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

Friday, June 1, 2018

Why Juan Can't Sleep by Karl Beckstrand, Luis F Sanz


Rating: WORTHY!

This 'mystery' book for young children examines why it is that Juan can't sleep! There are a gajillon rhyming reasons, every one of which is valid and has probably affected you at one point or another! Although driving through a stop sign with grandpa never was one of my issues! maybe I'll start that trend in my family?!

Luis Sanz's ustrations are far from ill 9as you can see form this sentence!), and the rolling, cascading, helter-skelter poetry is mesmerizing. This is the second Karl Beckstrand book I've enjoyed, the first being The Bridge of the Golden Wood> which I reviewed back in July of last year. I have no hesitation in recommending this one to go with it.


Freaks by Kieran Larwood


Rating: WORTHY!

Sheba is a freak, so-called. She has some sort of wolfish traits in her that don't come out at the full Moon, but which do surface when she's emotionally disturbed. Fortunately that isn't often, since she's quite accepting of her freakishness and her lot in life which is as a lonely exhibit on a pier in an obscure Victorian seaside town.

This all changes one day when a rotund man from London shows up with his traveling freak show and buys her from her 'owner'. She finds herself in a wagon full of people like her - not wolfish, but each with strange appearance or talents, and unfortunate smells. Sheba's enhanced sense of smell is one thing which is always on tap, she's sometimes sorry to suffer. At other times it can be very useful.

This change isn't a bad thing as it happens, because she finds acceptance and companionship in this circus as they travel back to London and take up residence in their permanent quarters, as a freak show in a dismal London side-street in a ramshackle, run-down and dirty house, where Sheba has to sit each day in a room so people can stare at her. But it's just for a short time and then she gets to have a decent bed and not too horrible food, which is new to her.

One day a little girl sneaks in to the show and meets Sheba, before the interloper is discovered and tossed out. The two of them bond in that moment, so when Sheba later learns that this same girl - a mudder who scours the low-tide banks of the Thames for anything of value to sell to buy food for her family - has gone missing, Sheba is moved to act. In her search for the mudder, she is joined by Sister Moon, a ninja girl with almost super-human speed and accuracy, and Monkey Boy, who is frankly gross-out disgusting.

This for me was the first and one of very few false steps in this Victorian era novel with steampunk elements, which is aimed at middle-grade readers. Given that three of the main five 'freak' characters are female, it suggests that the novel is aimed primarily at girls, yet the toilet 'humor' if you can term it that, is aimed at boys, so it made little sense. Other than that it was fine and it featured some other intriguing characters too, such as the woman who trains rats and the gentle giant who writes romance stories!

The plot became clear pretty quickly, but for younger readers it may remain more of a mystery for a little longer, and the story is engaging, with a few thrills and spills to keep a young heart racing, so overall I liked it. In some small ways it reminded me of the Philip Pullman series 'His Dark Materials' and young Lyra Belaqua. Sheba isn't quite like that, and this novel isn't in that league or about the same subjects, but young readers who enjoyed that might like this, and vice-versa. It's educational too, about the horrific conditions under which children lived, and how they were exploited back then, especially if they were not like most other children, so I recommend this as a worthy read.


Summit Vol 1: The Long Way Home by Amy Chu, Jan Duursema


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

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

There was an event in which an asteroid nearly hit Earth. The planet was supposedly saved by Lorena Payan, which no doubt is pronounced 'pain'. Some people developed superpowers from this event, but curiously, the event seemed to have a preference mostly for white American adults.

The stories of these mutants are covered in various editions by various writers and artists. This one is the story of one of those white Americans who happened to be actually on the mission: Valentina "Val" Resnick-Baker who rescues and protects a young kid. Can anyone say Aliens 2 Redux?

Frankly this story it was a bit bland, repetitive, and disjointed, but overall it was better than the other two I read in this batch of stories. While I am happy to rate this one as a worthy read, I think I'm done with this whole series which really isn't moving, shaking, or breaking new ground. It's petty much broken and crumbled like the asteroid was at this point.


