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

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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

Rating: WARTY!

This book is a good reason why I don't read series. And another reason why I detest first person PoV novels so vehemently. This is number one (but it felt like number two) in the so-called "Prospero's War" series. There is no war here - not even close, so even the series title is a complete fraud. This is a novel set in a world where magic is real and available to anyone who wants to study it, yet nowhere in the portion of the book that I read (I made it to just over half way) was any magic used for anything! How dumb is that?

Dirty Magic sounded good from the title, and even the blurb, but this was 380-some pages of a bit of story and a heck of a lot of numbing filler. For god's sake this is a series! You have endless tedious volumes to fill, yet you keep interrupting the action in volume one to ramble about a meaningless blue plate lunch which moves the story not one inch? About a history with some non-villainous "villain" who looks more and more like he's going to be part of a triangle, when there's a murder investigation (not) going on? You ramble about your neighbors, about this dumb kid you're talking are of, and about your nasty partner - who is inevitably going to be the other leg of the triangle - and meanwhile what's happening with this critical murder investigation? Literally nothing. I'm sorry, but no! You don't get to treat me like that, and keep me as your audience. You don't get to insult my intelligence with trope, cliche, and rambling tedium. There are far too many other books out there competing with you, to diss your readers like that.

I kept turning another page and skimming a page or two here in the increasingly faint hope that at some point, a fire would light under Propero's ass and she would get into high gear, but it never happened, and if it ain't happened by the half-way point, then you don't get to have me as your reader for the other half. I have better things to do with my time.

The problem with magic stories is that once magic gets in, the rules of physics go out the window. This puts the author in the position of having to make up arbitrary rules which all-too-often make no sense - such as was the case here. As that great magician Winston Churchill said, never has so much trope and cliche been stuffed into so few ideas by so mindless.

Get this: the police were not allowed to use magic! Because it wouldn't stand up in court?! So they used none - not even magic to get hard evidence which would stand up in court! What is the point? If all you're telling is a drug story about a cliched cop then why add magic, and if you're going to add magic, why not actually let people use it? This story was pure bullshit, and I refuse to even remotely recommend it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Cogling by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

Rating: WARTY!

I was asked by the author if I would review this after I gave a favorable review to a previous novel by this author: Escape From Witchwood Hollow back in February 2016. Well be careful what you ask for! I would have liked to have recommended this one, too, but I cannot. I was very disappointed in Cogling because it was so disturbingly far from what the previous novel had been. This felt like a first draft of a first novel by a new writer, whereas 'Witchwood Hollow', which also felt like a first novel, was a lot better-crafted and a lot more credible in its world than this one was.

This novel had a prologue which I skipped, as I do all prologues without exception. Never once have I missed anything by doing this, which only goes to show how useless prologues are. If it's worth reading, put it in chapter one, or simply omit it! Don't sacrifice any more trees to prologues! That said, this story was not technically bad in terms of spelling, grammar, and so on. Even the overall story was, in very general terms, an interesting idea, but it fell far short in the details, and while it was not an awful read, it was not a satisfying one at all for me.

The issues I had were many and ranged from general to specific. A specific one, for example, would be the use of 'kohl'. At least this author didn't write it as 'coal', which I have seen in a novel, but the phrase used was 'dark kohl' Since kohl is black, that phrase made little sense. To write, 'Kohl darkened her silver eyes' is one thing, but to say "Dark kohl rimmed her silver eyes" is not well-phrased at all. There were many instances of such suspect wording, each of which took me out of the suspension of disbelief and reminded me that I was reading a novel and not immersed in a alternate world.

The story is about Edna, a fifteen year old girl who discovers that her brother has been replaced by a cogling - a clockwork life-like replica, and she embarks upon a quest into the world of hags to rescue him. The hags use the dreams of children to power their machinery. This was my first problem, because it seemed like all that was being done here is that hags stole children to power machines to make more coglings which were used to replace the children being stolen. What was the point? Obviously they were seeking to take over the human world in revenge for a sour past history, but the hags had powerful magical and could control and enchant humans so why were the coglings needed? It made no sense at all to me.

