Showing posts with label magic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label magic. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Crystal Key by Robert William Gronewold

Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was overall decently well-written from a technical perspective and it started out quite engaging, but as I read on, I found it more and more slipping into the worn-out mold of young adult fiction: the perky best friend who is either gay or a female. In this case it was a female named Margo who was obsessed, of course, with fashion. There was the trope of the girl (in this case the oddly-named Felicity Bough) finding her new and great magical power and then being thrown into the threat or clutches of evil. There was the tiresome love-triangle with the reliable trustworthy boy-next-door versus the so-gritty-he's-really-animated-sandpaper bad boy who rescues her. That's what actually turned me off the story. Not so much the ultra-predictable bad boy as the fact that this girl who was initially shown to be so strong, was rescued and thereby was rendered into nothing more than a simpering acolyte of the thoroughly nauseating bad boy.

Evidently like other reviewers, I initially thought this was a graphic novel. It is not. It's a ~400 page tome of pure text, which is way too long. The story revolves around a world which is evidently ours but projected into a future where evil has become so pervasive that even the sun has gone out. What keeps the planet alive are these inexplicable well-springs of light which fountain-up from various places on the planet, But, just like in The Never-Ending Story movie, the dark is encroaching upon the planet piece-by-piece and no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it.

This world is predictably exactly like the USA, except for the magic and the asinine transportation, which seems (for no reason I was given in the fifty percent of this novel that I read) to be based on animals. Cars are tigers and stallions, buses are bears, cargo transportation is elephants, and so on. I was rather surprised not to see the cat bus from the anime Totoro. These are not real animals, but machines named after them and which apparently have some animal traits, but the description was so vague as to leave these things a mystery. They do evidently have wheels, so I didn't get the animal reference at all. None of this made any sense to me; it wasn't entertaining or amusing. Quite the opposite: it increasingly became an irritant in short order.

Someone at Chapterhouse Publishing needed to read this because there were multiple problems with the text. In general it was not awful by any means, and spelling and grammar were fine as a general rule, but there were some bizarre oddities which ought to have been caught by an editor if not by the author himself. For example, on page 48 I read "...then is shot down and dived...." I assume the author meant, 'then it shot down'. A little later I encountered, "...verdant shade of green" on page 73. Verdant actually means green, so this is a tautology. On page 117, I read "...plain stone brick wall...." It's either brick or it's stone; the two are not the same. This is maybe a case where the author started out using one and changed to the other, but forgot to delete the one they were trading out for the other. We've all done that!

On page 128 there was a mistake of using clamored instead of clambered as in "...clamored over the old blocks....' Clamor is to make a noise, whereas clamber is to climb over. I suppose one could say that clambering over the rocks was causing a clamor, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense to do that. On the next page I read, "...who knew what something bigger could do." which ended in a period instead of a question mark. I encountered a common error on page 134, where I read "She tread quietly...." The past tense of tread is 'trod', not tread, and certainly not 'treaded' which I've actually read in more than one novel.

On page 153, I read, "...two large trees that created the top of the hill" I don't get what that's supposed to mean. The trees don't create the top of the hill; they might sit atop it or surmount it. They might even furnish it, but they don't create it. In a part of the novel where Felicity is sitting in a machine I read "...two throttles sat upright ready for steering." Nope! Throttles control speed. They don't control steering, unless the direction is also controlled by the thrust, but since this was a land vehicle, not a water or space vessel, that seemed unlikely, especially since Felicity didn't know how to drive it. Finally on page 156, I read, "I'm hungry too," this speech was followed by the word 'returned' I think it was intended to be 'he returned', as in he spoke back to her. I'm guessing by how often I was discovering these that they didn't end on that page, but that's what I found in as far as I wanted to read in this novel.

In terms of overall formatting, I once again find myself having to beg authors and publishers to have some consideration for trees. This book had very wide margins on all four edges, constituting, by my rough estimate, some twenty-five percent of the page. If the book is issued only in electronic format, this isn't such an issue (although longer novels eat up more energy to transmit over the Internet), but for a book that might go to a long print run, serious consideration needs to be given to how many trees you're going to slaughter in this era of runaway climate change. No one wants to read a novel where the text is jammed together over the entire page, but if the margins had been even slightly less generous, the book would have been shorter and eaten up less paper.

Chapter one didn't actually begin until page fifteen and it ended on page 400. Some of those fifteen pages could have been also dispensed with, instead of rigidly and blindly conforming to antiquated publishing rules created when no one gave a damn about trees and climate change. I found it ironic that the encroaching evil upon which this author discourses is actually upon us (albeit in a different form from the one he writes of), and yet publishers and authors perpetuate their blithe (or blithering) blindness to it.

If these story had been shorter, less 'maiden in distress', and the bad boy third leg of the tired love triangle been dispensed with, this would have been a lot better. In faith, methinks it too low for a high praise, too long for a short praise and too little inventive for an imaginative praise. Only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it is unhandsome; and being no other but as it is, I cannot recommend it.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wandmaker by Ed Masessa

Rating: WARTY!

This is very much in the mold of Harry Potter. The main character is Henry Leach and I've decided not to read another young magician novel in which the main character has a first name beginning with H and ending with Y. The wands on the cover look suspiciously like props from the Harry Potter movies, but we can't blame the author for that - except to blame him for trusting Big Publishing™ instead of publishing it himself and making his own cover! This was an audiobook and I wasn't particularly impressed with the reader, but it was really the story which wasn't engaging me at all.

Henry is supposed to hail from a long line of wand-makers on both his parents' sides of the family, so he has special powers, we're led to believe, but he came across as being something of an idiot to me. His mother is not in the picture for reasons which were never gone into in the portion I listened to (which was less than half). The world-building wasn't great, so I felt lost much of the time, but part of this could well be because I became bored and irritated and skipped parts of the story; however, even when I was listening to it sequentially and with interest at the beginning, it still failed to give me a good feel for the world, and how Henry came to be where he was in it.

The secondary characters were singularly unimpressive. His kid sister Brianna was such a dedicated brat that she was entirely unlikeable, as was his father, who seemed to have an evil streak in him. Apparently he goes missing later in the story so this is a good thing. Henry's mentor, Coralis (which name sounds like some sort of software app) was simply tedious, although this may have had a lot to do with the reader of the audiobook.

In short I could not get into this and have absolutely no desire to follow a series about this character. I cannot recommend it based on what I listened to, but this is par for the course for many audiobooks since I tend to experiment more with them.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested to review this novel because I was truly intrigued by the premise. I have to report that it got off to a bit of a rocky start with me, then I began to get into it, then it hit a slack patch before taking off again, so it was a bit of a roller-caster ride, but when you're a writer, you have to go with what your gut tells you (or your editor if you don't self-publish! LOL!) so each to her own, I guess. In the end though, I found myself becoming more and more disappointed in it and I can't recommend this.

