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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Waking Land by Callie Bates


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher - and thank them for an ebook copy which was nicely formatted! Far too often the ebook is a second thought after the print version, and the formatting suffers, but that was not the case here.

That's where the joy ended though, because then I had to read it. You know you're in trouble with a novel when you're only ten percent in and you're asking yourself how much more you really have to read before you can DNF it and say you gave it a fair chance!
The novel started with a prologue, a thing which I never read. They're antiquated and contribute literally nothing to a story except to kill a few more trees in the print version. Maybe authors who write prologues and epilogues hate trees? The thing is that this whole business of Elanna being kidnapped and held hostage made zero sense, except in that it did herald a lot of other plot points which made no sense either! Maybe I should have read the prologue and then DNF'd it at that point?

The thing is that if I'd known going into this, that it was to be a first person YA trilogy full of cliché and trope, I would never have asked to read it, but Net Galley offered not a whisper. Such books ought to be required to carry a warning sticker. From the blurb, it had sounded like it would be an engrossing and entertaining read. Sic Transit Gloria Blurbi!

I'm very rarely a fan of first person, and unfortunately that voice is chronically over-used in YA stories. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many writers herd themselves like sheep into such a constricting voice, and one which simultaneously makes their character look so dysfunctionally self-important that it is, unless handled well, thoroughly nauseating to read.

Nor are YA trilogies any more welcome in my reading list. They're typically unimaginative, rambling, trope-filled, derivative, and bloated by their very nature. I long for a YA writer who is willing to step outside the trope and think outside the box, but they are a very rare and much-treasured commodity these days, as everyone else rushes-in like lambs to the dip, where more angelic bovines are far too wise to tread. It's all in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and it's sad; truly sad.

This novel initially had intrigued me because of the Earth magic. It's what attracted me most of all, but we were largely denied any exploration of that in the portion I read, and what we did get was accidental or incidental. This was one of the problems. Elanna has this magic, and has known of it since childhood, but she has suppressed it.

To be fair, there are reasons for this, but the fact that she's scared of it and never explores it (except for one too-brief incident we're shown right at the beginning of the novel) made me dislike her. What kind of a dullard do you have to be to have such delightful and powerful magic, and not want to at least tinker with it in private, and learn something about it? The fact that Elanna didn't, not only made her inauthentic, it also made her thoroughly boring and cowardly. There's a huge difference between teasing your readers, and denying them a story that feels real.

Elanna Valtai (often called Lady Elanna for reasons which are not clear - and which felt employed only to give her a cachet she has not earned) was taken hostage at gunpoint (pistol-point more accurately) at the tender age of five, by a conquering king who, over the last fourteen years, she has grown to love as a father. This made little sense, but Elanna is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She was more like a spork with blunted tines, and consequently neither one thing nor the other. She's fascinated by botany and so, when the king is poisoned, she becomes the prime suspect with improbable rapidity, and is forced to flee.

To me, this made zero sense. The one-dimensionally hateful and cardboard princess, who is now queen, has no reason whatsoever to fear Elanna. She considers her too low to even take seriously, so why bother framing her? We're offered no honest motivation for this at all. At this point the story was no different from the trope high-school story of the girl who is bullied.

Elanna is paradoxically presented as a charming and easy-going woman who everyone likes on the one hand, and on the other, a crudely rustic figure of fun who has no place in court and who is disliked by everyone, having no friends at all! Again, it made no sense that she would have literally no one. It felt like the author was following a rigid plot without actually giving any thought to how realistic or practical this world was that she was creating. If the king is so great, then why doesn't he put a stop to the bullying? The fact that Elanna never once questions this is yet another example of how stupid she truly is.

As I mentioned, despite being repeatedly given the appellation 'Lady', Elanna is never shown to be one. I have no problem with a character being portrayed as having emotions and sensitivity. I think we need more male characters like that in fact, but as usual in YA, the author overdoes this with their main character, so instead of showing her to be a reasonably empathetic young woman raised to be nobility, not a princess, but at least with some spine, she comes across as a weak, limp, and as a weepy, clueless little girl. It was pathetic to read about her.

Once she realizes she's going to be blamed for the king's death, and instead of taking control of her destiny and facing down the charges, which would have actually made for a much more engaging story, Elanna betrays her entire upbringing, and runs away like a scared little girl. Worse than this, she's manhandled by her love interest (and yes, it was ham-fistedly and loudly telegraphed as soon as he appeared in the story), so immediately, all control over her life is removed, and she becomes the toy and plaything of a complete oaf of a man named, inevitably "Lord", as in 'Lord and Master' no doubt as we see her weakly complying with his every demand.

Not only that, she takes the usual abusive and utterly sick YA route of falling for this patronizing and condescending dick like she's an air-headed thirteen-year-old. This is entirely the wrong message to send to young girls, and the fact that so many female YA authors do this so consistently is as scary as it is dangerous. People who talk about a rape culture seem ignorant of this facet of it, in which women are taught, in story after story, that's it's not only okay for a guy to take control over your life, but that you should go along with it mindlessly, and even fall in love with him no matter how he treats you; then we look askance at those women who end-up in abusive relationships.

The saddest thing about this is that all the hots she has for this man take place when she is quite literally fleeing for her life. What kind of a pathetic, misguided specimen do you have to be, to be having hot flashes for a guy when your very life in in peril? It made zero sense and cheapened the whole thing. It was so badly done that it ruined all hope of an intelligent or realistic romantic relationship.

For me, it did nothing but keep reminding me that I was reading a poorly written YA novel into which romance had been jammed for no other reason than that the author and/or publisher determined it was a requirement rather than that it might naturally and organically grow out of a realistic relationship. It suggests that the author either doesn't trust her characters, or she doesn't trust her writing skills, and it sends the wrong message yet again: that all women are Disney princesses who are useless without a man to be a father figure as well as (sickly!) a lover. It says that no young woman can stand on her own two feet - she always needs a studly guy to validate her and shore her up. I call horseshit on that one.

I've read this story so many times that it turns my stomach. The author might change character names, and set them in a new locale, and even give then magic, but it's the same story. They're exactly the same characters going through exactly the same empty motions over and over again. Can YA authors not come up with something new for once? Really? It's pathetic how unimaginative and uninventive YA authors are. Here's a choice quote: "Don’t they realize I’m a scholar as well as a lady of fashion?" What?! Where the hell did that come from?

There are a few, a precious few, a band of sisters, out there who honestly do get it, and who write great stories. They get that this isn't the Victorian era, and that weepy, lovelorn princesses are not only obnoxious, but they are antiquated and inappropriate. They do these stories right: making them fresh and original, but the rest of those authors are doing nothing short of writing cookie-cutter "Harlequin" romances for teens, chasing the easy buck, and that's all there is to it. This is one such story, it saddens me to report. And it could have been so much better.

So, while fleeing on horseback with a group of riders, the wind whistling through her hair, Elanna conducts a whispered conversation with her BFF, who is pretentiously named Victoire. It's described as a "whisper-shout", yet everyone seems able to hear it over the wind and the pounding horse's hooves! At one point they're told, like naughty children talking in the classroom: "That is enough, all of you! No more talk. Do you want to put us all in danger?" Seriously? They're racing through the dead of night on horses with hooves slamming into the ground, and this idiot is worried someone might overhear them talking? Who, exactly, is listening? This is another example of the story not being thought through.

The sad truth is that a lot of the writing leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. We get that Elanna is afflicted deeply with the wilts and the vapors over J-Han, We don't need to be gobsmacked every few paragraphs with yet another account of how she's is hanging on his every breath and touch, and the heat of his body. It's painfully obvious who the murderer is, so there's no mystery there. We know Elanna is going to win in the end and get jiggy with J-Han, so what's the point of reading this again?

Instadore how do I hate thee? Let me count the brays! Well, for one, she has to share a horse with him, yet there's not a word of his sweating or stinking of horses. Seriously? Just how pathetic do you want her to appear to us? Elanna doesn't notice any of his smells, which were rife in that era, even in a fantasy land, but she does notice mundane things like the color scheme in the house she visits - things which seem very odd to have been taken note of by a scared woman who has never paid attention to furniture before, and who is fleeing pursuers who want to put her through a sham trial and then kill her. At the same time, for a botanist, she notices almost nothing of nature! Again, it's not thought through.

