exactly what far too many unimaginative and blinkered authors do when they tell tales like these: they take our real world and simply translate it to a ghostly one, and make no other changes, so Bailey Ruth (this is the Bailey Ruth series volume 3) and her husband Bobby Mac (barf) are still married and leading exactly the same life they led on Earth when they were alive, except that sometimes, while BM is out fishing in his boat, BR goes back to her home town to solve a problem, in her role as a volunteer for the heavenly department of good intentions! Barf. BR is a moron. I'm sorry, but she is. She knows the rules (don't be seen, don't be heard, and so on), yet she continually breaks them not because circumstances call for it, but because she's simply too dumb to follow them.

I don't get her mission, either. In this story she's supposed to be trying to prevent a woman whom she disliked in life, from being murdered. We're supposed to assume that BR is a decent, likeable person (although she was tedious to me) and therefore if she doesn't like this woman she's supposed to be protecting, then this woman is not likeable, so where is the justification for her mission? Why not leave her to her lot? Besides, can't this god in her heaven not control things with his divine powers? Can he not protect her? Why is BR needed at all?

There's no explanation for this, except that in the Bible, one thing we're shown repeatedly is that god is incompetent and can't get a thing done without a human to help him. Need commandments? Better have Moses hike up the mountain to go get 'em. Earth flooding? better get Noah to build the ark and round up the animal feed because no god is going to lift a finger to help. Need to get everyone right with god? Rape a virgin and sacrifice her son on a cross because the divine mind can't think of any more intelligent way to do it than brutally and bloodily, as his history in the Old Testament proves. You know how the story goes.

Plus, given what happened recently in Las Vegas, are there not more important missions - assuming god is so helpless that missions must be undertaken? Is it not more important to send someone out to prevent a child being abused or kidnapped than to prevent some obnoxious woman from dying? Where was someone like BR when psychos opened up with machine guns and automatic weapons on innocent people out enjoying themselves? It's nonsensical. If abortions are so bad, why not send BR on a mission to get all these unwanted children adopted? I guess her god can't be bothered with that.

This author's concept of daily life in Heaven is not only just as nonsensical, it's antiquated. If you want comedy, Lucille Ball is still doing her shows in heaven! Seriously? Why would she? For the last decade of her life she wasn't doing her show, so why would she restart it when she went to Heaven? And why Lucille Ball? Is the author unaware of the scores of other TV comedies and comedians that have been and gone in the intervening period? Or is she simply too idle to look them up? Would no one want to watch any of those people? It's the same with cooking. Your cookery is taught by Julia Child and the same rationale applies here, too. It's a case of the author going with what she knows, and I know the knee-jerk advice is to write what you know, but in this case it backfires.

Stephen King was a teacher before he became really well-known as a horror writer. He never met a shy schoolgirl who could control objects with her mind. He never saw a vampire, or uncovered an alien spaceship, and he never drove an evil 1958 Plymouth Fury. Should he have confined himself therefore to writing only about teaching? 'Write what you know' is asinine, Write what you want, is my advice. But think about what you're writing or you're going to end-up with crap like this.

So in short, this was tedious, primitive, poorly thought-out, badly-written and nonsensical, and I cannot recommend it.


Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.


Friday, October 6, 2017

The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. It sounded interesting from the blurb: a girl who idolizes Ingrid Bergman growing up in the era of McCarthyism, and from a cloying Catholic background, discovers, hey, guess what? No body is perfect!

Things start coming apart in her perfect life when her idiot parents decide she's subject to bad influences at her prestigious Hollywood school and hypocritically send her to a Catholic girl's school where she's going to be brainwashed that there's a loving, long-suffering god who quite cheerfully condemns people who piss him off to hellish suffering for all eternity. Yep.