People say you can't really review a novel if you don't read it all, but I think that's nonsense. Several times I considered DNF-ing this because I was so disappointed in it and did not consider it worth continuing. Instead I read on, hoping it would turn around. It didn't. If I had quit at thirty percent or fifty percent, or seventy five percent, my gut instinct about it would still have been right, yet once again I plugged along to the end only to discover that nothing changed for the better, especially not my mindset. This novel is apparently the start of a series and I have zero interest in following it. Let me tell you why.

To begin with, I have to report that this is one of the most overused novel titles. There are many other novels with this same or with a very similar title including: Daughter of the Storm by Jeanne Williams, Daughters of the Storm by Aola Vandergriff, Daughters of the Storm by Elizabeth Buchan, Daughters of The Summer Storm by Frances Patton Statham, Daughter of Air and Storm by Sherryl King-Wilds, Daughter of Storms by Louise Cooper, The Daughter of the Stormed by Catherine Cuomo, and so on. I recommend authors finding truly original titles for their novels even if the title they end up with isn't their first choice.

The book is volume one in the "Blood and Gold" series, and I should confess I'm not a fan of series books. I like novels that have an ending and "book ones" tend to be nothing more than a prologue to a chain of books that can be so derivative and unimaginative that they're simply boring. I avoid prologues, introductions, forewords, and prefaces like the plague, so it took some thinking before I elected to take a look at this. Like I said, the blurb was compelling, but I have a love-hate relationship with blurbs at best, and I really dislike novels that have no kind of end point at all.

I was not a fan of the blood and guts (or gold!) opening, but the story took-off after that in a more pleasing fashion at least for a while, introducing the five sisters. In some ways it felt like this was a fantasy rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. We have the five sisters and a somewhat ineffectual father (in this case because he's taken ill). There's no real mother interfering. For Elizabeth Bennet, we have Bluebell (all the daughters are named after angiosperms), but Bluebell is nowhere near as perspicacious as Lizzie Bennet. Nor as amusing.

In this story, she's the feisty elder daughter, renowned and feared for her blade (rather than her wit as was the case in P&P), but it would seem that this warrior rep, thinking only of killing and sword-fighting is literally all she has going for her. She was very one-note and this began to gall in short order. She was next in line for the throne, but she certainly was not monarch material at all, not even in a blood-thirsty world like this. Nor was she military material, proving herself a poor strategist and a very average warrior.

It wouldn't have been so bad had she merited her renown, but she did not. She was stupid and incompetent. In two fights she had after the opening - fights when she was alone facing four attackers - she gave a really poor account of herself and had to be rescued by her magical sister both times. So no, she was not even a great warrior, and I had to ask how on Earth did she ever get this reputation that we were reminded of repeatedly, when she was so bad at what she did?

Next came the Jane Bennet of the family, known in this story as Rose. She has been married-off to Wengest, king of Nettlechester to secure an alliance. This author likes to name countries with names which sound like English cities, for some reason. The author is Australian and I am predisposed to look favorably on Australiana, but I wasn't fond of these names. The seemed unrealistic. Rose was once enamored of Wengest, but now is in love (so she claims) with his nephew Heath, and she pursues him like a love-sick teenager instead of behaving like a mature monarch. She was truly sickening in her stupidity and her selfish bitch-in-heat behavior. This did not come off as a great and tragic love story as perhaps the author intended, but as hack high-school love-triangle nonsense.

Next is Ash, who is the equivalent of Mary Bennet. She joins us as a resident in a type of convent, but she soon leaves to go home when she learns her father is ill. She has some sort of magical gift which evolves somewhat as the story unfolds. I enjoyed that to begin with, but in the end it also became tedious, because it really went nowhere. Ash constantly whined about this gift and where she felt it might lead. She meets an undermagician who tells her she is also an undermagician, but at no point was it ever really explained what an undermagician is or how one might differ from an actual magician. She and Bluebell were by far the most interesting characters to me, so it was sad that both of them became ever more annoying and dislikable the further I got into the story.

After Ash come of course, the troublesome twosome: Ivy and Willow. They're the equivalent of Kitty and Lydia, with Ivy being the ridiculously promiscuous Lydia, and Willow the dissatisfied, complaining Kitty. Ivy pretty much wants to jump the bones of anything in pants. She was a caricature of Rose who at least was only idiotically fixated on one guy. Willow is secretly an adherent of an anti-feminist religion, for reasons which are never actually revealed. She's hoping to convert her father so if he dies he can enter the sunlit afterlife instead of the dark place. Or something along those lines. Neither of these girls seemed remotely realistic.

There are two villains, Hakon, a rival warlord, and Wylm, the stepbrother of the girls. Both of these felt like caricatures at best and jokes at worst. Fearing what will happen if the king dies and Bluebell becomes queen, Wylm sets off on a quest to find Hakon at the same time as Bluebell orders her father moved away from home to seek help for the supernatural illness which she believes is killing him, so we have two parallel road trips in place. Here is where thing really fell apart and suspension of disbelief with it. Bluebell precipitately takes her father, along with two other soldiers, and all of her sisters on this trip. We've already been told how dangerous the countryside is, with raiders (who always seem to find Bluebell), yet we have only herself and two soldiers protecting a sick king and four other women? And no one is left in charge at the palace? It made zero sense.

It made less sense, having brought them along, to let the sisters split-up later, dividing the party. Bluebell sends Ivy, of all people, to return Rose's daughter to her father. She sends one of her two soldiers with Ivy. That soldier then disappears and we never hear of him again. Where did he go? Why did he never return to Bluebell? And why not send Rose, the child's mother, with the child? It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, except to keep the adulterous Rose with her lover and send the promiscuous Ivy to Rose's husband. There were realistic, organic ways in which this could have been achieved, but they were not employed. In short it made no sense whatsoever, especially since Rose later leaves - alone - to follow her child. Wait, isn't the countryside dangerous? Aren't there roving bands of raiders that the kings army never seems to be interested in hunting down? Yet Rose is going to make a journey of several days alone? Again, suspension of disbelief collapsed.

There was no reason at all to have these girls all go on the trip. There was no reason not to take a garrison of soldiers from the castle along with them. There was no organic reason for Rose to go with Ash and Bluebell to find this "undermagician" who might be able to help their father, as opposed to her taking her daughter back home, so this part of the story felt so stage-managed that it really turned me off the writing. It was such an artificial attempt to keep Rose near Heath and send Ivy to Wengest that it was really laughable. It was very poorly-plotted.

Bluebell is depicted as being with a group of soldiers at the very start of the story, and these guys also disappear from the story. They never follow Bluebell back to the castle despite the country being in a crisis because of the sick king. What happened to them? Where were they when Bluebell needed them? The original departure of Rose from her husband with her daughter made as little sense. It made sense that Rose would want to visit her ailing father and perhaps that she would take her daughter with her, but we're told that "There are bandits on these roads. Violent bandits." and we've already seen them, so why is King Wengest trusting his wife and only offspring to an escort of only one soldier?