Gina From Siberia by Jane Bernstein, Charlotte Glynn


Rating: WORTHY!

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

A really short review for a really short book that's based on the author's own experience! It tells the story of a migration, but from the perspective of a wire-haired terrier. Gina is the unlikely name of the Russian dog who has to leave all of her friends behind and move to the USA, 5,681 miles away from her old home. Or maybe 5,682. They travel by bus, train, car, and plane. Gina isn't happy. She doesn't want to participate her new environment at all, but slowly, she decides it's not so bad.

This was a cute story for kids that may help them cope if they're moving themselves - even if it's just to the next town, or across the city. The text was nice reading and the illustrations are fun and colorful. I recommend it.


Final Draft by Riley Redgate


Rating: WORTHY!

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

“...but the team here are great people...” this was spoken by Mr Madison, an English teacher Seriously?! 'Team' is singular.

Laila Piedra, like me, is very much into writing, but she's better looking! She secretes herself away in her room with her laptop and creates sci-fi worlds of adventure and derring-do. But daring isn't something Laila ever does herself. She'd rather have a quiet life: no partying, no boyfriend, no extra-curricular activities. She's all about writing, and meeting with her high-school senior year English teacher, Mr Madison, on lunchbreaks to discuss her stories. Apparently he has very little of a life too, and you have to wonder why he's misleading Laila so much in his advice. He seems so full of praise, but later a professional author disagrees with him.

Due to an injury, Mr Madison was forced to take time off school and substitute teacher came in. This woman was a Ukrainian ex-pat who had a successful writing career. Even given that she was a friend of the principal's, it seemed a bit of a stretch that someone of her purported stature would step in to teach. This oddity was explained later in the novel, but even accepting that, it made little sense that her approach to teaching was so minimalist that she essentially didn't teach at all. Instead, she merely had her students continue their writing projects and then marked them scathingly.

Despite Laila's skill and the endless positive, evidently criticism-free encouragement of Mr Madison, Laila's first score from Nadiya Nazarenko was a 32%. Everyone else scored less, and no one was given any real advice about what was wrong or how to improve it. No-one read their work in class either, so it felt unnaturally like a super-secret, under-the-table event; like everyone was ashamed of what they wrote, or their work was too scandalous to ever see the light of day. Worse, Laila never questioned Mr Madison's bona fides given that he was all 100% and the Nazarenko consistently less. That rang hollowly - that Laila never questioned anything.

Frankly she was a bit too passive for my taste, but then I seem condemned to prefer the side-kick characters in young adult and even middle-grade novels rather than the main one. Her sidekick is Hannah, and Hannah fascinated me.

Laila's desperate desire to impress the substitute flings the young writer into dangerous territory, visiting bars with a fake ID, and risking arrest by the police at a fight. Never once does she consider she's being foolish in pursuit of a ridiculous goal. It felt odd, too, that when a school hottie guy befriended her, she didn't try to talk him out of fighting her own friend, a guy who was dating his ex. That was an interesting little story.

The novel could have easily gone downhill several times for me, it didn't, fortunately for this review! It kept me hanging in there, sometimes by a slim thread, and even as I wondered about some of the writing choices the author was making. What made it worthwhile in the end was Laila's outcome, which I had seen coming for a while but was never quite sure if the author would actually take me there - despite having a pretty awesome name for an author: Riley Redgate! I mean come on! That's almost as good as Teenage Negasonic Warhead. You know Riley Redgate's middle name is Negasonic, right? Well, it might be!

Meanwhile, back in Realityville, I have to say that it was such a nice gift that she did do this, that I felt a bit miffed when there wasn't more of it. The novel ended somewhat abruptly with Laila's future seemingly left rather hanging. I don't know if this was a conscious choice or if the author plans on continuing this story in a second volume. It's difficult to see where that would go given the powerful ending this one had (before the abrupt bit!), but I might be tempted to read such a sequel even though I'm not a fan of series, trilogies, and the like. As for this particular volume, I consider overall, that it's a worthy read, and I recommend it.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, David Roberts


Rating: WORTHY!