Her father is a Hollywood publicist who happens to be in charge of Bergman's account, so when it comes to light that she's having an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and later is having a child by him, the witch-hunt starts, aided and abetted by this same Catholic church which on the one had teaches people to love their neighbor and turn the other cheek, but on the other slaps people it dislikes in the face with a tirade of abuse, recrimination, and rejection. They still do this today. Hypocrites.

The truth is that this 'scandal lasted only four years and Bergman was working for Hollywood studios again. Just four year after that she was presenting an academy award in Hollywood, so this 'end of the world' scenario in which Jessica - the first person narrator - is wallowing is a bit overdone.

Worse than that, it makes Jessica look like a moron that she is so slow to see consequences of actions and how things will play out, despite spending some considerable time with her new best friend at the Catholic school, who knows precisely how things will pan out and spends their friendship trying to educate Jessica, who never seems to learn to shed her blinkers.

I started out not being sure, then starting to like it, then going off it, then warming to it, then completely going off it at about the halfway point when it became clear that Jessica was an idiot and showed no sign of improvement. It;s yet another first person fail, and worse than this, the story is framed as a flashback so the entire story is a flashback apart form current day (that is current day int he story) bookends. I do no like first person, and I do not like flashbacks, so this was a double fail for me, although Erin Spencer did a decent job reading it.

There were some serious writing issues for a seasoned author or a professional editor to let slip by. I read at one point that Jessica was perusing an "Article entitled..." No! There was no entitlement here. The article was titled not entitled! At another point she wrote: "verdant green lawn." Since 'verdant' means green grass, it's tautologous and a good author should know this. 'Verdant lawn' works, as does 'green lawn', but not both! The part of the story where Jessica is required to see Sister Theresa, the head of her school, is larded with heavy-handed foreshadowing. I expect better form an experienced writer.

Jessica wasn't really a likeable person. I read at one point: "he was a year younger and an inch shorter" which made her sound arrogant, elitist, and bigoted. How appalling is it that she should think like this? Too appalling for me. I didn't want to read any more about her, because I didn't care how her life turned out.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Lido Girls by Allie Burns


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This novel was a delight. Rooted in real history, it takes a slightly whimsical and largely fictional turn, pursuing two women to the fictional English resort of St Darlestone, where they try to figure out what to do with their lives. Each has their own cross to bear and they each deal with it in different ways. You can read an interesting mini-biography of the real Prunella Stack here. It's as brief as the shorts these girls wore, but it moves just like the shorts: actively and with purpose! Prunella is a bit like the tornado in Wizard of Oz. She doesn't have a lot to do with the bulk of this story, but without her, the story would not have happened in the first place!

On the fictional side of things, Natalie Flacker seems a bit rebellious and lackadaisical to be a vice principal in a prestigious girls' school, but it seems she was sheltered by the principal. Now that her mentor is retiring die to ill-health, Natalie's future seems a bit uncertain. It becomes downright lost when she's photographed attending a women's physical fitness convention - and one which is frowned upon by the male-dominated society in which Natalie moves. She is soon out of a job, and for want of something better to do, she decides to summer at St Darlestone with her dearest friend Delphi.

Their prime goal is to secure useful employment, which might be a bit hard to come by since Natalie can't exactly ask for a glowing reference from her last employer. Delphi is game, but suffers from some sort of catatonia or fatigue, and is often invalided by it. Fortunately Delphi's brother Jack is at the resort, working at the Lido swimming pool where one of the summer highlights is a beauty pageant.

I know, I took a vow never to read another novel with a main character named Jack in it because it's the most over-used go-to name in the entire history of literature, and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of authors over-using the name, hence my vow, yet here I am reading one! In my own defense, I didn't know this one would be hi-Jack-ed until I started it. On top of that, a beauty pageant? Fortunately, that's not the most important thing going on here! There's a much better story being told of friendship and perseverance, and this made all the difference for me.

