Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Squawk of the Were-Chicken by Richard J Kendrick


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book was hilarious and I recommend it, although for me it went on a little bit too long to be perfect. It was beautifully written and full of characterization, quirks, fun, amusing asides, and an actual mystery. It was also weird, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It was weird in the sense that it seemed to straddle two completely different time periods simultaneously: the rustic of the Jane Austen, and the modern. For example, while bicycles were apparently new inventions, screenplays were not, so it made for a rather mind-boggling read, the reader never quite knowing what to expect.

As I mentioned, it felt rather long for a book which appears to be aimed at a middle-grade audience. Despite being amused and entertained by it, I have to say I was often wondering why it was taking me so long to get through it! I read it frequently and I'm not a slow reader, but I always seemed to be making awfully slow progress through it which was frankly off-putting. This drag effect was offset by the interesting story.

The relationship between the two main characters, Deidre, who leads us through this tale, and Fyfe, who is her sidekick, is choice and beautifully done. The two of them are an item and either don't know it yet, or are in serious denial, but it was a pleasure to read of their interactions. They were not the only two characters though, and rather than have a pair of startlingly realized actors playing against a backdrop of an otherwise bland ensemble, this world was full of equally engrossing and quite complex people, particularly the eccentric were-chicken investigator.

Even minor characters contributed fruitfully, as in when I read this, which made me laugh out loud despite not being a fan of fart jokes or stories:

Of course, then there'd been tea. And, apparently, the Master Seamstress was just about the only person Deidre had ever met that was completely impervious to Fyfe. In retrospect, maybe Deidre should have figured on that. She had once told Deidre, rather cryptically, to 'never trust a fart, dear.'
That felt so off the wall to me that I really did laugh out loud.

Deidre lives in a quiet village which nevertheless has a thriving market. Almost all of the activity in the village seems to revolve around making and selling things, and most of those things seem to revolve around wheat, chickens, and eggs, but which came first, I can't say. Deidre has no interest in that. Instead, she's focused on inventing, and by that I mean engineering, and she's really focused on that. Her father is supposedly trying to get her the position of smallest cog at the clock shop, a venue she loves, even as she detests its owner.

So she occupies her time inventing things, usually with disastrous consequences, and then trying to figure out how to solve the problem or whether she should move onto something else. The latter option tends to win, because her mind is all over the place. Into this orderly, if messy life, comes a kleptomaniacal were-chicken. Or is it merely someone impersonating a chicken? And whence cometh the bravery if they're impersonating a chicken? That last question may be irrelevant and/or ill-considered, but only Deidre and Fyfe can find the answer - and determined they are to do so.

I really liked this novel and I recommend it although as I said, it may be a bit long (and even a bit mature in reading style) for many middle-grade readers. Although the author has an annoying habit of omitting question marks from clearly interrogative sentences, the writing overall was excellent and appreciated, and even Amazon's crappy Kindle app couldn't ruin it for me!


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Artsy Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll


Rating: WARTY!

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

The review copy had some major issues, but I worked around these and this does not factor into my negative review of this book. Yes, negative. I'm sorry and I wish the author all the best in this series, but it wasn't quite there for me, even when I viewed it through middle-grade lenses. While I'm not a series fan, I think this one has potential, but this volume (the middle of three in the series s far as I know) just didn't get it done for me.

This book is told from the perspective of Stephen Noble, who walks dogs to help out his father's business. If we were to categorize his parents by traditional 'roles', then Stephen's father was more like a mom and his mom more like a dad given his dad's interest in knitting and other traditionally female pursuits, and his mom's traveling for her job, but this felt to me to be more like a novelty add-in for effect than a serious attempt at depicting equality or parents outside of traditional roles, but they were relatively minor characters, so this really wasn't a big deal.

Stephen's best friend is Renée Kobai. As is usual in these stories, I found the side-kick - Renée - to be far more interesting than ever Stephen was. The problem with Stephen (apart from his foolish willingness to do highly risky if not downright dangerous things, such as trying to follow suspected criminals at midnight) was his obsession with these two dogs, Ping and Pong. It was honestly really irritating, and the number of times the dogs are mentioned was nauseating. I kept asking, "Is this about these two dogs or about art theft?!" because it honestly felt like the plot was taking a back seat to the minutiae of the dogs walking, and sniffing, and barking, and whatever.

The story was supposed to be about the inexplicable disappearance of various items of 'outdoor art' such as the mailbox of Stephen's next-door-neighbor, which was designed to look like a house, and the vanishing decorative fish from the fence around Stephen and Renée's school. The problem was that there never really was any plot!

The story sort of meandered around without any real detective work being done, and it was so obsessed with these two dogs, which Stephen seemed to be walking full time non-stop, that I rapidly lost interest - and I actually like dogs! After about the fifty percent mark I began skimming the story, reading bits here and there, and it was not improving. By seventy-five percent I'd lost even a pretense of interest in it and wanted to move onto something which would actually keep my attention, and not annoy me! I'm sorry, but life is too short for this kind of a novel to occupy any significant amount of it.

There were instances of children lying to adults and getting away with it, and for no good reason. I know children do lie, but to promote this as a real option in life is a mistake in a children's novel, especially when there are no consequences for it.

Worse than this though, at one point Stephen tells us, "I think I've seen enough rescue videos that I can use CPR to bring him back to life if I have to." This is a serious no-no. You cannot do CPR unless you are properly trained, and to suggest to children that you can see it in a video and then just leap in and do it, is excusable, especially in a children's book! You can do serious harm to someone if you try CPR without knowing properly what you are supposed to do, and this alone should disqualify this book from a positive rating. I found it dispiriting that no other reviewers seemed to find a problem with this.

The writing aside, there were serious technical problems with the crappy Kindle app version of this novel and the problems were the same whether I looked at this on my phone or on a tablet computer. Almost every instance of the letters 'T' and 'H' like in 'they' and 'this' and so on, were missing. Also every instance of two 'F's together, like in the word 'off', were missing, so the word was just the letter 'O'. Also missing were combinations of 'F' and 'L', and 'F' and 'I'!. It was weird.

I encountered something like this in another book which I read in Kindle's crappy app a long time ago. Why it happens, I do not know. There must be some glitch when converting to Kindle, I guess, but Kindle's app is substandard anyway in my opinion. I'd much rather read in Bluefire reader, Adobe Digital Editions, or the Nook app, all of which put Kindle to shame. Here are some examples of the missing letters:

  • "the moment her older brother, Attila, takes o for class" (takes off for class)
  • "It'll be the rst one I make" (first one I make)
  • "ey scramble ahead of me like mismatched horses pulling a carriage: Ping, a scruy pony;" (they scramble...scruffy pony)
  • "make the dogs walk to the le of me" (left of me)
  • "He is out walking his ve Yorkie" (No idea what that's supposed to be!)
  • "is junk slows us down" (this junk)
  • "with some kind of ller." (filler)
  • "e sunlight glints o the diamond stud in her nose as she pulls the ugliest wall plaque I've ever seen from someone's pile of junk. It's a large grey sh, mouth open, pointy teeth drawn, mounted on a at slab of glossy wood. Maybe Ping is growling at the sh, not the girl."
  • "e sh is bent as though it's wriggling in a stream." (the fish)
  • She looks from the sh to me. "Oh, not for me. e plaque is for my prof. ey're redecorating the sta lounge."

One of these was unintentionally hilarious, and might well be deemed so by middle grade boys at least: "I don't want to be caught with sh in my pants." It was meant to be (I'm assuming!) "I don't want to be caught with fish in my pants." All this talk of fish, by the way, was from a set of carved wooden sharks that like the dogs, frankly featured too largely in the story.

Had the novel been better, these problems were ignorable (it's surprising how much sense you can make of a sentence which is missing letters!), but as it was, they simply added to the negative overall impression I was already getting from the story itself, so I cannot recommend it.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer


Rating: WARTY!

This novel sounded from the blurb a lot better than it turned out to be in the oratory, and John Bedford Lloyd's reading of the audiobook did not help one bit. His voice was just wrong. I feel bad for writers who get stuck with the wrong reader for their audiobook. I think more writers need to read their own work, or the audiobook publishers need to get in some new talent instead of obsessively-compulsively resorting to old school readers. Just because someone is an actor, for example, does not mean they can read an audiobook worth a damn.