Another oddity is that Elanna seems to have perfect, if selective, recall! Despite being gone since she was a very young child, she had no problem understanding her native language, which she last heard - and spoke - when she was merely five years old. We read, "Hugh has switched into speaking Caerisian, which the Count of Ganz evidently understands, and my ears are too tired to deny they know the words, as well." Now I won't try to argue that she would have forgotten her native tongue completely, but at the very least, she would have been extremely rusty in it, and not know many of the words spoken by adults, since she never learned those as a child, yet she appears to have a completely unencumbered grasp of it.

Again, this is not thought through. It's especially bad when it's compared with the time when Elanna goes back to her childhood home. She recalls nothing of that at all! So we're expected to believe that she has a perfect (and adult!) grasp of a language she has neither spoken nor heard in well over a decade since she was barely beyond being a toddler, yet she recalls literally nothing of her childhood home? It's simply not credible.

Her respite at the house is short, because they are quickly - and unaccountably - discovered by the palace guard. How the guards knew exactly where they were goes unexplained, but even that isn't as inexplicable as why Elanna, who was desperate to escape her initial captors with her friend, fails to take Victoire with her! She decides to find the "lay of the land" by herself, first. It's just a house! What's to know? They need to get out, get a couple of horses, and leave.

It's really that simple, yet this limp dishrag of a friend leaves Victoire behind, so that when the palace guard arrives, Victoire is abandoned upstairs. Elanna whines about getting her out, but instead of growing a pair and insisting on rescuing her best friend, which would have made for some great drama, and would have given Elanna some street cred, she's portrayed as spinelessly complying with Lord Almighty J-Han's dick-tates. Once again what we're shown is that she's his property now, not her own. Once again this is entirely the wrong message to send. I truly detested Elanna by this point in the story.

While fleeing for her life, Elanna observes, "I won't be made to use my magic - the magic that puts me in mortal danger" Excuse me? She's already in mortal danger! She's already been declared a witch and a murderer, and had that broadcast across the land. How could she be in any more danger? This is exactly what I mean about Elanna being a profoundly stupid woman, and the last thing I need to read is one more YA novel extolling the 'virtues' of stupidity, in a female main character.

The sad thing is that it never stops in this novel! At one point Elanna reveals that "I know how terrifying it is to walk into a room full of strangers." This is a woman who was raised in a position of nobility, taught to expect deference from everyone. Never before have we been given any indication that she suffers terrors at walking into a room, and now suddenly she knows? Again it makes no sense.

The root problem here is that this novel offers nothing new, which begs the question as to why it was even written! The romance is cliché, the bullying is cliché, the main character is a walking, YA female lead, cliché. At one point very early in the novel, shortly after the studly J-Han arrives to take Elanna into his possession, I read this: "He swings me around, making the world spin, and then we go inside together, my cold hand tucked into his big warm one" so immediately the process of infantilization has begun right there, and this main character is now no more than a weak child in the hands of a trope, strong, manly man. This is one of the biggest problems with YA - the girl becomes a toy for the boy, a plaything, a piece of property, to do with as he wishes, and the girl goes right along with it. Elanna is one of the most stupid, vacuous, compliantly empty characters I've ever encountered. The more I read about her the less I wanted to read about her.

So when did I quite reading exactly? It was right on the cusp of thirty percent in, when I read of a character's eyes that they were "flecked with gold." I cannot even number the times I've read this exact phrase in a YA novel. What the obsession is with gold-flecks in a character's eyes completely escape me, but it's been done ten trillion times if it's been done once, and if I'd read this any earlier, I probably would have quit right then. Admittedly, the phrase is usually employed to describe the male love interest of the female MC, and in this case it wasn't, but does that make it okay to copy? No! That description needs to be summarily banned from YA literature.

It should be needless to say at this point, but I will clarify it anyway: I cannot recommend this story, because it's really just a clone of far too many others that I have also been unable to recommend for the same reasons. I don't care if she gets better as the trilogy goes along. I really don't, because for me she's already a failure, and if it takes her three books to grow a pair, then that's two books too long. The problem with trilogies is that the first book typically only ever is a prologue, and I don't read prologues. Novels like this one have been steadily nudging me to the point where I'm ready to forsake reading YA stories altogether, which would be sad, because once in a while there's a real gem to be found among the base rock.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr


Rating: WARTY!

This audio book was a full-cast production, although it's more aptly described as a full body-cast production since if I'd bought it, I would have felt stiffed. It's based on the novel which itself is rooted in a true story. The true story which occurred in 1914, was not done justice at all, which is a sad thing to say about a novel set in a prison!

None of this made me feel this was worth listening to. At times it was positively obnoxious, and the musical interludes rather spoiled it, than added to it for me. This is a problem for me - when they put music into audio books. I can see, in this case, some motivation for it, but the author's original novel - unless it came issued with a CD or something! - had no music in it, so this goes beyond whatever the author had imagined - assuming she didn't originally imagine it being produced in this form when she wrote it.

Far too many audiobooks have music included and it ruins it for me, particularly when the book isn't about music at all, and therefore the music is completely random and totally inappropriate since it has, I'm guessing, little or nothing to do with any authorial input. This is why I never want to go with Big Publishing&Trade, because you lose all rights to your work even as, legally speaking, they remain with you. You don't get to say who publishes the audio book, or whether or not it has music and what that music is like. You don't get to choose the cover, which is why this book has a cover which is totally inappropriate to the content, making it look like the novel was about a risqué fifties jazz singer! That's not for me; I'd rather sell none than sell out.

Sooo, onto the story! Libby Dodge is 16, and in Sherborn women's prison for reasons I never did find out since I DNF'd this. Maybe we never did learn, or maybe I just missed it. Sherbourn was a real prison and they did put on a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Other than that, the work is fiction, although one or two real names are used for the people involved. The novel tells of the arrival of Mrs. Wilkinson, the new cleric on site, who starts in with this progressive treatment of prisoners, much to the chagrin of the warden. In real life, this warden later did become more benign and progressive in her own outlook.

There is a truly uplifting story (the real one) to which this book is an insult. I can't define it any better than that. It just never resonated - never clicked - with me and I couldn't get into it. I didn't like it, so I can't recommend it. The singing was obnoxious at times, so this was one issue.

Some of the characterizations were so amateur and pathetic that they really distracted from the book itself. I think a story about the warden would have made for a better read, but it's not what we got, and what we did get wasn't good enough. It seemed to be a problem with allowing other people to take charge of your creation and run with it. Instead of running, they fell flat on their faces in their shabby shorts, and not only because they had such poor material in which to run in the first place.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doctor Who Dark Horizons by Jenny T Colgan


Rating: WARTY!

Doctor Who is always a visual medium for me, and though I've tried other media: graphic novels, ebooks, print books, they're never as good or as satisfying as really good TV ep. This print book was always bordering on failing, but because I'm such a fan of Doctor Who I kept-on plugging away at it, hoping against hope that it would eventually shine, right until the middle of page 192, which was 62% of the way through it. It was there that I read this: "It turned their oceans from teeming with life to devastated in point four of a parsec."

Had anyone else said it, it might have been okay, but this was The Doctor speaking, and there is no way in the Matrix a Timelord would ever make such a grotesque mistake. The 'sec' in parsec is not one sixtieth of a minute, i.e a measure of time, but an arcsecond, i.e. 1/3600 of a degree - in other words, a measure of angle and thereby, distance. Don't get me started on the morons who try to retcon this same blunder in the original Star Wars movie, which was doubled-down on in the ridiculous remake called The Force Awakens.

So I quit reading this dumb-ass book right there and I refuse to recommend it. I also think I'm done reading Doctor Who adventures. As for the plot? What is it with Doctor Who and their obsession with Vikings and Romans? The show was originally, being BBC, intended to have an educational component whereby some history could be taught, but this was soon abandoned and for the good; however, this obsession with sending the Doctor back to the tired old standards needs to end.