Again, it's because that one soldier was Heath, her lover! It made no practical sense to let his wife and her daughter, his only immediate offspring, and also his nephew, his only heir to the throne, travel with absolutely no armed guard. Again it failed to suspend disbelief. The author seemed so intent upon following a rigid course in relating this tale - in this case because it would bring these two together - that she never seems to have thought about the absurdity of such a situation in the context of her own story, and authenticity was sacrificed again.

On a technical note, drop caps aren't a favorite of mine and they usually don't work well in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. They were better on the iPad than on my android phone, and not so bad on an iPhone, but Kindle usually mangles any attempt at fancy text or fancy formatting, so it's best avoided. Here it wasn't too bad, but there were odd-looking chapter beginnings, such as when the 'T' in "The sun rose..." was dropped and enlarged, and sat squarely against the 'W' that began the next line so it looked like it read, "He sun in the Twest." It was amusing, but it should never have happened. It's an issue of which authors and publishers need to be aware when publishing ebooks and trying to make them look like their print versions. It simply doesn't work in the lousy Kindle app. It just doesn't! Keep the text simple for Kindle; it's all it can handle.

But poor formatting, especially when it's as mild as this was, can be overlooked if the story is engaging, This one was not. The silly sisters were tiresome, annoying, predictable, and not in the least bit credible as characters. None of them appealed to me as characters. I had no one to root for, and I honestly didn't remotely care what happened to any character in this story. They were all one dimensional, and therefore just not interesting. The author needs to kill off Willow, Ivy, and Rose, give some depth to Ash and Bluebell, and also keep the story tighter, more realistic, and shorter, and maybe it will work, but I have no faith in this series at all after reading this prologue. While I wish the author a fair dinkum career, because I think she has the makings of a good novelist, I can't say 'good on ya sheila!' for this novel, and I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony

Rating: WARTY!

I got interested in this novel when someone told me the main character, Bink, marries a woman who goes through phases: she's either ugly and really smart or she's beautiful and really stupid. I was curious as to how a story like that panned out. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I as told (isn't it always?!). She actually went through a monthly phase matching the Moon's cycle. As Fanchon, she was unattractive, but very smart. As Wynne, she was outstandingly attractive (all this is by Bink's standards, whatever those are), but very stupid. As Dee, the in-between phase, she was considered average in both departments. The phases cycled into one another by small amounts, and although Bink had met each of these, he had not seen them for long enough at a time to realize they were the same person. So who, really was dumber?

This was published in 1977, but there were problems I had with it almost from the off. The entire value of woman in this novel seemed to be focused around whether or not they were attractive. On page six, Bink is described as "smart, strong, and handsome." The page before, his fiancé is described as "beautiful, and intelligent, and talented. My question is, why are Bink's looks placed last in his trio of traits, but in hers, beauty is placed first? It's genderist and inappropriate, and this turned me off the book. No one has to read books like this when there are so many out there which are so much better written and which do not reduce women to object d'art.

Once I'd seen how women were rated in the Piers Anthony school of thought, I lost all interest in how the Dee trio panned out with their changing smarts and appearance and I quit reading this novel. I can't recommend it.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Harry Moon Snow Day Color Edition by Mark Andrew Poe, Christina Weidman

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was yet another book in the Harry Moon wizard series and I liked this even less than I did the first. The situation has not changed. There is a derivative Harry the wizard boy living in a derivative town (Sleepy Hollow, yawn), permanently stuck in a derivate Halloween, and being harassed by trope stupid, but brutal villains. Again the illustrations are by Christina Weidman and again they depict whites only.

The villains work for the mayor, Kligore, whose motivation is entirely unclear. Why he is evil goes unexplained. What he hopes to gain from it goes unexplained. Why he keeps the town permanently at Halloween goes unexplained. Why no one outside the town even notices Sleepy Hollow is permanently at Halloween goes unexplained. Why the senior magician in situ never does anything to stop the mayor's evil goes unexplained. Why no adults or police in town ever even so much as try anything to stop the mayor's evil goes unexplained. Why Harry, supposedly the derivative last great white hope for salvation (in which other magical Harry book series did I read that now?) never ever ever performs any magic, nor seems to learn anything new goes unexplained. In short, the novel made even less sense than the prologue novel did.

The only difference between this and the previous one is that Harry is somehow now quite famous in town (for reasons which went entirely unexplained). Because the mayor is allergic to cats (despite employing a humanoid one as a minion!), he forgets to control the weather (why he must do this each night goes as unexplained as why he even wishes to do it), and again for reasons unexplained, it snows. So snow day! School is out! All the kids want to play in the snow, but the mayor's minions are ordered to stop them having any fun. Why on this day they're not supposed to have fun when on every other day the mayor apparently has no problem with kids having fun goes unexplained.

The villains, including the mayor's two sons, dress in white track suits and wear ski masks, and they patrol the town brutalizing - quite literally - the young children who are out sledding. They scare the kids, break the sleds, and yet no police ever show up! No one even calls the police and the parents of the town do quite literally nothing to stop it. Not a single parent even has anything to say about this terrorism. These violent and merciless kids are encasing blocks of ice in snow and throwing them at other kids' heads. Yet they face no justice whatsoever by the story's end.

Never once does the majestic white wizard Harry ever bring out his wand - because that would be inappropriate! What? This book was unnecessarily violent, entirely unjust, and was a wizard book in which the great wizard boy never does any magic, not even to save young kids from being hurt. In short, Harry is just as evil in passively letting this happen and not reporting it, as any of the mayor's minions! It's entirely inappropriate for young children to read, even though it is evidently written for the young end of middle-grade. Apparently the message being purveyed here is that bullying is wrong, but doing anything to stop it is also wrong!

The magic on the extremely rare occasions we do get a fleeting glimpse of it in these books is of the original Harry-the-wizard sort: mindlessly simplistic, except that instead of chanting two Latin words and waving a stick, they chant an English rhyme and wave a stick. There is no cost to anyone for using this magic, yet even though it is so simple and inexplicably cost-free, Harry still cannot bring himself to do it, not even to save young kids. Not even to save his friends. I'm sorry, but no!

Again, with its wide margins and widely-spaced paragraphs, this book is quite literally a waste of paper, and I cannot recommend it.

Harry Moon First Light by Mark Andrew Poe, Barry Napier, Christina Weidman

Rating: WARTY!

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

This was one of three middle-grade novels I got from Net Galley all on the topic of Harry Moon (two of them) and his sister, Honey Moon. I know these are aimed at middle-grade and not at me, but I still can't rate this one positively even in that light because it did not tell a great story and it was so derivative as to be quite sickening. Do not confuse this series with The Dream Life Of Harry Moon: A Novel by Meg Stewart, or with Harry Moons fyra faser by Thomas Sullivan, or with The Last Breath: A Harry Moon Novel by David Graves, or with The Phases of Harry Moon by Thomas Sullivan! Harry Moon is quite a popular name for story tellers.

So the derivative parts? Well, to begin with, the boy wizard's name is Harry. He has an older magical mentor who fortunately wasn't called Albus, but who does carry a wand and wears rather eccentric clothes. Harry of course didn't know until this opening novel what magical powers he had. He lives in Sleepy Hollow, which is as over-used when it comes to paranormal events as Salem for witches. Nothing original there. Harry has a large talking rabbit for a friend, reminiscent of the 1950 movie Harvey. Finally there's a gang of boorish bullies and an evil villain, none of whom faces any consequences. There was nothing original here.