Written poetically by Andrea Beaty and illustrated artfully by David Roberts, this book shamelessly promotes a girl as an engineer. We need far more female engineers than ever we get, so anything that puts the idea into young children's fertile minds that this is something they can do, beats the heck out of far too many books, TV shows, and movies which depict women as not engineers, not even close. It's nowhere near often enough we are shown professional women in this kind of a career, so this book is a welcome addition to children's literature in showing what a smart, capable, and self-motivated child Rosie Revere is. "The engineers are coming! The engineers are coming! And they're girls!" Let the cry ring out! I recommend this because it is a welcome and refreshing variation from the usual book-in-a-rut for children.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Hoodoo by Ronald L Smith


Rating: WARTY!

This was another failed audiobook experiment. It's aimed at middle-grade readers, so I am not the intended audience, but two things really bothered me about it and constitute my main reasons for rejecting it. I would not recommend this at all for young, easily scared, or overly sensitive children.

The story is about 12-year-old "Hoodoo" Hatcher who grows up in a very superstitious 1930s Alabama. A stranger comes to town who is evidently Satan himself, coming to collect a debt apparently owed by Hoodoo because it was incurred by his deceased father, but I don't know for sure because I didn't listen to all of it.

You know, I am really tired of reading stories about black kids growing up with their grandparents or other relatives. Less than ten percent of African American kids are raised this way, and while it is unfortunate, even tragic, and while it is over twice that of white kids, it's still less than ten percent. If you were to judge by how often it's portrayed in novels, movies, and on TV, you'd think it was all black kids.

It's inaccurate and it's particularly appalling in novels which children read and can be misled by; novels which often win idiotic Neuteredbery awards and such nonsensical crap. In fact I think that's a rule: that if your novel isn't about a dysfunctional family, you can't be nominated for a Newbery - but I may be wrong about that.... My point is that it's time for authors to tell it like it is, not tall tale it like it isn't.

The endlessly-repeated sleeping (and later, waking) dreams/nightmares in which this unintentionally comical Satannic figure threatens Hoodoo in his basso profundo voice were ridiculous, and were what turned me completely off it. It became tedious to listen to. The "Yes, Massah!" voice of reader Ron Butler was inappropriate and a turn-off to boot.

The other thing which bothered me were the many extended scary sequences which are going to be too much for young readers - and especially listeners. You do not want your child listening to this as a bedtime story! For me they were boring. The story seemed to be going round in circles instead of going somewhere interesting, and Hoodoo's obsessive-compulsion of doing this himself was laughable when there were others who could have helped him if the author hadn't been so rigidly dead-set against it.

It was an uninteresting and unimaginative story told badly and I do not recommend it.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Catalina and the King's Wall by Patty Costello, Diana Cojocaru


Rating: WORTHY!

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

A dear friend recommended this to me and I was glad she did. She has a knack for finding cute children's books, and this is one of the cutest. Illustrated colorfully and prettily by Diana Cojocaru, and written wittily and with a great delight in making choice puns by Patty Costello, it tells the story of a young woman's quiet determination to undermine the isolationist policy of the king.

Catalina is cookie-maker to the king and when she learns of his plan to build a wall between his nation and the nation next door (because they're 'different'), she cannot bear the thought of being separated from her family and concocts a series of seditious subterfuges to sabotage the king's plan - and she succeeds!

I loved the story, and adored the art. The book is short and very telling, and is most enjoyable. I fully recommend it.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter


Rating: WARTY!

If this novel had been written by an unknown and submitted as is, it would never have got published. The only reason it did get published is because it was written by a celebrity. The author is an actor who currently plays Jessica Jones in the Marvel TV series of the same name, and in that show I adore her, but a writer she's not. Not yet. She may become one if she can quit writing YA trope and cliché and find a topic that's not been done to death. And have an editor who's not afraid to say no to a celebrity.

