Showing posts with label high-school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label high-school. Show all posts

Sunday, January 14, 2018

That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Rating: WORTHY!

This is ostensibly a high-school romance story, but it offered so much more than that. It begins during Shabnam Qureshi's last week of high-school and extends into her last summer before college starts. She is nominally a Muslim, but that speaks more to her heritage than her practice, because she really doesn't practice her faith. The story is more about cultural and religious clashes and about how foolish a first love can be.

Shabnam meets Jamie, a charming, romantic guy who easily knocks sheltered Shabnam off her feet. Because of her sheltered upbringing, she has very little experience of boys and is therefore easy prey for the much more worldly Jamie, who seems a bit 'off' right from the start. While Shabnam is falling in foolish teenage love with him, he's more in love with the idea of an exotic and potentially forbidden femme than ever he is with her for herself, and she is far too inexperienced to see this.

In a way, they have a lot in common: they are both very shallow in their own way, and they both purvey a big lie to the other. The difference is that Shabnam is potentially a much deeper person than ever Jamie could hope to be, and as the story progresses, we see this blossoming in her repeatedly. Shabnam knows she lies, Jamie is too selfishly in love with himself to see that he's a living embodiment of a lie.

On the topic of lies, too many YA novels betray their main female character by insisting that she be validated by a man. I detest novels like that. This was not such a novel. It was about girl power and female friendship and it was the better for it. It was also about culture, religion, and conflict between generations, and in some ways I felt it risked cheapening the very message it was trying to send: about the riots and slaughter in India during partition, by tacking those on to this story.

The Brits are often blamed for the problems they caused in India as they should be, but at least they treated all Indians with equal disdain; they didn't single-out any one ethnic group or religion for abuse, whereas during partition, every religion turned against every other religion, which is one reason why I detest religion. It's divisive by its very nature in its arrogant and unprovable assertion that 'we're the chosen ones and you're doomed to hell' or whatever. That said, the injection of the parts about partition were not overdone, so it didn't feel like a lecture, nor did it disrupt the story, and it did get the word out about an historical tragedy that's been largely forgotten today.

Lending more weight to what is an already heavy subject, Shabnam is also at odds with her once best friend Farah, who is far more deeply religious than is Shabnam, but Farah has her own take on her religion. She approaches it in a far more fluid manner than many other people, adapting it to herself as much as she adapts to it. She's a lot more brash and brave, wise and mature than is Shabnam, and she was my favorite character, but I am often in the position of finding the side-kick more interesting than the main character in YA novels.

This is very much a high-school romance, YA novel, but that said, it's leagues ahead of the usual poorly-written, crappily-plotted story that's out there. That's why it won't sell as well as the others, because the bar is so low in YA books, and this one clears it so handily that it's going to be way above the head of an embarrassingly large number of YA readers. That said, this novel, like many YA novels, does fixate on music which it seems to me, is far more the author's addiction than ever it is the character's. This music will date this novel, so I paid as little attention to it as I did the poetry. The music and the poetry were both overdone and contributed nothing to he story. There was more wisdom came out of Farah's mouth than came out of the mouth of the poets and songwriters featured here!

Shabnam betrayed Farah when her friend chose to start wearing a hijab, but Farah failed to give Shabnam advance warning of her unilateral decision, and this is what caused the rift. Shabnam is embarrassed by Farah's change in habit (as it were!), and Farah feels betrayed by her friend's distancing of herself and her lack of support. They do maintain a prickly contact with each other especially since Farah is the only one Shabnam can turn to over her romance. Farah is often warning her friend about it, but Shabnam won't listen because she claims that Farah doesn't know Jamie like she does. In the end, it turns out that Farah actually knows Jamie better, even though the latter two have never met.

Some reviewers have chastised this novel for its lack of portrayal of Islam accurately, but those reviewers make the blind assumption that everyone practices Islam in exactly the same way and no-one ever makes foolish teenage jokes about aspects of it. I don't know a heck of a lot about Islam, and I am not religious myself. I think it's a serious mistake to blindly put your faith in the scientifically ignorant dictates of relatively primitive people from some two thousand or more years ago, but I do know people, and at least I have the decency to regard practitioners of religion, misguided as they are, as individuals, and not as a monolithic block of clones. Every walk of life and every religion has saints and sinners, and I would be surprised if Islam is somehow fundamentally different given that its practitioners are people just like the rest of us!

One thing which did strike me as odd was the whole hijab issue. My understanding is that it's related to modesty (and in this regard, both men and women are supposed to be modest), so I find it interesting that Farah, who considered wearing it to be pretty much a tenet of her faith, made such a big deal of wearing brightly colored and patterned hujub (the plural of hijab, although most westerners use 'hijabs'). I'm against forcing women to do something which men are never forced to do, but I don't have a lot of time for religion, and especially for rigid and blind religious practices, but that's not my point here.

Note that there is a spectrum of covering for females in the Muslim world from the least which is the hijab, or headscarf as we in the west would call it, to the most, which is the full-body burka. Farah wears only the headscarf and it's that term which is used in this novel for the most part, but the ones she wears are colorful and she also dolls them up as elaborate fashion statements. This whole practice was never discussed other than to mention it, but it occurred to me that this was rather hypocritical in that it can hardly be considered modest to wear such bright colors and to sport designs so elaborate that they can only succeed in drawing more attention to a woman than would otherwise be drawn!

In fact, I'd go further than that, because if the purpose of wearing a hijab is to avoid drawing attention, then wearing a hijab or any such garment in the west fails because it draws more attention! If they were to be rational and consistent (which religion is not, admittedly) then they would wear such things only where the majority wears them, and dispense with them where the majority does not wear them, because this is the only way that they would truly blend in instead of standing out! I know it's not quite that simple, and that modesty and means different things to different people, but in this particular story, Farah seems to be flying in the face of modesty by wearing the things she wears in the style she wears them. This was never raised as an issue, which I felt betrayed the whole point of Farah's choices.

That and the fact that the author doesn't seem to know the difference between tread and trod (the past tense of tread, as in 'take a step', is trod, not treaded, and tread and trod are not interchangeable!) are the only complaints I had about this. Farah was awesome and kick-ass, and I'm tempted to think a whole novel about her (her first year in college would be a great place to stage it) would be a worthy read, but that feeling is tempered by the fact that her power perhaps came from the fact that she was a limited exposure character, and if she had a whole novel to herself it might ruin her(!), unless the writer was me! No I'm kidding, I want to say unless the writer was particularly adept at her craft, which has author seems to be, so maybe it would work. But for now, I thoroughly recommend this as a worthy read and I plan to read more by this author.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sadia by Colleen Nelson

Rating: WORTHY!

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

The story is about displaced and immigrant Middle-East young Muslim girls in Canada. Sadia Ahmadi is fifteen years old. She and her family left Syria when her father got a teaching post at a University in Winnipeg, which is the capital city of Manitoba, a Canadian province. Winnipeg sits some seventy miles north of the North Dakota-Minnesota state line. It's cold up there at this time of year! it's 5° Fahrenheit, or minus fifteen Celsius as I write this! The average low in January is minus twenty one! Even in August it doesn't breach eighty (25°C), and it's down to the fifties (12°C) at night. Call me a wuss, but that's way too cold for me! You have to be tough to live in Canada!

By moving when they did, Sadia's family missed the Syrian civil war. Sadia has some mixed feelings about the move and her new homeland, but she gets a real education as to how lucky she is when Amira Nasser, a refugee, ends up at Sadia's school having left everything behind in Syria to escape the not-so-civil war. Now she's in a strange land with different customs and language and she's expected to integrate and learn. Sadia is assigned by her school (Laura Secord High School) to help her get up to speed. Laura Secord is (or was) a real person - a Canadian hero of the 1812 war.