Just as in the movie Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, in this story, the calendar, but not the clock is somehow stopped at Halloween for reasons which were never explained, yet life went on perfectly normally, so I didn't get what it meant to say it was stuck at Halloween, or how that was supposed to work, and why people didn't see anything amiss with that, or why no one complained! It was like the town was somehow not connected with the rest of the world which evidently never noticed that Sleepy Hollow was nearly always out of sync with the rest of the country when it came not only to the date, but also the weather. Yet All Hallow's E'en was never actually celebrated! The whole thing seemed ill-conceived to me, and it simply didn't work.

Of course Harry has to come into his power, but just like the original Harry the magic boy, this Harry never really did anything with it when he got it. He never went after the villain, and he never used it to improve anyone's life, so it seemed quite pointless that he even had this power. Nor did it make sense that his wizard mentor had utterly failed to fix anything during his tenure either. What's the point of having magic if you never use it? What's the point of being a boy wizard in a story if there is never any wizardry - indeed Harry is pretty much warned against using it.

It made no sense and was a dissatisfying and really pointless read, especially when the blurb built it up so the reader expected weird things to happen when Harry began his paper route, but nothing really ever did. There was this thread of goodness running through the story which superficially seems like a good thing - we don't want kids going off down paths of evil and brutality, but where this failed was that there was no justice in this world! That's entirely the wrong message to send to kids.

It made little sense anyway, adhering to this Biblical moral code because following it blindly made Harry and his friends into perennial victims who got punished painfully, even brutally at times, and no adult ever stepped up to the plate to put an end to it or even to help the kids out. That's also entirely the wrong message to send. Talking of which, the illustrations in the novel were of a very simplistic cartoon-like nature and drawn and colored by Christine Weidman. From those, it would seem that there are only white folks in Sleepy Hollow. No characters of color are mentioned in the text, so it appears that no Latinos or African- or Asian-Amnerican people live there. Maybe all the smart folk have already left this dumb town? The only beings depicted with darker skin are the evil ones - not the mayor and his minions, but the ones referred to as the Quiet Ones: some sort of red-eyed humanoid creature. This actually struck me as rather racist.

On a related topic, I have to register a complaint about the abuse of trees here, not in Harry Moon's world, but here in the real world. In the ebook version this doesn't matter, although longer ebooks still use more energy to transmit to recipients, but in a print book, this much white space on the page is criminal. No on wants to see a novel which is all crammed text all over the page, granted, but to have such wide margins and such spaced text means a lot more trees have to die to produce a run of such books than would have been the case had the margins and paragraph-spacing been realistically conservative.

For all these reasons, I cannot in good faith recommend this novel.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller

Rating: WARTY!

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

I was taken by surprise by this book because for a good portion of it, I was feeling quite positive about it. it was no in first person, which was wonderful, and I was able to skip the boldly-marked prologue, so that was fine, but the last section really went downhill fast and spoiled the whole novel for me. I can't reward a novel that just goes from A to B. For me it must go from A to Z, and this one fell short of that, but it's not the destination alone; it's also how we get there. In the end, I felt this one went nowhere good even though there were some pretty sights on the way downhill.

I was particularly disappointed because the novel engaged me from the start and it presented a world which, while familiar in many respects, in others it was pleasantly different. It raised hopes only to dash them at the finish line. Set in 1917 in the US, it's a world where magic is real, but everything else is very much the same as we remember it historically. except that women are the standouts and leaders in one field of endeavor: a magical one. This unfortunately was misleading, as I shall get to in a moment.

Before I start though, I find myself once again having to say a word for our poor trees. If this novel went to a large print run with its three-quarter-inch margins all around, it would kill a lot more trees than it would were the margins more conservative. I continue to find it astounding in this day and age how many authors and publishers seem to truly hate trees, but I seem to be in a minority position, which is depressing quite frankly.

Moving on. The magic is called sigilry, because it's done by writing sigils, which are magical signs that provide the user with some sort of an ability to overcome nature. The most common of the supernatural powers is that of flying, and rather fast, too. Some sigilrists have been clocked at over 500 mph. One thing the magic cannot do is tell you how the word is pronounced! I always say it with a hard G, but it's also pronounced with a soft G. Google translate doesn't help, because the English version is pronounced hard, but the Latin version from which it derives is pronounced soft! I guess it doesn't matter. The Latin is sigillum, meaning a seal - as in seal of office, not in the bewhiskered, flipper toting, dog-like mammal that lives in the ocean.

Robert Weekes is an eighteen year old who lives with his mom, Major Emmaline Weekes, who is a renowned sigilrist who acts like a medic: going to the aid of people - and animals - helping them out, but Boober's mom is getting old, Robert is known in his family as Boober, which is unfortunate, not only in how it sounds but in why the author chose such a name. It seemed pointless to me since it's barely used.

Anyway, Robert wants to join the US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service, which is also unfortunate because men are at best frowned upon in this world of magic. At worst, they're reviled. I found this gender reversal to be interesting because it mirrored the bias against women in the real world, which has eased somewhat of late, but which is still a big problem, and especially so in what have been traditionally regarded as male preserves.

Robert ends up being one of only three students at Radcliffe college - yes, that Radcliffe, the one of Jennifer Cavilleri. It's quite a change since he comes from a very rural part of Montana, but he has two sisters and his father died when he was young so he isn't unused to being surrounded by women. The interesting thing then, is not the fish-out-of-water you might expect, but the reaction to these men from the women, which mirrors what you might have expected from men towards women in the same circumstance.

It was here that I began to find weaknesses in the story. It was tempting to ponder how a female author might have written this, but given how many ham-fisted stories I've read, I'm not convinced they would have done better. Yes female YA authors, I'm looking at you. The girls here seemed far too hostile. That's not to say women cannot be feisty, hostile, and even violent, but it seemed a little out of character for these students to exhibit such flagrant disrespect and such a violent attitude. Women are not men in reverse and this story seemed to behave as though they were. I found that very sad.

Another weakness was that even though this is a story about a man trying to make it in a women's world as it were, the story is largely about the men, and the world at large is still very much a world of men: men in charge, men making decisions, men being called to fight in the 1914-18 war in Europe, men of violence opposed to the sigilrists. Having read through the early chapters, I quickly began to feel that it was a mistake to have it set up the way it was. The impact of the female sigilry was really undermined by the rest of the world being a male preserve. A female trying to make it in this world would have made a much more rational story, but I kept hoping something would happen that would make all this make sense. Unfortunately it did not; quite the opposite, in fact.

Robert gets a girlfriend, and a sterling one in my opinion (and not the one you might think he will become involved with), but despite her accomplishments she seems very much like a secondary character and that saddened me. Why make her such a great and nuanced character and then under-use her? The book is about Robert, admittedly, but it started to feel like even he was as bad as the rest of the men in excluding women, what with his little male clique. I as hoping he would grow and learn, but he did not, and nowhere was this more stark than in that last ten percent. And worse, why make him a man if he's not going to react as many men do when provoked? It made no sense.

