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

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!

Errata:
"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.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Silence of Six by EC Myers


Title: The Silence of Six
Author: EC Myers
Publisher: Adaptive Books
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 reward aplenty!

I was really impressed with this novel from the start and found myself quickly drawn-in and really wanting to swipe the screens. It’s an object lesson in how to write a story which pulls people in and keeps 'em hooked. It has some ups and downs, but overall, I rate it a very worthy read.

Maxwell is a high-school student who attends a presidential debate which is being held at his school. As it's winding up, at the end of question-time, someone hacks into the screen being used on stage; a young person wearing a mask appears, and asks the two presidential candidates, "What is the silence of six and what are you going to do about it?" before shooting himself. Max is acutely disturbed as he sees that this is his hacker friend Evan. Max has been out of hacking for a year or so, but Evan never left, and he has some secrets of which Max is unaware. As the students are filing out of the auditorium, their laptops, pads and phones are confiscated 'for reasons of national security'.

Max suddenly realizes that there's more going on here than simply a joke hack or a suicide. He returns to his hacker roots, logging into a secret forum which he hasn’t accessed for a year. The names he sees are familiar, but they're suspicious of him. One of them - Doublethink - opens a private side-channel and requests a meeting in person. Max decides it’s time for a face-to-face, but already there are dark SUVs following him, so he decides to go on the run.

This novel is really well-written. It has intrigue and danger, it has smart computer talk, and it sounds realistic from the off. Doublethink is particularly intriguing, but I can't tell you any more without ruining the surprises the author has in store. Max has some narrow escapes, makes new friends, meets fascinating and dangerous characters, all the while circling around the clues and hints that Evan has evidently left for him. And also Max carries the guilty burden of the fact that Evan had reached out to him several times recently and Max had been too busy, preoccupied or otherwise distracted to connect with him again.

There were some weaknesses in the story. The main one is one we always find in this kind of story: there are points where Max has enough information at his disposal that he could have gone online with it, thereby at least taking some of the pressure off himself. There's no good reason offered to explain why he doesn’t do this. Later an explanation is offered, but I'm not convinced that it was a good one! Also at one point Max says "…looking for whomever was using the computer…" No one speaks like that. Writers write like that, and it’s like an itch when you don’t use the correct grammatical form, but it’s entirely wrong to have people speak like that when almost no-one - especially not kids - actually does.

So, not perfect, but a short, fast, and very entertaining read which I recommend.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L Jagi Lamplighter


Title: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin
Author: L Jagi Lamplighter
Publisher: Dark Quest Books
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 reward aplenty!

This is a story which is, and I say this negatively, very much in the mold of Harry Potter - a girl (from England even!) starting her time at a school for witchcraft and wizardry, where the witches ride brooms, and can travel instantaneously, and just like in Harry Potter, Rachel loves to fly on her broomstick. And she's already a Griffin!

Of course everyone wants to write the next Harry Potter, but actually writing the next Harry Potter isn't the way to get there, because actually writing the next Harry Potter, no matter how much you try to differentiate it, is still ripping off Harry Potter - it's not really new, and that's the hole we immediately fell into with this novel.

Is this novel differentiated at all? Well, a little bit. It's not Hogwarts school to begin with. Here, it goes by the awful name of the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts. Sorcerous sounds way too much like cancerous to me! Maybe there's a reason for that? Yes they fly on broomsticks - but the "difference" is that these brooms have no bristles so they go faster! Characters can they travel instantaneously, but here it's not by floo powder, but by mirror! And Rachel isn't an orphan - she has a mom, a dad, and an older sister - but she's miles away from them so she feels orphaned in a way.

I first started taking a dislike to this novel at only two percent in because of how Rachel's older sister Sandra is described: "Rachel hoped, when she grew up, she would look like Sandra, calm, stately, and as beautiful as a swam." Never mind courage. Never mind smarts. Never mind decency. Never mind friendliness. Never mind reliability. Never mind integrity. Never mind skills and capabilities. Never mind independence. Nope. The only important thing about a woman, once again please learn it well, is how beautiful and regal she is. This idea of wealth, privilege, and beauty so soaks this novel that it made me nauseous to read it. It was like being confined on the subway with someone who bathes in perfume or cologne rather than sports a teasing hint of it.

What is wrong with children's and young adult authors? Seriously? How many more stories written for young girls are going to persist in brutally ramming it down girls' throats that if you're not beautiful you're essentially valueless? Frankly, I am nauseated by reading this insanity. It makes me sick. People deserve better than this, especially girls who are already being beaten to death by "Big Fashion" and "Big Cosmetics". Do they not deserve something better than this?

