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

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.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Rating: WARTY!

I just began watching the TV version of this novel and I really enjoy it, so I checked with the local library and they had the audio book! Yeay! Bless that library! I began listening to that as soon as the library got it in, but unfortunately, the thrill of having the chance to hear this book was quickly replaced by deadening boredom. Mark Bramhall's dull delivery left a lot to be desired, but even had the reader been enthralling, I would still have found this novel tedious in the extreme. It was awful. This was a book about magic, and somehow Lev Grossman had contrived to remove all magic from it, and render it into one of the most pretentiously monotonous books that has ever crossed my eyesight.

I was hoping the book would be just as good as, if not better than the TV show, and perhaps with a little more substance, but there was no substance. There was no magic even when magic was being performed because the descriptions of the magic were written to tediously that all immediacy and thrill was banished. Lev Grossman seems to be the type of writer who thinks, "Why use one word where I can use a dozen?" He evidently asks himself, "Why be pithy, to the point, and gripping, when I can be rambling, dissipated, and tiresome?" It was not a pleasant experience for me.

The novel is very broadly the same as the TV show of course, but there are some significant differences which became obvious from the rambling, self-important first chapter. Indeed the first couple of chapters could have been completely dispensed with and would have actually improved this novel. I had hoped that it would improve once I got to the Breakbills magic school, but it was just as boring there as it had been in the seemingly endless run-up to that point. The TV show did a much better job of starting the story, and it made the main character, Quentin, much more appealing. Here, he was boring and I had no interest in reading about him. Even the visit from the evil wizard was uninteresting. How someone can take an event which on TV was gripping and dramatic, and make it leaden and unappealing is a mystery, but Lev Grossman managed it.

So this was a big fat DBF, but to be fair, I do owe the author for two things. One: he's convinced me that I never need to read another book by Lev Grossman, and two, he's convinced me I never need to read even one book by George RR Martin! How did that happen? Well this publisher somehow inveigled Martin to write a 'sound bite' for the cover, which ran along the lines of "The Magicians is to Harry Potter what a shot of Irish whisky is to weak tea." This phrase convinced me of two things: George Martin is utterly clueless, and so is Big Publishing™.

I think even people who hate Harry Potter would have to agree that this novel and that series have nothing on common. They are aimed at different audiences and different age ranges, so why Martin thought there was some point to comparing them is a mystery. Clearly the publisher was hoping to suck deeply on the teat of Harry Potter and draw his fans into this novel, but they have been thoroughly dishonest in comparing the two. Harry Potter had magic, to which his legions of fans and the run-away success of the movies clearly attest. The Potter books were juvenile, but they were readable, inventive, and widely appealing. This story is none of the above. Harry Potter was wordy at times, and lacked much weighty substance, but it was not leaden, and it cut to the chase on a regular basis. By contrast, there is no chase to cut to in this story. I'd say it plods, but that would imply that it was going somewhere when it was not.

I can't recommend something as stodgy and badly written as this is. Watch the TV show instead.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Down Town by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers

Rating: WARTY!

I've read some of the Dresden Files graphic novels before and couldn't get into them. Unlike with his Codex Alera series, which I loved, the Dresden files never got me interested. I tried watching the short-lived TV show and that was a bust, too. So why pick this one? Well, this story gave him an assistant, which I'd never encountered before in this series, so I thought that might be interesting - adding a dynamic that was never there before.

I was particularly intrigued, given what an impoverished situation he was in (your standard clichéd, struggling private dick kind of a deal), how he had even taken on an assistant, but this was adequately explained. The problem is that this is about all I remembered of this story when I came to write this review several days after reading it. That's not always a bad sign, but it's typically not a good one!