Natalie's life seems to be falling apart at the seams at first, with Delphi growing increasingly distant and her own hopes of employment seemingly limited, but she perseveres and makes friends and eventually manages to earn a decent living, but even as she does so and grows closer to Jack, Delphi seems to be growing ever further from her.

The best thing about this novel is that it was warm and sweet, and completely unpredictable; just when you thought it would go one way it went another and this was the main reason I enjoyed it so much because it did exactly what I love authors for doing: it wandered off the beaten track into new territory, and I was happy to follow because that made it so much more interesting. I have no time for cookie cutter novels with everyone jumping on the successful author's bandwagon and trying to clone her or his best seller. I much prefer authors who carve their own path, and this one did exactly that, and it was the better for it.

This was an advance review copy as I mentioned so there were some minor issues with it, which I imagine will be fixed before the finished version this the shelves (or whatever the e-version of shelves is!). At one point I read, "with curls as luscious as Ginger Rogers'..." This should have read "Rogers's" since her name isn't a plural! Another one was a minor pet peeve of mine: " the poisonous snake at her feet." Snakes tend not to be poisonous - you can eat one with no ill effect, but they can be venomous!

Since my blog is more about writing than anything else, I have to point out that there were some unintentional writing issues such as where I read, "...swimming alone might be a reckless thing to do, but the pull was too strong." I think that could have been better worded (the attraction was too strong, maybe), since 'the pull was too strong" might be conflated with an undertow or a riptide in the water. Again, it's a minor issue but these things are worth expending some thought on if you're all about your writing.

There were also some formatting issues as usual with the crappy Kindle App that Amazon uses. Sometimes the next line would not be indented, particularly if it was a single line, and at one point I read "The redhead was busy devouring..." but the word 'The' was on the next line, superimposed over the first word on that line! This has nothing to do with authorship or writing, just with Amazon having a substandard format for ebooks.

But these were minor issue and inconsequential given that the book itself was so good, so I fully recommend this as a worthy read.


And I Darken by Kiersten White


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
P89 "...staunch the flow..."! No, it's stanch the flow.
p100 "There was more silk and gold in this single room than in the whole caste at Tigoviste." I think she meant castle!

This book plays rather fast and loose with history but tells a thoroughly engaging story about two children of Vlad Dracul. One of them was a real historical son named Radu the Fair, in this novel known only as Radu, although he is described as being very appealing to women. Vlad also had a daughter named Alexandra. In 1442, he was required by the Sultan to leave two sons as hostages. in this story however, Vlad leaves one son - Radu - and his daughter, who is renamed Lada Dragwlya here.

Radu is gay and resentful of his father for neglecting and diminishing him. He ends up befriending the sultan's heir, Mehmed, and falling in love with him, although Mehmed is clueless as to Radu's feelings and certainly gives no indication that he shares any of them. Mehmed himself starts falling for Lada, but while Lada befriends the young heir, unlike Radu, she has no interest in living in the country she's held hostage by, or in adopting it's Islamic religion. Radu on the other hand embraces it all and is devoted to his religion and to Mehmed.

What Lada is interested in is being self-sufficient and reliant on no one. She eventually manages to ingratiate herself with the Janissaries, the mercenaries the Sultanate employs to guard the Sultan and fight the Sultan's battles. They were Europe's first standing army since the Romans. Lada trains hard and becomes a fearless and skilled fighter who few can outmatch. She is, while detesting her captivity and virtual imprisonment, fiercely loyal to Mehmed herself and saves his life more than once. This makes for an interesting triangle, and the complexity and ever-shifting boundaries and perspectives is a lesson to all young adult writers in how to write a realistic triangle (if you must do a triangle).

I noticed some reviewers did not like Radu or Lada. I guess Radu wasn't manly enough for them, and they disliked Lada in particular because she was so fierce and vicious. I recommend these people read about Vlad Tepid instead of Vlad Tepes and family, because clearly a strong female character isn't what they're interested in. Me, I loved Lada warts and all, because I understood exactly where she was coming from. And you know what, there were real life female warriors throughout history who were like her more or less, so she isn't unrealistic at all. I'd sorry such readers want a truly tamed, neutered, domesticated, and lifeless Barbie doll to stand in for a woman, but that's not the kind of woman I want to read about - or to write about!