But the story isn't about Amira; neither is it about Sadia's best friend Nazreen Hussani who originally hailed from Egypt. Instead, these two are rather employed to represent the trope angel and the devil sitting on Sadia's shoulders. Amira is very much a traditional Muslim girl. Nazreen is a rebel who removes her hijab and conservative clothing as soon as she gets to school, replacing them only before she leaves to head home. Sadia has issues with this and while she tries to maintain their friendship, she also feels increasing tension, dissent, and distance between herself and Nazreen. She feels pulled between these two extremes, yet tries to find her own path.

The thing which seems to erode the rough edges, and bring all these girls together is basketball. It is Sadia's passion. She has the chance to be on a co-ed team which enters a small tournament. Everything seems to be going great until the finals, when one of the teams objects to Sadia wearing what is a suitable outfit for a strict Muslim girl to play a sport in public, but which the opposing team finds objectionable, and which we're told is contrary to the official rules of the game.

On a point of order, it really isn't. The problem is that there is a slow turn-around time for professional publishing houses - a lag between the author finishing a novel and it being published. I don't know when the author wrote this or how long it was between her signing-off on the finished copy and the publishing date (which is this month) but as it happens, the rules in basketball got changed early last year in Canada to allow religious headwear (with certain restrictions), so I chose to assume that events in this novel took place before that date! Full disclosure here: the publisher, Dundurn, is the largest Canadian-owned publisher, and I am on their auto approved list on Net Galley, for which I am grateful since I tend to like what they publish.

Just as importantly, a young girl named Amina Mohamed of the Dakota Collegiate in Winnipeg came up with a design for headwear that meets both Muslim restrictions and basketball regulations. In the novel, it's Nazreen who comes up with this idea. There's no acknowledgement to Amina, so I'm wondering if this book was locked-down before that item got into the news. Perhaps in future editions, the author can acknowledge Amina Mohamed's accomplishment.

The story itself, though, was well-told and moving. It did bring to the fore the issues Muslims have when trying to live in Western society and stay true to their faith: the restrictions, the difficulties, the prejudices and the outright racism in some cases. I'm not religious at all, so some of these issues struck me as trivial, but that's certainly not how they feel to people who are invested in faith, so I let that go, but what did bother me is that there are deeper issues which the author did not explore. The most outrageous of these is the appalling gender bias that seems to go hand-in-hand with far too many organized religions (and not a few disorganized ones as well, for that matter).

If the purpose of covering a woman's body is to prevent inciting passions, then it seems to me to be doomed from the off, because when a woman is completely covered, doesn't that in a way inflame an embarrassing number of the male half of the population with curiosity and desire to know what's under there? Of course you could argue that no matter how a woman dresses, but this is actually the other half of this problem: while all the pressure is placed upon women to tone down their dress (whether it's Muslim dress or even western dress as it happens), none is placed upon men to tone down their behavior and it was this which the Quran addressed first!

The whole idea of covering a woman up isn't only an insult to the woman, it's also an insult to the men in its implicit assertion that they're so lacking in self-control that women need to be hidden under blankets lest their very appearance cause the men to become serial rapists. That whole idea is absurdist and wrong-headed to me and says far more about the men who promote these ideas than ever it does about the women who have suffered and continue to suffer under this oppressive and cruel patriarchal hegemony.

The Quran is quite explicit in terms of modesty, but this requirement did not so much address clothing as partition between the genders, and it does not apply solely to women! It applies to men, too, yet in this story, we find no issues raised over the boys, only over the girls. I thought this ought to have been delved into a little. What;s good for the goose is worth taking a gander!

Why must girls wear a head covering (which technically is a khimar, 'hijab' having a more general meaning) and not the boys? I think there is some mileage to be had there, especially when telling a story of this nature. On a related, but slightly different topic, one of the things Nazreen did in her little rebellion against conformity was to wear (when she did wear them!) very colorful Khumur (the plural of khimar).

Personally, I have no problem with what women wear (or don't wear!), it's their choice, but I can't help wonder how making a Khimar more attractive meets the stated purpose of the garment in the first place, which as I understand it, is to promote a modest appearance. Isn't it less modest to make yourself stand out? Indeed, in western society, wearing a Khimar in the first place is rare enough that it makes a woman stand out more than if she went bare-headed, so this seems to me to be in conflict with the whole purpose of a head covering if it's to detract from attention! That's all I'm going to say on that topic, although I certainly reserve the right to go into it in some future novel of mine!

On a minor technical issue, and prefacing this by saying that I'm not a basketball fan and I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on rules: as far as I know in regular play, once a basket is sunk, the ball goes to the other team! There's no rebound to be had and you certainly can't try to score again. So when we read that Jillian scored a trhee-pointer and then "Allan grabbed the rebound to shoot again" I had to ask: what rebound? There's no rebound from a sunk basket! And even if there were, you can't just grab the ball and shoot again! The possession devolves to the defending team. I'm thinking that the author was conflating regular play here with taking a free throw during which - if the ball rebounds - a player can grab it and take a shot. But like I said, it's a minor issue and we all manage to let a few of those get by if we're honest!

So in conclusion, the novel felt maybe a little young for high school, but then the students were only on the cusp of the high school experience, so perhaps I'm being too judgmental there. Or maybe just mental! I felt there were some issues with this as I've mentioned, more in the omission than the commission, but overall, the novel was a worthy read and I recommend it, especially for the intended age range.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

Rating: WORTHY!

Being a big fan of well-done plays on words, I loved the title of this book and I also loved the book itself. It was a smart, well-written and beautifully-plotted work, and the main character was a strong female who is a good role model. She's is very withdrawn when the novel starts, but comes out of her shell naturally and admirably as the story grows.

Bea (Beatrix) is a schoolgirl poet of Taiwanese extraction, but she is painfully shy, and sensitive to people noticing her. She tries to be invisible but she also wants to be involved with the school paper for the experience, yet she doesn't want her poetry to appear in it! In short, she is trapped in a strange maze of her own making, and she needs to find her way out. It's fortuitous then, that she starts forming a friendship with an autistic boy (maybe Asperger's) who also works at the paper and whose ambition she learns, is to navigate a private labyrinth.

He likes to keep files to help him categorize things, and he's very precise in all his thoughts and behaviors, so he lectures Bea on the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. Since the labyrinth is private and no one is allowed in there except the family which owns it, he is a bit at a loss as to how to go about it, although very exacting in his plans where he can make them. Bea discovers a secret that will give them an 'in' to the labyrinth, and this is where things begin to unravel and Bea really needs to step-up to save the day. She does not fail.

I love the way Bea is very physical about her poems - mostly haiku which were fun - writing the words in the air before her as the poem materializes, working through the beats and the rhythm. Unfortunately, this gets her noticed, so she starts writing them in invisible ink and posting them in a hole in a wall in the woods near the school. It's only when someone starts writing back that she is jolted out of her private world. So she is dealing with her shyness, her loss of a dear friend who now seems to be hanging out with a new crowd, and the arrival of new people in her life with whom she does not know how to interact.

I loved the characters in the newspaper office, and how they were very individual and slightly quirky and how they all interfaced with one another. I am glad the book did not say 'quirky' in the blurb because I immediately walk away from books that do and tell them to go jump into Lake Woebegone as I leave, but this was just the right amount of quirk to appeal to me without being idiotic or painful in how hard it was trying. The story was wonderfully-written and well-worth reading.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an interesting story about a school bully and a deaf girl. Shoya's problem is boredom, but instead of finding benign ways to deal with it, he resorts to destructive ones - picking on other children and doing dangerous stunts like jumping off bridges. Shoko is a girl who is deaf, and consequently her speech is impaired. She is new to Shoya's school, and she communicates by writing in a notebook, and encouraging others to use it to write questions to her.

Shoya immediately starts picking on her because she is such an easy target for him, especially since she has such an accepting and friendly disposition, and she never retaliates. His behavior is abominable, but the thing is that very few people in the class treat Shoko with respect and consideration, not even other girls. Shoya's behavior is the worst though, and even as his friend start deserting him and abandoning their juvenile practices as they mature and pursue academic interests more studiously, he never does.