I considered it my responsibility to give this novel a fair chance, which is why I continued to read on past this awful point, but I knew then that I would not be able to finish this novel if it continued in this vein, and continue it did. Young readers deserve a hell of a lot better than this.

It's immediately after this that we're told that poor homely Rachel is not only not beautiful like her sister, she also hasn't inherited her mother's "astoundingly shapely figure" because again, if you ain't got curves and beauty, you're an ugly witch. Don't you know that? Seriously? Rachel's "smarts" are conveyed to us not by anything she does or says, not by the approbation of others, but by the fact once again, that she's read lots of books! Because in YA and children's literature, book larnin' = smarts, dontcha know? You didn't know that? You need to read more books so everyone will know you're smart!

In this novel, just as in Harry Potter, the magical world is hidden from the muggles (the 'unwary' as they're apparently labeled here). Just as in Harry Potter, Rachel meets a blond kid (who's connected with the dark side) on her first day and makes an enemy of her - yes, its a she here, not a he.

Just like Hermione Granger, Rachel has unruly hair and is a know-it-all. She meets an orphan student with whom she becomes friends. The only real description we get of the boy is that he's handsome - again beauty trumps everything else! Rachel breaks the rules and discovers something untoward going on. She has to warn another student, Valerie Foxx (only one 'X' shy of becoming a porn star!). Valerie is pretty )of course she is!), and her friend is not only "gorgeous", but really "well-endowed" - because nothing could possibly be more important than looks. I supposed 'well-endowed' could mean she's intersexed, which at least would be something new, but I guessed not, and I was right.

Unlike Harry Potter, Rachel is rich and is actually Lady Rachel - coming from an old wealth family in Devon - the daughter of a Duke. She considers her new friend to be "low-born" because he comes from a "horrid, mundane orphanage". By this point I was thinking of calling up my Doctor for a large prescription of Promethazine to counter the extreme nausea. Also by this point I completely loathed Rachel.

Siggy, her pet orphan friend isn't actually any better. When she rudely asks him if he likes girls, his response indicates that he likes "ladies". He would never, he tells her, risk his life to slay a dragon for a "trollop". Let the trollops rot! I'm sorry, but at this point - 8 percent in - I could not stand to read even one more screen of this snotty piece of ill-conceived and appallingly abusive garbage. Call me unexpectedly enlightened.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Black Hole by Charles Burns


Title: Black Hole
Author: Charles Burns
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Rating: WARTY!

This month's nominee for worst cover ever was originally published by Fantagraphics as twelve comic books starting in 1995. Now it's combined into one hardback published in 2005. Despite the publication dates, it's set in the 1970's and I suspect it's a lot more meaningful to the author than ever it is to any of his readers. I found it revealing that wikipedia refers to Burns as a cartoonist in its page title!

The book blurb claims that it's "...deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it- back when it wasn’t exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird." This was nonsensical to me. There was no such "moment" - except maybe in the author's own personal life!

There was nothing "hippie" and nothing "seventies" here. It was just a bunch of high-school losers who were literally being wasted - getting wasted on drugs and booze, and wasting their lives. There was no enlightenment going on here, no rebellion against the establishment - indeed, these kids were firmly entrenched in their own establishment. There was no musical revolution, nothing new. This story felt like it was really was nothing more than personal anecdotes recalling bad trips.

The whole novel reads like a bad drug trip. Maybe that's the intent, but it made no sense and wasn't entertaining for the most part. Maybe the author is trying to make sense of his youth, but the novel really didn't mean a whole heck of a lot to me. Parts of it were well done, other parts meaningless. The comics explore the same time-period or the same events from many perspectives, so there's a lot of overlap, which I suspect is easier to see in the compendium than it was in the separate comics.

The artwork isn't anything special. It's borderline competent, but in no way startling, and this is especially stark given the subject matter. The seventies was an extraordinarily flamboyant era. Why depict it in B&W? Some of the characters are really hard to tell apart. One pair of them - a dating couple - is really only differentiated by the fact that the guy has some peach fuzz on his chin whereas the girl doesn't. I'm not kidding!

It's hardly impressive art. It's all sharply, but thickly drawn black-and-white line and shade, but the story is anything but black and white. It's also drawn for a mature audience: though it's set in and around high school, there's a huge amount of drug use and a lot of explicit sexuality, with some violence and violent themes towards the end.

To me, that was really sad - that these kids evidently had nothing to do with their lives - indeed, no interest whatsoever in life - other than partying and smoking pot. Personally, I don't care if people spend their lives partying and smoking pot - it's no worse (and no better) than smoking tobacco, let's face it - but I don't get why I should be expected to be interested in reading a novel which offers that, and only that.