The book is quite long (some 470 pages) and I normally have no interest in reading books this long about this sort of period in history, yet this one drew me in from the start, and made for an engrossing and entertaining read. I do not know if I want to continue reading it though. By that I mean that this is the first volume of The Conqueror's Saga. I typically do not like series and I flatly refuse to read books which are part of a series described by the words 'saga', 'chronicle', 'cycle' and the like. I only read this because I thought it was a stand-alone, so while I may continue this series, I am not sure I want to at this point. I was satisfied by this first volume, and my fear is that reading another will sour it for me!

That said, this particular volume was a worthy read and I recommend it. I do plan on writing a sequel to it which I shall call And I Coordination....


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks


Rating: WORTHY!

This comic was available online for a short time while it was being created, but now you can only get it from a store or as I did, from my excellent local library. I saw it on the shelf recently, and was immediately attracted to it.

The title was what drew me in. I think it was great and when I looked inside, the story looked pretty entertaining, and it turned out to be exactly that: pretty to look at, and entertaining. It was a fast and fun read, and although there were some issues with the execution, I consider this a worthy read.

Main character Maggie is about to start high school after being home-schooled all her life to this point. Her mom, who schooled her, has up and left the family. This was one issue with the story - there didn't seem to be any real explanation as to why mom left - she just left, everyone accepted it, and no one seems to have any ongoing problem with it. That was weird and underdeveloped, and it made for a noticeable hole in this story. It was one of several. Maggie's dad is the local police chief in this small town (which begs the question as to how it manages to support a large high school!), and his only real involvement in the story is that he has to get his hair cut for his new job.

Taking of weird though, I read one negative review which seemed to be based solely on the odd questions asked of Maggie when she started high school by someone who had no idea what home schooling was all about and so was asking really dumb and ignorant questions. Having been home-schooled herself, this reviewer then made the same mistake the fictional character made, but approaching the issue ignorantly. She took this personally and ranted on and on about it! She simply did not get is that this was fictional - that it was not a prescription for behavior, or a how-to manual! It's simply a fictional tale which feature, briefly, some dumb kid asking dumb questions.

What the reviewer didn't get was that there are, in real life, dumb people who ask dumb questions, or ignorant people who ask inappropriate questions in their ignorance - people whose mind isn't broad enough to encompass something outside of the cozy rut they are in. In downgrading a novel for depicting real life, this reviewer showed that she, too, is in the same kind of blinkered rut that the fictional character had occupied. I found this amusing and those criticisms invalid.

Maggie has several brothers, two of which are twins who seem to be fighting with each other more than ever before, since one of them seems to be seeking some sort of independence or differentiation from his twin, whereas the other seems fine with the way things are. She has an older brother who keeps a watchful eye on her, but in general, her brothers leave her to find her own way through high school, just as they had to when they started school.

Maggie's biggest problem though, is that she's led a very sheltered life and knows no one at this school except for her brothers, whom she now sees have all kinds of friends, including many female ones. She soon partners up with a female friend of her own named Lucy who has a partially-shaven head (for fashion, not from some medical condition). Lucy has a brother, Alastair, and the two are very close (and very close shaven), but Alastair seems not to be liked by Maggie's own brothers. This is made out to be rooted in some big bad secret: that Alastair is a bad person, but this was another plot problem: when the reveal comes, it's really nothing at all, so this set-up fell flat.

The third issue was the ghost. Maggie sees this ghost of a woman in the cemetery, and the ghost comes and looks at her face to face, but it never says a thing to her no matter what she says to it. Maggie cannot figure out what it wants, and that's how the story ends: the ghost drifts off down a cemetery pathway and disappears, and we never do find out what it wanted or why it was haunting Maggie. This was a disaster.