This follows the done-to-death trope of the prodigal son (or in this case, daughter with the unimaginatively bland name of Abby Williams) returning home to confront "demons". Barf. Yawn. Barf some more. Yawn a bit. Ho-hum. So anyway, the main character returns to her even more unimaginatively named small town of Barrens, Indiana where she grew up (or maybe not) and where a conglomerate named Optimal Plastics appears to be responsible for polluting the water and causing people to get sick. We're told the town is now booming, but we're never told why a huge corporation would put its roots down in a lifeless hick town nowhere near major artery roads or airports in the first place. At least not in the part I listened to.

Abby is an environmental lawyer living in Chicago and apparently lives a life of drunkenness and debauchery there. You would think someone with that portfolio would be able to confront the girl who bullied her in high-school and now acts like they were old friends, but this character is such a limp rag that she doesn't say squat. Let me just make it clear that I would never want Abby Williams to represent me in court!

It was when Abby discovers that the house she's renting has a neigh-bore who is a single dad with a precocious young daughter that my nausea rose far too high to continue. It didn't help that Abby had lost all interest in pursuing the chemical company even by this point, and had become instead obsessed with tracking down this girl, Kaycee Mitchell, she knew in high-school who had since gone off the grid. Abby was not a likable character, and I honestly didn't give a damn about her or anything else in this story. I could not care less what happened to the missing girl, because I've been given no reason to care more.

From reading other reviews out there I understand that the author knows nothing about Indiana, thinking it a football state when it's a basketball state (even I, who has almost zero interest in fatuous and ultimately pointless sporting events, knew that!), and she misnames the state university and invents a toll road where none exists. It's so easy these days to research a place on the Internet, in Wikipedia, and even go look at it on Google maps, that there's no excuse for getting things like this wrong. It's sloppy and lazy.

The asinine blurb (for which I don't blame the author) promised "tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense," but the only word in that whole phrase which applies here is 'slow'. I pulled this off the library shelf solely because it was written by Krysten Ritter. I thought it would be well worth reading, or rather listening to but it wasn't, even though reader Karissa Vacker did a decent job.

The best thing that can be said about this novel is that it's short, but apparently, according to some reviews I read, it could have been shorter still if the endless repetition had been cut out, and I believe them far more than ever I'd believe a blurb writer! I cannot recommend this based on the part I could stand to listen to. A bonfire is a great place for a novel like this.


One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was my third voyage into the world of Kate Atkinson. As I mentioned twice before(!), I came to her via the TV series Case Histories, and I hoped her novels would be as good as the TV show, but they were not. I could not get Case Histories on audiobook and didn't want to go with the library print book. I have too many print books on my shelf and actively try to avoid procuring any more until I've read-down some of this pile! I live in fear that they will fall off the shelf onto my head when I'm sleeping and I wish to bypass such a rude awakening.

This was the second-in-line in the series, but the problem with it was that it was too rambling. The interesting thing is that in the first novel, Jackson Brodie, the ex-soldier now turned PI inherits a lot of money, but in the TV series he did not have this money. I'm not sure how they will reconcile it if they continue the TV show. I liked how there were several plot threads seemingly unconnected, and which in the end all became woven together, but that was TV. The audiobook was far too sluggish.

I could not get started on the novel. One of the characters was such a limp rag of a man that he was repulsive, yet the author seemed determined to follow him into the most mundane of activities including a writing class he attends (which I think was a flashback but I'm not sure. It's easy to miss bits in an audiobook when driving. At least it is if your focus is on the road where it should be!). The writing class wasn't even interesting, and it seemed like the author was maybe using it to insult people perhaps she had known in a similar writing class which she attended. I don't know. It just felt a bit like that.

The story begins with this limp rag man breaking up a road rage incident, and then it just rambles on and on. Jackson Brodie is nowhere in it and did not show up right up to the point where I couldn't stand to listen any more. It was read pretty decently by Steven Crossley, but that couldn't make up for the material (or lack thereof). I felt bad for him having to read this. Just in case it isn't clear: I cannot recommend this one!


Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this author was once the prosecutor who railroaded the Central Park Five black kids into jail for a crime they never committed, I would have spit on the novel rather than picked it up. But I didn’t know that until after I’d read enough of it to know it was a lousy novel written by an author who is so far out of touch with things as to be very effectively retired even as she continues to write. It was only after I gave up on it and looked her up in Wikipedia that I discovered this and other interesting facts about her.