The story is about a surgeon named Nick Garrity, who is of course a vet who suffers PTSD, and who heroically devotes his life to offering medical treatment to the homeless form his camper-van clinic in Washington DC. As if that's not heroic enough, he's searching for his best friend from his military days (which begs the question how they're ever fell out of touch if they were best friends).

Nick is about to be rescued and validated by the hot Jillian, whose kid sister Beth appears to have committed suicide, but Jillian doesn't swallow that, and I didn't swallow this. Of course there's an inevitable government conspiracy, and the villain is so utterly absurd that I was surprised to find he didn't wear a long black cloak and twirl the ends of a waxed his mustache. Instead he just waxed people. The whole story was too much and took far too long to get going, and Nick was absurdly heroic. I can't recommend this.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Someone Was Watching by David Patneaude


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook that almost made it under the wire, but the more of this review I wrote the worse it seemed to me! Jeff Woodman's reading was very good, but the material lacked credibility or seemed like it was being artificially manipulated for the scare-effect. Consequently, the scares felt very much like they were tacked on...well, tackily, instead of being organically and intelligently incorporated into the story. The novel redeemed itself somewhat with the ending, but overall while initially thinking it's a worthy read for middle-graders, I found myself changing my mind, and I'll explain why.

The story begins three months after the young daughter, Molly, of this Wisconsin family has disappeared while they were picnicking in a park by a river. Everyone blames themselves for it, although the parents were shamefully lacking in attention. Chris, the thirteen-year-old son had gone off by himself, deliberately avoiding taking Molly with him, hence his guilt. Molly disappeared, of course, and the assumption by everyone is that she drowned, even though three months on, no body has been found.

This was my first beef: that a possible abduction had not once been considered. It felt completely unrealistic and makes the police look stupid. If it had been considered and dismissed for some reason, that would be one thing, but it never was, so for me, this was poor writing. This bad writing continues as the family therapist advises a trip to the same park where Molly went missing - for closure. The absurdism here comes from the abrupt turn-around in everyone's attitude: things miraculously - and unbelievably - change. They changed far too much, far too quickly, in fact, to have any credibility, and this is further highlighted by events that same evening.

As part of this therapy, they watch the video Chris shot that day (this was a 1993 novel, so no smart phones were to hand, nor was there any of today's digital technology typically available). Something bothers Chris about the video and keeps him awake. When he watches it again, he notices the arrival of the local ice cream van, but instead of sitting in the park with the music playing, selling ice cream, the van quickly goes quiet, stays only for a minute, and then leaves. This makes Chris suspicious, but for me, again, it was a a bit of a stretch. Maybe middle-graders won't care, but for me there should have been a bit more. just a bit.

Chris brings his suspicions to the attention of his parents, who summarily dismiss them all! This is the same family which, quite literally the day before, were dysfunctional to a painful degree, unable to come to terms with Molly being lost, yet now, they summarily dismiss what Chris says, and all but forbid him to talk about it.

Chris and his school friend Patrick decided to investigate further, back in the small village near the park where the ice cream folk, Buddy and his wife Clover, have a shop. They discover that the ice-cream vendors have left long before the season is over, with the excuse that Clover's mom is ill. Conveniently, there's an envelope in the mailbox, revealing where they went, so rather than take all of this to the police, Chris and Pat decide to fly down to Florida to pursue them, and see if they really have Molly.

Once they arrive in the Florida location, they have some poorly tacked-on encounters which stand out rather sore-thumb-like, such as the police officer showing an unnatural interest in them in a restaurant, and three young thugs trying to shake them down in the street. Maybe middle-graders won't be so picky about the tacky, but for me it did not work. The rescue was better, but even there the boys were shown as idiots rather than heroes.

They do rescue Molly of course - that much was a given -but instead of going to the nearest house and asking for help (it would be very easy to tell a story about a man chasing them - since it was true!), they keep running and almost get caught before they - finally - make it to the police station, where the story pretty much ends. There was an epilogue but I'm no more interested in reading those than I am prologues.

So while the reading was good and parts of the story were engaging, for me, overall, it was a fail. I'm more picky than middle-graders, so maybe they won;t care, but I think this was a wasted opportunity to educate middle-graders about how to behave - and survive - (given the unlikely premise that they fly to Florida in the first place), and I think the author blew a great opportunity for the sake of cheap and gaudy thrills. I can't recommend this one.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay by Emily Janice Card, the problem with this 'Da Vinci Code' wannabe audiobook was that it was, once again, first person, which made for a tedious listen, since it's all about the main character all the time - hey look at me! Hey, see what I'm doing now! Hey check out my obsession with cute guys! With first person voice you are trapped inside this character and nothing at all can happen in your story unless she's present to witness it. Or unless we get an even more tedious info-dump from someone else about what happened when our narrator wasn't present. Frankly I would have preferred it if this story had not had her present at all.

The problem with doing this is that if you're going to write a mystery or a thriller about some ancient cipher, then you really need to focus on that and stop taking frequent detours through this girl's obsession with guys and endless whining about her broken family. It sucked and that's why I ditched this novel. It was a tedious story to have to wade through, even when all I was doing was listening. The "Lumen Dei" society was straight out of Dan Brown, and just as dumb. This book could have been half the size and told the same story. Pages went by with nothing of interest taking place. Where was the editor?! This just goes to prove that going the Big Publishing™ route doesn't guarantee you a readable book.

The Voynich manuscript is a real document dating to the early fifteenth century. It's a 240-some page volume written in a code which no-one has been able to decipher. This suggests, of course, that it's really a hoax, like the Turin Shroud, but it's a document ripe for having fiction worked around it.

In this fiction, the main character is drafted in to help translate Latin letters written by a young woman who is connected, somehow, with the manuscript. The fact that it was highly unlikely many young women would be able to even speak Latin, much less write it back then doesn't get in the way of the story. I can readily accept that there were special and talented women back then as there are in any age, but in this case you really need to make me feel there's a reason why this particular juvenile was so exceptional, and this story did not. Having said that, I did DNF it, so maybe this was addressed later and I missed it.

So the translation begins, but at one point the main character whose name I've blessedly forgotten, purloins one of the letters which is particularly intriguing to her. That same night, her professor is found unconscious, the safe open, and all of the papers they were working on stolen! How convenient. There's no explanation as to why the villains - who had easy access to the documents - did not steal them earlier.

Obviously the one the MC stole herself is the key to everything, but rather than ponder that, or anything else, she takes us away from the intrigue to once again focus on the boys in her life. La-di-dah, fiddle-di-dee. Her voice was so boring and off-track that I could not bring myself to pursue this story any further. I can't recommend this, based on the part I could stand to listen to.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazingly-named novel, from an author I now intend to read more of, is about a teen-aged girl in a religious cult (not an evil one, just a misguided one as they all ultimately are). Starbird has grown up leading a rather sheltered life, but she gets the chance to go out into the world and this is her story.

All of the characters have bizarre names. Starbird's brother is called Douglas Fir. Apparently the cult went through eras of selecting names from particular inspirational sources, so the founding members are all named after planets in our solar system. The leader is called Earth, and the name is always capitalized, but he's disappeared. He went out on some sabbatical, and no one heard from him since.

Starbird ends-up working with a girl named Venus Lake (daughter of Venus Ocean) in a restaurant owned by the cult. Venus is not a founding member but since her mother, who was a founder, died in childbirth, they gave her name to her daughter. Yes, it's that kind of weird. It was really hard to get into for the first couple of pages, but then it started making sense and I really liked it, which is a good feeling form a new novel by an author I was not familiar with. It's the best part of a novel, right? Before you've become disappointed in it and ditch or, or worse, before you read it avidly and then are disappointed that it's over! LOL! The manic world of novel addicts.

That;s not to say it was perfect. I had a problem with, in the space of 6 pages in chapter 9, meeting two guys and two girls. In each case the guy is described in terms of his hair, while in each case the girl is described in terms of how pretty or attractive she is. Fortunately, this was the only instance of this I encountered, so I let it slide, but this business of typing females by how pretty they are has to stop. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm ready to start rating novels based solely on that, if it's indulged in to absurd lengths, regardless of how well-written or otherwise the novel is.