There was very little in this story to draw me in and and make me want to pursue it. I did finish it because it was short and because I really hoped there would be a pay-off at the end. There wasn't. What was it George Bush senior moment said? The nattering nabobs of negativity? Other than everything Reagan said, and Clinton's preposterous lie that he did not "have sex with that woman", that is the absolute dumbest thing any president ever said (with "mission accomplished" a close second!), but it George Herbert Walker's nonsensical blabber really does apply in the case of this comic.

The characters are two-dimensional, with nothing to recommend them. One was a replica of John Lennon in his pinched nose, granny-glasses period, so I started looking for others who might identify with recording artists, but I didn't see any others that I recognized, so maybe that was just a one-off. The situations were very ordinary for the most part with nothing special about any of it (with few exceptions). It was amusing that everyone seemed to have the same hair style.

The really weird thing is the mutation disease. Running through this youthful crowd is a body-fluid transmitted disease which causes physical mutations. Some reviewers have equated this with AIDS, but I don't think that's what Burns intended. I think the mutations caused by this "plague" were nothing more than a physical manifestation of teen fears.

One guy, for example, has a mouth at the base of his neck - one which speaks and seems to be controlled by a different part of his brain - or even a different brain - than his regular mouth. Which teen hasn't felt like they've said things they didn't mean or didn't intend? The girl who has sex with him contracts the disease, but her manifestation of it is that she periodically sheds her skin like a snake. Which teen hasn't sometimes wondered what it would be like to shed their skin and be someone else? Haven't serious drug abusers felt at times like they were crawling out of their skin? Other victims exhibit bumps or blisters on their face. One guy develops facial features that make him look reminiscent of a rabbit. I don't see that as a comment on the fact that he contracted the disease while humping like a bunny.

Actually, there's no pattern to this "disease" at all, and other than teens shunning other teens who have it, there is no reference to the disease from society at large - no attempt to fight it or contain it. There was no effort to explain where it came from, or why no one was really interested in it. It was like the disease was nothing more than an amateur attempt to graphically portray feelings of disaffection, rejection, incompetence and so on, but given that it all came from acts of love and passion, it made zero sense to me. Indeed, it very effectively countermanded the author's apparent intention.

Some portions of the story featured a cult of kids leaving home and migrating to the woods where they would camp out with others of their "kind". Again, this made more sense as a physical manifestation of feelings of alienation, but presented the way it was just made it seem silly and trivial. This is of course where it was easy for murders to be committed, but those made least sense of all. If the characters were not really physically living in the woods, and this was merely a representation of their isolation, then what were the acts of murder supposed to represent? If the murders were real, then what triggered them? None of this is addressed, much less explained.

One character, Eliza, was well-worth her own story, but she was given rather short shrift (or short shift!) here. She had a tail, but it was never clear if this came from the STD, or if she was naturally born with it. People are born with tails - a relic of evolution for which the creationists have absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Eliza was an artist and was giftedly so, but frankly, she didn't seem to belong to this story at all. I would have loved a story about her. She was the only character with anything to say or with any real story to tell.

Overall I can't recommend this novel. You know what it most reminded me of? Reefer Madness - that asinine movie which purportedly warns children against using drugs that was made in the late 1930s and was so awful, exploitative, over-the-top, and inaccurate that it's become a cult classic. Hopefully this limited tradition novel won't become that famous.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger


Title: Waistcoats & Weaponry
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Little Brown
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 reward aplenty!

Errata
p180 "Because we both know you've got my best interests at heart?" is not something a Victorian lady of breeding would say. "…you have my best interests…"
p197 There's a bullet in the side of his chest, then it's in his gut? Where is it really?!
p137 "I guess I do, don’t I?" sounds awfully American for a Victorian woman of British birth to say. More likely would be something like, "I suppose I have, haven’t I?"

And we’re back. I was really been looking forward to this, the next volume in what is now a trilogy. Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, Agatha Woosmoss, and Sidheag Maccon are returned with more steam-punk and espionage as they travel over the emerald green countryside of southern England in 1853 in their dirigible finishing school along with designated villain, Preshea Buss.

I was surprised that I didn’t immediately warm to this volume. The last two drew me in at once and held my interest effortlessly. This one felt more like I was pushing myself to read it, rather than being hypnotically led by it. That's the problem with a series - you have to give more of the same, but you also have to change it. It works well when an author can deliver enough familiarity that it feels like a story continuation, but with sufficient difference that it doesn’t feel like it's really the same story you read before, warmed over.