If you must go back to Earth's past, then can we not find something new for the Doctor to visit? And can we not find some primitive people who are terrified of the Doctor and his machine instead of jovially accepting it and even learning how to operate it? This book, frankly, sucked. it was poorly written, made out that the Vikings had no word for the color blue since they never saw it. I guess they never looked at the sky? Never looked at a Hepatica flower or a Blueweed flower, both of which are native to Scandinavia?! These kinds of mistakes are pathetic and amateur, and inexcusable, and Jenny Colgan is off my list of authors I'm ever going to consider reading again.<\p>

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Time in Between by María Dueñas


Rating: WARTY!

This was a rather long and long-winded audiobook, set prior to and during World War Two. Zilah Mondoza's too youthful and rather pedantic reading certainly did not help matters. It was written by a Spanish author, and translated into English so I realize I'm getting this second-hand - even third-hand given that I'm listening to a Spanish language novel, translated into English, and then read by a Spanish speaker in English! LOL! In parts it was too tedious and I found myself wondering if the tedious parts were actually more interesting in the original Spanish, but I somehow doubted it!

The author can be way too wordy in her descriptions, going on too long and into far too much detail for some things, while completely glossing over others. I saw no method to this madness. It had enough quite interesting parts to keep me going to begin with, but even this soon felt like it was nowhere near enough. After a third of it, I gave up because I saw no sign of improvement. Even though I would have liked to have read the story which intrigued me, but it was way too flowery and too verbose for me to maintain interest.

This is one reason I tend to steer clear of really long audiobooks. For me this format is experimental - I will listen to something in audio that I probably would not touch were it in print or electronic form, so I don't want to get invested and then find out a quarter the way in that it's not to my taste. Shorter books tend to get to the point faster, so it's easier to see if it's going to appeal to me, whereas with a longer audiobook, a quarter the way through can be the full length of a shorter book! In print, this particular novel would be some 600 pages long, which is twice as long as I normally feel happy with. It probably could have been 200 pages shorter had the author not been quite so prolix.

The main character is Sira Quiroga. She grows up learning to sew alongside her mother and other women, as such women traditionally did back then. Sira is good at it, which comes in useful later. Immediately before the Spanish Civil War, she becomes engaged to a man named Ignacio who has a secure job as a civil servant. Secure, that is, until the war begins, no doubt. When she meets the more dashing Ramiro Arribas, she foolishly ditches Ignacio. This made me dislike her, but she pays the price for this inconstancy.

She and Arribas move to Spanish Morocco. Why wasn't exactly clear to me: perhaps they left simply to avoid the civil war, but why go to Morocco? Who knows? Her beau is a con-man, who robs her of her entire dowry, which her estranged father had unexpectedly bestowed upon her not long before.

Sira is left with a debt of 3,000 pesetas for hotel accommodations, and is arrested, but a kindly police officer sets her up with cheap lodgings so she can pay back what she owes. She has a year to do this, but is struggling to make ends meet by taking in a few sewing jobs. Her landlady, with the exotic name of Candelaria (it means Candlemas), has in the meantime discovered a cache of guns left by a previous tenant who never returned to retrieve them. Her plan is to turn the cache into cash; then she and Sira will go fifty-fifty in a dressmaking shop, Candelaria fronting the money and Sira doing the work.

One big problem came in the telling of her night-time journey to deliver the guns. That hsould have been exciting, right? it wasn't! It was boringly full of extraneous detail. It's not that the story overall was uninteresting, it's just that the interesting parts were so diluted with over-done prose, that it took far too long for anything to happen. This gun delivery should be a fraught and exciting event, but it's made to sound mundane and monontonous because the author so long to tell it. There are many other such instances - situations not quite as potentially dangerous as this one was, but this only means the descriptive prose is that much less acceptable elsehwere.

After a third of the book I gave up on it and I cannot recommend this.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay by Emily Janice Card, the problem with this 'Da Vinci Code' wannabe audiobook was that it was, once again, first person, which made for a tedious listen, since it's all about the main character all the time - hey look at me! Hey, see what I'm doing now! Hey check out my obsession with cute guys! With first person voice you are trapped inside this character and nothing at all can happen in your story unless she's present to witness it. Or unless we get an even more tedious info-dump from someone else about what happened when our narrator wasn't present. Frankly I would have preferred it if this story had not had her present at all.

The problem with doing this is that if you're going to write a mystery or a thriller about some ancient cipher, then you really need to focus on that and stop taking frequent detours through this girl's obsession with guys and endless whining about her broken family. It sucked and that's why I ditched this novel. It was a tedious story to have to wade through, even when all I was doing was listening. The "Lumen Dei" society was straight out of Dan Brown, and just as dumb. This book could have been half the size and told the same story. Pages went by with nothing of interest taking place. Where was the editor?! This just goes to prove that going the Big Publishing™ route doesn't guarantee you a readable book.

The Voynich manuscript is a real document dating to the early fifteenth century. It's a 240-some page volume written in a code which no-one has been able to decipher. This suggests, of course, that it's really a hoax, like the Turin Shroud, but it's a document ripe for having fiction worked around it.

In this fiction, the main character is drafted in to help translate Latin letters written by a young woman who is connected, somehow, with the manuscript. The fact that it was highly unlikely many young women would be able to even speak Latin, much less write it back then doesn't get in the way of the story. I can readily accept that there were special and talented women back then as there are in any age, but in this case you really need to make me feel there's a reason why this particular juvenile was so exceptional, and this story did not. Having said that, I did DNF it, so maybe this was addressed later and I missed it.

So the translation begins, but at one point the main character whose name I've blessedly forgotten, purloins one of the letters which is particularly intriguing to her. That same night, her professor is found unconscious, the safe open, and all of the papers they were working on stolen! How convenient. There's no explanation as to why the villains - who had easy access to the documents - did not steal them earlier.

Obviously the one the MC stole herself is the key to everything, but rather than ponder that, or anything else, she takes us away from the intrigue to once again focus on the boys in her life. La-di-dah, fiddle-di-dee. Her voice was so boring and off-track that I could not bring myself to pursue this story any further. I can't recommend this, based on the part I could stand to listen to.


The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a steampunk wannabe with far more punk than steam. It was read fairly decently by Katie MacNichol, but this is another audiobook experiment of mine that failed. I made it about a third the way through it, but when it became clear there was a tediously trope triangle forming. The main character, Aoife (it's pronounced Efa which sounds too much like heifer which didn't help in this context) is a girl linked to two guys: her faithful friend Cal and bad boy Dean. I felt so nauseated that I could not continue. The embarrassing lack of imagination exhibited by YA authors in creating relationships is truly stunning. It's the only real viral threat in this novel!

Almost worse than that, this is book one of a series. There's nothing on the cover to indicate that. Personally I think there should be a large warning on the front - like on cigarette packs. This one looked like a stand-alone, and this is irritating. If I'd known it was a series I would more than likely have skipped it. As it was, I wasted time listening to this when I could have been listening to other things!

Nor was it steampunk. It was like the author couldn't decide what the hell she wanted to write and threw everything in. It could as easily have been set in regular Victorian age and been exactly the same story, so the steampunk contributed nothing at all. I felt like it was added in a rather desperate attempt to attract more readers. But there is very little steampunk here.

I've read some good steampunk books, but in the end they all fail if examined too closely because their world doesn't work. Clockwork can only continue for so long without being rewound. Who is going around doing all the winding? LOL! No one ever addresses this. In my experience most steampunk writers are enamored of the genre but have no idea how to write a compelling or engaging story in it. This is why we do not actually live in a steampunk world, because steam and clockwork shrunk into the shadows thrown by the brilliant light of electricity.

In the unintentional humor department, more than once, the author wrote "Cal sighed" evidently in ignorance of the fact that there's an educational institution, the California Institute of Science, which is routinely referred to as Cal-Sci. This is very likely just me, but this made me laugh out loud every time I heard it, given that this was supposed to be a novel about Aoife and her dedication to science.