Inevitably, Shoya goes too far and Shoko quits the school. Several years later, they meet again. This meeting is where the story begins. All the rest is flashback, and since this is a series, the story is never resolved in this one volume. On the one hand this is why I detest series as a general rule, and why I dislike flashbacks. On the other, this series - at least this introductory volume of it, was not so bad. The art was a bit too manga for my taste, but on the whole, not bad, and the writing was enjoyable, but all this can ever be is a prologue. I detest prologues!

So while I may or may not pursue this series, I did enjoy this one volume despite my reservations about such efforts, so I recommend it, and I may well get into volume two as time and opportunity permit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Rating: WORTHY!

If I Was Your Girl is a novel about a mtf transgender character, written by a mtf author, and amazingly featuring a mtf cover model, Kira Conley. Now there's a trifecta. Normally I pay little attention to the cover because they're all glitz and no substance, and they have nothing to do with the writing or the author unless she or he self-publishes, but in this case I have to shout-out for the model, and the photographer, and the publisher! Way. To. Go!

The novel tells the story of a teenage boy Andrew's decidedly bumpy transition to a teenage girl coolly named Amanda Hardy. There is a lot of controversy over the author who (as Travis Lee Stroud) was accused of rape and abuse by his partner. I was aware of none of this when reading (actually listening to since this was audio) the novel, and at the time of posting this, I am not aware of any judgment on those charges, so for me the author remains innocent until proven guilty.

Let's not forget either, as many seem to have, that even guilty people can change! The author's note at the end of this book - read in her own voice on the audio book - would seem to suggest she's not as bad as she's been painted in some quarters, and also offers a slightly mitigating perspective if these accusation are true. Besides all that though, my reviews are about writing, and about whether a read is worth my time or not, and based on these precepts, this review goes ahead as planned! To do less would be to refuse to read or review, for example, Mein Kampf because Hitler was a psychopath, or any other such book. The US, it seems, thrives on worshiping books written by bad people while ignoring too many of those written by saints, but since this was a library audiobook, I don't have to worry if my money went to the wrong person!

Amanda is, in true YA trope tradition, the new girl in school. She's nervous, with her transgender secret and having been abused in her/his previous existence, which accounts for a lot of her current personality traits. All she wants to do is get through her senior year quietly, graduate, and get out of the south altogether. She fails in this endeavor (at least by the time the book ends) because she falls for Grant, one of the jocks on the school team. Here's where my first problem came along, and it wasn't because high school romances are largely juvenile and meaningless.

Sometimes a person does end up marrying their "high school sweetheart" but such cases are rare because a person that young can't typically make intelligent choices with something which will so intimately affect their life, and the sad thing is that they do not realize it! No, the problem was that Amanda doesn't appear too smart. She rejects her own best advice about not getting involved, and she welcomes the attention from Grant.

They start dating, despite Grant throwing-out warning signals because of his unexpected and unpredictable coldness at times towards her. Worse than this though, is that she tells him nothing of her history. To me, this was a betrayal of someone she supposedly was developing strong feelings about, but that wasn't the biggest problem. You can argue, for example, that he had a right to know that she cannot have children, but the problem here was not what her history was, but what has the potential to happen if she isn't straight with him from the start. And yes, she's straight, she's not gay! Gender and sexuality have nothing to do with one another! She never seems to think for a minute that this southern boy might react negatively to what she has to reveal or that others might treat him differently when they discover he's dating someone who was not born a biological female. That seemed selfish to me.

The story is written in a way that makes her father out to be a hero, and there are some tear-jerk moments here, but the fact that he hits a kid - a full on punch in the face, too - is what turned me right off him. He didn't even hit the right kid, which would still not have reprieved him, but it was also the circumstances of the punch which made me feel this could have been written better. Amanda was there before it happened and the most natural thing in the world is to yell "Dad, it wasn't him!" but she never does this, and that, to me felt completely unrealistic. This is one reason I didn't quite buy her dad's complete turn-around at the end of the book. It felt false.

But I'm no more judging the book on one or two events in it than I'd judge an author on one negative report no matter how much currency it's garnered for itself, so overall I consider this book a worthy read, and for me one of the best features about it was the audio version read by the talented Samia Mounts (who I understand is also a member of the LGBTQIA community! Quadfecta!). She did a spot-on job of delivering this story and made it all the more listenable. I recommend it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bad Machinery the Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this review is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Bad Machinery is exactly what it says! It's totally bad-ass and hugely hilarious. But let's not confuse the case of team spirit with a case of liquor! These kids are only middle grade after all. This book, one of a series, is set in a Grammar school in England, and it's a locale with which I am intimately familiar having attended one myself. The story is set in Yorkshire, where my parents were born and raised, and I grew up next door, in Derbyshire. Non-Brits may need some remedial assistance on the lingo, but most of it isn't hard to understand. The graphic novel is evidently composed of webcomic dailies.

I adored this story. Every one of the characters is one I wish I had known at my own school, but alas and a lack of them was what plagued me there. Charlotte Grote, Jack Finch, Linton Baxter, Mildred Haversham, Shauna Wickle, and Sonny Craven are the weird, whacky, and charming students dealing with assorted life crises in their own peculiar ways. Sometimes their agendas conflict and other times they align.

The big deal is that a Russian owner of the local soccer club is trying to demolish houses to build a new stadium in their place, but this Russky seems to have pissed-off the mother of all bad luck, as becomes apparent when a satellite crashes onto the football pitch in the middle of a game, and assorted other disasters befall him. Plus Mrs Biscuits is also Russian, but not interested in rushing anywhere. She refuses to move from her home which sits, of course, right in the way of the Russian's plans to raze the land and raise a stadium. Two of the girls decide to make her the subject of a school project.

Each character has their own cross to bear. Shauna's, for example, is her slightly dysfunctional younger brother whose favorite non-word is BORB. Linton is plagued by his overly attentive mother and his fear that the beautiful new soccer stadium may never materialize. Sonny's father misses his own brutal grammar school days which appear to have been the inspiration for Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns, specifically the episode titled Tomkinson's Schooldays. Jack suffers an older sister who attends the same school and dispenses remarkable advice like, "It's a good idea to shave off your eyebrows" and "be sure to wear eye-shadow for gym." I fell in love with Charlotte though, disgusting as that is, since I'm old enough to be her father, but her sense of humor completely slayed me. She is the queen of bizarre observations and off-the-wall comments such as when she wants to discuss the procedure for extracting mothballs from moths.

The story meanders delightfully and abstrusely towards a satisfying conclusion. The art isn't spectacular, but it's serviceable and it got the job done for me. I haven't read any others in this series, but I fully intend to correct that oversight, first chance I get!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Extra Credit Epidemic by Nina Post

Rating: WORTHY!

"What will be doing on the phones?" (missing 'we')
"quiet, hereas if the media got a hold of it…" (whereas?)
"Van take the two steps down into the scoring pit and Taffy handed him a jacket from a bag." Wrong verb tense: 'took' required

This young-adult story began like it might be headed into science fiction territory, but it wasn't - it was just a really strong start to a fascinatingly fresh novel about a high-school senior who is anti-social and bordering on OCD, and who is obsessed with working in epidemiology which is, according to Wikipedia, "the study and analysis of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations."

The student, with the unlikely if not hilariously sweet-toothed name of Taffy Snackerge evidently has some good reason for her behavior, but this isn't really discussed in the novel except for hints that she was always this way. She has awesome parents who are out of the picture only because they're away travelling, so they play very little part in the story. Taffy is therefore home alone, and although she doesn't wear skirts, she does believe in skirting the rules at school which is, you just know it, going to get her into trouble with the prissy vice-principal.

One of the science teachers, Van Brenner, used to work for the local epidemiology department until they downsized, and now he's teaching science at the school and advising Taffy despite, or perhaps because of her rebellious streak, as she mounts her own investigation into a salmonella outbreak. The problem is that Brenner wants her to work with two other students, one of whom is a bit of a princess, so Taffy perceives. The other is a guy who apparently won't stand up for himself, and who really doesn't like science, yet Taffy is forced against her will to form a team with them and nail down the source of this minor outbreak of sickness which the local health department seems unable to pursue.