Women have other qualities and the people who should perhaps most realize this are female writers, yet so many of them sell-out their characters with this genderist bullshit that it's nauseating. As I said, the author went on to show admirably how these women had other qualities and she backed-off on the skin-deep garbage, so I let it slide this time.

I can understand it if a character, in the novel reduces a woman to her looks alone; this happens in real life, but these descriptions came directly from the author, not from one of the characters. In each case the woman is reduced to her looks and in doing this, the author is very much announcing that women who are not considered attractive need not apply, because when it comes to women, looks are all that matter. I don't subscribe to that and I wish that a lot fewer female authors did, particularly in the YA genre.

That caveat aside, and because it was so limited in this novel, I do consider this a worthy read.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel did not work for me. It had some real potential, but it felt far too dissipated - like it was trying to drive in so many different directions at once that it went nowhere - and it took its sweet time doing it, too! I had to give up reading it about eighty percent in because it had become such a chore to read. It was far too dismal and never even seemed like it was interested in going anywhere. In the end I really didn't care what had happened to the mother and wife of this family. I really didn't.

The novel starts at almost a year from the point where "Billie" Flanagan went hiking and was never seen again - unless you count one lone hiking boot as a sighting. Her daughter, Olive and her husband, Jonathan, are barely holding it together. Olive starts seeing visions of her mother and after the first of these is so convinced her mom is right there, that she runs into a wall trying to get to her, and all but knocks herself out. I started pretty quickly hoping she would do it again and end up in a coma so I didn't have to deal with her any more.

Jonathan was no better. He never saw his daughter when mom was alive because he worked all hours. This begs the question as to who was raising Olive since mom was evidently always gone as well. Once mom was gone for good, Jonathan quit his job to spend time with Olive, but then he had no money, so they were living hand to mouth.

He got an advance to write a memoir of Billie, but we were never given a single reason why anyone would want to read it or why any publishing company would be remotely interested in a memoir about a woman who was very effectively a non-entity. The advance has been spent, and there's no prospect of more until the memoir is finished, but he's never depicted as actually working on it. In short, he's a truly lousy dad.

The story chapters are interspersed with "excerpts" from this memoir, but I have zero interest in story-halting flashbacks, because well, they halt the story, so I read none of the excerpts. I can't say I ever felt like I needed to go back and read them, which begs the obvious question as to why they were even there in the first place.

Olive's visions were so unrevealing of anything of value that the point of them was a mystery to me. They were all so vague and useless that they became simply annoying in short order. Any sympathy I had for her over her lousy parents was quickly smothered by her endless needy self-importance and habit of constantly and tediously regurgitating her situation for everyone and anyone who would listen.

There's talk that she might have a brain lesion which could explain the visions; then there's talk that maybe that's not the case; then there's talk that the pills she's given are stopping the visions, so maybe they were caused by the lesion, but one of these visions came before she hit her head. Seriously? Which is it? It was never explained and I couldn't stand to keep reading this stuff in the hope that maybe some straight-talk would come out of this story in the last twenty percent when there's been zero evidence of it in the first eighty!

I honestly did not care about any of these people at all, and I really could not have cared less about what had happened to Billie. The blurb (and I know this isn't on the writer, but the publisher) says of Billie that she's "a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom" and I have to ask yet again, what the fuck her 'beauty' has to do with anything? Would it have been somehow less of a tragedy had she been plain or even ugly? Would this family's loss have been easier? "Yeah, mom's vanished without a trace, but she was an ugly bitch, so who cares? Let's move on!" No, I don't think so.

Seriously, I am so tired of women being reduced to 'a pretty skin', like they haven't a damned thing to offer other than their beauty or lack of it. That sexist blurb writer should be fired for that blurb. If the novel had been about a man who disappeared, would the blurb have harped on how handsome he was? No! You're damned right it wouldn't. 2017 and we're still mired in this swamp: that a woman better equal beauty or she equals nothing.

I left this observation until last because it has nothing to do with my judgment of this novel. Normally, I pay little attention to the covers because they have nothing to do with the writer, unless the writer self-publishes. It's what's between those covers which interests me, yet you can't ignore the blurb because this is our lead-in to whether a particular novel might be of interest.

That said, I also have to bring the writer to book on this same score, because she also reduces women - particularly Billie - to skin-depth on far too many occasions:

  • "Billie was beautiful..."
  • "...Billie's mother would have been beautiful too..."
  • ...her mom was the most beautiful, most creative, the most interesting..." - note how beauty is listed first since it's quite evidently the most important thing about her!
  • "...being beautiful and strong..." - being a beautiful woman is more important than being a strong woman!
  • "...being married to a beautiful woman is that other people are going to notice that she is beautiful..."
  • "And while Billie was more beautiful..."
  • "You're a beautiful woman."
  • "...His beautiful wife.."
  • "...Olive's beautiful mother..."
  • "Billie, tanned, glowing, and beautiful..."
  • "This beautiful girl from nowhere..."
So maybe the blurb writer took their cue from the interior after all? Not that they shouldn't have known better. What's just as bad though, is that Olive is compared with this ridiculous standard, and negatively so: "...she's not beautiful, like her mother...", and "She is not conventionally beautiful...." This is sick. I'm sorry, but it is.

If the novel had been about runway models or women competing for a role in a movie or a TV show, then I could see how beauty would play into it. It would still be wrong, but it's the way Hollywood is; however, that doesn't mean that writers have to buy into it so readily. It's diseased writing to keep harping on this for page after page. It's a form of abuse. People who do this have no idea how much damage they do to women the world over by repeating this insane mantra that all that's important is looks, and if you ain't got 'em you ain't got nothin' worth having. Bullshit.

This novel ought really to be condemned on that alone, but sick as this world is, negatively reviewing a book for that would fall on deaf ears. As it was, this novel condemned itself in too many other ways.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of this author's works I've ever encountered and it left a favorable enough impression that I want to read something else by her. I tend to take more risks with audiobooks than other formats, because I'm a captive audience in my car and I'm not fully focused on the audio when in traffic, so I tend to be a bit more tolerant - within limits! - when I'm stuck with this one book until I get back home! In this case the book was easy on the ears as was Karen White, the actor who read this book and who successfully avoided annoying me!

It's set in a fictional North Carolina location called improbably 'Walls of Water' because of the cataracts in the area, but sometimes you have to wonder if the cataracts are on people's eyes rather than cascading down the rocky hills. In this small town lives Willa Jackson, whose family used to be important, but now are just another family, and Paxton Osgood, whose family is still important, from old money, and quite snooty. Paxton's family runs to three generations here, while Willa and her grandmother, who is seriously ill, seem to be the only two of their lineage left.

Each of these two women is crippled in the same way, but for different reasons. They both suffer from chronic inertia, having settled into a rut and being either incapable of, or beyond caring if they ever escape. Willa runs a sporting goods shop, and Paxton despite being thirty, has failed to flee the nest, having made it only as far as the pool house where she currently lives. Neither of these women struck me as being particularly smart, which was a disappointment, although they were not outright dumb, either.

They're the same age and though they were both at the same high school together, they were never friends. Paxton was part of the moneyed crowd, and Willa was the school prankster, although no one knew it was she until the last day of school. The pranks were totally lame, though, so she wasn't much of a prankster. The only thing special about it is that she keeps it a secret for so long, and someone else gets the blame. The person the school thought was the prankster was Colin, Paxton's twin brother, who left town after high school and pretty much never came back until now, and only because he's supervising the landscaping on The Blue Madam - a local landmark building which Paxton is overseeing the restoration of.

It's obvious from the start that Willa and Colin are going to end up together and while this was somewhat boring and had some creepy elements to it, in the end it was a harmless relationship and far better than most YA authors bullshit 'romance' attempts, so I let that slide. Paxton's was a much more interesting relationship.

She's been lifelong friends with Sebastian, but having seen him, back in their high school days, kiss another guy on the mouth, she wrote him off as a prospect (despite having the hots for him), thinking he's gay. While this was a nice pothole to put in her road because it leaves the reader never quite sure if this is going to work or if someone else will come along for one or other of them, it's also the reason why I felt Paxton wasn't too smart. They've been close for some twenty years, yet she never figured out he's not gay, nor has she ever heard of a sexual preference called 'Bi', apparently!

So! Not a brilliant story, nor a disaster, and it did fall off the rails a bit towards the end. The murder mystery part of it is more of a hiccup than an actual plot. If it had been shorter (for example by dispensing with the "mystery" and trimming the drawn-out ending, it would have been better.