This novel is set in a city, unimaginatively named Lovecraft, where we have your usual trope dystopian ridiculous societal rules that would never have arisen naturally. There are people named Proctors who are in charge and who are absurdly and inexplicably draconian in their rule. They use clockwork ravens to spy on people, which to me was so laughable, I could never take it seriously. I know how an electric eye works. How does a clockwork one work? How does a steam one work? How do the ravens navigate and find their way back to their owners?

Clearly the author realized that steampunk wasn't going to cut it by itself, since we also have witchcraft and sorcery, and as well, there is a virus loose named necrovirus, which people believe is responsible for a pandemic of insanity which inexplicably and nonsensically attacks people at age sixteen and turns them into some sort of a flesh-eating animal. There is evidently neither police force nor military in Lovecraft to fight off these beasts, hwih makes zero sense. Aoife, of course comes from a family with a history of insanity and she is, of course about to turn sixteen. Yawn.

There is nothing about the age of sixteen which makes any significant changes in a person's body - not like puberty makes changes, for example, and puberty isn't tied to a specific birthday. This made the virus a joke to me, too. Even if I offer my immediate conviction: that this 'virus' didn't actually exist and that this was witchcraft at play here, sending a message to people to get them to rebel against the Proctors (but failing for some reason), it still didn't explain why sixteen was the chosen age. My guess was that Aoife would be the first to understand this message, but it's only a guess, and I really didn't care enough about her or anyone else in this novel to bother reading on to find out. I can't recommend this based on what I listened to.


Diary of a Dancing Drama Queen by Louise Lintvelt


Rating: WARTY!

I've had mixed success with books by this author, but until this one the balance was slightly favoring the positive. This one brings down the batting average to a .500 I think.

This was a short novel aimed, it would seem, at middle grade readers (or even younger, based on the writing) but despite the youthful voice, it was written with a very adult tone and referenced a lot of things in which children in that age range probably have little or no interest at all even assuming they had knowledge of it.

The title indicates that dancing is going to be involved, and the main character is an extremely reluctant dancer - in that she has a really poor self-image and has no interest in disporting herself in such a manner, yet she mentions the TV show Dancing with the Stars as though she's really familiar with it, which begs the question: why would a kid who hates dancing be watching such a show in the first place? This was one of several things in this story which made little sense.

Clearly this book is heavily influenced by the author's own experiences either directly or vicariously, and it really doesn't work because of the age difference. The first problem is the constant whining. This kid is negative about everything, and she's especially down on herself. It really makes for a sorry story that's not at all a pleasure to read.

It would also help if the author knew what she was talking about. She mentions a 1973 Volkswagen bug car which belongs to the kid's mom, and says, "My dad says he spends more time fixing the thing than she does driving it. I can confirm this - I can think of more than one time when we got stuck on the side of the road with the hood in the air and steam hissing from the engine," but the Volkswagen was an air-cooled vehicle so there would be no steam hissing from anywhere - or if there was, then you have some serious issues with your vehicle!

Naturally a kid would not know this, and any kid reading this would likely not notice this, so I guess it’s a lot easier to get it wrong than to get it right unless you actually care about your writing. For me it was sloppy. It would have been just as easy to have mentioned a different vehicle, but again there's this anachronistic "hippie" vibe running through this story which doesn't sit well, because it reminds us once again we’re reading a story that wasn't written by the girl who claims to be telling it. Which twelve-year-old would say, "She has straight brown hair, cut into a perfect bob" or who would know the name of Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter? If there had been some prior suggestion that the kid watched the Marvel movies, then I could see her knowing who Paltrow is, but there wasn't, and I know Paltrow has made many other movies, but none of those seem like anything this kid would have seen.

On top of this there's the sexism in having the mom be the one with the cute car, yet unable to fix it, and the dad being the one with the sensible vehicle, and having to come to the rescue of the helpless maiden in distress. I had hoped we might have moved beyond this by now, but evidently this author has not. I quit this at less than halfway through even though it was only seventy-some pages because it simply wasn't appropriate, and it wasn't an entertaining read. I can’t recommend it, not for any age group.


The First Taste is Free Pixie Chicks - Tales of a Lesbian Vampire by Zephyr Indigo


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with The Pixie Chicks by Regan Black, or with the Pixie Chicks' Writers Group, this story was so whimsical (and very short, but it's free - as an introductory overture) that I was lured into reading it and in the end, it was not a bad temptation at all. I'd be interested in reading more, but the story is an episodic one, and there are ten episodes, which means you'll end up paying nine dollars for the whole book. Is it worth that?

Only you can answer that question, but consider that there is no page count offered for these 'episodes', only a file size, which is a cautionary omission! This one (excellently titled 'The First Taste is Free!) is 174K. The next one is only 211K so that means it's hardly longer than the free book - maybe 25 - 30 pages max, depending on font size. So all ten can't me more than two hundred to two-fifty or so pages. For nine dollars it had better be good for as slim a volume as that would be.

Mega-vendors like Amazon have forced authors into this world though, so it's what we as both writers and consumers have to deal with. Will it work? Does it pay? I guess we'll find out! At least with this method, the author gives you the option of buying bite-sized pieces and you can quit any time, so you don't find you've laid out the full price for a novel that you can't stand to read past page twenty! Frankly, I'm wondering if I should try that with one of my novels. I had this weird idea for a humorous story just a couple of days ago, and I'm wondering if it might be worth experimenting with this technique: write it as a short set of episodes for ninety-nine cents each. It's worth a try, but I would never run it to ten volumes of twenty pages each, so you can relax on that score!

I'm not familiar with the author at all, but I seriously doubt that Zephyr Indigo is a real name. I also have my doubts that the author is even female. It's a sound marketing ploy to have a female front for this kind of story, but I feel like it's probably a guy; however, I do not know, so I could be completely wrong on both scores. I often am!

That said, and though I was skeptical about this story, it did win me over, so there is something there. You;'re quite free to disagree of course, but for me, I thought it was pretty darned good for this genre. The story was fresh and different, and though the sex is rather perfunctory, which may displease many female readers, it really did feel like it counted as erotica. It's about a lesbian vampire. Much of what is termed erotica these days is nothing more than smut, but this wasn't like that. I know it sounds cheesy, but the erotic bits are decently if somewhat clinically done and the story that links them is actually an interesting one.

The vampire is sick with herself and looking for a cure or for the vampire hunters to find her and finish her, but she meets this pixie one night, alone in the forest, which is a dangerous place to be when vampires are loose. The vamp of course get the hots for her, but the pixie, who goes by the amusing name of mint (but who may as well have been called catnip) will only give in to her desires if the vampire meets with Ariel, the pixie goddess. Ariel has a mission for the vampire - to work with the pixies in finding a cure for vampirism.

For me it made for an interesting story, even though it was only some twenty pages. I am sure this is what the author wants, to lure readers in, but you can't blame him or her for that in this ebook world we've created for ourselves, and this is a good lure. Maybe I'll be lured into reading more. We'll see.


Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry


Rating: WARTY!

This one was not really my cup of tea! I tried to listen to it through child's ears and see it through 1947 eyes, but it wasn't easy at all. It was only three disks, so I pushed on through to the other side as they say. Fortunately it was not a Newbery winner, just a runner-up, otherwise I would have flatly refused to read it on that basis alone.

In a prologue which the author wisely includes in chapter one, otherwise I would never have read it, a Spanish galleon wrecks on the shoals of Assateague Island (speaking personally, I'd change that name!) off the coast of Virginia, the horses magically escape and swim ashore, where they adapt and take to life there. This goes to prove how thoroughly worthless and antiquated prologues are, since the same story is perfectly adequately (and with more drama) conveyed in a few sentences in a story told by Paul Beebe, a youngster who is on the island (centuries later) with his sister Maureen.

They're interested in a mare named Phantom, which is a legendary horse they set their sights on owning. For me, this was a big problem with this book. I know sensibilities have changed since 1947, but the avarice displayed in this story is scary - that people can rape and pillage nature without a second thought, taking whatever they want with no consideration for others, or for the consequences of what they're doing - consequences for which we're now paying in spades.