If I’d known this novel was merely wish-fullfilment - this author basically putting herself into her own fiction as a prosecutor of sex crimes - I would never have picked it up. I am not a fan of first person stories because they are irritating at best and completely unrealistic. Few authors - and even fewer stories - can carry that amount of weight, but far too many authors aren't smart enough to realize it. The woman who read for this audiobook story, Barbara Rosenblat, had entirely the wrong voice for the story and the character, so that didn’t help. That wasn't the worst part though.

The hypocrisy in this novel was astounding. For an ex prosecutor of sex crimes to write a novel about human trafficking and then lard it up with sexist material is mind boggling. If I’d know this novel - published in 2010 - would read like it was written in the fifties with all the unaddressed genderism it contains, I’d never have picked it up. But until I listened to it, I didn't know that there would be repeated remarks made to the main character of an inappropriate nature, and never once does she address them. Guys can say pretty much whatever they want to her and she doesn’t even react. In short, she's part of the problem and the author ought to be thoroughly ashamed of writing material like this.

I don't have a problem with reading a novel by an older writer (this author is now in her seventies). The problem isn’t that. The problem is when the older writer fails to move with the times and instead, writes a modern story with an antique mindset, which is evidently what happened here. That's not even the whole problem. The author seems so obsessed with describing old buildings that she forgets what story she's telling. This story could have been about architectural design. I quickly tired of hearing yet more building history, and yet more descriptions of arches, columns, and windows. This was as much a DNR as it was a DNF. You have my word that I will never read another novel by this author. I'm tempted to say that I'm glad I never paid for this one, but in a sense, I did pay for it by merely listening to it.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Little Owl's Night by Divya Srinivasan


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a simple story, simply, but cutely illustrated in color, of the very charming little owl who starts the night flying around the countryside and greeting fellow animals as little owls are wont to do. It was a sweet and a speedy read for sending a child off to noddy-land, perhaps with dreams of themselves flying around the forest. There's no better way to put a child down for the night than by reading (or just telling) them a story which may in turn give them fun, imaginative, and sweet dreams, and this one is a worthy read. There's no better way to stimulate a child's imagination than to read to them, and no better thing you can do for a child's mind than to make it think outside the box.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Invisibility by David Levithan, Andrea Cremer


Rating: WARTY!

I liked Levithan's Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist which he co-wrote with Rachel Cohn, but I did not like his Everyday, and now I find myself parting ways from him again with this crap.

Like in Nick & Nora, each author is writing a first person perspective, the one for the guy in the story, the other for the girl. It wasn't likable. I tend to really dislike first person voice with few exceptions, and I feel that when you multiply it, it just makes it worse, but that's not the worst problem for me with this story. The worst problem is how unrealistic it is, even if I grant that a boy can be literally invisible. The problem is that this boy shows absolutely no interest whatsoever in his world and doesn't even think of getting up to the adventures and mischief any red-blooded boy would think of if he were literally invisible as this boy is. He's so profoundly and irremediably boring.

The kick to the story is of course that this girl moves into an apartment just along the hall from his, and she can see him, but when they meet, it's set up like he tiptoes past her to go to his apartment. He claims he can't get in because he has to retrieve his key and he doesn't want her to see a key floating in the air apparently, but it's already been established that when he puts his clothes on, they also become invisible, and immediately after he puts food in his mouth, it also becomes invisible, so why wouldn't the key? For that matter, why wouldn't he simply carry the key with him? The boy's an idiot.

If Levithan had said the guy couldn't enter because he didn't want her to see a door open and close by itself, that would be one thing, but he didn't! Even that could have been written-off as someone looking out of their apartment and then closing the door, and I would have bought that. I can't buy the stupid and thoughtless scenario I was presented with here.