I didn't like that Willa was so very easily led by the nose and in effect controlled by Colin. It's never a good sign for a relationship when one party comes into it evidently intent upon changing the other, but as I said, in this case it was relatively harmless, so I let it slide. I recommend this if you like an easy, reasonably well-written, and quite charming story that never reaches great heights, but successfully avoids numbing depths. It has a southern charm and a country living air pervading it and overall, I liked it.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Missing Melissa by Alretha Thomas


Rating: WARTY!

Until I was about sixty percent into this, and on balance, I was feeling quite positively towards this novel despite some issues that were annoying, but in the last forty percent, much of which I started skimming because it became boring, it really went downhill for me and this served merely to amplify the problems I'd encountered earlier. Note that there are some spoilers in this review. It's necessary to include these in order to explain the issues I had with the story.

The premise is twins, which is pretty much an overdone idea at this point, and this one was not done well. There were writing problems, plotting problems and the occasional grammatical problem for example where the author wrote, "You know he was too through when I turned Clay down after Clay had asked him for my hand in marriage.” I have quite literally no idea whatsoever what that sentence even means!

In addition to that, the writing was largely conversational with very little descriptive prose, so it failed in creating a world I felt I was living in with the characters. It was more like a sketchy first draft than a completed novel. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't very good. The actual abduction, when we learned the details of it, made little sense, and I'm talking about the mechanics of it and the lack of witnesses, not the plot behind it. The total lack of witnesses to an event that took place on a weekday made no sense. That some people who were involved who knew things yet never came forward made no sense.

One of my immediate problems was with the psychic communication between twins, which in reality is the fiction here. Yes, identical twins share their genome which means there will be many similarities between them, and not just in their appearance, but in the kind of people they are and the choices they make in life, not just with regard to their appearance and clothing, but in regard to the kind of job they do, the neighborhood they choose (or are forced) to live in, the kind of hobbies or interests they have, and the kind of friends they gather around them. There's nothing psychic here - it's just genetics.

The author went the psychic route though, having one twin communicating in dreams with the other, urging the other to find her. This this made no sense even if we allow - for the sake of the story - that such psychic communication is possible (it's not). The story here is that at the age of around three, one of the twins, Melissa, was taken in a car-jacking, and was never found. Now, almost twenty years later, and for no reason we're ever offered, the remaining twin, Madeline, has one or two dreams where her sister is supposedly trying to reach out to her and is begging for her help.

The problem is that when we find the second twin, she's unaware she even had a twin sister, so there's no way she could have been calling out for help! The dreams made zero sense. The crazy thing is that everyone she told these dreams too accepted them on face value without questioning their validity at all. That way lies madness, and I'm not talking about the early eighties English ska band, either!

Another issue I had with this was the use of the word 'beautiful" or derivations of it. The word occurred some thirty times in a three hundred page novel, so it popped up every ten pages on average, almost always in connection with describing Madeline. It was employed as though this was a valuable character trait instead of what it is: a cheap veneer employed thoughtlessly and even cruelly, by bad writers. It's insulting to women to have an author list that, as though without it a woman is lacking something. It's even worse when that author is female. It cheapened the whole story, and made Madeline look pathetic.

We were told frequently how smart Madeline was, but never shown it, which made this yet another cheap trait tacked-on amateurishly by the author, presumably in some sort of attempt to offset the 'beauty' remarks and depict Madeline as something other than the somewhat dumb blonde, clothes-addicted stereotype she was. Madeline did not behave like a 22-year-old college graduate, especially not one who graduated with honors. She did dumb things. One example was in going to meet irl with someone she "met" over the Internet without telling anyone, or having anyone back her up. In short, she's not smart, she's a moron.

This author, buying into the trope spewed out by so many other authors, also decided that finding her long-lost sister wasn't sufficient validation for this girl. Instead, she had to have male validation! Fine, but if you're going that route, then at least do your characters the courtesy of having it unfold realistically and organically from the story and the characters interacting within it. Don't force it down out throats, and sure as hell don't have is start with the cop hitting on her with cheap disrespectful comments to start out the 'relationship"! For goodness's sake!

The cop is an authority figure here, and he's hitting on Madeline from the off, yet neither she nor anyone else, not even the author, sees anything wrong in this. Nowhere in this story of an abducted young girl is a cautionary note or a point of order raised about relationships as exemplified here in his inexcusable conduct. Madeline simply did not ring true. If she was so "beautiful" then how come she didn't have a boyfriend already? She didn't, and no explanation was forthcoming for why not or for why she seemed so reticent about getting involved with the cop!

If there had been a reference back to the car-jacking, that would have been something. If there had been a bad incident during her college years that would have worked, but we got nothing. It's like the author didn't think-through Madeline's character at all and her beta readers either didn't think ti through either, or were afraid to point this out to her. Madeline didn't work as a character, and what was offered was unappealing and uninteresting. I can't recommend this.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Math Inspectors by Daniel Kenney, Emily Boever


Rating: WARTY!

This is volume two in a series of at least three, and the book very kindly indicates this on the front cover, which is nice. I have not read the third volumes, but I did read the first, and I rated it positively back in June of 2015 with the caveat that I'd prefer it if these books improved! Obviously they have not, so I am now going back to de-rate that one as part of an overall series rating. These books can be read as standalones, and the essence of the series is a commendable one in that it revolves around four middle-grade students who help the police to solve crimes using mathematics. This is great, but the spirit behind the book turned out to be rather more noble than the execution of the novel itself.

I am all on-board for a series that teaches the subjects which too many students in the US fall down on: math and the sciences, but this novel disappointed me in that it offered a lot more than it actually delivered. There was very little math, and what there was of that was a bit limp and vague. The story revolved around acts of petty vandalism being conducted by "Mr Jekyll" a name which was a clue in itself. This was fine, but the attempt to bring math into this by employing a mathematical technique known as the Line of Best Fit, and the Least Squares Method to track the vandal's movements wasn't employed very well and wasn't explained in very much detail. That was all the math we got!

I felt like I was reading a very dumbed-down novelization of the TV show NUMB3RS which ran on CBS from 2005 to 2010. This was aimed at an adult audience and starred Rob Morrow as an FBI agent and David Krumholz as his mathematically-gifted younger brother who helped him solve crimes. It was a good show, and reading this made me want to go back and watch that series over again because it did a far better job of teaching math and incorporating it into the plot! The novel felt further dumbed-down in that the kids names - which admittedly the authors were stuck with after volume one - are as improbably as the plot: Felix, Gertie, and Stanley? Honestly? The fourth kid had a much more regular name: Charlotte. Names are important to me in my own novels, and if these kids were named that way to serve some purpose, then I could understand it, but they're apparently not so-named for any particular purpose.

In this novel, we had some unknown and obviously disaffected kid who was spray-painting "Mr Jekyll" on various things, including, in one case, a pet dog, which was drugged and shaved first. eventually the kids figure it out of course, but there was far too much melodrama leading up to it and a complete lack of justice at the end. Worse than this, there was bullying conducted by the kids themselves, and a really poor attitude towards the police, mainly in the form of a dumb and vindictive police chief who was dedicatedly seeking to jail the math inspector kids, and who, let's face it, indulged in bullying himself. This attitude has not improved an iota from volume one, and the authors should be ashamed of themselves for it.

I know it's fun and important to dramatize stories like these to make them engaging for readers, but there are responsible and irresponsible ways to do it, and this was the latter. I know also that the kids have to be given center stage and that story lines do end-up being improbable to one extent to another, but this particular one, for me was way overdone and done foolishly. Unless the story completely hinges on a police officer being stupid or brutal, which this story did not, I think it's mistake to depict the police in such a poor light to young children. Yes, the police do have their issues, but those issues aren't going to be resolved by showing the police as plodding, bullying brutes instead of as humans.

Unlike in the first volume, the illustrations in this one did example the math a bit, but I think there could have been more. There was no improvement in the depiction of the two girls in the group. They took a back seat to Stanley the math whiz, who pretty much dominated that portion of the story. I'm actually surprised the girls weren't depicted in Barbie Outfits saying, "Gee, math is hard!" But this wasn't even the worst part of it. In addition to showing the painting of a dog, the authors. had the math inspector kids encouraging the vandal, who got away with it in the end, bullying and humiliating one of the girls in the school by dumping a can of blue paint over her - real, oil-based paint. This was the final straw for me because it was entirely disproportionate to what she had done to them (which was merely making snide remarks and trying to get them into trouble with the police), and even if it had been proportionate, it still wouldn't have been right.