In this story, Harry Dresden, a Chicago-based wizard-for-hire, has taken on an apprentice, Molly Carpenter. The blurb describes her as a "new" apprentice", and this is actually the case, I'm informed, because he had another assistant prior to this one, so this is indeed his new assistant. He only took her on to spare her from being slaughtered by the white council. Dresden is apparently planning on bringing down a villain described as a mad sorcerer who wants to take over the city. My question is: why not just run for mayor? Or magic himself into that job?! It made no sense!

The sorcerer is in league with gangster Johnnie Marcone. Will Harry be able to hold his own or will Molly have to hold it for him? I don't know. I got to about 80% in and lost patience with this one. The story wasn't that great to begin with, and I was finding pages missing text - they had empty speech balloons throughout. This was on Bluefire reader on the iPad. Even one such page is bad for a review copy in this day and age, but many such pages? Not acceptable. I had no idea what the characters were saying or thinking, and pretty soon I realized that I really didn't care. It was time to move on to something more engaging - and wordy! I can't recommend this.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Rating: WARTY!

This was an advance review copy, and we reviewers are always warned to keep that in mind, but what I keep in mind is that in this day and age of electronic publishing, publishers and authors have little excuse to put out a review copy that hasn't been properly vetted for errors. In this novel, some of the phrasing, granted not much, but still some sounds like it was run through Google translate, such as "Yet it sat with Zacharias ill to overturn..."

Additionally, there were also some odd words mixed in, some of which were evidently made up yet nowhere where they defined or set in a context so it was obvious what these words meant. Some parts of the novel were run together, and I suspect that this was caused by the transcription process into Kindle app format rather than anything that the author did. The following is a copy of how an example of this appeared in my smart phone Kindle app:

Damerell waved him away. “Have some sense, man!” he gasped. “Don’t interrupt!”“What can you mean?” said Rollo.
I seriously doubt that the author made the absurd line breaks, the oddball line spacing, and the random font changes that I saw in my Kindle Android app copy, but this is an issue which needs to be taken care of!

Those things aside, the story got off to a great start. It was, once again a story where magic is in decline, and once again a story where women are all but forbidden to use magic. How that works is a mystery to me. Yes, women have long been forced into second place (assuming they were granted any place at all in society), but this was in regular everyday life not in a magical world where things are very different. What we have here is such a world, yet we're expected to believe that this made no difference to how society developed. I didn't buy that, but it's that shaky premise that we have to deal with here. Other than that, it began as an engrossing story.

Set in England, during Napoleonic times, we enter a world where the new Sorcerer to the crown is a black man - a protégé of the previous magician, who was highly regarded. Popular sentiment is turning against Zacharias because he is resented for being black, but "worse" than this, he's seen as an ideal person to blame for the decline in magic in England.

In order to escape the calumny, Zach takes up an offer from an acquaintance to speak in his stead at a girls school. This will get him out of town for a few days at least. He doesn't know that there is a girl, Prunella, at the school, who is oozing with magic and who is, like Zach, not white. She has also lost her father as Zach has lost his father figure. You would think they would have a lot in common, and I was sure the author's intention as to bring these two together, but as it happened, they were as different as chalk and cheese, which would have been fine if they'd had some chemistry and had no chemistry, but they did not. None at all.

Prunella was quite impressive as a character to begin with, but then she discovered something during the visit of the Royal Sorcerer, and promptly turned profoundly stupid. She discovered something in an old bag her father left for her - something which would be of huge benefit, and she knew that she needed professional advice on how best to employ this material, but never once does she think of approaching the Royal Sorcerer!

He was right there at the school. She was in his company at the same time as she had this knowledge, yet never once did it cross her mind to approach him, and neither were we given any reason - let alone a good reason - why she failed to do so. This made no sense and for me was the first false step in this story because it made Prunella look like a moron.

Let me side-track for a minute to say that I don't get how these two characters are named, and no explanation is forthcoming from the author, not even a poor one. Prunella hails from India, where Prunella, believe it or not, is not a common name. Prunella is, in fact, Latin in derivation. Zacharias is supposedly African, where again, Zacharius was nowhere near the first name of choice. It is in fact the Greek form of the Hebrew Zechariah. Neither name was applicable. Character names are important and for me, these were failures.