I don't want to give away too many details, but the fact is that he quite simply turned his back on someone who had been a loyal and trustworthy friend, who had stood by him through thick and thin, encouraged him and had his back, and he callously betrayed all of that out of pure selfishness. This completely changed my opinion of him and made me dislike him immense. I don't know if the author thought he was creating some sort of Hemingway-eque figure in Robert's unflinching manliness; all it did for me was to convince me that Robert was a complete dick.

In addition to this rather unrealistic conflict between the men and women at Radcliffe, there's a larger, more deadly conflict out in the rest of the country and I'm not referring to World War One. Many people, men and women, but mostly men, are opposed to women having this kind of power. They conflate it with witchcraft and militate against it, in some cases violently, and sometimes the sigilrists fight back with the same deadly aim., although that part of the story went nowhere and just fizzled out. Even here, we hear only of the conflict in the US though and while in a sense, this does match the reality of the isolationist stance of the US prior to both world wars, it means also that we learn nothing of this world outside the US borders (aside from references to the war).

In the case of one sigilrist, we learn of her outstanding exploits in that war, but I think this is another weak spot. It's common to many novels written by US authors - no matter how wild and supernatural the story is. We never get a perspective on the world at large. It's like the author is boxed in and can see only the US. It's a very provincial view which cannot see consequences or reverberations that might pass beyond the US borders, nor can it detect any influences or feedback from outside. I find that to be a sad and blinkered position, but like I said, it tends to be all we get in too many novels written by US authors.

So for me the novel was uneven, but even so, I was prepared to follow it to the end. The ironical thing is that had I DNF'd it, I might have given it a positive rating just as I give negative ones to bad novels which I DNF, but no one DNFs a novel they're deriving some sort of entertainment value from (and a from many reviews I've read, a disturbingly large number of readers punish themselves by actually finishing novels they didn't like!). I kept reading because I was curious where the author was going to take this when he seemed to have no endgame in sight. Was this merely the first in a series? The ending brought the whole edifice crashing down, and it was this collapse which made it easier to see fault-lines that I might have chosen to overlook had the ending made sense.

I think this author is a good writer and has a few tales to tell, but in this one case, to see the 'hero' of the story turn his back on people who have helped him, break promises, and leave loved ones in grave danger to pursue his own selfish interests just turned me right off the entire story. Worse, for a novel so centered on a female art form, there really are no strong female characters in this story, We read of past exploits speaking of female strength and heroism, but nowhere is it really apparent during the course of the actual story. This was sad to begin with, but it was exacerbated criminally in the end, through seeing one of the strongest of these devolve into a simpering, wheedling jellyfish, creeping back to a man who had callously spurned her. She deserved a far better ending than she got. Because of these reasons, I cannot in good faith rate this positively.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola

Rating: WORTHY!

I considered this a worthy read, but it's the first in a series and I don't think based on this one, that I'd be interested in a series, but then it's not aimed at me; it's aimed at young children who might find it worth their time.

My biggest problem with it was that the story was really not original. It's merely a retread of the Sorcerer's Apprentice story. This guy works for Strega Nona (this term means grandmother witch). One day he sees her make spaghetti using a spell, but he misses a crucial part to turn-off the charm, and so when she's out and he makes his own pasta, it never stops spewing out.

Soon the whole village is being strung along but even they can't eat it all. Fortunately, Grandmother Witch returns in time to stop the issue and then the poor assistant has to eat all this pasta until he is fed up of it.... It was a fun read, but not really al dente enough for me to order a second course.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read and enjoyed very much. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read the sequel even though I am not much of a reader of series, because the first book was so good. I am pleased to report that this (an advance review copy, note) was very much up to the standard of the first.

In this story, Vasilisa Petrovna decides she wants to travel rather than be confined in one place, especially since it is a place where she is disliked and at risk of being labeled a witch. The frost prince, Morozko, who effectively created her in the earlier novel, building on the young and gifted child that she was at birth, objects strenuously to her plan, but unwilling to bow to anyone, she forges ahead with it anyway.

On her journey, she encounters a village which has been burned by bandits who have abducted several girls, and Vasya decides that she's going to retrieve them. This in turn leads to her joining the prince's party from Moscow, which is hunting these same village-burners, and she becomes a favorite of the prince. The problem is that he thinks she's a young man, not a girl! And that scandalous situation isn't the worst thing which happens to her by far. And no, this novel is not a romance except in the very old fashioned sense of the word, I am thrilled to report!

I have to say this got off to a rather slow start for me. I do not read prologues or introductions or what have you, but the opening chapters felt like one, and I wasn't sure what they contributed to the book, but as soon as we left that part behind and joined Vasilisa as she sets off with her magnificent horse Solovey in the depths of a Russian winter, everything turned around for me, and I was engrossed from that point on. I loved that magical Russian folklore characters pop-up unannounced every now and then, some of them important to the story. They make for a rich and charming read.

Vasya is at her core a particularly strong female character, independent and not tied to any man, nor will she chase any. This feisty independence appeals to someone like me who has read too many trashy YA novels where a woman can't be a woman unless she's validated by a man. There's none of that here: Vasya will not be reigned in by anyone. She's strong, but vulnerable at times. She is almost fearless and she tries to do what she thinks is right, although it is not always the wisest course for her or those around her.

But there is a point where Vasya's gender deception is uncovered. You know it's coming, but even so it's hard to see her fall so fast and so hard, just when her life had been perking up. She's every bit up to the challenge, though she's confronted with some difficult choices and some obnoxious male figures. Despite all this, she remains strong and valiant, and I really loved the way this story went and how she made it through these obstacles without selling out.

This was a gripping and entertaining story about an awesome female character of the kind we see far too few of in novels, so yes despite my aversion to series, I should like to read more of her in the future, but for now this satisfies admirably! It's a worthy read, and I recommend it highly.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Goodbye Witch by Heather Blake

Rating: WARTY!

I made the mistake of getting this at the same time as I got its predecessor, which I didn't like. I read the same number of pages of this as I did of that before ditching it DNF. I should have known from the blurb that this one was doomed. One of the characters is named Starla. One early dumb-ass sentence read, "I felt the warmth of his body heat."

I'm sorry but I cannot read novels that badly written. They make me physically ill. If I could stand to do it, I would write a novel composed solely and entirely of bad sentences like that from other novels, strung together. The effort would probably kill me or drive me insane, though.

Starla's evil ex, Kyle, is back in town and everyone is in a panic. The sad thing is that the main character in this novel is a witch who is a wish-granter. If someone wishes something, she can grant it. All someone had to do is wish Kyle dead - or at least in jail for life - and the problem was solved, but in the first twenty or so pages, which is all I could stand to read, no one even brings this up.