Showing the police leaping to inane conclusions with no evidence was stupid and irresponsible. Having the entire school board meet to vote in public on whether these four kids - who had been charged with nothing - expelled for something they didn't even do in school or on school time, was simply ridiculous. The authors had the school board conduct an anonymous ballot and then had each member of the board read out how they voted! What?! Do the authors simply not get what 'anonymous' means, or did they think they were being cute or ironic? It came off as moronic to me. Teaching middle-grade kids that adults conduct kangaroos courts based on knee-jerk assumptions, zero solid evidence and no trial is dumb. Yes, there are far too many adults like that, but these were not random adults, they were the police and the school! It's not acceptable.

One of the big issues in the story was the school bully, who was shown as getting away with it and being completely unchecked by the teaching staff or the school bus driver; then we're shown the four math bullies encouraging the vandal to douse another student in paint. I'm sorry but this is totally unacceptable. If the girl had accidentally douse herself because of her behavior, that's one thing, but encourage vandalism and violence like this as though it's a good thing, or is supposedly some form of justice is inexcusable in a middle grade book. That's why I'm rating this as a complete fail, and why I'm going back to down-rate the contingent rating I gave the first volume now that the authors have shown me that they have no intention of improving this series.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Livia Lone by Barry Eisler


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I enjoyed this novel very much. Normally I'm not a fan of flashbacks, but though the ones here were extensive, they were done well, and were integral to the story rather than filler or back-story for the sake of back-story. The entire novel moved quickly and determinedly. There was no fluff here and no time-wasting, and no young-adult-style first person, for which I personally thank the author! This is a book for grown-ups and will make even those feel uncomfortable. Events were credible (even when they were incredible!) and organic to the story, and the main character - Livia - was amazing: believable, endearing, demanding empathy, yet not pitiful. She was a woman with a mission and she never let anything get in the way of it, yet she did not ride roughshod over others to get what she wanted. She was patient and determined and in the end her dedication paid off, yet the ending was neither sentimental nor clichéd.

I grew to like this character from the start, and only admired and rooted for her more as the story continued. She was my idea of a strong female, and not necessarily in that she was physically tough - although in this case she was. She had more than that, though: she had spine and grit, both of which she direly needed after what she'd endured, but endure she did, never letting life get in the way of being a human-being no matter how single-minded she was in service to her cause. She had a habit (nicely not over-done) of saying "Yes, that!" which both evoked her non-English past, and made her at once endearing and sad. I found myself adopting that phrase in my mind from time to time when I was just going about my daily business, it made such a warm impression on me.

Her personal story was horrible. Sold by her uncaring and impoverished parents into sex slavery, thirteen year-old Livia's only concern was for her younger sister, who was sold with her in Thailand. Only one of them arrived in Portland, USA, and for the next two decades, Livia spends her time struggling to survive what befalls her and at the same time stay alive no matter what, so she can find out what happened to her sister Nason.

Just when her path looks like it will become straight and narrow, it meanders into serious problems, but upholding her silent promise to her sister, she keeps on going, true to herself, and eventually works her way into a position where no man can overwhelm her and take advantage of her again, and that's not simply because she becomes a police officer. As a law-enforcement officer however, she can now try to track down her sister, but after all this time, will the trail have gone too cold to follow? That life and that mission is what this story is about, and it was excellent from start to finish.

The story was told well, with sufficient detail and technical knowledge to make it believable, but not so much that it looked like the author was showing off, or you felt like you were reading a technical training manual rather than a novel, which is how Tom Clancy's novels sound to me. Whether in the US or Thailand, it felt real and it entertained and engrossed, and it lived and breathed. I loved the ambiguity of the title, which sounds a bit like 'leave ya alone'. Definitely my kind of phrase! So all in all a great book, and well worth reading.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Rhythm & Clues by Sue Anne Jaffarian


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Rhythm & Clues by Rachel Shane, this is your bog-standard first person PoV detective story, of which I am not a fan. The thing that interested me about this particular one is that the main character was older than you typically find in these stories, and she was a member of a defunct band. The problem was that instead of a detective, the main character and her mother both came off as interfering busybodies.

Actually, there were far too many busybodies: the whole family was this way evidently, as well as the daughter of the man with whom main character Odelia's mom was involved. Odelia Grey and her mom in particular, had no problem getting into an investigation that had nothing whatsoever to do with them, and in which they were in fact interfering with police business, and doing so after they'd been warned in no uncertain terms by police officers, to stay out of the investigation. At one point the mom calls a person who might be a suspect and gives him information which has not yet been made public, before the police even have a chance to talk to him. This is unacceptable and turned me right off the story and the characters.

In addition to this, the writing style was not very good. The writing focused way too closely on minor everyday activities, bulking up the page count without conveying anything of interest, and certainly nothing to do with the investigation. It made for somewhat tedious reading. Some of the writing made no sense whatsoever. For example, at one point, Odelia outright asks her mom if she's having sex with a guy who lives in the same retiree, gated community in which she lives. Seriously? What the hell business is it of hers? Well, she's a busybody. That wasn't even the biggest problem. After Odelia asks this of her mom, and her mom indicates that she is, I read this: "It was difficult enough getting the picture of Mom and Art doing it out of my head" so why the hell did you even ask? It made no sense.

At another point, there was an exchange between Odelia and her lawyer employer who is called in to help. He says, "I had to shave while driving 75 miles per hour," and she "points out" that he drives a stick shift. If he's doing seventy, he's not shifting gears, so how is that even relevant?! Other than that he's a moron if he's shaving and driving at that speed - or even driving at all. This guy is supposedly a lawyer and should know better, but then none of the characters I encountered in this story seemed blessed with an over-abundance of smarts.

Sometimes the writing was simply obscure: "She said she'd just flown in saying she was on a two week vacation from her job." Huh?! There were some intentionally funny bits, though, such as this one: For a minute I wondered if she was going to try to make a run for it. Or more like a shuffle for it, considering her age. That was amusing, but this kind of thing was rare. Mostly it was just annoying as Odelia's mom gets (or at least lets) her grand-niece break into a neighbor's apartment because Odelia's mom is in a fluster about why he's 'disappeared'. Then they call Odelia at 1:30 in the morning because they were both hauled down to the police station. Well deal with it. You broke into someone's house, morons. These people were stupid and insufferable, and I lost all interest in reading about them. I quit this after thirty percent, because I couldn't bear to read any more about them.

The front of the novel has some "praise" including one comment from Kirkus, which is pointless. Kirkus has pretty much never met a novel they didn't like, so their reviews are utterly worthless! I actively avoid books (when I know beforehand) that Kirkus has praised. The story (at least the thirty percent I read) had nothing to do with music other than that the guy who has disappeared (and without notifying Odelia's mom, with whom he's not really acquainted, of his exact itinerary! The scandal!), was once in a band, so the music angle was a complete let-down for me. This guy could have been on a cycling team or in a group of charity volunteers, and pretty much the same story could have been told about him.

So overall, while I do appreciate the chance to have taken a look at an advance review copy, and while I do wish the author the best of luck with this series, I was not impressed with the story. I have no interest in pursuing a series based on these characters, and I can't recommend this based on the portion I read.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heist Society by Ally Carter


Rating: WARTY!

I used to be enthusiastic about Ally Carter when I discovered her Gallagher Girls series, but that didn't last long. Initially I liked it and positively reviewed I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You which was ridiculously titled but not bad. The next two in the series were awful, though. I didn't like Don't Judge a Girl by her Cover which I reviewed negatively back in February of 2013, nor did I like Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy. Normally I won't read on in a series if I dislike one, but in this case I had both novels from the library at the same time and decided to give it a try. I wished I hadn't! Cam, the main character, had become too stupid for polite words.

I got a chance to read a 'spies and thieves' author promotion collection in July 2013, titled Double Crossed and liked it, which encouraged me to give a different young adult series by this author a chance, which means she's lucky indeed when there are so many authors competing for my attention. This particular novel turned out to be better than expected when I began it, but over the course of the novel, it proved to be decidedly sluggish in actually getting on with the story, and some of it made no sense whatsoever. Worse than this, the ending was remarkably limp.