Back to our regular programming. I can see how an author might want to keep their main characters apart for as long as possible, especially if there's a romance in the offing, just to increase dramatic tension, but if you're going to do this you need to offer valid reasons, not poor ones, and especially not ones which make your main female character look like an idiot. You certainly don't want to bypass that altogether in the evident hope that the reader won't see the plot hole. Trust me, there aren't many readers who are as dumb as Prunella appears to be, and it's insulting to your readers to suggest otherwise!

I don't get why Prunella was so appallingly slow to share with Zacharias her discoveries in the attic. In the end she didn't share them so much as he blundered in on them. I like that she bonded with Mak Genggang (which is an awesome name), but that relationship was short lived and never really went anywhere. It was like Mak was nothing more than a key to open a door for Prunella, and was then discarded.

I kept bouncing back and forth between delight with the obvious Asian influences the author brings to her story-telling, and being frustrated at how slowly the story progressed. Some people are never happy, huh?! LOL! A little tighter, with some more momentum would have been appreciated, but I did maintain my interest even through the frustration.

This story was different and had a freshness to it despite using a lot of tropes, and I enjoyed how fresh it was. I liked Prunella initially, even as she irritated me at times, but my appreciation of her deteriorated as the story progressed until I had no time for her. Zacharias I never did warm to. He seemed to be such a Mary Sue in that he was more like wallpaper than an app. He really wasn't a protagonist in that he was not proactive at all. Everything happened to him. He did nothing himself which made him totally boring. He seemed far too content to float down the river in a tube rather than fire up a speedboat and get where he needed to be. Given the derision in which too many people held him, and the repeated attempts on his life, his lackadaisical attitude was simply incomprehensible when it wasn't laughable.

Prunella had a lot more oomph to her, but she seemed to be marching to her own obscure drumbeat. For two characters who were supposed to be thrown together and develop a relationship (however it was intended to turn out), they were completely at odds, and not in a good way. They were not a team nor did they look like they were on their way to becoming one.

For a novel which is supposed to be about, inter alia inequality (of race, of gender, and of wealth), this novel seems still to go out of its way to segregate women in some regards, such as in how they are titled. Zacharias is a thaumaturge, yet he insists that Prunella is a thaumaturgess, and later a Magicienne. Why? Why can she not be a thaumaturge as he is or a magician? For that matter, why not a sorcerer since she has a familiar? That's sorcerer, please note, not sorceress.

I didn't get why the author went out of her way repeatedly to segregate her as a woman when the whole book was supposed to be about integration. People are welcome to disagree, but for me, it’s time we shed these gender-confining distinctions. We got rid of "miss", so why retain the idea of mistress - that is to say, why retain the -ess suffix for women? Someone who acts, for example, is an actor, not an actress. We don’t call female doctors doctresses! (and let's have no more of 'dress'! From now on it must be dror! LOL!).

Here's one reason why I ended up not liking her: "Prunella took to the ballrooms of London in the spirit of ruthless calculation of a general entering a battlefield." There were other times I did like her, but in the end, she was all over the place in my estimation and my liking dwindled to nothing. There were examples of her doing good and supportive and grateful things for the opportunity she'd been given, then there were other times when she would turn immediately around and act like the most stupid person in the entire Kingdom. I don't expect a character to be perfect. That would be as absurd as it would be boring. I don't mind a main character starting weak, or stupid, or clumsy if they improve, but when a protagonist like Prunella starts out likable, and then turns a reader off them, they're written poorly, period.

One classic example of her stupidity was when she attended a party and observed a magical orb sitting on a table. Later she encounters that same orb at Zach's house causing mischief and mayhem, yet never once did she share her inside knowledge with Zach. Instead she secretly snuck out, leaving an obscure and ambiguous note for Zach, to break into the house of her friend's greatest enemy for no better reason than to see if the orb she had seen earlier was still on the table in that house!