The rest of the novel hangs solely on the rank stupidity of these people in forgetting there is wish-granting witch at hand. This is the problem with writing a novel about magic. You have to think it through and the author is evidently more interested in writing nonsense than in thinking. That's when I decided this novel was far too stupid to live.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake

Rating: WARTY!

I quit this one at twenty pages in as soon as I read: "Unfortunately, I latched onto him. Gripping his shirt, I could feel his muscled chest beneath my hands. His heartbeat, too. It was strong and steady, pulsing under my fingertips."

If I'd wanted to read shit like that, I'd have got a Harlequin romance. My mistake was obviously in thinking that this book was about a pair of interesting and strong sisters who had magical abilities, and who were trying to exonerate a friend from a murder charge. I just can't understand how I I failed to divine from that blurb that the story was, instead, a pathetic little brain-dead, YA-style story about a air-headed bitch-in-heat who has (she lies to us) 'sworn off men altogether'.

More fool me, for trusting a blurb, huh?! This story sucked. I suppose I should take heart from the fact that I instinctively knew it when I was only 6% in, so I didn't waste any more of a finite life on it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ocean of Secrets Vol 1 by Sophie-Chan

Rating: WARTY!

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

Despite her name, this author is not Asian as far as I know, but chooses to tell stories and illustrate in that style. I have to say, to be fair, that I am not a fan of manga, but this one sounded interesting. In the end I was quite disappointed by it. I think this artist can draw, and draw well, so I believe she has a career, but I am far from convinced this is the best story to launch it with.

For some reason, the author chose to put a message in between the introductory pages and chapter one, which I found annoying and inappropriate, and which completely took me out of suspension of disbelief. I actually quit reading another ebook just a few days ago because the author did something similar (and misspelled 'shekels' in doing so!). In this case I decided to continue on since I don't normally read introductions anyway, but when I did, the story did not thrill me at all. I quit before the end because it was not entertaining me at all. The story made no sense, and reading it 'backwards' for no good reason did nothing to put me in a favorable mood!

There was a watermark on each page which interfered with appreciating the art (and I realize that this isn't the author's doing). I cannot see the point of the watermark because if lowlifes out there are going to abuse this, then a sorry watermark isn't going to stop them, while for the rest of us, the majority of us, it's nothing but an annoyance which interferes with our appreciation of the writer's work, and worse in this case, with the artist's work.

To me the story was very weak and derivative, using as it does the baseless magic of the four 'elements' of air, earth, fire, and water (as does The Last Avatar for example), which have never made any sense at all to me. I do realize they are a popular go-to for authors who are too lazy to think up a new system, but they're way over-used and unless you're going to do something truly original with them, I think you need to find something else.

Worse than this, though, the story was very much an info-dump, which is a problem with series, and which is one of several reasons why I'm not a fan of series in general, although I'm always holding out hope that I might find one that breaks the mold. The plot made little sense to me and having to read it backwards (as compared with the norm in the west) did not help.

I don't get it in an English version. I can see how an author might be so enamored of the manga form that she might want to try her hand at it, and it would need to be that way if Asian sales are hoped for (who wouldn't want to go on a book tour in Japan?!), but in the electronic age, we could have a regular version for those of us in the west and a reverse version for those in Asia. It's not like it's difficult to achieve this with current technology.

In the print version it's easy-enough to read backwards with little effort. You can even number the pages accordingly, but in the e-version, the pages are numbered wrong because the e-reader is doing the numbering (there are no numbers on the actual pages themselves, and is all-too-common with comic books). Technology has yet to reach the point where you can simply flip your tablet and start at the back! Instead you must navigate to the 'end' to start, and then you have to overcome your swiping habit to go backwards! All of this detracted from focusing on the most important thing - for me more important than the art - which is the story! It was there that my biggest disappointment lay as it happens.

Note that I'm not saying you can't follow your dream and write a manga that has nothing to do with Asian culture, but I think you have to keep in mid that it's your dream, and your potential readers may not be willing to buy into it unless you give them some really good reasons to do so. For me there were insufficient. This is an English book throughout, set in the US (or more accurately in the air above central America), and it has nothing to do with Asia or any Asian topics so for me the justification was weak. If the story had been engrossing, I would have been happy to overlook other issues, but as it happened, taken as a whole, the package simply didn't work for me. It felt annoying and pretentious. I do wish the author every success in her career, but I can't recommend this one.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first in a series, which I don't think I want to follow. It's also the last of my forays into the word of this author. She's not for me. This story isn't awfully bad, but it isn't good, either. It was almost painfully slow-moving and I never felt so drawn-in that I wanted to pursue it beyond one volume. I didn't even want to pursue it to the end of this volume so it was a DNF for me.

This for me is the problem with series: they're too drawn-out. They're derivative, and unimaginative and uninventive precisely because they're really the same story over again, or the same characters stretched too thin to have any depth to them. The first volume is always nothing more than a profoundly unsatisfying prologue. I don't do prologues (or introductions, or prefaces or author's notes). Tell it in the story, start it in chapter one, continue it in one volume until it ends - otherwise what reason is there for me to really don't care about it? LOL!

There were two major problems with this, and the first was the weak female characters. I don't mind a weak character who starts out weak and grows strong, or even a weak one who stays weak if you can tell me a good story about the reasons for it, but this one seemed to revel in weak women who desperately needed men to save them and that's never a good thing.

The story begins with Kate Pheris waking-up no worse-for-wear after a year-long sleep (yes, I know, but this is supposedly magical realism, which is a nonsensical term, but I decided to let that one slide - maybe it was just a metaphor). The sleep was brought on by the death of her husband, who seems to get not a word spoken about him after this. We learn really nothing of what happened to him, and Kate and her daughter Devin seem completely unmoved by the loss, other than the year-long sleep (or metaphor). What happened to Devin during this time, again is undetailed, but she seems to be so perfectly well-adjusted that it reads like she never knew her father or cared nothing for him. This part is what I call "magical unrealism"!

That aside, the story was, as I said, slow and ultimately uninteresting - hence my lack of any compulsion to pursue this series. For me the second biggest problem with a book like this is that something, in this case the declining Lost Lake motel, which is owned by Kate's aunt Eby Pim, is used as a clunky metaphor for a host of declining lives or relationships, and as the hotel is resurrected, as you know it inevitably will be, so are the relationships and lives. It's too trite. The Newbery people (or some other medal peddlers) might think this is wonderful, but I have zero respect for Newbery award winners, and refuse to read them. I'm at the point where I'm actually hoping to win a Newbery award just so I can turn it down!

So the story, while not bad for mindless listening, really offered nothing of substance. It's like eating a fluffy desert before your main meal and then realizing there is nothing else - that was your lunch! It's not at all filling and can only lead to dissatisfaction in the end, so I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Rating: WARTY!

I liked my previous foray into Sarah Addison Allen via The Peach keeper, but I literally could not get into this at all. It was an audio book and I listed to about a third of it, but it did not hold my interest. Half the time I honestly couldn't follow what was going on, and what I did manage to assimilate bored the pants off me.