That aside though, the story itself was fun overall, and interesting, and it featured a lot of idiosyncratic activity and events which amused me greatly. So overall, and despite three big issues, this writer/illustrator of this black and white line-drawing comic still managed to make me rate this as a worthy read! See? It can be done!


Mis(h)adra by Iasmin Omar Ata


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Based on her own experiences as someone who endures epilepsy, this graphic novel tells the story of Isaac, an Arab-American student struggling with trying to get a college education while coping with the disruptive effect of epilepsy in his life. He's not doing very well, but he has an underlying current of hope, which keeps him moving towards a brighter future - and not one that's made bright merely from a pre-seizure aura.

The story is intriguingly done through the use of visual metaphor (as well as in the text), and often in the very graphic form of scimitars all directed at poor Isaac. The despair and exhaustion he suffers from constantly being at risk of a seizure, and from his inability to get even his own father to believe him when he talks about his problem, is palpable in this story. It's almost despairing and exhausting to read it.

At times you want to shake him out of his lethargy and inertia, but at the same time you realize this is such a knee-jerk response that you want to slap yourself. It's at that crux that you realize how debilitating this is; it's not that Isaac is stupid, or lazy, or incompetent, it's that this illness has such a crippling hold on him that he's all-but paralyzed by it.

Most of us tend to associate seizures with flashing lights as depicted in the Michael Crichton novel The Andromeda Strain but this is an ignorant view which completely neglects the serious role that less specific preconditions such as tiredness and stress, inter alia, play in triggering a seizure - and the danger of harboring a narrow definition of 'seizure' is also brought to light. A friend of Isaac's lectures him about letting his friends help instead of shutting them out, and this straight-talk marks a turning point in his life.

This was a moving story, a fiction, but based on real truths, and it was illustrated with startling colors and bold depictions. I liked it and I recommend it, and I would definitely look for future novels from this author.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins


Rating: WARTY!

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

This started out great, but slowly fell apart the further I got into it. The blurb announced that it's "Told in alternating teen voices across three generations," but I did not expect from this that we would actually fast-forward through all three generations, and eventually be moving so rapidly that it was all-but impossible to keep track of who was who.

I'd thought it would be about the interactions between three generations all existing together! I did not expect to be flung summarily and unexpectedly into the future as those new generations arrived on the scene. The story lost so much in those jumps that it was ruined for me.

The huge, unbridged chasms between different parts of the novel were destructive, and really spoiled the story which had begun at a really good pace and allowed the reader to honestly get to know this family. I would have been quite content to follow the first two girls, Sonia and Tara, through the whole book, and see how their lives panned out. Unfortunately, I was robbed of that in this author's hell-bent, breakneck sprint to get to the grandchildren.

I felt Sonia and Tara were torn from me and diminished into becoming distant and vague memories as the new generation swept in. We learned nothing of their adult lives except what we were told in summary. It was like riding an elevator, and the car coming down at a comfortable pace, then something goes wrong and suddenly you're plunging the last few floors in free-fall. There was no warning; nothing to indicate that the comfortable pace of the early story was suddenly going to change to a rough ride.

Even that might have worked, but the story moved far too fast and spent so little time on the youngest generation that we never got to know them. They were brought in so quickly, and were danced around so capriciously that they were never more than two-dimensional shadow puppets, and not real people at all. I could not connect with them.

I was left not caring about them because they were strangers. I was left wondering why I had read that far instead of DNF-ing this novel as soon as Sonia and Tara were forced to take a back seat. It felt like the author had lost interest in the story and wanted to get it over with as soon as she could, so that she might move on to another project, and so she just summarized, or maybe simply published her outline instead of turning it into an actual story.