This felt like too much more of the same as we joined the girls watching a vampire teacher dancing with a flowerpot on his head, then had to meet with one corner of Sophronia's limp love triangle - Soap, the lower class lackey in the engine room, then went to an engagement ball where Sophronia meets the other corner of her triangle - Lord Mersey.

I honestly have zero liking for either of these guys, and I have no idea what the attraction is for Sophronia, either. Oh, and we now learn that Sophronia is nick-named Ria! An unfortunate name given that it sounds like 'rear' and she does behave all-too-often like an ass, primarily with these two unlikeable and inappropriate boys.

Eventually the adventure begins when Sidheag - an honorary member of a werewolf pack - discovers that the leader of her pack has killed his number two and left Scotland. The pack is apparently in rebellion against the Queen, and now Sidheag feels compelled to go take over the pack - even though she is not and never has been a wolf - and tell them all what to do. Naturally Sophronia, Dimity, Agatha, Lord Mersey, and Soap go along. Naturally? Hardly!

It was at this point that the plot became quite unbelievable to me. I get that when you have made the mistake of embarking upon a series to milk your characters (and your sales) for all they're worth, you have to stir things up and change things around not because it’s makes for good story telling, but because you have to prevent your readers from becoming bored and disillusioned, and abandoning you in droves, but when the change isn’t organic - when it’s quite obviously manufactured, as this one clearly is, it just doesn’t work well at all.

In this case, it’s actually worse, for me, because I have a real aversion to and detestation of werewolf stories - even more so than I do to vampire stories, so this abandonment of everything I've grown to love from the first two books to head to Scotland (which is actually a place I love) with the apparent intention of relating a sorry tale of werewolves isn't exactly a charmed idea in my book.

Since this isn't my book, but Carriger's book, I decided to press on and see how it worked or even if it worked, and fortunately they don’t make it to Scotland; they become, how shall I put it? Derailed? The novel is very short - only a couple of hundred pages, so "How bad could it get?" I asked myself lightly…. Well it became boring - that's how bad it got.

The train journey really didn't offer anything interesting or exciting, and it did offer large measures of Le Stupide, I'm sorry to report. There was one point where it was train v. small dirigible, and they stopped the train. What? This made zero sense, since in such a battle, the train wins every time - why did they stop? Why did they leave Monique almost unattended? Why didn’t the trained spy escape? So the novel was very badly let down by weak plotting and limp action here.

There's a really odd sentence fragment on page 19 in the eighth paragraph at the start of chapter two:

Over a year and a half's association and Sophronia would have described the other three as confidantes extraordinaire.

I can see what the author is trying to say but it could have been said a whole lot better - like by replacing the 'and' with a comma, and starting the sentence with 'After'.

This same kind of thing occurs on page 47, where we read, almost at the bottom of the page, "Not all sudden, you just never asked." I think that comma ought to be a semi-colon at least.

On the other hand, there were some touches of hilarity of the fine vintage that I fondly remember from the earlier books, such as on page 115, where we read, "It was an instinct ill-suited to Dimity, like watching a duck eat custard." which was delightful. It will never beat "Who wouldn't want an exploding wicker chicken?" from the first book, but that one was so wonderful I doubt it will ever be beaten.

On balance I have to say that the bad far outweighed the good. This felt like the stereotypical second novel in a trilogy - the one which is typically weak - instead of the third in what, until this volume had been a cracking good yarn. Consequently, I can't recommend this one.

However, in my slightly improving aim of providing a parody song to ease the pain when I tender a warty review, here's my effort for this one. To the tune of All Kinds of Everything as sung by Dana:

Airdrops and abseiling, steam-dogs, no fleas,
Dirigibles and carriages, crumpets and tea,
Secrecy and high intrigue, early morning school,
Waistcoats & Weaponry used to be cool.

Steam trains and aeroplanes, now have gone by,
Both volumes one and two left me with sighs,
Sophronia and Dimity, and Agatha too,
Waistcoats & Weaponry used to be cool.

Evening or school time, on land and in air,
These three and Sidheag, or Lady Kingair.
Dances, no romances, soirees and secrets,
winning, never losing, these girls won my bets.
Cool jokes, British blokes, and some frou-frou,
Waistcoats & Weaponry can't remind me of you.

Now it's all wall to wall boredom and dull.
The third one in the series has hit a big lull.
Excitement and fun are a thing of the past.
I guess I should know that such fun cannot last,
Reading this, feeling pissed, I am such a fool.
O waistcoats & weaponry please go back to school!