If it had not been there (no matter what other reason there might have been for its absence) she would then "know" that this orb that had delivered chaos to Zach's home was one and the same. Instead of leaving the orb behind her, she took it with her and thereby delivered it straight into the hands of her enemy, losing her evidence! Classic stupidity. I can’t go to bat for a character who is so relentlessly clueless, nor can I harbor any great wish to read more about her.

Inertia was one of the worst traits of this novel - no one did anything. Even Prunella, the most active of the protagonists, barely moved except to go to parties to try and pick up a husband, and nowhere did she count love or companionship as one of her expectations from this hoped-for betrothal. She worked for nothing yet gained everything. In another inexplicable example of inertia, I have to ask why was it, exactly, that despite the bountiful threats against his protégé from every quarter, did Sir Stephen's ghost wait to act until we were three-quarters the way through the book? And then failed to deliver anything? What was the point of this ghost? I saw none.

Deus ex machina was another issue. Prunella's stupendously growing powers were coming out of nowhere. We were offered no reason whatsoever to explain why she started out doing small but impressive low-level magic and then in a matter of a few days or weeks at best, she had grown to be the most powerful magician in England if not the world. Yes she had some training and read a couple of books, but this was, judged from the way the story has it, a limited and cursory amount of both training and reading.

Yes, she had three familiars, but nowhere are we given any indication that these three are contributing to, much less actually enhancing, her powers that she should become so strong so fast. Indeed, nowhere is it explained exactly what familiars these represent, what they are supposed to contribute, or why they are so important.

Other have reviewers, I've noted, have complained of lack of character development and world-building. I don’t worry over much about those kinds of things if the story itself is good, but what I do care about is huge gaps in the story-telling - where things happen out of the blue, with no presaging at all, or where huge changes take place with little or nothing to account for them. Too many things are completely glossed over in this story.

The sad corollary to all of that is that When we finally reach the point at which Prunella is unleashed and enters her first magical battle, it’s skipped completely - we only learn of it after the fact, and then get no details, only the result. It’s like the author was too timid or lacking confidence to write the thing, and we had all of this build-up with nothing to show for it. The ending rather fell apart. It dragged out far too long and a major character was callously killed off by Prunella which made me really actively dislike her at that point. I was very disappointed in how all this played out.

I know this was a début novel, and both the premise and the promise are great, but this was simply not ready for prime-time. The sad thing is that the novel deserved some real pre-publishing support from the publisher and it evidently got none, or at best, insufficient, which forces me to ask once again in this age of self-publishing, what exactly is the benefit and point of going the Big Publishing™ route if what could have been a masterpiece is so badly let down? I cannot recommend this novel as a worthy read, but I confess that having read this effort, I am interested in following this author's career. She has an awesome name, and I think she has places to go. I'm curious as to where she goes next!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Rat Queens The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth by Kurtis J Weibe

Title: Rat Queens The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth
Author: Kurtis J Wiebe
Publisher: Image Comics
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Šejić.

"It'd still be in tact..." should be "It'd still be intact..." (page 14 Adobe Digital Edition).

I automatically feel nauseous whenever I read a fantasy story which has random apostrophes appearing in words. The last word in the title of this one sounds like Henry Goth! It's larded with stock fantasy phrases like "the Haruspex Requiem", and "the Glyph of Furlough", and "the abyssal plain". Newsflash: an abyss ain't a plain. But the blurb sounded interesting, so I thought, "Let's run it up the reader and see if it's worth saluting."

The funny thing is that it actually turned out to be the most engaging comic I've read since iZombie. Despite the trope and cliché here and there, it has such a modern feel to it without losing anything of its medieval setting. I am definitely going to buy the graphic novel series for this.