Kat is a thief in a family of thieves, but she has conned her way into a boarding school to get out of her family's way of life. Despite this, she's dragged back into that life when someone frames her father for a theft he didn't commit, and she herself is framed for a stunt on the school premises which results in her expulsion (in quite flimsy premises I have to say). The man her father appears to have crossed is a seriously bad and very powerful Italian mobster. The person who framed her and got her kicked out of school is someone she's not even angry towards. This seemed not only to be entirely inappropriate, but to be out of character for her. She wasn't remotely pissed off with him for indulging in what frankly was at best a form of harassment, and at worst an exertion of control over her - control she had fought tooth and nail to free herself from. Her response (or rather complete lack of one) simply wasn't credible, nor was her complete capitulation to fall back in with these guys and save her estranged father.

She seems the kind of character who would be so peeved that these people got her expelled from a school in which she was doing well, that she would simply disappear and ditch them all to their fate, but she doesn't. She buckles under and goes along with their scheme, which made me dislike her considerably. I began wishing we could have kept her in school and follower her career there! It might have made for more engaging reading. On the other hand, she had four fingers and a thumb. Kidding. No, on the other hand, she was a very confident and capable young woman who knew how to get things done, which was no doubt why they'd dragged her into this. She immediately takes charge and gets things moving, but her easy access to money and unfettered and unescorted travel around the world is a bit of a stretch. Did no one ever wonder why she wasn't in school?!

I had a couple of other problems. Kat was presented as a sharp operator, yet she lets a new person into their crew at the last minute when none was needed, which seemed way off to me. It felt like she was constantly pining after for Hale, her old friend, which was annoying and made her look weak and pathetic. She'd had her chance at him, and rejected it along with everything he represented, yet now she's suddenly all a-flutter over him despite the fact that he's clearly a womanizing jerk? That stunk, because it made her look really stupid, and brought back the ipecac taste of Cam from the other series.

The ending was so flaccid that it proved to be the final straw. How she dealt with the mobster made zero sense given all that had happened. Why the mobster was so obsessive about her and so convinced her father having stolen his property was another big hole in the plot. it never felt real - it felt like a big game the author was playing with me. So. overall, I don't consider this a worthy read, and I do not plan on following the series. I'm done with Ally Carter! Next author please, right this way!


Friday, June 10, 2016

The Bitches of Everafter by Barbra Annino


Rating: WORTHY!

This is without a doubt the most hilarious and best-written (with a couple of amusing exceptions I shall point out) novel I've read in a long time. It's humbling to read something like this and distressing to think I might never write one this good, although Femarine, which came out this month, would give it a good run for its money on a level field, I'll warrant!

In a lot of ways, it's like the TV show, Once Upon a Time, which I used to watch, but gave up on because it became boring and repetitive. There were no worries about that here until I discovered that the ending wasn't. There are two more planned volumes. This annoys me, and it means I did have a problem because I am not a fan of series. They rarely end well. Having said that, there are some series I've read and enjoyed throughout. The horns of this dilemma are: dare I pursue this one and risk disappointment or should I quit while I'm ahead?

This novel also got away with breaking a rule which I normally like to see enforced: don't start chapter one in the future and then flashback in the rest of the book. In this case it was done perfectly, which just goes to show that some authors can write and others can't. We quickly meet the main characters, which is another good thing about this since they're far too good to keep them waiting in the wings. A third wonder about it is that it's written in third person. Far too many stories of this nature are in first person, and I am ever after grateful to the amazingly-named Barbra Annino for giving that route the derision and disdain it so richly deserves. Twit to all YA authors: you can write a brilliant novel in 3PoV! Rilly! Wed this and Reap!

We do get the story mainly from the perspective of Snow White, who has committed some crime over which she holds no regret, but for which she has a ninety-day psych eval to endure. She's not confined to a hospital ward, but is living in Granny's Home for Girls, along with Aura Rose, an ex-car-thief and burglar, Cindy Glass, a non-recovering drunk, and Punzie Hightower, who can currently be seen stripping at the Fairest of Them All club downtown. All of whom are corralled and controlled by the estimable Bella Bookless, whose dog is named 'Beast'.

These girls were all put there by Judge Redhood, aided by the surprisingly deep and self-motivated Tink, and these villainous vamps are watched over by parole officer Robin Hood and psychiatrist Jack Bean. So far so good, but what is happening in this house when Snow finally gets settled in? What are the odd lights she sees? Do patterns on the walls really move? What's behind the forbidden doors? Why is the fearless Aura suddenly and inexplicably terrified of a spinning wheel?

I devoured this and loved it until the last page when I was a bit disappointed to see that it ended on a cliff-hanger because it was part of yet another trilogy. I know trilogies and series are very lucrative, but how about doing we readers a favor now and then and fitting it all into one volume? I was tempted not to pursue this purely out of spite, despite enjoying volume one, but having thought that, I can’t deny that for as much pressure as Amazon megacorp is putting on book prices to squash them down to next-to-nothing, maybe the only option we authors have anymore, is to revert to the way novels used to be published: in installments.

The unintentionally amusing portions of this book were few. There was the common one of thinking biceps has a singular form: "spearing through his bicep." I had an online discussion with a friend about this, and yes, technically you can use 'bicep', but my point is that does anyone honestly think that your typical author knows anatomy well-enough to specify that one muscle? I'd have a hard time believing that! No one uses the singular form - unless it's an anatomist!

I've never seen a novel where someone was wounded through the triceps, so I'm guessing authors who do this are not actually being anatomically precise but simply don't know the difference between bicep and biceps any more than they know the difference between stanch and staunch. My guess is that they think 'biceps' refers to the muscles of both upper arms, so the muscles of one upper arm must be 'bicep'! Who knows? OTOH, Barbra Annino isn't just any author as her writing chops demonstrate, so maybe I'll give her the benediction of the doubt here and dedicate a song to her (not original with my I hasten to add):

My analyse over the ocean
My analyse over the sea
My analyse over the ocean
So bring back my anatomy....

The other mistake was one that I personally have never seen before in a novel as far as I can recall, and for which even I can offer no excuse: "Not that she was opposed to murder, per say." The Latin is per se, FYI! Some of us writers fear for the English language the way it's going with all this self-publishing, texting, and tweeting. OTOH, language isn't what you see in a dictionary - it’s a living, morphing, growing thing, so we can only guess at what we'll be reading in fifty years, but with this kind of thing getting loose, I fear for the language Dear Hearts! Fear for it I tell you! It's enough to make my tricep twitch....

Anyway, that aside, I recommend this as a worthy read.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
"How did they found out I wasn't at Anne's?" Find out?

This is an intriguing novel that perked my interest when I saw it offered for review on Net Galley. I'm thankful I was able to get it for review. Please note that since this is an ARC, any comments I make regarding the technical qualities of the writing may be irrelevant to the final published version of this novel as changes are made.

Set in Victorian times this is, unfortunately, a first person PoV story, which I generally do not favor. Indeed, I think they should come with a warning sticker! If I find an interesting novel in a bookstore or the library and see that it's first person, I typically put it right back on the shelf with very few exceptions. It seems that authors are obsessed with 1PoV these days, and they're becoming increasingly harder to avoid if you want to read at all. I find this sad.

With ebooks, you don't always get much of a chance to skim the first couple of pages (or sniff the paper!) and see what's what, but it had sounded intriguing and in the end I wasn't disappointed. This one wasn't bad at all to read. Some authors can write 1PoV without the main character becoming insufferably self-obsessed or self-important. I was grateful for that, too! On a personal note, rest assured that other than a single one I'm almost finished working on, I shall write no first person PoV novels (except for parodies!)! You have my word! And I promise you that mine will carry a warning sticker, which will make it the second novel I'm working on that will be issued one!