The sad thing is that Edna is not allowed to rescue her brother alone. So much for girl power! Instead, she needs the trope YA studly male to prop her up and give her validation. That was bad enough, but the happenstance that she fell into the sphere of influence of the sole male in the entire country who was best set-up to help her was too much to take seriously, especially given his original story, which would be too much of a spoiler to give away here. The bottom line was that his behavior and living circumstances were simply not credible given his origin, and we were offered nothing to explain why or how he'd ended up where he had.

In this world, there is a history of antagonism between the hags (and their male equivalents, the ogres) on one side, and the humans on the other, and this is a story of the hags' revenge. These were not the only 'magical' creatures; there were others, but none of them were really given any freedom to breathe, and so they were consistently lifeless. It felt like they were simply added as pure MacGuffins or dei ex machina for no other reason than to help out Edna's quest, and then they disappeared completely. Most of them appeared so briefly that it was impossible to get a decent handle on them. I liked the idea of the 'foxkins', but the 'nix' and the 'tomtars' left me unentertained. Sometimes it seemed like these were actually mutated humans, and other times not, and there was so little to go on, that it left me frustrated that they had appeared at all.

I think one serious problem was that the author tried to do too much in one story. There was literally everything in this but the kitchen sink - and there may well have been one of those. In fact, I think there was in one kitchen scene. But there was fantasy, and magic, and steam-punk, and romance, and Oliver Twist (not in person), and a quest, and a hot air balloon which was not steam-punk, but which was called an airship which is often associated with steam-punk, and it felt like lots of little bits rather than one whole. It was the difference between Thanksgiving dinner and the next day's jumbled and assorted leftovers.

This story evidently arose (according to the acknowledgements) at least in part from a 'Victorian' fare in Rome, New York. I think that was the first problem: that Americans tend not to do Renaissance or Victorian well, or to overdo it, and consequently this novel was sadly warped, dragged down by a lack of authenticity. Granted we're not told explicitly where it was set (if we are, I missed it), but it seemed like it was professing to be set in Britain, as steam punk and Victorian dramas typically are, but there were far too many Americanisms for me to take that idea seriously.

For example, there are no klutzes in Britain - or at least there were not in Victorian times. There are clots, which means largely the same thing, but 'klutz' is a very American term which came from Germany via Yiddish, I think. Of course, American influence being what it is in the world, for good or ill, people probably do use that term in Britain now, but they didn't in Victorian times. This was as out of place as the word 'jerky' was. This is very much an Americanism, taken from the South American term char qui. It's not British.

There are very few cities in Britain which actually have the word 'city' in their name. Manchester City, for example, is a football (soccer) club. The city itself is simply named Manchester. The same goes for Birmingham, Exeter, Bristol, Leicester Norwich, and so on. Every single city in this story was named -something- City. The Brits don't have this insecurity which forces them to title a city as -something- City lest it be mistaken - gods forbid! - for a town!

Britain has no venomous snakes except for the adder (and yes, it does come in black!), which no one in Britain takes very seriously (notwithstanding scare stories in newspapers last year), so this Indiana Jones scene where kids are dumped into a pit of snakes wasn't impressive. Why would hags even do this when they have magic and can simply kill the kids outright? The real problem here though, was that the snakes are described as poisonous. No snake, to my knowledge, is poisonous, and by that I mean that you can eat any snake and it won't poison you; however, if you get bitten by one (and you're not in Britain!) then you may well become ill or die from it. Those snakes are venomous, not poisonous, and writers should understand this. Strictly speaking the British adder can do damage, but it's so rare that anyone is bitten, it's not typically an issue.

Edna Mather is supposedly fifteen, yet she behaves much younger. The story read like a middle-grade novel rather than a young-adult one. Several other reviews I've seen mention this and while I agree, I'm not sure I arrived at the conclusion the same way. The thing you have to remember is that this is not set in modern times and you cannot expect a fifteen year old Victorian era girl to have the same outlook as a modern one.