Perhaps I should have figured out how it would end when we met the first two girls with their story already in progress. After the briefest flash-in-the-pan memory of life in Ghana, which I had thought might be relevant later, but which was not, we meet the girls already on a plane from London to New York, so London is not even a memory in the author's desperation to get these teens onto American soil - like no other soil really matters, not even for Indian girls.

We did get a very brief time in India, which was delightful, but that was quickly over, and then the future was already banging on the door, demanding entrance, and people were married and having children before any courtship had seriously begun. It was too fast, too furious, to borrow the name of a movie, and like the movie, it was all fumes and madcap rushing from that point onwards. It was very unsatisfying.

This had the potential to be a great story and I wish the author had had enough faith in her two girls to let their story shine, but she evidently didn't, and it obviously didn't, and I felt robbed. I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.


A Dangerous Woman from Nowhere by Kris Radish


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was very disappointed in this book. A 'dangerous woman' Briar Logan was not, unless you count being in danger of putting me to sleep with endless flashbacks and rambling descriptions. She always sounded like she might be going to be dangerous, but she never was. Right at the point where she could prove herself to be dangerous, she gets hit on the head by one of the bad guys, and is invalided for some considerable time after that, so where exactly was the danger she posed? Maybe it popped up at the very end, but I gave up all hope of it and never made it that far.

Plus one of the main characters was named Jack. That's a huge no-no for me. I detest novels in which one of the main characters is named using the most over-used 'go-to-guy' name in the history of literature. If I'd known there was going to be a Jack in this novel I would honestly never have requested to read it on that basis alone, so tired am I of seeing the trope 'Jack' in any sort of action-adventure story.

The rambling parts would not have been bad had the story been a rambling kind of story. Had the woman been on a road trip or was 'finding herself' or something along those lines, the diversionary descriptions would have maybe felt more appropriate, but when the story starts out with a sense of urgency - Briar Logan's desperate need to follow her husband who's been kidnapped by desperadoes - and yet the entire tale lapses into a sedentary, drifting, teetering, slow-paced meander, it fails for me because the main character seemed more like she was out on a nature ramble than ever she was interested in pursuing her husband. I simply could not get into this story no matter how far I read, and the author didn't offer any help.

The wandering sentences were of the nature of: "Even with the seriousness of the mission, it is impossible to watch the dew slip from the tops of the trees and cascade through the canopy of leaves that are on the brink of turning into the bold colors of fall without thinking how beautiful it is this time of day and year."

And you know, even in those circumstances, had the descriptions been related to the pursuer's state of mind, they might have worked, but they felt like they had been lifted from a travelogue rather than from a story where this woman's mind should have been, if we were to believe her attachment to her husband, worried sick about him and providing her only with a tunnel vision getting to him as fast as she could. I did not feel form her any sense of worry or fear, or of losing hope or losing heart, or of desperation, or of anger, or anything associated with what she ought to have been feeling! Consequently, it rang false throughout.

There were also oddly contradictory passages. For instance, at one point, and during a section which I initially thought was a flashback because it seemed so out of place, Briar is talking about gleefully strangling chickens, and then right after that, I read, "...been determined to treat him, and all the animals on the ranch, with a kindness she has come to realize is deserved by every living creature."

This was so completely contradictory of what had gone only just before that it brought me right out of suspension of disbelief. That's not to say that people can't have conflicting views, but this one came totally out of left field and for no reason at all. There was nothing to trigger it, and it was one of many passages I read that that made me think the author was more focused on turning a phrase than ever she was in actually telling a realistic story.

It wasn't only rambling, florid descriptions which tripped up this tale; it seemed like everyone and their uncle had a flashback, and if they had one, then they had a dozen. Every time one popped-up, it robbed the story of momentum and immediacy. I soon began thinking that if this woman really doesn't care about reaching her husband any time soon, why should I care if she reaches him at all? I gave up on it about eighty percent in because it simply held no interest for me at all. I cannot recommend this one.