But I digress. Lady Elizabeth Fraser, of Kellham Park in Levlinshire, has had three seasons and has not made her match. Exactly why this is so isn't really explored, and I found myself wondering about it, but her mother is less than thrilled with her and makes it known as they head back north from London. There's a good reason for her mother's surly attitude which you might be interested to discover - but I ain't gonna reveal it! The pair don't make it home however, since their train runs off the tracks and they're lucky to escape with their lives. Why take the train? Well, the family fortune isn't what it once was - which is yet another reason Elizabeth's mother is not happy with her failure to marry. After three seasons and now a dip in fortune, Elizabeth is, so her mother believes, destined to end up an old maid, living off relatives. Then there's the accident, and the dedicated and charming Mr Wilcox, who is a railway surgeon, turns up. He doctors people who have been in train accidents; he doesn't do surgery on engines, just FYI!

This couple is thrown together as Lady Elizabeth helps him with the injured, and a whiff of scandal starts to rise, given how much time they spend together, he being an unmarried man and she a debutante (three seasons removed) from the nobility. As she grows to know him, she also realizes that he's into more than surgery. There's something going on with the railways, and it seems to be tied to Lady Elizabeth's shifting fortunes. That's all the spoilers you're going to get, but rest assured this is a satisfying and complex novel with many undercurrents and very little melodrama.

I liked the way the author captures the English. Some American authors do not seem to be able to do this right. The only questionable phrasing I found was "..and he'll come see you then..." which was missing a preposition and felt like it wasn't something that a Victorian lady of breeding would say. Aside from that (and maybe that's arguable), I was impressed by the feel of the novel and by the extensive research the author had done, which showed in what she wrote. It was very easy to become immersed in this world, which says a lot for me, not being a huge fan of historical novels, and less a fan of historical (hysterical?!) romances, but this is where I was most impressed.

I must confess that I don't really get why so many authors feel this urge to pair off their female characters at the end of the story. It's like there's an addiction to resolving every adventure by marrying off the main character at the end. Can a woman not stand on her own two feet? Can she not enjoy a friendship with a man (even in a Victorian novel!) without it having to be a romance? Yes, people do fall in love and get married, and/or end up between the covers, but between the covers of a novel it happens far more often than is realistic, and it happens with an unrealistic degree of expedition, which is what happened here. It would be nice to read more stories where women are not in need of validation by a male character all the time, but the romance here, while rather precipitous for me, was very understated, so it did not turn me off the story. The last chapter was, however, hard to stomach and the least enjoyable part of the novel for me.

One of the most interesting things about this novel for me, was that it's really a detective story yet it never feels like one, and it's a romance, but it doesn't feel like your standard bodice-ripper, either (last chapter notwithstanding), so kudos to the author for writing it this way. My blog is as much about writing as it is about reading, and it's really nice to find novels like this one, which deliver the goods, and in diverse ways, too. It made for an interesting read. I particularly liked the chapters covering the court case, which I think was brilliantly done.

I have to question the use of Levlinshire which seemed like it was intended as a village rather than a county, although its usage was so vague that it might well have meant the county. I don't know why an author would feel the need to invent a county for a novel set in Victorian Britain. Goodness knows there are plenty available, some of which no longer exist. Any would be perfect for a fictional work. No villages, towns or cities in England have that kind of name to my knowledge; only counties end in 'shire', but it occurred to me that perhaps this was the name of the country home of one of Lady Elizabeth's acquaintances, so it was the home which was referred to, and maybe the village by association? It just seemed odd (not odden, just odd!) the way it was used, but I forgave all of those issues when I read this sneaky passage: "and the boy George is a good sort"! I don't think this was intentional, but I agree, Boy George is a good sort!

As you can see, my "complaints" are few and trivial, which was impressive to me. I liked the main character, although there were times when she was rather stupid, but people are stupid on occasion. She had her Victorian sensibility moments, and while these were few, they seemed at odds with her iron resolve on other occasions, so she was a bit of a mixed bag. I never really got this attraction between her and the doctor. To call it love seemed way premature, but for most of the story it was relatively innocuous, so it wasn't a deal-breaker for me. Overall I liked the main character and rooted for her.

Really though, when it comes right down to it, the only important thing about a novel is not the cover, or who the author is, or how slick the back cover blurb is, or whether the novel is a best seller, but whether it's worth reading. To me, a novel is never two-fifths worth reading or four fifths or whatever; a novel is either worth reading or it isn't, and in my view this one is well worth reading. I recommend it.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook started out well, but rapidly deteriorated into tedium maximum™! Seriously. The premise, of a young, purportedly intelligent orphan managing to get himself into a secret society, and discovering that this society is investigating subliminal messages being transmitted over the airwaves to come out into our minds through TV and radio isn't original, but it does make for a promising start to a middle-grade story. The problem was that once this set-up was put in place, nothing happened! I mean literally nothing happened. The story just rambled on and on and on and on with these kids whining and discussing, and arguing and contemplating, and cogitating and regurgitating, and NOTHING HAPPENED!

We're told that Mr Benedict has tried going to the authorities, but that they paid him no attention because the subliminal messaging is getting to the adults, too, because you know the only thing that all adults do is listen to TV and radio all the time. It was nonsensical. The question as to why Mr Benedict had not gone to the media or published his proof on the Internet was never even raised. No wonder this moron needed kids to help him. Any kid is smarter than he was, whether they had passed the weird-ass tests Reynard had to take or not! And let;s not even get into the evil twin trope which it takes these geniuses forever to figure out.

I quit it about forty percent in because I could not stand the dull story, and the voice of the reader was just awful. The guy who reads this, Del Roy, must have been in his eighties when he recorded it, and while that voice would have been great had the story been about political machinations or boardroom subterfuge, it was completely out of place here. There wasn't a paragraph went by where I wasn't yanked out of the story at some point because of the incongruity of this croaky voice trying to impersonate these kids. It didn't work, and neither did this story. I can't recommend it.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Escape From Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"He'd said he if was going to have a sweat suit, he might as well make it lime green." The 'if' and the 'he' at the start are the wrong way around!
"She could have attempted to look more interested, as lease for her boyfriend's sake." At least for her boyfriend's sake, not 'as lease'!
“We are yonder!” - This is like saying, "We are over there" - it doesn't make any sense!
"Drudging memories and heartaches never helped anyone." I think this should be 'dredging' not drudging, which would mean doing menial work.

This was a strange novel, and one which included multiple flashbacks, of which I am not a fan. I confess though, that it grew on me as I read on, and in the end I came to like it and consider it a worthy read despite an issue or two here and there. It reads very much like a first novel, but that's not a bad thing. I found a few errata which are listed on my website.

The story begins in 2001, a month or two after the World Trade Center came down in New York City. Having lost her parents in the disaster, the rather exotically named Honoria has moved from the city to stay with relatives, so she's the trope orphan starting a new school, but refreshingly, the novel doesn't focus on that. Instead, it focuses on Witchwood Hollow, a mysterious area of woodland close to Honoria's new home, where a witch is said to hold sway, trapping people inescapably amongst the trees.

Just as I was really getting into Honoria's story, I was ripped away from it twice, once back to the late nineteenth century, and then again back to the late seventeenth. This annoyed me to begin with, because I wanted to follow Honoria, but eventually the story came back to her. I still hold doubts that this was the best way to tell this story. It was somewhat confusing, switching back and forth, and the past was nowhere near as interesting as the present in this story, but I learned to live with it, and the twisted ending was unexpected and better than the usual ending you might find in a story like this.

The story follows Honoria's increasing interest in Witchwood Hollow and her confusion as to whether the witch legend is real or simply some sort of country-bumpkin ignorance. Honoria was an intriguing character with a little bit too much of an interest in Leon for my taste. I find it sad that young females seem to be doomed to get attached to a guy in these stories. I find it especially irritating when the romance takes over the story!

In this case the romance - while lacking credibility - occupied such a small part of the story that it wasn't a deal breaker for me. I would find it refreshing to read a story where they're just good friends for a change. Not every girl in every story needs to be validated by a man, believe it or not! In Honoria's case, I was willing to Grant this a bye because she did have enough of a load to bear, and it seemed possibly reasonable that she would seek attachments to people, given that she had just suffered her parents dying horribly.

Honoria isn't the smartest person in the world, but she isn't the dumbest either, so this was nice. I did find myself cringing at one or two of her ideas though, such as when she saw a part of a coin from yesteryear stuck in the dirt, her thought was: "Someone had worked hard for that sliver; it might have kept them from starving one day." It's hardly likely it kept anyone from starving given that it was evidently never spent, and got lost in the dirt instead! At another juncture, she thought "he might catch pneumonia in the cold water" but no one ever caught pneumonia from cold water. Pneumonia is caught from an assortment of sources, none of which are H2O. However, people do talk like that in real life, so I can't hold these things against her.