Not literally, fortunately, since I was driving, and that would have been most unfortunate for all concerned, and even many who were totally unconcerned or who just worked at CERN. Seriously, I couldn't believe that this was the same author. It should have told me something that those who did not like The Peach Keeper were saying Allen's earlier work was better. I should have known I would see it the opposite way around!

It probably didn't help that this was book two in a series about the Waverley Family. Series are a no-no for me, generally speaking and this was no exception. It's a story wherein Waverley women are, the blurb tells us, rendered "restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree." It's a magical tree, which I expected and would have had no problem with, but I honestly don't remember the tree being mentioned at all (it may have been). It seemed like every time I could stay tuned-in to the story, mom was lecturing her daughter, Bay.

Bay? Yes, Bay. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Who names their daughter Bay? What's her middle name? Watch? Does she stock only bikinis in her wardrobe? Does she have sandy hair? Can she be a beach at times? Does she run in slo-mo? Maybe her middle name is Gelding? She has a horsey laugh or a whinnying smile? I'm sorry, but no. I couldn't take that seriously, which is probably what tuned me out so much. So in short, I listened to relatively little, learned nothing, and disliked a lot. Not for me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audio book red amazingly by Jayne Entwistle, a professional narrator and (almost literally) one-time actor, who does great British voice because she's...British! She lives in the US now.

The story is a magical one in more ways than one. Lily and Oscar Spoffard move into a property their family inherits. It used to be the location of a very successful chocolate manufacturer and retailer which purveyed chocolates to royalty, until two of the talented Spoffard triplets were murdered by the other in 1938.

But there's more going on here than that. The third triplet is evidently in search of the magical chocolate molds used by his brothers, and now Lily and Oscar are tied up in the adventure, especially after they're recruited by a little known division of MI6 (the Brit equivalent of the CIA), they begin to learn their family history and of the magic that can be passed own in families - maybe to them?

The story wasn't perfect (but then which is?!). The terrorists didn't seem to end up caught, and the magical abilities the children were supposed to have never materialized in any overt form, but apart from that, the story was chock(olate) full of LOL moments, and the talking immortal cat (Demerara - great name for a cat) and the similarly endowed rat (Spike!) were hilarious. Spike was actually my favorite character, but then I have a soft spot for rats. Lily was a close second. I'd have been proud to have had a daughter like her. I thought Ms Entwistle overdid the cat's voice a touch, but overall I loved her characterizations. Her voice was to die for dahlings! I thought the story was great, and very entertaining. I shall be looking for more from this author.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Charmed by Jen Calonita

Rating: WARTY!

This was a major rip-off of Harry Potter. I tried this one because I had liked the first in the series Flunked, but the author got the titles wrong. The first one was charming, this one should have been flunked. It was awful. It''s hard to believe the same writer wrote both of them. I felt bad for the reader in the audio version, Kate Rudd, who does am amazing job and has an adorable voice, but she had absolutely nothing to work with here, although she does her best.

The first novel was something of a rip-off of Harry Potter, but I was willing to let that slide because it seemed like the author had put some effort into making it lighthearted and amusing, and added a twist or two. I liked the attitude; then comes this mess, which starts out with the most juvenile chapter ever - a food fight - and descends from there. The next chapter launched with a ship coming up out of the lake which is right by the school. Durmstrang anyone? The ship has a silver serpent for the figurehead. Slytherin anyone? It was at this point that the ripping-off of Harry Potter had gone far too far. I started skimming and realized by forty percent in that this was just getting worse. It's back on the library shelf now. I refuse to recommend such bad, unimaginative, and derivative writing.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Flunked by Jen Calonita

Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook was read appropriately by Kristin Condon, who failed only with some of the the male voices (making them sound obnoxiously fake as some female readers can do I'm sorry to report). Otherwise she was very easy on the ear and got most of the voices spot on for me. I liked this story out of the gate for the fact that it was humorous and quirky, but after a while it started to flag. It was nice to get that good feeling to begin with though, because I haven't had a lot of success lately with audiobooks. I have to say that I tend to take more risks with audio than with other books, since I get them for free from the library and I'm willing to give anything a try for some good company on a longish commute to work each day. The downside is that I tend to fail a greater portion of audios than I do print or ebooks. In this case, this one made it under the wire!

I can see a lot of ties to the Harry Potter series here, which might irritate some readers. I could see Professor Snape in the Evil Queen, who is a teacher whose sister is also in the school and is a trouble-maker and a bully, so I guess it's more of a cross between Snape and Malfoy. Also, it was a boarding school (in this case a reform school), which featured rooms and hallways that changed - apparently randomly - like the staircases in Potter. There was also a forest from which the students were forbidden and which houses giants and "Pegasi"!

The author evidently doesn't realize that Pegasus is an actual name in Greek mythology; not a species, but a god sired by Zeus himself! If you want a species name, then maybe it should be something along the lines of Equus volantem. In short, there was a lot of copying and this author made no more effort to make it make sense than did Rowling. Why for example in Potter, was a children's school situated near a highly dangerous forest? Why was there no magic keeping kids out? Why do hallways randomly appear and disappear? As with the staircases in Potter, what was the point other than to put a weird quirk into a story of a magical world? Of course this is exactly what it was for, and younger readers don't have a problem with it. Older ones might.

The characters also bore similarities. There was a flighty female like Luna Lovegood, and she even had a name ending in 'a': Kayla. The main character is Gillian or Jillian. it's impossible to tell with an audio. I shall employ the latter spelling for now. She was sent to Fairy Tale Reform School for a third strike theft offense. The third leg was a 'jack-me-lad' kind of a guy whose name was actually Jax (or jacks, or something like - short for Jackson), I'm sorry to have to report.

That name (Jack) is way-the-heck overused in fiction. Normally that's a deal-breaker for me because I expect my authors to have more imagination and inventiveness than to go immediately to a stock character name like that. I flatly refuse to read any more novels which have a main character named Jack. In this case I let it slide because he wasn't the main character, and he wasn't too irritatingly competent and macho. Also I really liked the warped take on fairy-tale land which the author had concocted here, and I loved the wry view of life the kleptomaniacal main character adopted.

The magic was illogical, which may sound strange thing to say of a book about fairy-tales and magic, but if you're going to create a world where everything is apparently free - as in a magical world - then there's no reason at all to have impoverished characters. That always stuck out like a sore thumb in the Potter series. Why was Ron's family poor when they were excellent at magic? If they could transform a goblet into a rat, they sure as hell could transform lead into gold, yet they were always down at heel! Why were Ron's clothes shabby when it was so easy to do some sort of reparo spell and fix them? Why did anyone work when they could get everything they wanted from magic - and at no cost? None of that made any sense at all!