The kids are on the island with their grandfather, who is the pilot of a boat which brought over some guy who is doing some sort of survey on the island. His grandchildren are the aforementioned Maureen and Paul. I thought the grandfather was way-the-hell over the top. He sounds more like a pirate than ever he does a grandfather, and he has all the sensibilities of one, to boot. This is where the two kids set their sights on owning the Phantom, like this wild horse merits ownership and confinement.

The grandfather irritated me to no end. I know there probably are people who speak like him, yet in several years in Virginia I never met one. But that wasn't his worst fault. He talks of people tracing their ancestry back to Jamestown, like they were the first to inhabit these shores, but he has a better idea. No, it's not American Indians - it's the horses!

He says those were the first to live here, and in this he insultingly downgrades American Indians to a lower status than horses. I found the insensitivity displayed here, appalling. Besides, by the time the Spanish were coming here with horses, other Europeans were already resident, so this spiel from gramps is ill-advised whichever way you look at it. He says the first person to tame the horses was a white person, ignoring centuries of relationships between the natives and horses.

It was this kind of thing which made me decide that I cannot rate this positively, regardless of the ending. And it is this kind of stupidity which is what makes me so despise the Neuteredbery Award. It needs to be renamed Get-a-Clue-Bery. I cannot recommend this story and I have no desire to read anything else by this author.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hatchet Women by Nick Sconce


Rating: WARTY!

If this was an attempt to make the insurance industry exciting or edgy, it failed. For me it failed as a novel because it was far too focused on the minutiae of the insurance industry practices and hiring and firing that it forgot to actually tell an engaging story or to bring to life interesting people. I made it 40% in, to the end of chapter twelve, and I am sorry but I could not face the prospect of reading another two-hundred and thirty pages of this stuff. I really couldn't.

The basic story is that four women (who we're told in the blurb are 'brazen', but of which I saw no evidence) are the terminators - they investigate malfeasance (such as an executive reinstating lapsed insurance policies for his family members when no premiums are being paid), pull together the evidence, and pursue the firing of the employee. Maybe this is how it's done in the insurance industry, I don't know, but for women who are, it's implied, coldly callous in their pursuit of justice for the company, this process seems remarkably gentle and prolonged. In the case I mentioned, it's plainly theft, and most corporations would simply fire the employee on the spot. It made little sense to me that there would be a team of people dedicated to doing this or that they would have a hearing over it. Maybe things are different in the executive suite. I can't speak to that.

Why these four women did this rather than someone in the individual corporate offices in the three states they covered went unexplained, and it made little sense to me. It made less sense that these women would be "hidden" in the 'event planning department' and forced to dye their hair blonde so they blended in. If this was supposed to be funny, it was lost on me. Once these women fired their first executive, everyone would know who they were, so their disguise would have been meaningless at that point. Talking of corporate malfeasance, why didn't even one of these women have a problem with being required to dye their hair? I know women are expected not only to earn 20% less, but also required to dress up more than ever men are. Why was nothing mentioned about that?

The story offered here is that of unexplained deaths, perhaps murders to avoid paying out insurance, which seems like a pretty thin plot if that's all there is to it. Why would a company do this especially since the "savings" from this are likely to be little or nothing. It made no sense, but I didn't get far enough to read much about that - only the overture to it, so I can't comment on how the story dealt with it. Based on what I read though, I can't recommend this. Forty percent in is way too far for the main story not to have begun. For me the novel was not at all engrossing, and I was given no good reason to care about any of these four women or what they were doing.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazingly-named novel, from an author I now intend to read more of, is about a teen-aged girl in a religious cult (not an evil one, just a misguided one as they all ultimately are). Starbird has grown up leading a rather sheltered life, but she gets the chance to go out into the world and this is her story.

All of the characters have bizarre names. Starbird's brother is called Douglas Fir. Apparently the cult went through eras of selecting names from particular inspirational sources, so the founding members are all named after planets in our solar system. The leader is called Earth, and the name is always capitalized, but he's disappeared. He went out on some sabbatical, and no one heard from him since.

Starbird ends-up working with a girl named Venus Lake (daughter of Venus Ocean) in a restaurant owned by the cult. Venus is not a founding member but since her mother, who was a founder, died in childbirth, they gave her name to her daughter. Yes, it's that kind of weird. It was really hard to get into for the first couple of pages, but then it started making sense and I really liked it, which is a good feeling form a new novel by an author I was not familiar with. It's the best part of a novel, right? Before you've become disappointed in it and ditch or, or worse, before you read it avidly and then are disappointed that it's over! LOL! The manic world of novel addicts.

That;s not to say it was perfect. I had a problem with, in the space of 6 pages in chapter 9, meeting two guys and two girls. In each case the guy is described in terms of his hair, while in each case the girl is described in terms of how pretty or attractive she is. Fortunately, this was the only instance of this I encountered, so I let it slide, but this business of typing females by how pretty they are has to stop. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm ready to start rating novels based solely on that, if it's indulged in to absurd lengths, regardless of how well-written or otherwise the novel is.

Women have other qualities and the people who should perhaps most realize this are female writers, yet so many of them sell-out their characters with this genderist bullshit that it's nauseating. As I said, the author went on to show admirably how these women had other qualities and she backed-off on the skin-deep garbage, so I let it slide this time.

I can understand it if a character, in the novel reduces a woman to her looks alone; this happens in real life, but these descriptions came directly from the author, not from one of the characters. In each case the woman is reduced to her looks and in doing this, the author is very much announcing that women who are not considered attractive need not apply, because when it comes to women, looks are all that matter. I don't subscribe to that and I wish that a lot fewer female authors did, particularly in the YA genre.

That caveat aside, and because it was so limited in this novel, I do consider this a worthy read.


The Cute Girl network by Greg Means, MK Reed, Joe Flood


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three graphic novels I'll be reviewing this weekend. This one ca,me form my excellent local library and I think it's my favorite of the three. The story is of Jane and Jack. It's illustrated with black and white line drawings by Flood. I was a little disappointed that writers Means and Reed didn't go the whole hog and name her Jill, since she introduces herself with a tumble.
It's not down a hill, but nothing is perfect, right?

Skateboarder Jane has been in town for about a month when she wipes out in front of Jack's soup cart. He supplies a free ice tea (in a bottle!) for her to soothe her injured coccyx. As the two interact more, they end up on a date and start liking each other, even though she's feisty as all hell and he is highly-prone to complete disasters.

Two of Jane's vampire romance-obsessed roommates freak-out when they learn she's dating Jack. Actually the vampire romance thing is pretty much a story all in itself, and I appreciated that; however, suddenly Jane finds herself introduced to the Cute Girls Network (not to be confused with the cukegirls network) - a loose alliance of women who dish out the skinny on guys you should avoid like the plague. Jane hears several embarrassingly gauche stories of Jack's history of bad conduct, but despite these dire warnings, she decides to stay the course.

The story is cutely illustrated and amusingly written, and it tells a fascinating and unusual story. I really liked the character Jane. She was definitely my kind of fictional girl. Jack was hilarious, as were the various roommates of both main characters. This was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel did not work for me. It had some real potential, but it felt far too dissipated - like it was trying to drive in so many different directions at once that it went nowhere - and it took its sweet time doing it, too! I had to give up reading it about eighty percent in because it had become such a chore to read. It was far too dismal and never even seemed like it was interested in going anywhere. In the end I really didn't care what had happened to the mother and wife of this family. I really didn't.

The novel starts at almost a year from the point where "Billie" Flanagan went hiking and was never seen again - unless you count one lone hiking boot as a sighting. Her daughter, Olive and her husband, Jonathan, are barely holding it together. Olive starts seeing visions of her mother and after the first of these is so convinced her mom is right there, that she runs into a wall trying to get to her, and all but knocks herself out. I started pretty quickly hoping she would do it again and end up in a coma so I didn't have to deal with her any more.