The first issue is that they all think they should use Taffy's home as their base of operations. They have calls to make to pursue their investigation of the incipient epidemic, but in this day and age of ubiquitous cell phone use (and each of these kids has one), this sounded lame to me. Why do they need to be at anyone's house?

This was a minor irritation - and nowhere near as irritating as the fact that the author evidently feels that italics have been for too long out of work, and absolutely loves to employ them at every opportunity. That itself would not have been so bad, but Kindle's crappy conversion process for their smart phone app rendered every italicized word in a smaller font and very faint, making it really hard to read. Additionally, it doesn't italicize superscripted words, so when I read "1st Offense: Minimum Two Detentions," all of it was italicized except for the 'st' after the number 1 (and the 'nd' after the two and so on). Fortunately, the story started out so strongly for me that I was quite willing to overlook these issues.

It was this strength and power which carried the story all the way to the end for me. Taffy is a go-getter and flatly refuses to let any obstacle stand in her way, including a vindictive vice-principal who has more vice than principles. She forms a relationship with the other two despite her dysfunctional social qualities, and she even begins learning how far out on the edge she is as she's slowly, but surely reeled back in by Taylor, with whom Taffy forms more than a friendship. Both Taylor and Gabriel are characters in their own right and don't let taffy hog all the center stage. The whole story is beautifully done, with smarts, with humor, with a sly sense of the absurd, and with a really good story underlying it all.

I would really love to know what triggered the author to come up with the idea for this one! It's been a long time since I've read anything like this, and this was a welcome breath of fresh air after reading what feels like far too many stories of late which start out well and go to hell. This one had everything I look for in a novel, including a truly strong female main character, and a curiously endearing title. I'm not a fan of series, but I would definitely read a follow-up novel about Taffy & Co if there ever was one. I recommend this one unreservedly.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer

Rating: WORTHY!

I seem to have entered a period of really bad books that fail to gain my attention (apart from the initial discovery, where the blurb made it seem like the book might be really interesting). Fortunately, I happen to have access to a really excellent public library with awesome librarians, so my mistakes cost me very little! I can DNF these experimental reads/listens without impoverishing myself. All Hail Public Libraries!

This is how I came to have yet another trope YA novel in my hands and one which appears, yet again, to be written by a female author who seems to dislike women. I mean, if she didn't, then why would she characterize them like this? Not to be confused with Mary Hartley's The Smart Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want, which this main character could have probably benefited from reading,Smart Girls Get What They Want is your typical YA story of the nerd and the jock, 'forced' together in a ridiculous fashion and falling for each other notwithstanding some heavy-duty reasons why they should not. This much I knew from reading only the first chapter.

The author makes the classic mistake of imbuing her main character with her own qualities, views, musical tastes and perspectives, even though she is old enough to be the main character's mother, if not grandmother. Thus we get references to the Rolling Stones and other anachronisms. That's not to say that no seventeen-year-old girl can quote lyrics from The Rolling Stones - only that it's so highly unlikely that it really kicks a reader out of the suspension of disbelief. What, there were no bands to which a seventeen year old might listen to and quite from? Or is the author simply too lazy to look them up? In this high-tech age, it's not hard to look up the bands to which teens might listen, and find the lyrics to a song or two by them. Or make up your own bands and lyrics. Or simply not have her quote a lyric, and thereby lend her a little more inventiveness and originality if you want your readers to really dig her. And this wasn't the only anachronistic reference.

The story is ostensibly about three friends, but it's really about only the first person narrator, and the friends (so-called) are given short shrift as ever. They're really more tools than friends. Because it's first person this gives the impression that she's all about herself an no one else, which is another problem with first person PoV. Genevieve (aka Gigi, LOL!) is the privileged, spoiled rotten MC, and Bea and Neerja are her 'friends'. They realize that Neerja's older sister was a nobody at school, perhaps because of her position as the smartest person in the class. The three decide they don't want to be that way, but Gigi's plan is derailed when she gets accused of cheating on a chemistry exam. How the teacher managed to grade the tests and discover the similarities before the students even left the classroom is a mystery. I can only assume time passed, but it was written so badly that it looked like as soon as they got up to leave the classroom, the teacher was calling them back with the graded tests already on his desk!

She didn't cheat, but because the jock's answers, including the extra credit question, are so much like hers, both of them were tarred with the same cheating brush, and the jock is such a selfish dick that he turns it all into a joke. Gigi is supposedly this go-getter girl, but she fails dismally to defend herself, and the school "discipline" hearing is such a complete and utter joke that it lacked all credibility for me. The school didn't even contact the parents about this. This is all so unbelievable as to really throw the story out as far as I was concerned, although I did read on for a while to see if it offered any hope of improvement. It just got worse. At this point I not only detested the jock, I detested the main character. This is never a good sign.

It wasn't believable for several reasons, the first of which was that the jock seemed out of place in the AP chemistry class. Not that no jock can be smart by any means, but that this particular one seemed like a complete jerk from the start and the author offered no rationale whatsoever for his even being in this class. Secondly, the ball-buster of a teacher who summarily accused them of cheating on his test was right there in the classroom. Are we supposed to believe that never once did he look up? Never once did he see this pair and notice that the jock was cribbing? Bullshit! It wasn't credible. This is amateur stuff. Thirdly, Gigi had already proven her academic chops and integrity over several years, and it just didn't sound likely she'd automatically be even suspected, let alone accused, found guilty and condemned without a trial. Her guilt is assumed throughout by both this teacher and the principal! This was done so ham-fistedly. They didn't get forced to take a new test to see who was cheating and who wasn't?

Clearly, the sole purpose of all this ridiculousness was to artificially throw these two together in a chemistry project, where they could fall in love. Why would Gigi even be remotely attracted to this selfish jerk who got her into all this trouble? I was so disappointed. It's not like this was a self-published first novel from a new writer! If it had been, it would likely have been rejected, but once you have your foot in the door, all the rules cease to apply to you, don't they?! I expected a lot better from someone who supposedly already had some writing chops, and I thought a female writer ought to have served her female character a lot better than she did in the portion of this I could stand to read. This novel was nonsense and trash.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

One Night by Melanie Florence

Rating: WARTY!

This is a very short (~90 pages) novel/novella, which tackles the tired old story of an unexpected pregnancy during the last year of the main character's high school, but it brings nothing new to the table. While it began as an idea that was pregnant with possibility, in the end it was miscarried by caricature, trope, and writing that offered no sense of injustice or outrage, and an atmosphere which was too thin to breathe deeply. It felt like I was reading an anti-abortion flyer generated by some fundamentalist religious organization. The story is supposed to be one of a series aimed at reluctant readers and all I could think is that it made me reluctant to read this because it did nothing to draw me in and engage me. If it had not been so short, I would never have considered reading it to the end.

We're told, not shown, that main character Luna Begay is smart, but her every behavior contradicts this claim. Not that she does anything outright dumb like getting drunk, although she does accept a drink from a guy she doesn't know. But none of this matters regarding the rape. She is drugged and raped, period. The issues I had with her lack of smarts came afterwards, and while on the one hand it's her pregnancy and she's entitled to deal with it however she chooses (within reason!), I was disturbed to see that her course was seemingly mapped out in a smooth and straight line without any hiccups. This, to me, was entirely unrealistic. it felt like form day one, including the rape, she was on a smooth water slide right into the delivery room, and traveling at the same speed you would on a water slide, too.

For example, she never went through any trauma at all after the rape. No anger, no recriminations, no tears, no suicidal thoughts, no serious consideration of the implications of raising a child as young as she was, no crazy behavior. Any of this would have been realistic and perfectly understandable, but instead of any of this, she sailed through the whole thing with barely a hiccup. It simply didn't make for credible reading to me, and it felt like what was an horrific crime was simply swept under the rug.