By our standards, she would seem ridiculously naive and sheltered, even though she would (had she any privilege) be far better read (and in better-written literature too!) than most modern fifteen-year-olds. In Edna's case, she was one step away from living on the street, and was largely in charge of running her home and taking care of her kid brother, so she should be expected to have the maturity which inevitably comes with that circumstance, yet she really didn't. She was desperately intent upon rescuing her brother, but this was all she had going for her, and it made her seem more juvenile than he was!

Worse than this though, for me, was the fact that Edna had magic in her - a magic which she thought was evil - a fact of which we're re-apprised to a really annoying degree. The problem for me was not so much that though, as it was that she never employed this magic. I kept waiting for her to go bad-ass and unleash it, but she didn't except in very minor and largely unimportant ways, and even then it wasn't clear if it was her magic or the magic embedded in this enchanted brooch she carried. This was really annoying. Why give her this power if it's not going to be employed in the entire story, even in dire cases where any kid who had magic would have pulled it out regardless of how they felt about it. It made no sense and was a major disappointment for me. It also made her look even more helpless and ineffectual than she already appeared.

I noted the author makes mention in the acknowledgements of a steamy romance between Ike and Edna, but there was no such thing. There was almost no romance, thankfully, and certainly no steam (not even of the steam punk variety except in passing mentions). There was impetus for romance, either. Neither Ike nor Edna were likable, and he was such a jerk to begin with that it's hard to see how she would ever come around to finding him romantic. The 'romance' felt forced and not natural - like the author was putting it in there because she felt this was the way things had to be done, not because there was anything organic or necessary about it. It felt false to me and it didn't so much get in the way of the story, as it was an annoying distraction, like a fly buzzing around when you're trying to fall asleep.

I noticed some reviewers had talked of there being a rape or near rape in this story, but there was nothing of the sort in the version I read. There was a case of highly inappropriate conduct of a doctor threatening to kiss a patient, followed by downright abusive conduct by that same doctor, but there was no sex involved. What bothered me about this scene and the events leading up to it was something I've seen no other reviewer mention, which is the absurd abduction of Lady Rachel.

Note that I do not believe for a second that celebrities and the wealthy should have any privileged treatment by law enforcement, but also note that this novel was set in Victorian times when nobility was highly respected (if perhaps derided in private), yet here we have Lady Rachel being forcibly taken from her aunt's home by two regular police constables, without a shred of respect or deference and based solely on this aunt's say-so. This was simply not credible in Victorian times, and especially not on the say-so of an aunt without any other reason. Never once was there any mention of contacting this woman's actual parents. Lady and Lord Waxman thought their daughter had been kidnapped, and yet instead of informing them she was safe and reuniting them, the cops haul Lady Rachel off for incarceration on her aunt's whim?! This robbed the story of all credibility for me, and frankly, I almost quit reading at that point because it was one straw dog too many.

The real killer was the ending. It's no spoiler to say it was a happily-ever-after one, but only for Edna and her crew. All her ideals and claims and vows to help the poor and downtrodden which she spouted regularly throughout this story were forgotten in the end. She did nothing to help anyone. This selfishness and self-serving attitude was brought into the light earlier, when she and Ike rescue a woman from a cruel psychiatric facility, which in itself is admirable, but they do it by kidnapping a homeless girl and substituting the one for the other in the blind assumption that this psycho doctor will simply toss the girl back out onto the street when he discovers the deception. I'm sorry, but no, heroic people do not do that. Good people do not do that. Jerks and villains do that. I already disliked the two protagonists before this, but after this behavior, I had no time for them at all. Frankly, this made me wonder if this neutered "dark magic' that Edna spent the entire story fretting over, had actually risen up and claimed her after all.