Jonathan was no better. He never saw his daughter when mom was alive because he worked all hours. This begs the question as to who was raising Olive since mom was evidently always gone as well. Once mom was gone for good, Jonathan quit his job to spend time with Olive, but then he had no money, so they were living hand to mouth.

He got an advance to write a memoir of Billie, but we were never given a single reason why anyone would want to read it or why any publishing company would be remotely interested in a memoir about a woman who was very effectively a non-entity. The advance has been spent, and there's no prospect of more until the memoir is finished, but he's never depicted as actually working on it. In short, he's a truly lousy dad.

The story chapters are interspersed with "excerpts" from this memoir, but I have zero interest in story-halting flashbacks, because well, they halt the story, so I read none of the excerpts. I can't say I ever felt like I needed to go back and read them, which begs the obvious question as to why they were even there in the first place.

Olive's visions were so unrevealing of anything of value that the point of them was a mystery to me. They were all so vague and useless that they became simply annoying in short order. Any sympathy I had for her over her lousy parents was quickly smothered by her endless needy self-importance and habit of constantly and tediously regurgitating her situation for everyone and anyone who would listen.

There's talk that she might have a brain lesion which could explain the visions; then there's talk that maybe that's not the case; then there's talk that the pills she's given are stopping the visions, so maybe they were caused by the lesion, but one of these visions came before she hit her head. Seriously? Which is it? It was never explained and I couldn't stand to keep reading this stuff in the hope that maybe some straight-talk would come out of this story in the last twenty percent when there's been zero evidence of it in the first eighty!

I honestly did not care about any of these people at all, and I really could not have cared less about what had happened to Billie. The blurb (and I know this isn't on the writer, but the publisher) says of Billie that she's "a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom" and I have to ask yet again, what the fuck her 'beauty' has to do with anything? Would it have been somehow less of a tragedy had she been plain or even ugly? Would this family's loss have been easier? "Yeah, mom's vanished without a trace, but she was an ugly bitch, so who cares? Let's move on!" No, I don't think so.

Seriously, I am so tired of women being reduced to 'a pretty skin', like they haven't a damned thing to offer other than their beauty or lack of it. That sexist blurb writer should be fired for that blurb. If the novel had been about a man who disappeared, would the blurb have harped on how handsome he was? No! You're damned right it wouldn't. 2017 and we're still mired in this swamp: that a woman better equal beauty or she equals nothing.

I left this observation until last because it has nothing to do with my judgment of this novel. Normally, I pay little attention to the covers because they have nothing to do with the writer, unless the writer self-publishes. It's what's between those covers which interests me, yet you can't ignore the blurb because this is our lead-in to whether a particular novel might be of interest.

That said, I also have to bring the writer to book on this same score, because she also reduces women - particularly Billie - to skin-depth on far too many occasions:

  • "Billie was beautiful..."
  • "...Billie's mother would have been beautiful too..."
  • ...her mom was the most beautiful, most creative, the most interesting..." - note how beauty is listed first since it's quite evidently the most important thing about her!
  • "...being beautiful and strong..." - being a beautiful woman is more important than being a strong woman!
  • "...being married to a beautiful woman is that other people are going to notice that she is beautiful..."
  • "And while Billie was more beautiful..."
  • "You're a beautiful woman."
  • "...His beautiful wife.."
  • "...Olive's beautiful mother..."
  • "Billie, tanned, glowing, and beautiful..."
  • "This beautiful girl from nowhere..."
So maybe the blurb writer took their cue from the interior after all? Not that they shouldn't have known better. What's just as bad though, is that Olive is compared with this ridiculous standard, and negatively so: "...she's not beautiful, like her mother...", and "She is not conventionally beautiful...." This is sick. I'm sorry, but it is.

If the novel had been about runway models or women competing for a role in a movie or a TV show, then I could see how beauty would play into it. It would still be wrong, but it's the way Hollywood is; however, that doesn't mean that writers have to buy into it so readily. It's diseased writing to keep harping on this for page after page. It's a form of abuse. People who do this have no idea how much damage they do to women the world over by repeating this insane mantra that all that's important is looks, and if you ain't got 'em you ain't got nothin' worth having. Bullshit.

This novel ought really to be condemned on that alone, but sick as this world is, negatively reviewing a book for that would fall on deaf ears. As it was, this novel condemned itself in too many other ways.


James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second of three graphic novels I'm reviewing this weekend, and I started out thinking I wasn't going to like this, but it won me over as I read on! It's not your movie James Bond. Luca Casalanguida's illustrations bear no relation to any Bond from the silver screen. This Bond harks back much more to the traditional Ian Fleming Bond (there's even a cover shown towards the back which pays homage to the paperback Bond novels of the fifties and early sixties). It's not exactly Ian Fleming's conception of the character (who Fleming believed should look like a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and himself!), but it admirably fits the bill. That said, it's a very modern story in a modern world, so while it felt like a clean break from the movies in some regards, Andy Diggle tells a story worthy of any screenplay.

There's everything here you've come to expect from Bond: a big plot, continual action, a terrorist on the loose with a cool code-name, subterfuge, assassination attempts, double-cross, daring Bond exploits, and the inevitable cool Bond girl. Bond begins the story in the doghouse. M, in this story not a woman but an Anglo-African, kicks him out to an arms convention in Dubai where he meets Lord Hunt - Britain's biggest arms dealer, and his sophisticated and charming daughter, Victoria, who knows her way around weapons of any calibre!

Unfortunately, Lord Hunt is assassinated, and Bond and the young Lady Hunt are thrown together in pursuit of the villains, so once again, Bond is back in business looking for super villain Kraken, who seems to be targeting the very thing the Hunt weapons manufacturing concern is charged with renewing: Britain's aging nuclear deterrent. Bond is of course led astray, but in the end gets back on track, and saves the day.

Note that this Bond is a violent one, and the artist shows no fear of illustrating that violence. This might have been rather shocking before Bond was rebooted with Daniel Craig stepping into the role and making it more gritty and brutal, but still, there's rather more gore and red ink here than you see in the movies, so be warned of that. Overall, I really liked it, and I recommend this as a worthy read.


Betty Boop by Roger Langridge, Gisèle Lagacé


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of three reviews I'll be doing this weekend of graphic novels; it's from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

I'm not sure why comic book writers go to such lengths to put a completely different image on the cover to the ones you routinely find inside. It smacks of bait & switch. In this case, I didn't expect anything other than standard imagery inside, so the cover was pretty well-received and not resented for misrepresenting! Howard Chaykin's work here, colored by Jesus Aburto, is really was quite stunning, worthy of your screen wallpaper if not framing and hanging on a wall! I felt it a pity though, that someone isn't willing to buck tradition and do a whole comic like that, but it seems Betty is going to continue to be confined to the 1930's which was her era (and she owned it!).

Betty Boop is modeled (both in face and voice) on singer Helen Kane who was best known for "I Wanna Be Loved by You," and who sued Betty Boop's creators, but they cited the "boop-boop-a-doop" as originating with Esther Jones, and Kane eventually lost the lawsuit. I think she needed a better lawyer!

I never was a big fan of Betty Boop (although I love the concept) and I've enjoyed some of the whacked-out animated cartoons which were really off the wall, especially for the era they were created in. In this series, which combines several comics, the arc is all about villain Lizard Lips. I wish there had been more variety but it was all LL all the time. Each story is self-contained, and LL plagues Betty in every adventure, obsessed with getting his hands on her house, for no reason that was apparent to me!

Betty always wins of course, and there's a lot of celebratory singing, which obviously doesn't work as well in print as it did in animation. Betty isn't as much of a sex symbol here, either - she plays more to cute than to Woot! This isn't a bad thing, but it did lend her a slightly neutered air. Since Betty began life as a sex symbol it would have been nice to see her let off the leash a little more in a comic book.