The girl is written just as dumbly, because she drops her keys and the boy doesn't offer to help because he doesn't think she can see him, but she can, and she chews him out for not helping her instead of doing what any self-possessed person would, which is put her bags down, get the keys, open the door, pick her bags up, and go inside! In short, she's also an idiot who would rather play the helpless maiden in distress than get on with things under her own steam. What she does is the precise equivalent of the old saw of a woman dropping a handkerchief to get a guy's attention! It was pathetic. She's precisely the opposite of a strong female character and I have no time for female characters like this one.

Do I want to read a story about two idiots and instadore? Hell no. The whole story struck me as short-sighted, artificial, and poorly thought-through. It was obviously a catastrophe waiting to happen, and not in a fun way. I couldn't stand to read any more of it!


North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley


Rating: WARTY!

This was a print book I picked up because the premise sounded like it might offer something different from your usual YA trash of the helpless beautiful maiden in distress rescued by a boy - as though women are utterly useless and need to be rescued all the time. In the end it turned out to be precisely that, and I had to DNF it because it was so badly written, and yet another first person voice fiasco.

Terra Cooper (yes, that's her idiotic name) has everything a YA girl could want: blond hair and an enviable body, also a jock boyfriend, but we're told she has a flawed face. Her family is, predictably in YA, also flawed. Her father refuses to pay for her to go to the small college of her choice, trying to force her to go to the overly large college which is only three hours away where he can still control her. Terra wants to be further from him than that but is apparently too stupid to understand that her father wouldn't agree, and instead, seek a student loan or a scholarship. In short, she's a moron. But none of this really matters because Terra's only real problem is her obsession with the 'port wine' stain on her face, which lasers don't seem to have been able to remove.

Naturally a woman as hopeless as this needs to be rescued by a "handsome but quirky Goth boy." Clearly the novel is supposed to teach lessons about skin-deep and self-determination, but the amount of obsessing over the port-wine in the few pages I could stand to read told me this was going nowhere interesting or good, and also that the novel was going to be completely untrue to its premise. And the cartographic references were way the hell overdone even in the short portion I read.

That wasn't even the worse part (and no, it's not that I actually paid for this with my own money, either!). The worst part was why a woman who'd had this stain on her face her whole life would be obsessed with it now rather than so used to it that she rarely gave it any thought. It was entirely unrealistic. If this obsession was indeed the case, then this girl has bigger problems than which college she goes to, or a control-freak father, and she needs serious psychiatric help. I doubt a handsome Goth boy is up to the task.

The novel was pedantic and boring, predictable and asinine. I do not recommend it.


The Boy on the Bridge by MR Carey


Rating: WARTY!

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

I'd read two novels by this author prior to starting this one, and he was batting a .500. I really liked The Girl With All The Gifts which I reviewed back in May of 2014, but I really didn't like Fellside which I reviewed in November of 2016. This one, I'm afraid, fell on the same side and delivered no gifts despite evidently being the second volume in The Girl With All The Gifts series. This is why I don't like series, generally speaking. Instead of plowing a new furrow, a series typically sticks in the same rut that's already been plowed.

I think writers choose this fallow ground because it's easy to navigate - just write between the lines! It's a lot simpler and less work to warm-over existing characters than to set forth against a sea of plots and by embracing, write them. I certainly wasn't expecting a zombie apocalypse novel and if I had been, I wouldn't have requested to review this. Zombie apocalypse stories are low-hanging fruit appealing to the lowest common denominator and they make absolutely no sense whatsoever. The blurb, which writers admittedly tend to have little to do with unless they self-publish, delivered nothing on the topic: "Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world. To where the monsters lived." That doesn't say zombie apocalypse to me! It really doesn't say much at all.

The author never actually uses the word 'zombie'; instead, he calls them 'hungries', which is a cheat, because the name wasn't natural. Even people who can't stand zombie stories, such as me, for example, are familiar with the basis of them, and if this really did happen as it's told here, no one would ever call these things 'hungries'. They would call them zombies. Or flesh-eaters, or cannibals, or something more commonly known. 'Hungries' simply isn't a natural word that would have come into common use, so suspension of disbelief was challenged early and lost quickly.