So, overall, this was not a worthy read by my standards. and I cannot in good faith recommend it. Read Jordan Mierek's previous story, escape From Witchwood Hollow instead. It's much better.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Diary of Anna the Girl Witch: Foundling Witch by Max Candee

Rating: WORTHY!

Max Candee is a rather obvious pseudonym used by an author who also uses 'Austin Briggs' for his much more adult titles (that latter is also the name of a comic book illustrator who is no longer with us). This is the first work of his that I've read. This advance review copy, which I was happy to have the chance to enjoy, is aimed at middle-grade, and it was very well done. There were some minor issues with it, but nothing to spoil it, and nothing that would bother the intended age range. Note though that this is somewhat darker and deals with more adult issues than your usual middle grade novel.

I don't usually talk about book covers because they're nothing to do with the author, typically, and all about Big publishing™ but in this case I have to comment that no, the girl witch isn't pregnant, although the cover seems to suggest she is! It's just that she's holding something against her stomach. The illustrations inside the story were not bad - line drawings with one portion colored. Anna is a red haired girl, of course, but the drawings show her hair as straight, whereas the text says it's curly, so another mismatch there, but while I am not sure they really contributed anything, the drawings were not bad at all.

It's very much the trope 'orphan coming of age to find they're really special' kind of a story, but there are some differences. For one, it was a really refreshing change to find this set somewhere other than the USA. Of course, it took a foreign author (at least I assume so. I believe "Max Candee" is Swiss, but I am not sure of it) to realize that there are people and nations and lives outside of the USA, an important fact which far too few USA authors seem to be able to grasp, I'm sorry to say.

This is, be warned, a series, and while there is thankfully no cliff-hanger at the end of volume one, there is a teaser for the next volume in the series, titled, 'Wandering Witch'. Anna, who was evidently found in Russia being raised by bears, and delivered to Geneva by her "uncle" Misha, turns thirteen and comes into an inheritance, which in this case is actually money, but not just money. She is also the recipient of a stone fist, a brief letter from her mother, and a mysteriously animated drawing. It turns out, as she slowly discovers, that Anna is a witch and is being stalked not by your usual villain, which was another delightful twist in this delightfully twisted story.

Anna proves to be strong, determined, and in the end, unstoppable. Of course, those magical powers help, but this story doesn't take itself too seriously - as her mode of witchy transportation proves beyond a doubt, and although she uses her powers for good, and against largely non-magical enemies, there is a real and serious cost to Anna for using them - a cost she has to evaluate and judge wisely each time she employs her magic. This was a refreshing change from being able to shake a stick, chant two Latin words, and cast major magic whilst suffering no cost whatsoever.

Note that Misha is a diminutive of Mikhail, which is a variant of Michael, which is a Hebrew naming meaning "Who is like God". I don't know if this author puts any meaning into his character names like I do, but it's interesting to note that Anna is derived ultimately also from the Hebrew Hannah, who was a New Testament woman who recognized the divinity of Jesus. I don't put any more stock into those myths than I do into any other myth, but it makes me wonder if the author chose these names for a reason, or if they just were names he lit upon simply because he liked them. To me, as a writer, names always mean something, and while minor character names are not that important (unless you have some secret purpose!), I like to imbue my main characters with names that mean something beyond just being a character name! I promise you I will never write a series, but if I were going to, I would definitely put a lot of thought into what the names of the main characters mean! I can't say if this author did the same thing here.

So, that aside, aside, I liked this novel very much. It was about friendship and loyalty, unexpected allies, resilience and resourcefulness, and doing the right thing. It was nice to see the magical protagonist going up against bad people rather than your usual mustache-twirling evil magician. I think this was a fun story appropriate to the age range, and without any of the fluff and flounce too many middle grade stories sprout. I recommend it as a worthy read.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Rating: WARTY!