Luna's robotic acceptance of the fact that she had been criminally assaulted was another issue. Her refusal not so much to bring charges, as to not even consider bringing them, was entirely unrealistic. If there had been, for example, even so much as a brief discussion about what it might cost other girls if this guy, who has all the hallmarks of a serial rapist, was allowed to get away with it, and then she had chosen not to go ahead with it, that would be one thing, but to not even seriously consider that was wrong in my opinion. It made her look selfish, thoughtless, and not very smart.

Another problem I had was the passage of time. It was unrealistic. It felt like one night she was raped, and very the next day at school she was experiencing morning sickness. Morning sickness can kick in disturbingly early - such as two weeks on, even - but there was no indication of the passage of any time. It honestly felt like the very next day she was throwing up already. Then she was suddenly fifteen weeks pregnant and in the next breath, six months pregnant! It was way too fast to even absorb, let alone have the character deal with it. Worse, she wasn't dealing with it. Again, we're expected to believe she's smart, but the last thing she considered was that the rapist had impregnated her.

When she finally visits the doctor for the first time, she's told she's put on twelve pounds. Seriously? This is her first visit! How does the doctor have any clue how much weight she's put on? This goes to how fast this story moves, which is way too fast for its own good. It moves irrationally and impractically fast. So fast, in fact that there's no time to set a scene, create an atmosphere, or even to have anything important happen! All we get is superficial and shallow, with a chat here and there, but no real discussion, and no attempt at education, no options on the table, and no description of anything that would affect the senses, which left me feeling robbed of a good story for a young woman who is undergoing her first pregnancy. Morning sickness isn't the only thing someone who is pregnant experiences!

Luna is native American, but she frequently described herself as aboriginal, which sounded really odd to me. it was only when I realized this novel was published in Canada that it clicked. This is a term used to describe Inuit and Métis people in Canada, but I'd had no indication from the novel that this was set in Canada. I commend the author for writing about a minority, but this only made things worse in practice. I know that native peoples have been and too-often still are treated abominably, and that Inuit and Métis alike have not been spared this, but the way this was presented here was that these people (Luna and her sister Issy) were openly and freely abused in their high school, and nothing was being done about it.

Frankly I'd be shocked if things were truly this bad in Canadian schools. Perhaps it's true, but I can't believe it's as bad as it was depicted here. This is one of the things which for me contributed to a lack of realism and turned the characters into caricatures rather than real people. it was just so egregious that it was laughable, and worse, it made what happened later - that one of the abusers suddenly turned around 180 degrees in her attitude - totally unbelievable. We were given a reason for the change, but I simply couldn't buy that someone who had been so viciously hateful would change so completely in the space of one short week.

This Canadian setting made the lack of descriptive writing all the more stark. No matter which month we start the story in, after six months has passed in Canada, you're going to be seeing some notable changes in weather, but we never got any indication of that here.

There was one more oddity! In the back of the novel is the copyright information, which dates the copyright to 2017. I'm not sure how you copyright something in a year which hasn't arrived yet! I want in on that. The page tells us the novel was originally published in 2017! Amazing! The publication date given at Net Galley is 1/9/2016, which is more realistic! But I want in on this copyrighting the future deal! Where do I sign up!

I appreciate the opportunity to see the advance review copy, and I wish the author and the publishers all the best with this series, but it wasn't for me. I can't in good faith recommend a story which for me fails a reader in so many important ways.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Rating: WARTY!

I had mixed feelings about this novel as I read it. For me it started out looking like something I was not going to rate favorably, and I'll get into that, but over time it started winning me around to regarding it much more positively, but towards the end it really went down hill, and I can't view this as a worthy read for a number of reasons.

So what was wrong with this novel that made me rate it negatively? The first thing is the obvious thing: this novel was published in 2015, yet there is this idea underlying it that being gay is a big deal. It isn't! It isn't even a big deal, generally speaking, to come out as gay. If it was written twenty or thirty years ago, then I could see that this novel might have had some value. but not in 2015.

There really isn't anything here to make it necessary for Simon, the protagonist, to hide what he;s all about, yet he is hiding even from his closest friends. The other side of this coin is that in the real world, for any given individual, it might well be a big deal to come out. Personal circumstances, the community in which they live, their parents' attitudes, and a host of other things could well contribute, even in a relatively enlightened age, to creating difficulties in being who you truly are in public, but really, Simon wasn't in this category. He was just cowardly, and that was one of many unlikable and unsavory traits he had. Indeed, he really was a bit of a jerk and I never felt like I wanted to root for him. All the holes he fell into, he dug for himself.

Simon is sixteen and has known for some time that he's well and truly gay. He has no doubts - and no problem with it, except in that he hasn't come out to anyone. Well anyone but this one person - he assumes it's a guy - who attends his own school, but with whom he's been corresponding through emails. Both parties have remained anonymous throughout these exchanges, so although they know they are schoolmates, they do not actually know which schoolmate the other is. This lends a certain intrigue and interest - and perhaps danger - to the proceedings.

This is also where his problem begins, because he fails to log out of his email account and another schoolmate, Martin, gets on the computer right behind him, and is able to read Simon's emails. He even takes screen shots, and then blackmails Simon into giving him an intro to Abby, a close friend of Simon's and a girl for whom Martin has the hots - so we're given to understand. For a long time I thought that Martin was actually Simon's anonymous email friend but it soon became clear that he wasn't. Simon completely caves to the blackmail and then goes into it half-heartedly, thereby pissing off his blackmailer, and then he spends an unwieldy portion of the novel whining to himself about his predicament. It doesn't make or entertaining reading.

One review which I liked on Goodreads made the point that the book encourages online love affairs. I disagree. Besides, all online relationships aren't doomed to failure. If they were, I wouldn't be married! OTOH, I was not a teen when I got involved online, and both parties proceeded cautiously and honestly, becoming reliable friends first and only evolving into something deeper later. But these things can go bad, and especially for inexperienced teens, we do need to sound a note of caution, not only about falling for someone you really don't know, but also about misrepresenting yourself online as teens and adults can do. We do get a brief explanation of how Simon and "Blue" came to interact, but not how Simon knew for sure that Blue was a gay guy as opposed to an obnoxious old man or a mischievous teen female or whatever.

Another issue I had with this was that Simon was the clichéd gay drama student. I didn't see the point of that. There was far to much cliché - the supportive sister, the supportive hot female friend, the supportive mail friend, the unexpected discovery of a boyfriend, and so on. There was no reason whatsoever why he needed to be a drama aficionado or in a school play. It could have been a sports event, or a science class, or gardening club or anything. I thought this was too trope, too pathetic, and insulting to gays, like they're pointless if they aren't actors or hairdressers. Honestly?

Not a lot really happens in this novel, be warned. It's pretty much the hum-drum of everyday high school with the backbeat of a closeted gay, so there's nothing new here, nothing extraordinary, nothing different. Some of the relationships were dynamic and interesting, even amusing a little, but overall, nothing special. I didn't think much of Simon's two best friends, an overweight girl named Leah, and a video-game addicted boy named Nick. I felt they let him down badly when they failed to inform him of something really important, yet there was never any fall-out from this. I didn't get that at all. Conversely, Simon treated Anbby and Leah like crap, and there was no blow-back from that either, so this was entirely unrealistic. Simon pretty much dumped on everyone, got away with everything, and went unhindered and unobstructed through the novel like a Mary Sue. He never had any really serious problems, yet he whined all the time. He abused his friends, gave very little, and never opened up to them about anything. For as little as he knew (or really cared) about his friends, I had to wonder how he considered himself a friend as opposed to an acquaintance.

Simon had a full and rich family life, with two sisters and an intact pair of parents, which is becoming a rarity in YA. It was also nice to finally get a high school depicted in YA where rampant bullying is non-existent and where, when a case of misguided bullying under the flimsy guise of humor does occur, it is flatly not tolerated by the school staff. Yes, Martin was bullying Simon, but no one knew about this beyond the two of them, so this wasn't an issue in that regard. So on those scores, the novel was refreshing, but pretty much in everything else, it failed dismally. I can't recommend it. And be warned you'll meed an insulin shot to get through the last few chapters. They were disgusting.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Academy Girls by Nora Carroll

Rating: WARTY!