Even so I might have got into it had the story not been so slow and pedantic, and made so little sense. Despite it being an apocalyptic story of disease run rampant through the population, largely turning it into mindless flesh-eating 'monsters', it was far too plodding and it failed to convey any sense of adventure or danger, or even offer any thrills. The main character was flat and uninteresting and the story plodded painfully and simply did not draw me in at all. The 'science' they were supposedly doing made no sense.

It began with a handful of scientists and a handful of soldiers on an expedition in the zombie wilds, picking up test materials that had been left out there by a previous expedition. The method of making this journey - in a vehicle rather than a helicopter - made no sense either and was apparently designed merely to put these people into conflict with the zombies. What the hell this trip was even supposed to do wasn't really ever made clear, and whatever it was quickly became lost anyway in the endless detailing of people's activities and mindsets including the tediously irritating politics between members of the expedition. The painful, story-halting sorties into each character's psyche was totally uninteresting and did nothing to move the story along. It was like the author was much more interested in holding the reader's hand and spelling everything out instead of relating the kind of story where we would see what was going on without having to be told, and want to read more.

This was yet another apocalyptic story which took place in complete isolation from the rest of the world. When Americans write these stories, only America matters. The rest of the world not only doesn't matter, it also doesn't exist. It's the same thing in this story except that this writer is British, so only Britain exists - this septic isle, the only nation on planet Earth - which again destroyed suspension of disbelief.

I had thought this was a new or relatively new novel, so imagine my surprise when I saw this in audiobook form on the shelf of the library! I picked that version so I could listen to it instead of reading it, and the voice of the reader, Finty Williams (aka Tara Cressida Frances Williams!), made the story almost bearable, but in the end, even her determined and earnest reading couldn't hold my interest, so I DNF'd this novel. Life is too short to have to read books like this one, and I cannot recommend it. It's nowhere near the standard of The Girl With All The Gifts.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Upside Down magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Emily Jenkins


Rating: WARTY!

Prior to this novel, Sarah Mlynowski was batting a thousand with me after two novels. Emily Jenkins, aka E Lockhart, was batting five hundred after six books, and I'd never read anything by Lauren Myracle. This one has besmirched each of their escutcheons.

To be fair, it's not aimed at me, but it was written so badly I have to say you would have to be a kid with truly low standards to find this limp and frivolous effort entertaining. The main character is simply stupid, and this turned me off her right away. I don't mind a character who starts out stupid and wises up, but when the character remains dumb, and especially if it's a female character, I find the book irksome and want to remove its spine, to put it into 'Drax the Destroyer' terminology.

This is the story of three young kids who fail to get into a prestigious magic academy which is run by the father of one of the characters. Instead they go to the Upside Down magic school and they don't like it. They're incompetent, and it takes them forever to figure out what's wrong. This means that the school has failed them badly and is obviously really, really awful at teaching, but this disturbing proposition is never addressed in the writing.

This novel is a clear case of too many cooks spoiling the broth and I do not recommend it.


Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I came at from having seen the excellent TV series starring Jason Isaacs (of Star Trek Discovery - not that I watch that sorry excuse for a Star Trek show - and Harry Potter), Amanda Abbington (late of Sherlock), Zawe Ashton (late of Doctor Who: Into the Dalek), and the charming young Millie Innes - who is a true Scot! The TV show was titled Case Histories after the first novel in a series of (so far) four.

I love my library, but oddly enough they didn't have the first novel on CD; they had two others, which were the ones I got. This one is the last of the four. After I started listening to the droning audiobook, I regretted my impulsiveness in requesting two books at once. I listened to half of the first disk and skimmed the last disk on my way back to the library to drop it off! They were both tedious and mindlessly rambling, and nauseatingly droning (the reader was Graeme Malcolm and he was awful and served only to exacerbate the problem with the mindlessly meandering material). I hope the other one I got is better. It can hardly be worse!