In 1859, the year another Charles published On the Origin of Species... Charles Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities in installments. Funny how the wheel turns full circle, isn't it?! Now we have series.... Darwin's book began, "It was the best of species, the worst of species..." - no, wait, that doesn't sound right...! But it does end, "It is a far, far better mutation that I get, than I have ever known; it is a far, far better species that I go to than I have ever become." No, that doesn't sound right either. Never mind....

This story is a retelling of that one (Dickens's not Darwin's!), but set in a parallel world where there is light and dark magic, and that's the problem - it makes no sense at all since magic plays no part in the story except as a faint background image - like a watermark in paper. It's sad, because I liked the way the magic worked here and how it was split into light and dark, and what each meant. That was what both attracted me to, and drew me into the story to begin with, but the magic itself really plays no part other than to demarcate the haves (the light, of course) from the have-nots.

The sheer lack of sense in this supposedly magical world was disturbing. Of course a magical world is inherently senseless, but usually an author has something going on to set out some ground rules. Here there was really nothing. I mean, why did no one ever use magic to do anything other than parlor tricks? It made no sense! How could a rag-tag bunch of people with swords defeat powerful magicians? It made no sense. Why did people fight with swords in a thoroughly modern world (trains, automobiles, cell phones, TV, etc). It made no sense.

There really was no magic (read into that what you will!). It was practically never used, which begs the question as to what purpose it served, and by that, I mean not what it served in the novel itself (where it did nothing), but what it served in the plot other than the purpose I mentioned. Why introduce it at all if it's going nowhere? It becomes merely a bait and switch, and I was really disappointed to be tricked into thinking that this great set-up had to portend great magic to come, only to discover that in the end, it delivered no magic, and nothing depended upon it.

The story could equally have been set in a sci-fi world where there are humans and aliens, one of which species (see I was right!) is the underdog. Or during the US civil war, or in any "society' where there is a sharp division of some sort. I'm tired of novels about magicians where the magicians are essentially powerless and constrained and confined. It's ridiculous. It also makes no sense that there would be a council of magicians. Why would anyone who could literally perform magic ever allow themselves to be subject to a council?! Now there, in that conflict, would be a story.

So what story did I get? I got Lucie Manette, a light magician from the dark magician's city, alternately being strong or weak, seemingly on a whim, which grew quickly annoying. Lucie, you got some 'splainin' to do! In the end she came off as short-sighted and stupid and worse, she never improved. I don't want to read stories about dumb, unmotivated, thoughtless women - or men for that matter. I don't mind if they start out that way and wise-up, but to see a person going through life never getting anywhere and never trying, and failing and never learning from it, and making dumb decisions, and willingly allowing herself to be trapped by a cruel and abusive Sidney Carton clone and accepting it meekly, is depressing. The Carton clone made even less sense. He threw Lucie over a hundred feet down into the East River from the Brooklyn Bridge the first chance he got, and we're supposed to see this evil, abusive brute turn into a hero? It doesn't work - not in the way it's told here.

The only time Lucie comes through is by means of passive aggression. It's hardly hardly heroic! Despite my issue with the swords, given that we had them, I did want to see her cut loose with one, but she never did. Why then give her a sword, make her grab a sword like it's a safety blanket during an escape, and tell us clearly that she's a great sword fighter if she's never going to fight? It's exactly the same problem with the magic: why have it if it's never going to get used? That was another problem: why tell so much if it's a no show?

If you're magician and you want to rescue someone, you do it with magic, not by starting a protest! Unless of course your story is set in India during the revolution. Which this was not. But it would have made more sense. Why recreate a story which was originally set in England and France, and move it bodily to the USA? Because everyone else does? Because Big Publishing™ doesn't care about your story if it's not set in the USA? Because US teens won't read stories that are not set in the USA? Screw them. For goodness sakes, write the story that needs writing, not the one you think the US publishing industry is most likely to offer you a contract for.