That said, she was extremely cute and I enjoyed the dialog, the references back to her original life and friends, and the quality of the artwork by the amazingly-named Gisèle Lagacé. She really captured the essence of the original, and is definitely an artist to keep an eye out for. So overall, this was a fun book, told good stories, and was very enjoyable. Despite the one or two relatively trivial regrets mentioned, I think it's a winner, especially if you're a big fan already.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Perennials by Mandy Berman


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel didn't work for me. The blurb did, which is to say that it did its job and lured me in, but it was, as usual, misleading. If I'd known Kirkus had praised it, I would have definitely skipped it, because Kirkus pretty much praises everything, which means their reviews are completely worthless, but I didn't and the blurb sounded good, so I bought into it. The story is presented as a summer camp story, but in fact this particular story could have been set in a variety of other venues and still been essentially the same story, so I never saw the advantage of the camp setting except maybe as a nostalgia lure for readers. There really was nothing about the camp which was essential to the story being told, and the camp suffered by being merely one more "character" which became lost in the mass of people ambling among the pages.

This is also presented as a story of two people meeting as young adults after knowing each other as children. There's a giant jump from their early teens when they are at camp, to their life after their college freshman year, but it's misleading, because the two have never been apart in any meaningful sense, so there really was no drama to it, and no sense of anything changing or fulminating. I think it would have made for a better story to have followed them through their first year in college. Largely the same kind of events could have transpired in such a story, and it would have felt more organic and more real.

Even as it was, the story would have been a more entertaining if we could have focused on the relationship between these two girls, but they were quickly pushed very much into the background by the plethora of other characters who were quickly ushered in and out. Instead of a coherent story we got a potpourri of people, and this messy patchwork never let the reader get to know a single one of them properly. It was like looking at snapshots in a photo album at an orphanage. You know there's a bunch of stories there worth the telling, but you can't grasp any one of them from the narrow, static glimpses you get into these lives. The collage overwhelms the power of the story, which gets lost: all the actors became minor characters, and there are so many of them that it's impossible to actually care about anyone.

So the story is that Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to meet every summer at Camp Marigold. That's the extended prologue, although it isn't called a prologue. For me it could have been dispensed with altogether. The main story begins when both girls come back to Marigold, but this time as counselors. We're told that their relationship is more complicated, but I saw no evidence of this. The bottom line is that Rachel is a jerk and Fiona is a whiner. For these "sins", both are punished towards the end of the story, but the 'punishment' didn't match the 'crime', so that was a fail for me, and neither of these people was entertaining or interesting, or had anything new or worthwhile to offer. Yes, there are two tragic events. I guess the blurb writer doesn't count drunken rape as tragic. I'd have to disagree on that one. Either that or the blurb-writer never actually read the story before describing it to us.

I never went to summer camp, which is why I have found several such stories to be interesting, but this one was not, and at least one aspect of it struck me as highly improbable. The camp Fiona and Rachel attend is not that spectacular. It's supposed to cater to rich kids, but it's a rather shabby and resource-lacking little concern, so this made very little sense to me. It also lacked credibility in that for reasons unexplained, the camp seemed to be a huge magnet for international camp counselors! I found that hard to believe. Like I said, I've never attended a camps, so maybe camps really are like this. I have no problem accepting that foreign counselors might want to come to US camps. What I found beyond credibility was that so many of them would want to come to this particular one!

So overall, not a worthy read for me. I can't recommend this one.


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill


Rating: WARTY!

Here's yet another in a long line of experimental audiobooks - experimental for me that is since I tend to spread my wings (such as they are) more with audio than with other media, and once in a while it works and I find a gem, but more often, sorry to report, I'm disappointed. This falls into that latter category. It sounded good on paper (LOL), and started out quite strongly, but the middle third fell to pieces and I DNF'd it. Life's too short.

This one is set in Laos, refreshingly, yet it began by being annoying not because of the writing, but because the guy who reads it, with the appropriate name of Clive Chafer, ends every clause and every sentence by putting emphasis on the last word. It was really, really, really irritating and was the first and last nail in the coffin. The middle nails were all the author's fault, but I have to say that I can't for the life of me understand why any sane author would voluntarily give up control of their novel like this and allow some random person with a duff reading voice to have at it for the audio book.

You have to wonder how authors feel when they learn that their novel is going to be read by someone else. They have little control over this - I'm guessing - when they go with Big Publishing™ because it's really out of their hands. Of course, if you try and do it yourself, you get oddball noise in the background: traffic passing, someone coming in, your kids banging around the house, music from next door! LOL! You can't win!

But Chafer's voice chafed. Honestly. Listening to a metronome would actually have offered more variety and been more entertaining than this Chinese (or Laotian) voice torture. When he was doing the spoken word, he far less pedantic, but there he found a different way to foul out. Why the hell he thought it appropriate, when reading of people in Laos, to do some of them with a Scots accent or with a south-west England accent is a complete mystery to me, but he did. And his portrayal of the guy with Down's Syndrome was positively abusive. The audiobook should be rejected for that alone.

As for the story itself it has some great moments of humor. Some of the names were entertaining, intentionally or not. There was a Madame Ho and a Major Ly, for example, but the humor was too thin on the ground to make a difference. The novel was supposed to be about ghosts and missing army majors and psychics, and I cannot explain how an author can make such a story boring, but this one achieved it. It fell into a rut in the middle third, and it never looked like it was interested in getting out. It was tedious and I have much better things to do with my time.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown


Rating: WARTY!

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

'A hanging' ought to be the collective noun for witches. It would remind us of what has happened to so many women who were not even witches. This book could have set that right at least a little, but in the end it was a disappointment. The very title is an issue since it's in the form of "The 's Sister/Daughter/Wife." I admit that such titles are provocative, but when you get right down to it, all they really achieve is the reduction of a woman to a mere male appendage of some kind, and it's appallingly insulting when you think about it. I think this is the last novel with such a title that I shall read, no matter how interesting the blurb might make it.

I think there was a story to be told here about a fictional sister of a real historical person, but the telling of it in this way did not work for me. Others might draw different conclusions, and in the interests of full disclosure, let me confess here (you don't even need to torture me!) that I am not a fan of first person voice stories at all. They're decidedly unrealistic and I cannot for the life of me understand why authors, particularly female and particularly in the YA genre, are so addicted to them.

I think it awfully sad that female authors are implying, by so dedicatedly employing this method, that women have so little confidence and feel so unheard in novels that they have to make their stories "all about me" just to get anyone to pay them any attention. As an avid reader, I certainly don't believe that and yet I've encountered very few first person voice novels that were satisfying. First person is far too self-centered, and it typically makes me dislike the narrator because it’s all, "Hey focus on me! See what I'm doing now! It's time for some more about me! Lookit me! It’s all about Meeee!" and I honestly cannot can't stand it, with very few exceptions.

Once in a while an author can carry it, but here it did not work. In terms of realism, it’s highly unlikely that a young girl growing up in a large family of boys, even one as relatively well-off as this one was, would be well-enough educated to be able to write, and especially not a story like this (which is supposed to be her diary or journal, but which reads nothing like one).

Girls did not get much of an education if any, not even in the nobility, and the Hopkins family was hardly nobility. It was deemed that an education would be harmful to a girl's marriage prospects, so it was neglected (beyond the basic housekeeping, sewing, etc.). Because of this, Alice's literacy was hard to swallow. It was inauthentic. On top of this, her voice did not suggest the mid-seventeenth century at all. The mentality was far too modern, and no one has that kind of recollection of events down to detailed conversations, so it just felt wrong from the start, and kept throwing me out of suspension of disbelief.

There's another problem with this voice and the author illustrates this one handsomely for us here. When you trap yourself in first person, your character has to be there and everywhere - otherwise how can she tell us what’s happening? Almost the only alternative to this is the info dump, where she learns what’s going on by having someone tell her in a story-halting binge, or where she reads something which feels so fake, because the only purpose it serves is to clue us in to what she's missed.

The equally clunky alternative to this is to have the character end-up in a position to listen in on something she's not meant to hear. Typically this is far too convenient or contrived, and it feels fake and thoroughly unnatural. In this case, at a meeting of men, we get Alice dragged in there for no good reason, and it felt so obvious and so fake that it really kicked me out of suspension of disbelief. Again. These kinds of men certainly would not want a woman in on their meetings. They had no use for women whatsoever.