I ditched this book at 90% in because there was one-the-hell-way-too many stanzas of over-rated Emily Dick and some for my taste. I honestly could not stand to read one more obscure-to-the-point-of-vacuous line from her. On top of that, I felt this was a bait and switch on two levels. I requested to read an advance review copy of this novel precisely because it wasn't (according to the blurb) a teen high school melodrama. It was, so I was led to believe, about an adult!

I've sworn off reading any more YA novels with "Academy" in the title, and this promised to turn that on its head by being adult-oriented, and focusing on a teacher at the purportedly prestigious Grove Academy instead of on the bitchy, air-headed girls who usually infest such stories. It wasn't. It was the latter going under the guise of the former. Worse than this even, was that this was really nothing more than an overblown attempt at explicating Dickinson drivel in place of telling a real story. I didn't even get the obsession with that poet; any such poetry would have served the same purpose hers did in this context.

On top of that, what story there was, was all over the place. It was flashing back on several levels and with such obsessive-compulsive dedication that I was at one point considering filing a lawsuit for whiplash. Even in the sections that were not dedicated flashbacks, there was an ostensibly plagiarized novel in play which was telling exactly the same story we were also being told in the annoyingly extensive flashbacks, if you can get your mind around that, and in annoyingly extensive detail. It was tedious, and I started routinely skipping these sections.

On top of that, the supposedly mature teacher was behaving like a teen herself around a certain other teacher who I highly suspected (rightly or wrongly, I can't say) was ankle-deep in whatever it was that happened during those flashbacks - which themselves flashed back to an even earlier generation where there was yet another murder. How this Academy managed to maintain its prestigious veneer with all of this going on was really the only unexplained mystery here for me.

Jane Milton - yes, that's really her name - was a student at Grove, left without a diploma, tried writing, failed, got married, failed, and now was forced to come back to her old school, cap in hand, begging for a job as a teacher, for which she was wholly unqualified. Her story is what interested me, but we never got that story except in passing, and in a way that felt like it was completely incidental to the other story/ies. Instead, and pretty much from day one, we got the mystery of what happened when she was in high school investigating, with her two "friends", what happened when her own mother would have been in high school. Convoluted doesn't begin to describe it adequately.

I think if maybe I'd had the time and patience - and sufficient Promethazine to get me through the dick poetry which slathered these pages with all the delicacy of a bull in a book store (and was in the final analysis, utterly irrelevant to the story except in the most pretentious way imaginable), I might have made it through this in one day and been able to actually keep track of the plethora of potential villains who were randomly popping up and ducking down like whack-a-mole characters, but to try and keep a handle on the endless names over multiple readings over many days was impossible, which robbed the story of any potential it might have had to retain my attention and favor.

I quickly lost interest in Jane, since she consistently proved herself to be a spineless idiot with nothing interesting to offer me. The only thing which prevented me from wishing she would be bumped-off was the fact that she was a single mom, but she wasn't even very good at that, either! Her relationship with her son was virtually non-existent and what did exist was almost completely unrealistic. I'm tempted to say that the story was disorganized, but that would involve using the word 'organized' in connection with this novel, and that would be too generous in describing this patchy mashup. I cannot recommend this at all.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sketchy by Olivia Samms

Rating: WARTY!

This novel started out with a series of strikes against it and I wasn't even aware of it! I picked up the audio book in the library because the blurb sounded good. Unfortunately with an audio book, you can't dip into the pages and read a bit here and there to get a feel for it. How did it strike me? Let me count the ways!

I avoid first person PoV novels unless they're really intriguing, because for me it's worst person PoV. I'm not at all a fan of listening to self-absorbed "all me all the time" narrators, especially ones read with the voice Kate Reinders employs here, which is irritating at best. With an audio book, you can't tell what voice it's in until you actually start listening. Strike one!

I don't do series unless they're exceptional. This one, the first of a new series titled "Bea Catcher Chronicles" promised ot be precisely the opposite of exceptional. Strike two!

I don't do novels with "Chronicles", "Saga", or "Cycle" in the title, so that was strike three that this author managed to escape! She's also lucky that when I picked it up, I didn't know that author James Patterson had said this was "...right up there with the very best of YA fiction" otherwise I would have ditched it, too, based on his recommendation - and I would have been right!

Having made it past all my defenses, how did this novel fare? Well it started out by exposing a major weakness of first person PoV: if the narrator isn't there, she can't tell you about it unless she gets it second hand, or unless the author admits to the failure of their choice of voice and switches to third person which is really clunky. Thus the prologue here was clunky and served no purpose other than to objectify a raped woman. Was a description of bruised thighs necessary? Was any description at all necessary? No, but this author chose to repeat these repeatedly almost as though she enjoyed reporting on young girls in pain! It served no purpose. That we know she was raped is horror enough. We don't need to read (or in this case listen to) the gory details. Unfortunately with audio books, it's hard to avoid the prologue (strike four!). Fortunately this one was really short. I don't do prologues, introductions, author's forewords, prefaces, etc., et-boring-cetera.

Bea (Beatrice) is a high school girl who is an artist and a recovering drug addict. Fresh out of rehab, and with the cliché of being fresh at a new school, she discovers that she can draw what she sees in the mind of another person. How this works is never explained int eh parts I listened to, and her description of how it comes and goes makes no sense whatsoever. It reads as though it's her sketch pad which is controlling her, which I doubt is what the author intended. Strike five!

There is evidently a serial rapist at loose who has most recently preyed on one of the high school cheerleaders, Willa, a cheerleader who survived the assault, but who cannot remember a thing about it. Bea, however, has drawn a picture of a guy she saw in Willa's mind when the two shared an art class together. Bea knows this guy - he's her ex drug dealer. A friend pointed out how antique the names Bea and Willa are. I don't know how the author came up with them (Beatrix Potter and Willa Cather maybe?), but since young people can sport antique names in real life, this didn't bother me very much. It's definitely an oddity, though!

My initial guess (and I'm usually hopeless at these things, be warned!) was that this guy Marcus would be far more of a red herring than a serial rapist. Sadly, Bea is evidently not even smart enough to consider that he might be the rapist, so I was not at all confident by this time that this novel would hold my interest, especially since it's larded with cliché and trope, and I was right about that. There's a snotty cheerleader elite group. There's a disaffected non-conformist main character who is an outcast. She has a best friend who is the clichéd perky gay guy with awesome dress sense, who creepily wants to mother her. There's a homophobic jock group. There's a cafeteria scene. The food is bad. Can we lard this up with any more trope and cliché? I had no doubt this author would find a way. Fortunately the audio book was only five disks, so I knew I would not have to suffer long if the novel continued to be awful.

I further reduced the time I had to suffer through third by automatically skipping any track which had the narrator start off by announcing a date and time and the amount of elapsed time since Bea became drug-free. It was T-E-D-I-O-U-S! This meant that I skipped most of the tracks on Disk 3, and perhaps an entire disk's worth of tracks, if not more, after all five disks were done. I skipped a host of tracks on disks four and five because they were larded with unnecessary interludes getting in the way of the action, and after disk three I had no patience left for the author's diversions and dilly-dallying. These tracks held the most boringly pedantic descriptions of school life. Strike six. This novel now has two inning's worth of strikes, so I plan on skipping the sequel on that basis alone.

Where was the story I was promised in the blurb? The one about an artist drawing images from a person's mind? The one about a serial rapist? That took a back seat to high school politics and trivia. Instead of listening with baited breath, all I got was bait and switch. I cannot in good faith recommend this novel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Conversion by Katherine Howe

Rating: WARTY!

This novel was so disgustingly preppie valley girl high school crap that I have skipped almost every track on the first four disks (about one third the way through it), and I decided that the author was so in love with relating the minutiae of high school life and inner dialog pertaining thereto, that she was never going to actually get around to telling the story which the book blurb outright lied she would deliver. Of course, you can't blame the author for what the publisher says unless of course the author continues to publish with the same publisher.