The alternative is to have rules - to make spells only work in a certain way or entail a cost to perform, and that didn't seem in evidence here any more than it did in the Potters, but Jillian's family had no magic, and resented those who did - who could, for example, magic up several pairs of shoes which her father would normally have made - so he was robbed of the work. This at least gave Jillian her motivation for theft. Additionally, some of the teachers seemed a bit on the stupid side I have to say! Why, for example, did they believe Jillian's lie that Jax was sneaking out of an upper storey window after curfew, on the flimsy excuse of looking for Jillian's lost Journal out in the grounds? The lie was so obvious and so out-of-left-field given Jax's actions that it made no sense they would let such a bogus claim slide. That kind of thing aside, I did enjoy the opening sequences: they were funny and a bit different, and made for an enjoyable listen. I liked this one and intend to listen to the second in the series.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Anna The Girl Witch Vol 2 Wandering Witch by Max Candee

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second I have read of this series, and although I am not a fan of series, and this one is definitely outside of my age range, I found it to be as entertaining as the first, which I rated positively. There were a couple of portions where I became bored, notably when Anna spends so much time with her grandmother, Baba Yaga before she goes on her quest. This wasn't entertaining to me. I am not a fan of Baba Yaga stories at all, which was one reason this bored me. The time spent in this endeavor seemed to really drag and produce very little fruit, and there were, for me, far too many pages expended on Baba. The quest was much more fun, and really kicked the story back into high gear, but then we hit another tedious section where Anna is involved with this really annoying cat, and frankly I skipped most of that because it was even more boring than the time she was with Baba.

Those sections aside, I enjoyed the story very much and consider it a worthy read for the intended age range. Anna continues to be a strong young girl who wants to do good even as she fears that using magic is somehow allowing the same darkness into her heart which has overtaken and possessed her grandmother. It's a bit scary for Anna, who is trying to find where her father is and rescue him. Can Anna rebel against her grandmother - who is seeking to own her as she tried to own her father - without letting either that darkness or her grandmother take her over?

Anna learns a lot more about her family history in this volume and frankly, it was a bit too much for my taste. Maybe others will like the firehose of family history, but I would have preferred the same volume delivered as a trickle over the length of the story. It was interesting in some ways, but it rather deadened the mind when so much of it was unloaded all at once, and it really brought the story-flow to a bit of a halt.

There are moments of good humor, though, which helped to lighten the load, despite the rather oppressive tone of the volume as a whole, such as when I read "...the sound of an enraged tiger in the taiga." which made me laugh out loud. Anna is an impressive character who fears the consequences of her use of magic, but who also wants to do some good with it if she can. Besides there's a father to rescue, and a matching hand for her disembodied helper, Squire, to be found. I recommend this for the age range, but it's not a series I am interested in following for myself, especially when I have so much else to read!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Black Magick Vol 1 Awakening by Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott

Rating: WORTHY!

(Note that this was an advance review copy)

This is one of the most engaging comics I've read in some time. It's black (magic) and white - or more accurately, gray-scale, but this took nothing from it and may actually have been a far better choice of "color". The drawing was excellent!

The story is of Rowan Black, a detective with the Portsmouth Police Department, and someone who is my idea of a strong female character. Not that she goes around beating people up - that's not what I mean. She's strong in that she's self-possessed, confident, can handle her own life, doesn't need a guy to validate her, is loyal to her friends, but not afraid to upset them if police work interferes with her social life. Honestly, I really liked this character. I'd also like to see her in a regular novel. I'd like to see her on the movie screen, too. And I could see Tatiana Maslany playing her!

Her social life? Well apart from a drink after work with her fellow detectives, she's a witch and attends coven meetings - not new age pagan and Celtic throwback stuff, but real witchcraft. Here's how invested I was in this story and this is in the first few pages. I was so focused on what the characters were saying that I went through two or three pages and didn't even notice that they were naked under their skimpy robes! I guess I'm not a "real man" any more! LOL! So yes, be warned that this is an adult novel and the artist doesn't shy from nudity.

As in any homicide detective story, a corpse (or two) show-up, but in this case, the more Rowan and her partner investigate, the more it appears to Rowan that someone is targeting her. How can someone else's death be aimed at her? You'll have to read this one to find out! And those who are after her aren't at all concerned how much collateral damage they cause. I want volume 2, and I want it now, or hexes will be cast!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Black Magic Series Starter by Dennis Wheatley

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a collection of three full-length novels by Dennis Wheatley, who was a phenomenally successful writer in Britain from the 1930s to the 60's. For me, The Devil Rides Out was his best work, but the other two in this collection are also excellent reads if you're interested in the subject matter. I devoured these as a teen. Viewed as historical fiction, they hold up well, but there are some caveats.

The Devil Rides Out

I reviewed The Devil Rides Out back in January 2014 as part of a different Wheatley collection, but this one contains the same story so I will just refer you to that review for details. The basic story, set in the 1930s, consists of a group of close friends who find themselves up against the works of the Devil himself as embodied in his black magician disciple Mocata. Mocata is striving to achieve some devilish ends, and one of the friends, Simon Aaron, has foolishly got himself under the man's sinister influence. The Duc de Richlieu who is the only one of the group who has any magical experience, enters the fight along with Rex Van Ryn, who falls in love with one of the Satanic women who is also a neophyte in the Devil-worshipping group. Friends Richard and Marie-Lou Eaton also join the fray. It's a good old fashioned scary-story smothered in Christian religion mythology. I'm not a believer, but I love a good Satanic magic romp!

Strange Conflict

This is another in the Duc de Richlieu series. In it, the same people from The Devil Rides Out join forces again, to wage a battle, but this time on the astral plane. The story is set in the beginning of World War Two, with the question of how are the Nazis discovering the travel routes of British warships so successfully? Well, a magician is using the astral plane to convey intelligence, and the Duc and his pals array themselves against him. The story is replete with weird and wonderful conflicts in astral form, and also a tour of life in Haiti, with the attendant zombies - not the ridiculous ones of the modern era, but the original zombies - and they are surprising. Be warned that Wheatley is pompous, opinionated, devoutly upper-crust, rather racist, and full of British jingoism made worse by a war mentality, so if you want to enjoy this and his other works, you have to turn a blind eye to those failings. Whether he would have been a more enlightened person today, I do not know. I somehow doubt it.

The Haunting of Toby Jugg

Again set in World War Two, this novel features the improbably-named Toby Jugg, who is about to turn twenty-one and looks towards inheriting his grandfather's business fortune, since his father and mother are both dead and he has no siblings. His only relatives are his uncle, Paul and his aunt, Julia. There is one problem: he seems to be slowly losing his mind. It's not his only problem. Having been shot while flying on an air raid, he's paralyzed from the waist down and needs a nurse to take care of him. That's fine during the day, but it's at night when the nightmares come: visions of horrific creatures slithering and crawling all around him. His new nurse, charmer though she is, doesn't believe him and thinks he's just a spoiled, rich, baby. She doesn't know that his guardian, Helmuth Lisicky, is Satan worshipper who is causing his nightmares.

These stories were entertaining enough for me when I was in my young adult days, I wonder if I might find them so engaging now? If you have never read them, they do contain - aside from the irritating and offending parts, which are not overwhelming - some great occult and black magic story-telling which is untainted by modern custom and trope. It makes for a refreshing read in that regard, at least. I'd recommend these - with the above-mentioned caveats - for a change from modern reading and a different story-telling perspective.