Did Matthew Hopkins have a sister? It’s unlikely. His father had six children, but we know the names only of the four eldest. The author argues that at least one of the other two could have been a girl, and uses the lack of mention as evidence: since girls were not counted for anything back then other than as housekeepers and baby mills (an argument which, of course, undermines her entire sister story!). But if the two youngest had died, then they also would have merited no mention even had they been boys. It's unlikely in a family of six that all of them survived infancy in that era. Mortality was appalling.

But fine, if you want to say one was a girl, then let's go with that and ask how she got her name. The name 'Alice' for the main character is chosen for a reason, and it would be a spoiler to reveal it, but it doesn’t work. The Hopkins boys were all named after apostles, the other three (older) brothers being called James, John, and Thomas. Where then would this family come up with a non-Biblical name like Alice? It stands out like a sore thumb, and for me wasn't worth the ending which is too cute by far to be taken seriously.

For a story which promises witchcraft and horror, this one kills the thrills by moving achingly slowly, with rambling reminiscences and flashbacks. These are not to my taste at all. For me, all a flashback does is bring the story to a screeching halt, and I never appreciate that, especially not when it's a reminder that a writer seems to be trying to hit plot points and a story outline, rather than relate a realistic and organic tale of a person's experiences (fictional as they are) as they happened.

Flashbacks have such an amateur feel to them that they ruin suspension of disbelief. No one in real life sits lost in pages flashback or reminiscence (unless they're mentally ill) - not for as long as characters all-too-often do in such stories. It's an amateur conceit really ruined the pace for me. I took to skipping all the flashbacks because they contributed nothing to the story and actually impeded it as far as I could see.

It was a third of the way through the story before we ever got to what Hopkins was doing! Up until that point it was all about Alice, and she was not an appealing character at all. She was tedious, and in very short order, I had lost all interest in her and in what she was thinking or doing. For some reason she became obsessed with a list of witch's names and we had to go through that list over and over again. I took to skipping those passages, too, because they were simply annoying and led nowhere. I had read some reviews that said the story picked up around the halfway point, but I didn't find this to be the case. For me, it continued to be lackluster the entire length of the novel.

Of course not a one of these women was a witch, neither in the pagan sense nor in the absurd evil caster-of-spells sense. They were simply tragic victims of Hopkins's religious fanaticism, and the worst thing about this novel is that we got nothing of that from this story. Just as with his sister, Matthew was completely bland and unmemorable. He's presented as a simple, flat character who offers nothing original or entertaining. He has no emotional depth.

He ought to be a firebrand and a dynamo, but he's a limp rag, and it made for a boring story. He was larded with far too dramatic a past and it completely overshadowed his present whilst contributing nothing materially to it, so instead of an emotional story about the horrible slaying of scores of innocent women, we got a bland family melodrama, and I found it insulting to the memory of those women who were slaughtered on the altar of religious psychosis.

Matthew Hopkins was a real person about whom we know very little, and would probably know next-to-nothing were it not for the eighteen months or so when he became Britain's most prolific serial killer, hiding his vindictive blood-lust beneath the guise of a Christian witch-finder as he acted on the clear Biblical injunction, which fortunately everyone outside of Africa ignores today - of not suffering a witch to live.

He terrorized East Anglia - that butt rump of a bulge on Britain's south eastern shore - running from village to village, and being paid by the local parishes to cleanse their territory of witches. The Bible has a lot to answer for, doesn’t it? It’s the most execrable terrorist manifesto ever written, and we could have had all of this in this novel: the empty message of a god's unconditional love contrasted with the brutal Biblical injunctions to kill, slaughter and eradicate, but we got none of that. For me that was the saddest aspect of all.

On top if this there were portions of the story which seemed to start up dramatically, like an avocado pit on a plant pot, only to die inexplicably without going anywhere. There was a suggestion of the supernatural quite early in the book which never went anywhere, as though the author forgot about it, or had second thoughts. Alice's pregnancy (a left-over from her deceased husband) was an obsession for much of the start of the book and then it fizzled out. At one point I was starting to suspect that Matthew had had Alice's husband killed. I admit that if this suspicion turned out to be true, then I missed the revelation because I was, I confess, skimming the last forty percent of the novel just to get it over with.

As I said, so little is known of Hopkins's life that you can make up pretty much any story you want about him and get away with it. The saddest thing about this novel was not a hanging of witches, which ought to have been front and center, but of a tragically wasted opportunity - one squandered on unimportant trivia in the life of a fictional women when there were so many very real women, all of them murdered by Hopkins, who are begging to have their story told, and yet were denied that opportunity by this author. I cannot recommend this at novel all.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Blowback by Valerie Plame, Sarah Lovett


Rating: WARTY!

I think this novel may have been misrepresented, because the smaller name on the cover did most of the writing, but that's just a hunch. Or maybe, given the novel's title, it's a hunchback? Valerie Plame's claim to fame, for shame is that she was framed by the lame Bush administration in revenge for her putting a kink in their lie that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Now she's turning to novel writing, but rather than trust her to do it on her own, Big Publishing&trade, in its usual inept fashion, paired her with established writer, Sarah Lovett, whom I've never heard of. I rather suspect that latter one did most of the writing, if not all, because the story looks like it was painted by numbers. There's not an ounce of originality, inventiveness, creativity or even life in it.

The main character has the same initials as Plame, and is in the same job. All that's missing to make it a truly wacky joke is a middle initial to make it VIP. The character is a flawed CIA officer (because you can't have one without some serious flaws, right - that's the writer's code. Well, they're more like guidelines really). True to form, the guy is square-jawed, but has a crooked tooth and a scar - not from his job with the CIA, but from childhood (like Indiana Jones), and is very boyish in appearance. Barf me a fricking cow. Seriously? I was completely turned off this novel at that point, and trying to read on a bit more didn't help.

The real problem with this (I'm sure there are many, but I DNF'd it) is that here we have an actual CIA operative who has been there and done that and has some impressive credentials, yet the story we get (supposedly) from her is exactly the same as every other story we've ever had about CIA operatives, with very few exceptions. In fact I reviewed one not all that long ago which had almost the exact same opening sequence as this one does: an assassination in Europe of a contact who was meeting a female operative?

My point is that if a legit CIA agent cannot write something fresh and original, then what is the point? What is the point if all she can give us is exactly the type of story we've been getting from non-CIA personnel for years? I don't see any point, and I'm not about to waste any of my time reading this when there are other more imaginative and more engrossing novels out there just begging to be read.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

This volume concludes the trilogy and is set a year after the previous one, when Gemma is about to come out to society. She's still at the Spence Academy, but finds she has lost her power to enter the realms at will. When she finally does get in she discovers the Pippa has been building a little queendom for herself and has changed significantly, now bordering on megalomaniacal evil. Pippa is unable to cross to the afterlife because she has become so embedded in the realms by this time.

Feeling like her life is slipping out of her control, Gemma decides she has no choice but to follow every clue and discover what is really going on here since her mother was so utterly useless in helping her. After rambling around London following rather tedious clues, Gemma enters the realms again and visits the Winterlands in hopes of finding the so-called Tree of All Souls. When they touch the tree they get visions, and Gemma's is of Eugenia Spence telling her about this mysterious girl in lavender she keeps seeing. Evidently, the girl has a dagger which is somehow a threat to the Winterlands.

Felicity and Ann are becoming increasingly frustrated with Gemma's refusal to allow them back into the realms, and they discover that they don't need her because there's an alternate way to get there. When Felicity encounters the very dangerous Pippa, the latter tries to talk her into eating the realm berries which will maker her visit to the realms permanent so she can always be with Pippa - who's true love was evidently Felicity all along.

In a big showdown at the end, Kartik sacrifices himself to save Gemma who then does what we all thought she'd done in volume two which was to give her power back to the realms, robbing herself of power and sealing the two worlds from each other. She then retreats to the Americas which is what all young girls do when they have no power, of course!

Some issues with this last volume, but overall, I recommend it as a fitting finale to the trilogy. It's a worthy read, despite a few problems here and there (mostly there).