As if that wasn't tedious enough, we kept getting random interludes thrown in, set in the late seventeenth century, which brought the story to a screeching halt, and which really had nothing to do with what was going on in the present - except through some obscure whim of the author, of course. The fact that Khristine Hvam reads every sentence like it's a question really grated on me. The text is boring, too, obsessing on high-school politics and boy-girl interactions and the fact that one character gets a 65 in a test instead of getting to the story, so even though I only began listening to this on the way to work this morning, my almost immediate feeling towards this audio book was "It's back to the library with you this afternoon," and indeed it was! I'm like, "Gag me with a spoon! Get to the story already, why don't you? All this pretentious high school charade is so five minutes ago!" Okay, it wasn't quite that bad, but it was far too close tot hat for my taste.

The novel is ostensibly about some connection between a modern Catholic high school and the Salem witch trials, but it's really not appealing at all. The characters are seniors at St Joan's Academy, but they behave like thirteen -year-olds. Main character Colleen Rowley starts to think, after Clara Rutherford has some sort of seizure and soon other students follow, that this is a repeat of what purportedly happened in Salem several centuries before. The students at this religious school are so ignorant of history that only Colleen, and then only because she's been reading The Crucible for extra credit figures out what's happening.

The story goes through this absurd parent-teacher meeting wherein the staff tell the parents nothing and despite a small epidemic having broken out, not a single one of the parents asks if there is some communicable disease going on here. Clearly the author is not a parent herself otherwise she would have displayed better judgment here. Not a single parent asks about school closure. Not a single parent pulls their kid out of school. Every last one of them tamely accepts everything the school tells them (which is essentially nothing) and they all go home! As if that wasn't bad enough, this is a Catholic school, yet and there isn't even a prayer said! Even accepting the witchcraft premise, this novel is so far from having any handle on reality that it's nothing but a cartoon, and a complete joke.

I recommend this only if you honestly like vacuum-headed, fluff-stuffed girls disgracing their gender, and writing that's so unrealistic that it's essentially a fairy tale./p>

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Title: Beautiful Malice
Author: Rebecca James
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Read by Justine Eyre, whose voice was way too mature for the story.

In hospital abbreviations, "BM" typically means 'bowel movement' and that's pretty much what this story was. 'BM' can also mean 'bone marrow', but there was nothing as vital as that to be found here.

It was in first person PoV which is typically a disaster to begin with. Why writers blindly cling to this format is as big of a mystery as it is an irritation. Once in a while an author can bring it off, but that's a blessed rarity in my experience.

The audio book reader's voice sounded far too mature to be credible. Yes. I know this is a reminiscence from several years after the fact, when the character is a married-with-child college grad, but the reader sounds more like someone recalling this from a retirement home, which would have been fine had the story called for it, but it was a voice which simply didn't fit here.

The volume on the audio CD was so low that every time I ejected one to replace it, the underlying radio channel blared jarringly if I forgot to turn the volume down beforehand. Why audio book makers do this is a complete mystery, but this is one of many such disks I've suffered.

And why do they feel the need to add music to the CD? Seriously? Was there music in the original book? I doubt it! Did the author compose the music? No! Is the music anything - anything whatsoever - to do with the story? Not remotely. So why? Just tell the friggin' story. That's why we got the audio book. If we want music we'll got to iTunes.... There's no rational explanation for this. The closest I can get is that audio book makers can't get their heads out of their asses and they're stuck in a rut thinking: Ah! CD = music or something must be wrong.

The story is ostensibly about the "friendship" that develops between the main character, Katherine, and Alice, someone whom Katherine would not have imagined would have wanted to befriend her. The conceit is that this friendship is so fascinating, so burdened with secrets and reveals, so full of subversion, that it deserves a novel, but the truth is that this story is one of the most tedious and boring novels I've ever had the misfortune to encounter.

The story is the same old done-to-death 'evil best friend' story. I hoped for something better, but there was nothing new or entertaining here at all. Most of the story was comprised of rambling digressions which had far more to do with conspicuous consumption than ever it did with moving the story forwards.

The narrator has a deep dark secret of which we're reminded with metronomic frequency. This immediately told me it would be a completely mundane trope, and I lost all interest in it. I got through about 30% of the story and couldn't stand it any more. There's nothing to see here - and nothing worth listening to, either.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bratfest at Tiffany's by Lisi Harrison

Title: Bratfest at Tiffany's
Author: Lisi Harrison
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating: WARTY!

Today's Tiffany day on my blog. I'm reviewing two novels with the name 'Tiffany' in the title. The first of these is named after the 1950s Truman Capote novella titled: Breakfast at Tiffany's This is why I fell in love with the title of this novel even though it's the kind of novel I'd normally avoid like the plague. It was on close-out, so I thought, "What the hell? Let's take it for a spin and see how badly it drives!"

I was rather surprised, then to discover that I didn't immediately hate it, even as I couldn't figure out if this was:

  1. A sly parody of Valley-Girl-style, spoiled-rotten clique kids
  2. A truly cynical method of defrauding teens of their discretionary-spending allowance
  3. OR
  4. A morality tale about the crippling effect of chronic self-absorption.

But then, who reads this stuff, seriously? And why?! You can hardly blame an author if people voluntarily cough-up money to read what she writes. The problem for me was that in the end, the novel didn't do anything for me. It seemed completely content to do nothing more than extol the vacuous lives of thoroughly misguided kids who had no ambition, and who are obsessed with cliques and clothes, and have no mind for anything else. It was truly sad how blind these children were to reality.

There were parts I hated, such as the purposeful misspelling of words ("nawt" for "not" for example) and stretching out the 'a' in any word which begun with it, such as aah-dorable (which it wasn't). The endless repetition of "Ehmagosh" and "Whatevs", and even worse, the designer names which were trotted out (pretty much every other page) in tandem with every single item of clothing that was mentioned. In short it quickly became nauseating and the saddest thing of all was that nothing had changed by the end of the novel. The kids hadn't grown, and they had learned diddly-squat. I cannot recommend this.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Hero Chronicles: Secrets by Tim Mettey

Title: The Hero Chronicles: Secrets
Author: Tim Mettey
Publisher: Tim Mettey
Rating: WARTY!

This novel I've had in my reader for a while, putting it off for items more urgent, but it’s time to get this read. Another reason for putting it off is that this novel violates several of my conditions for reading a novel (most of which materialized after I'd added this one to my list!). First of all the title incorporates not only the word "chronicles", but also the word "hero", both of which I've sworn-off in novel titles (along with 'cycle' and 'saga'!). Secondly it’s first person PoV, which is a big no-no for me since it’s all "Me!" all the time: "Hey lookit me!" "Hey forget that, pay attention to what I'M doing!" and "No one is more important than Meeeee!"

It’s so self-indulgent and irritating, and it’s a rarity in my experience to find such a novel that's written well enough to be worth expending my time on - not when there are so many other novels and life is short! I'd much rather read something easy on the mind than something which requires fortitude and gritted teeth just to scan the text!

This novel also has sound effects incorporated into the text. Even for a middle to upper grade novel it’s a no-no. The school bell doesn’t ring, it goes "DING!DING!DING!DING!" without any spaces in between. How annoying! The the main character is equally annoying. When the bell rings for recess, he doesn’t take his turn, but hurries to the front of the line. And this is just on the second page of this thing. The school apparently experiences an earthquake, and suddenly it’s five years later and we’re in chapter two. Kudos to the author for actually putting the prologue into the body of the novel. It’s the only way you'll get me to read a prologue! I'm guessing some super villain or other comes out of the earthquake, but I haven’t read that far, so it’s only a guess.

Nick the hero is now living with his aunt Cora. Cora's only defining qualities are that she's slim and beautiful, because who wants a smart woman who might be overweight? Let’s not ever tell young children that smarts are more important than looks. And while we’re at it, who wants a woman with integrity and good humor? No one. Don’t ever tell young kids that. The hell with integrity, industry and accomplishments! Let’s not have kids growing up thinking those things are of value. Nope! Keep it superficial!