According to the images on page six, the Rat Queen team evidently conduct their work using a broadsword, a Harry Potter style wand dripping lightning, a dead squid, and some interesting looking mushrooms. They also play in a girl band according to one wild image, but I suspected that that was for sheer fun. It did endear me to the artist, however.

So this looks interesting so far, thinks I. The 'drummer", Betty, is a lesbian pixie or halfling, the "lead guitarist", Hannah, is a hetero elf, the singer, Delilah (Dee) is a lonely human witch, and god only knows what the bass-playing red-headed child Violet (Vi) is into. She's a dwarf, but she shaved her beard before it became fashionable to do so. Yes, this is fantasy, but it has a far more modern look to it than most fantasy you'll encounter involving trolls, orcs, and elves, etc.

This novel has so much attitude that it drips off the page. Immediately after we meet them, the girls are already in trouble for an unscheduled penectomy they performed on a large statue outside the town hall. But they're not dressed down for it. In fact, they dress quite well. Instead they're hired to go after some animated mushrooms. Next we're off to meet Lola and Sawyer, who are another trip. They're the local cops or whatever the equivalent was back then, and I love Lola's attitude. She has some of the best come-backs in the whole book.

"Dimensional demons that feed on the energy of displaced reality" sounds suspiciously like the MO of the weeping angels of Doctor Who fame. Except that these beasties aren't statues, they're squid - and squid out of water at that. How does that even work? And don't get me started on their mouths (please!), which look disturbingly like vulvas.

So, in short, I loved this graphic novel. The art work was really good, and the coloring was great. The images make full use of the page, so it's tree-friendly for the print version (as far as print versions can be tree friendly, that is!). I recommend it all the way.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Family Pets by Pat Shand

Title: Family Pets (no vendor found)
Author: Pat Shand
Publisher: Silver Dragon Books (no website found)
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Sarah Dill.

Thomasina lost her parents at a young age and went to live with her grandmother, but soon, for financial reasons, they had to move in with Thomasina's aunt and uncle and her uncommunicative cousin. Here life is pretty average, ordinary, normal and slightly annoying to her.

One morning, Thomasina wakes up to find her pet snake missing from its tank, and when she goes upstairs from her basement room which she shares with Abuela, she discovers that her whole family, apart from grandma, has been turned into household pets such as a dog, a cat, a parakeet, and a lizard.

Meanwhile, her snake is now a rather attractive young man. Somehow the snake knows how this happened and leads Thomasina to the culprit whom she actually, kinda, knows. He confesses that it was all a magic spell gone wrong, and he takes her with him to his native magic land where they hope to get things resolved.

The gray scale art work and the story were both excellent, and I fully recommend this story for how entertaining and unique it is. The main female character, Thomasina, can certainly show a heck of a lot of young adult female leads a thing or two about being a fearless, kickass, strong female.

The only issue I had with it was the poor performance on the iPad in Bluefire reader. This is a new iPad with a lot of memory and yet sometimes a page would take six seconds to load, or the page would fail to swipe until I had swiped or tapped it two or three times. To be fair, this isn't the only comic I've had this problem with, but it is irritating.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Time Out of Time 2 by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Title: Time Out of Time 2
Author: Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Publisher: Abrams Books
Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel was presented in an unusual fashion in Adobe Digital Editions - it's all double paged meaning that you need to have the app full screen in order to have the text large enough to read comfortably. There was an inexplicable prologue which I skipped. My position is that if the author doesn't think it important enough to include in the main body of the novel, then I don't think it important enough to expend time upon. I've never regretted skipping a prologue. I got about a quarter the way through the novel and had to give up on it.