This is a Stephen King style novel where the author thinks it's more important to go into endless, pointless minutiae instead of actually getting on with the story. The story is purportedly about a retired detective named Tracy Waterhouse. Her sole memory, it seems, is her encounter as a newly-minted police constable in Edinburgh, Scotland. She and her partner found a strangled woman who was very ripe, having been dead for many days, and also locked in a flat (apartment) with a young child. After that we're back in the present, but by then I'd already lost interest. Jackson Brodie is the hero of these novels, but he's focused on an abused dog. This one has not yet made it to a TV version.

The thing I loved about the TV show is how each story sowed three different seeds at the start, and by the end all three had grown into the same plant. The thing I found weird about the TV show is how few Scots actually live in Edinburgh - if it's judged by the casting! All the main characters were almost always English, not Scots! That may not be cultural appropriation, but it's certainly inappropriate. Othher than that I loved the show and would advise everyone to watch that rather than read these sashaying shambles of stories (assuming the others are as bad as this one was).


The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati aka Rosina Lippi


Rating: WARTY!

This is a novel Stephen King would have been proud of, and anyone who knows me well will also know I don't mean that as a compliment.

I ditched this big fat book of fluff and padding after reading about ten percent. The premise was wonderful - female doctors fighting Anthony Comstock, who was a real person who left his name on things like the Comstock Law, which essentially labeled anything he didn't like as obscene, including leaflets offering advice about birth control and venereal diseases, and he also left his name in the vernacular of yesteryear, in the form of "Comstockery".

Unfortunately, instead of telling that story, which could have been gripping and interesting, and a fun read, this author decided instead to simply document the minutiae of life in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This meant there were far too many pages devoted to empty volume with nothing of interest happening. If she'd cut out the fluff, we could have had a two-hundred page novel where things happened and things moved, but no! We got seven hundred pages. This author clearly hates trees with a vengeance. If I'd wanted to read about how much research the author did, I'd have emailed her and asked her, but I really don't care and I certainly don't want to read it in place of an actual story. This was a fat volume which spent far too much time going nowhere and was such was boring and a waste of my time.

Worse than this, there was a character Named Jack, and I flatly refuse to read any novels with a main character called that. It's the most over-used go-to name in the history of writing. The character's actual name was Giancarlo, and I see no honest way to get to Jack from that. Yes, Giancarlo is a contraction of Giovanni Carlo, and Giovanni is the equivalent of John which often gets rendered down to the obnoxious 'Jack' for reasons which completely escape me, but seriously? If I'd known this novel was jacked-up to begin with I would never have picked it up. Fortunately I wised-up before I'd wasted too much time on it. I have better things to do with my life than read another authors research used as a substitute for telling a good story.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, Christian de Metter


Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed the print version of this novel in November of 2017. This graphic novel version is also a worthy read, although I have to say I wasn't overly enamored of the artwork. It was mostly sepia-toned and was passable. Others may approve of it more than I, but to me it looked rather muddy and scrappy. These shortcomings - at least the scrappiness - became much more apparent in the full color images. However the story overall was well told and the art work was not disastrous. Please read my review from November for my full take on the novel. This version would make a decent substitute if you don't want to read the full-length story.


Wnaethom Ni Ddim Rhoi'r Gorau Iddi by Richard Carlson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book that's currently free on barnes and Noble. The English title is We Didn't Give Up. It's described as a "Children's Picture Book" although the pictures are few, and are simple black and white line drawings that look more like chickens than ducks! That aside, the text is in English and then Welsh. There are other versions, such as Dutch, Haitian Creole, Italian, Spanish, Thai, and so on. The author also has other books created along these same lines, but this is the only one of his I've read.

The story tells of a mom and her three ducklings heading to the pond for a swim, being repeatedly interrupted by a very strong wind, but the mom and her ducklings do not give up and of course eventually are blown into oblivion. April Fool! I'm kidding, Of course they make it to the pond. I think this is a great idea for kids who want to learn English - or a second language, but there's no pronunciation guide given to the lingo either for the English version or the foreign (to me!) language version interspersed with it.

That said I still think it's a fun simple story that can help learn a new language and so I recommend it. Learning another language - and it doesn't matter which, or even if it's a computer language or music, which is another language, or math, which is yet another language - can really improve a child's mind and help them to think outside the box, so it's worth the effort.