This author evidently thinks that all young kids need to know is that women should be slim and beautiful - like a magazine model - because no other woman is worth anything, let's face it. That's what all-too-many writers want us to believe, sadly enough, and that's evidently what this writer apparently wants young kids to grow-up learning. Personally, I don’t buy it, but that's the way it is. Maybe I should start keeping a tally, as I read, of how many strikes this novel garners for itself? Naw! I never read that far.

Cora and nephew are moving to a new home. I like the way Cora specifies that they'll be leaving at 5am sharp in the morning, so that he doesn’t get any ideas that they'll be moving out at 5am sharp in the afternoon…. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that he's a superhero and this could well be why they're moving so frequently. The how and why of this isn't immediately explained, but he at least has super speed, so here comes the next trip-up.

Alex and Nick decorate an older guy's car with bologna, because that's unquestionably the best way to have a really fun night, and when the older guy starts looking for the culprits, Alex proves that he can run faster than a Mustang - which in the end crashes injuring the guys. How christian is that?! He runs right into the kid he's rescuing - at speed - and takes him along so they won't be caught, but the writer is in dire need of a lesson in physics and biology, because he simply doesn’t get it (that's what too much religion will do for you!). Don’t worry, the writers in The Flash TV show don't get it either.

It doesn't matter how much of a super hero you are, the laws of physics still apply, and ordinary people still have the same biology. If you run at sixty miles an hour and pick-up a by-stander in order to rescue them, then their body is going to go from zero to sixty instantly, and you're going to break their neck or give them some serious whiplash and compression injuries at least. That's not much of a rescue.

This novel started out middle grade and moved to young adult, but the tone never changed from middle-grade. Worse than this, instead of telling us a story about the super hero powers, we got a story of the main character playing football - in tedious detail. What happened to the super hero? I guess football is more important. This story felt far more like author wish-fulfillment than ever it did a real story, and I cannot in good faith recommend it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Steths: Cognition by Karl Fields

Title: Steths: Cognition by Karl Fields
Author: Karl Fields (no website found)
Publisher: Pleated Press (no website found)
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Here's a novel which gets right to the point - a cover, a title page, and then chapter one! Screw antiquated Library of Congress rules and antique publishing methods! You've got to admire that. This is the world of ebooks, not of trays of lead characters pressed together rank and file waiting to be slathered with sticky ink and squished onto a galley page. So off we go!

The world in this novel is one of people who have special powers - not supernatural powers, but enhanced human powers. Devin Chambers, the main character narrates this story, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because it's a first person PoV format - something which I normally rail against. As it happens, it was done well on this occasion, and didn't feel to me like someone was scraping their fingernails down a chalkboard as I read it! That was a major relief.

Devin is known as a 'steth' - short for stethoscope, presumably - because he can detect, at a distance, the faintest sounds of someone's heartbeat which allows him not only to know if they're alive, but to some degree, what they're feeling and whether they're lying. How that works, exactly, goes unexplained. Yes, you can detect a change in heart-beat, or a particular rhythm, but what does that really tell you, and in how much detail? He cannot, however, detect the heartbeat of another steth - and certain other people as will become clear to readers.

He first begins to feel he's really different from others (even other steths) when his school class attends a trial and he's the only one who thinks the defendant isn't guilty. Shortly after this he's visited by a guy, Mickey, who offers him a place at the prestigious Faulkner Academy. His good friend Travis, who's also invited, is pumped about it, but Devin has doubts because the Academy has no athletic program (no, honestly!).

Devin is also obsessed with the innocent guy saddled with a guilty verdict and one day when he goes to the jail to visit him, he encounters a girl, Sarah Shaw, who was already visiting this same guy. He follows the girl, only to discover she's a special, too - but a 'bouncer' who, he learns, is supposedly his mortal enemy. Is this be the clichéd love-hate relationship whereby these two are destined to fall in love? I can't tell you!

The writing in general is very good, with only one or two questionable areas, such as on page 17 where we read: "Shaw, the defendant, who sat beside his attorney in a white jumpsuit..." Who was wearing the white jump suit?! How about, "Shaw, the defendant who was wearing a white jump suit, sat beside his attorney..."? Just a suggestion! Apart from rare happenstances like that, it was well-written, entertaining, and engrossing.

I have to say (and without confirming if I was right or wrong - I'm usually wrong on these things!) I didn't trust Carissa Watson, a fellow student at Faulkner who became involved with Devin. She seemed a little too convenient for me. I much preferred Sarah! I also liked Travis, although he initially seemed to me to be like a victim waiting to happen. Whether that does happen I'm not going to tell you!

It struck me as odd that Devin tells us he couldn't talk about movies with Carissa on their first date because there was no movie theater in town. What, they never saw one on TV or rented a video?! That struck me as strange, but that and some misspellings, such as "planed" in placed of "planned" (which a spell-checker won't find!) were about the worst issues I had with the technical aspects of this story, apart from the one I'll discuss next, which needs its own paragraph!

At one point, about halfway through this novel (which is a surprisingly fast read) there was a really improbable situation where Devin, obsessing way more on a missing photograph than ever he had any reason to, went on a highly unlikely "expedition" to a place he thought it might be. This made no sense whatsoever - first that the photograph would be hidden (and hidden there of all places) rather than simply destroyed, and second that Devin would ever become so focused on it, let alone dedicated to finding it. There was no rationale for it.

Devin had what was termed in the book, Hypersensitive Tympanic Syndrome. This isn't a real disorder as far as I know, but it is the condition which steths are supposed to have. What bugged me about that was that if steths's hearing is so sensitive that they can clearly detect a heartbeat (and from a distance, yet!), then how come every noise out there doesn't drive them crazy or deafen them? This issue is never even discussed, much less explained!

Those things aside, I really liked the characters and the story. It was well-thought out (for the most part!) and interesting. Devin was a really likable character and, again for the most part, the story was believable and made sense. This was a refreshing change from way too much YA 'literature' that I've had to read. Also kudos for having a believable guy as the main character. Devin was an African American, but one who isn't somehow tied-in to gangs or rap! It was such a relief to find stereotyping was absent here: Devin was just an ordinary everyday guy, and I appreciated that. I'm looking forward to the sequel to this novel.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Whisper by Crystal Green

Title: Whisper
Author: Crystal Green
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Whisper is a prequel which takes place before a subsequent volume titled Honey which I have not read. It's published next month. Whisper is very short: 39 pages which makes it rather like a prologue which I typically don't read. I had no idea this was the case, but since I did commit to writing an honest review, here goes! (Why would I write a dishonest one?!)

My first impression wasn't good. The text is very small with wide spaces between lines, making it hard to read, and I was reading it in Adobe Digital Editions on a full-sized screen. I'd hate to try this on my smart phone! The spacing of the lines suggests that 39 pages is an over-estimate of how long this is by about a third, maybe, were it printed in a normal font with regular spacing.

The story begins with Carley Rios receiving a text message on a new phone app called "TellTale". The TellTale messages can come from anywhere, but you can set the radius so that it limits which ones you see. Carley set hers for ten miles - when she lives in a tiny town she just moved to three months ago and where she knows almost no one. Why ten miles? It makes no sense!

The message states "I do anything to have Carley, but she doesn't know I exist". Carley is so clueless that despite the rather ominous wording, she thinks this is a secret admirer. This guy (who includes a background silhouette of himself and lives within ten miles of Carley) doesn't declare his love or admiration. He outright states he wants to have her. Whether that means he wants to own her or to have sex with her isn't clear, but either way it's inappropriate, not admiring.

Carley sends the 'admirer' a message on TellTale which includes a picture of her open bedroom door. She's dumb enough to think this will tell the guy that she's willing to step out of her comfort zone. It never occurs to her that it's telling him she wants to invite him into her bed - a guy she's never met who sends creepy texts and wants to meet her in dark, anonymous places.

Carley's biggest problem isn't taking stupid risks. It's that she's so shallow that she's incapable of having anything whatsoever running through her mind that isn't boys. Not even men, but boys, and it's pathetic. I can't recommend this and have no intention of reading Honey.