The book consists of 337 pages of widely-spaced text, so it's not a long novel - nor is it very kind to trees formatted in that way. I'd recommend the ebook version if you're going to buy this. The last chapter is amusingly titled "A New Chapter". I had forgotten that the blurb I read clearly stated that this was book two, so I started this thinking it was book one. There is nothing in the book to indicate it's book two until you start reading it, when it becomes evident that the story is already well under way

This begs the question as to why a prologue was even thought necessary - wasn't book one the prologue?! There's no indication anywhere as to what book it is or even if it's part of a series, but it quite evidently is. So note that I am not a fan of series, and I am coming into this having missed book one. This obvious affects my view of the story.

That said, I found it not less confusing the more I read but more confusing! I quickly lost interest because I really didn't understand the point of people's actions. Maybe if I had read book one it might have been better, but I doubt it because if book one had been written like this, then I never would have wanted to progress to book two anyway!

We begin with Jessica, who is evidently in a magical market. She had gone there with her friend Peter, and with Sarah and Timothy Maxwell to get some special ointment for their mother. Why it took four of them goes unexplained, but they'd had a run-in with the Animal Tamer - a wizard of some sort - who had turned Sarah into a "white ermine". That's a tautology; ermines are by definition white. They're actually white stoats - stoats with a winter coat. Peter had then caused a distraction allowing Jessica to free Sarah (in her stoat form) and the Animal Tamer had reacted by turning Peter into a weasel!

How do you tell the difference between a weasel and stoat? Well here's the secret: A weasel is so weasely distinguished, and a stoat is stoatally different. Got that? Okay, let's move along. Actually, I lied. Peter was turned into a ferret, but if I'd said that, I couldn't have told that joke. I'm glad you ferreted the truth out of me though.

Now Jessica's being attacked by a goose, which gooses her from behind. It certainly isn't her day, but fortunately, her aunt Rosemary - or is it Cerridwyn? - is close at hand. Like I said, chapter one takes off like it's a sequel, but with no scene setting as it goes, so coming into it as I did, it was moderately confusing to begin with. Superficially, it felt like we were hitting the ground running, but there was more mis-hitting and stumbling than anything else.

The worst thing about the novel though was how derivative it is. When I read the blurb I thought it odd that these kids were going to Scotland to look for Irish treasures, but I love Scotland and so I thought it definitely worth a look, but it took forever to get to that point. In fact, in the portion I read, which was about the first third, it didn't happen, which was a big yawn for me.

Instead, there was a huge battle in which the very trees are being awoken just like in Lord of the Rings, and they're fighting foul creatures coming from underground - just like in Lord of the Rings, except that in this case it isn't Orcs, but a giant toad.

The characters seemed unfortunately reminiscent of Harry Potter in some regards. There was even a worm-tail character who was a rat-catcher. I don't know if that was intentionally humorous or was merely ironic. He couldn't turn himself into a rat, but he was turned into one by the Animal Tamer.

The Animal Tamer's real name is Balor, but just like with Lord Voldemort - who actually never was a lord - no one likes to use his real name. We got to spend very little time with the "ermine" and with the ferret, following them on their non-adventures. The ferret, which is held in a burlap bag, tries to escape through a hole the "size of a quarter", which would be impossible unless quarters in this land are significantly larger than American quarters, or maybe the sack stretched. Hobs - which are what male ferrets are called, are larger than jills (the female ferret) so I assumed Peter was a hob, but who knows?

After this it became really confusing with one new character after another showing up, and there was fighting and blood and gore, and it simply wasn't interesting or entertaining to me. I had no investment in any of the characters and really didn't care whether the market had a king or not. There was the recovery of a valuable piece of adornment, rather like the diadem in Harry Potter, except that this was a necklace and was not sought so it could be destroyed.

One thing that is consistent in this kind of a novel is that some ill-prepared kid is thrust into a position of crucial importance and wins out, whereas all the powerful people - the wizards or whatever, steer clear of the danger and do precious little but speak in riddles. It's nonsensical and offers no sort of decent foundation upon which to build a solid story. For me, this is why this one failed to get there, and why I can't recommend it. There is no 'there' there. Your mileage may differ.