I thought Leon's girlfriend's reaction to Honoria at one point to be far too extreme. There had been nothing in the story to this point to merit her outburst or indicate she had been leading up to it. When she yelled, "You whore! You think it's funny trying to kill Leon?" it took me out of the story because it was so out of place. As I read on through the story I saw no point to that antagonism. I think it should have been skipped. Not every teen story needs to have a bitch!

Other than these relatively trivial complaints, the writing was well done, easy to read, and it was interesting. I enjoyed this story very much and I'd recommend it.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mini Mysteries by Rick Walton


Rating: WORTHY!

I had some really mixed feelings about whether this was a worthy or a warty read, but on balance, decided to rate it worthy. It's illustrated rather cartoonishly, but not badly, by Lauren Scheuer, and consists of twenty short mysteries, each just two or three pages long, combined together in a from which doesn't really have an overall story, but which ties the chapters together into one whole. The solution to each mystery can be found in the back, hidden under a lift-up door, rather like an advent calendar, so there's no chance of seeing the answer to the next mystery by accident.

The thing which made me feel that maybe this wasn't a worthy read was that the mysteries are for the most part rather simplistic, some ridiculously so, and many are also rather idiosyncratic: hinging on a misunderstood word, or on knowledge the reader is not explicitly given, but which they rather have to guess at. For example, one solution relied on the knowledge that the perp was left-handed, and nowhere in the story was this explicitly demonstrated, so the solution was only known for a fact to the girl who "solved" it. The reader simply had to guess at this answer, which is unsatisfactory. Some mysteries had more than one solution, unintentionally so, so they were a bit annoying.

On the other page, one or two of the mysteries were rather well done, and more than one made me consider kicking myself for not getting it, but then I'm really not very good at figuring these things out, which is why I like to read them. Plus, you never know where your next idea for a story will come from, and even this offers some food for thought if you're writing a detective story and need a muse to offer some ideas as to how to make this one scene work. It was for this purpose that I decided to rate this worthy: it makes the reader have to think, and in the case of middle-grade readers, that's never a bad thing. I don't plan on pursuing this series, but if you really like this one, there are at least two other volumes out there.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just Fall by Nina Sadowsky


Rating: WARTY!

I had problems with this advance review copy right from the start. It felt more like experimental fiction - even though it technically wasn't - than it did a regular novel. There are 74 chapters, but the chapter numbers have been removed and all the odd chapters have been titled 'Now' and all but the last of the even ones titled 'Then'. The very last is titled 'Next'. I saw no practical utility in listing seventy four chapters in the contents with every other title the same and then linking them to the respective chapter.

As for the novel itself, it was irritating and pedantic. It felt like a bad rendition of Christopher Nolan's Memento movie. The repetitive flashbacks became quickly annoying because they frustratingly and dedicatedly interrupted the far more interesting 'Now' chapters which told a real story of a woman in serious trouble. In the end, it felt like this was a short story which the author had then extensively padded by inventing fluff to make a disordered back story which was interleaved with the current story. I found myself skimming and then skipping the 'Then' chapters in short order. The backstory was boring, and largely irrelevant at least as far as I read, which was about 65%.

Ellie, the main character, appears in the first Now, and she's in a hotel room with a male body which has been stabbed while laying on the bed. Ellie wipes the room down for prints and leaves, changing her appearance from time to time in minor ways such as by wearing scarves and sunglasses, dying her hair, putting on fake nails, and so on. She seems at a loose end, until she decides to leave the Caribbean island she's on, whereupon she's picked up by someone working for the guy who evidently wanted the man in her room dead.

The first 'Then' introduces her husband, Rob, on their wedding day. Right after they're married, he reveals a devastating secret to her, but we're not told what that secret is until later. Subsequent chapters introduce Lucien, the harried cop who is assigned to investigate the hotel murder, and told to resolve it quickly for the sake of the tourist industry. So far so good. The problem is that the 'Then' chapters are used increasingly, and from early on, to give this huge backstory for Ellie and Rob, and it wasn't interesting to me. It was actually very annoying because I wanted the 'Now' and could not care less about the 'Then'.

Another issue was with the obsession with beauty. I read about it more than once. On one occasion it appeared in the form of "A smile crossed her face, and suddenly she was warm, and therefore even more beautiful." It was like this female author, who is listed as "entertainment lawyer, executive, producer, director, writer, author, and beloved USC professor" was insisting that the only important thing about this female was skin-deep, otherwise forget her, and I didn't get it at all. Ellie quite evidently had other qualities as I read later, so why focus on the beauty instead of on her much more practical and interesting qualities? Are we that shallow? Are women that devalued? Are they that one-dimensional?

As I said, I reached a point about 65% of the way in when I really could sustain interest no longer. The endless flashbacks were mind-numbing and even the 'Now' the story was losing my interest. It was so broken up by the interleaved 'Then' that it was just obnoxious and I skipped screen after screen to get back to the 'Now' where nothing much was happening anyway. I decided I needed to move on to a more engrossing read. I can't recommend this.


Friday, September 25, 2015

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch


Rating: WARTY!

This is a Sherlock Holmes knock-off without Sherlock or any of his better traits. The main character here is Charles Lenox, who is far more sluggish than Sherlock Holmes, and has no close confidante with whom to share his speculations. Indeed, speculation is all he seems to have, because although he notices clues and picks up on things others do not, he also fails to make much progress, plunging this novel into the doldrums in the middle third. He has several suspects, but we're never really given any information as to why he suspects them - or if we were, I missed it somehow. He seems to have selected them on basis of opportunity alone, with the two slices of bread in this MOM sandwich - means and motive, not in play at all. Hence he spends too long sitting around speculating, and very little time searching for further clues, or pursuing other inquiries. It quickly became tedious to read.

He also has no killer instinct. At one point he's questioning a suspect who has a burn mark on his arm, yet he fails to ask him about it - supposedly, we're told, because he feels the man will not answer truthfully. He resolves to ask him later, but offers no reason - other than, it seems, the author's desire to withhold clues from the reader - as to why he might be more truthful later when he's more confident of getting away with whatever deception he has going, than he was then. His pursuit of enquiries with other suspects and knowledgeable individuals seems lackluster and half-hearted. The comparison with Holmes matches on pretty much all fronts except for the most important ones: he's tall, he's thin, he smokes, he's of independent means, he loves solving crimes, and he has a smart brother, but practically, he's not a patch on Holmes and nowhere near as interesting, but every bit as fristrating.

I got the impression that this was taking place in January. Although no date was specified, there was frequent mention of cold and snow, and no mention of approaching Christmas, yet when it came to sunset, it was noted that it was approaching at five pm, whereas in London in January, sunset is at 4pm in the early part of the month, increasing towards five pm, but never quite getting there as the month drifts by. With smog and overcast, snowy weather, the sunset wouldn't change of course, but it would grow darker earlier. It could have been February, of course, but it was a little odd to have no idea of when it was other than the year.

There was a problem with the timing at the end of chapter 31 as compared with the start of chapter 32. In 31, we're told that dinner lasted two hours and then, according to the text, dancing began almost immediately - at least, there is no indication that any significant time passed, much less a whole hour, but in 32, we're told that the ball commenced an hour after dinner. Maybe the events in the penultimate paragraph of 31 occupied an hour, but it didn't feel like it. It's no big deal, but it does jar in a novel where readers are predisposed to look for anomalies!

After a second death, Lenox helps to obliterate all the evidence by moving the body! How irresponsible is that? Yes, I get that crime scenes were not considered inviolable as they rightfully are now, but to have Lenox do this - indeed, instigate it - makes him look like an idiot. He has no right to interfere with police business like this. It makes him look like a meddlesome busybody which isn't something you want to do to your hero in a novel like this.

It was at this point, slightly over two-thirds the way into this story, that I quit reading it. I had been slowly losing interest for the previous third, and this was the final straw that made me decide I could be reading something more engaging and more fulfilling. Life is too short to spend it reading something that doesn't wholly engross you. By this point I had no interest in any of the characters, and no interest whatsoever in whodunnit.

I cannot recommend this unless you're into really slow novels that take forever to get to the point.