Since this was clearly a clone of Dickens's novel, I went into it already knowing the ending, so clearly the suspenseful part of the story could only come from how we got there and perhaps from wondering if the ending would get a twist. I've never read A Tale of Two Cities, but I do know how it begins and how it ends. The problem is that all we got was a vacillating Lucie who we're supposed to view as heroic, yet who quite clearly had no backbone whatsoever. There was more than one point, but one point in particular, where she could easily have turned this around and saved lives and saved the world from falling into chaos, and she shrunk from it every time. We're told she is an expert sword fighter, and by that means she could have saved the life of a woman whom she liked, who was a moderate, but she hid instead and watched the woman die.

By simply owning the truth, Lucie could have changed the world, but she hid and shrank away, and turned away, and ran, and buckled under repeatedly, and she made people die and she made me sick. I did not like her, nor any other character in the story, and her limp and retarded behavior was nauseating to watch when it was repeated time after time, day after day. I can understand an author liking an historical novel so well that she wants to pay homage to it in a rewrite, but I think the problem here is that the author was too close to her source and didn't want to let any of it go (which is no doubt why we had swords!). I think if she'd let it go and written the story based on her own outline and didn't worry about what the Dickens would happen, it might have been better for it. While I was grateful for a chance to read an advance review copy of this novel, I cannot in good faith recommend this as a worthy read.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Fire Chronicle Book Two by John Stephens

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audio book written very much in the vein of the Harry Potter series, and it was read by Jim Dale. This, I think, is where the two-fold problem with it lies. It's too much like Harry Potter. That problem is not improved by having Jim Dale read it! I'm a big fan of Jim Dale and he has a mellifluous voice, but having him read a novel which has such a lot owed to HP made it seem like a rip-off. It's a junior Harry Potter without the better HP qualities, namely that adults could enjoy it as much as kids did.

The first few minutes I was listening to it, I kept having to remind myself that it was not Harry Potter, but that became easier as the story progressed, because this is very much written for middle grade and it was neither entertaining or appealing to me. There was far too much predictability and trope. Just as in HP, Kate, Michael, and Emma (the equivalent of Harry, Ron, and Hermione) are orphans who meet up with an elderly wizard (the equivalent of Dumbledore) and have magical adventures in pursuit of some horcruxes - er magical books.

Despite now starting book two (I haven't read book one, note) and being exposed to all manner of magic and magical creatures in that volume, when these kids meet up with the professor again, and he takes them to another place by traveling through a cupboard, the kids are amazed and surprised that they enter from one location and exit to another place entirely. Which part of "WIZARD" is it they don't get? This told me that these kids are morons, and I had no further wish to read of them. The fact that the professor was an information hog, telling these poor kids next-to-nothing made me detest him as much as I detested the real Dumbledore. This series may interest incurious kids of the eight to ten range, but I can't imagine older kids - who have any kind of imagination at all - finding anything really new or entertaining here. I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman

Rating: WARTY!

This is a story of young Grayling, daughter of a hedge witch who is called back to the house from her outdoor chores one morning to discover that her home is burning down and her mother is in process of turning into a tree! She has to launch her unwilling self upon a quest to discover the evil being who did this.

Grayling is not a hero and does not want this quest. She has no magical powers as far as she knows, but perhaps the title will give you a clue as to what she can do. Accompanied by people she picks up along the way, mostly cantankerous or weird, and a shape-shifting mouse, Grayling sets off on her quest.

This is a very short novel, hardly more than a hundred pages, but although I started it in good humor enjoying the writing, about halfway through, it began to fall into a boring rut, and though I read on some more, I reached a point where I really could not drum up any more enthusiasm for reading further. One more "belike" or "mayhap" would have put me over the edge! I know we strive for realism in historical fiction, but there is such a thing as too much realism!

So the story, which had been originally quite inventive (the mouse was fun, and somewhat reminiscent of Taggle the cat in Erin Bow's novel Plain Kate which I reviewed on my blog back in June 2014), became bogged down in asides which were uninteresting to me, and which I felt failed to move the story along. Despite the bright beginning, when what I read is considered overall, I cannot recommend this as a worthy read, but I think this author bears watching for future stories.