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

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley


Rating: WORTHY!

Read sweetly by Bahni Turpin, this was another successful audiobook! See? it does happen! To be perfectly honest, it was a bit lacking in credibility: the usual middle-grade story where adults never help, and kids never go to them for help, which frankly annoys me, but that aside, it was an interesting and credible story (for the most part!), decently plotted and which involved adventuring and detective work as three kids-of-color from disparate backgrounds strove to track down some historic paintings by a black artist from Harlem, and overcome the machinations of an unscrupulous property developer. I recommend it.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, Christian de Metter


Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed the print version of this novel in November of 2017. This graphic novel version is also a worthy read, although I have to say I wasn't overly enamored of the artwork. It was mostly sepia-toned and was passable. Others may approve of it more than I, but to me it looked rather muddy and scrappy. These shortcomings - at least the scrappiness - became much more apparent in the full color images. However the story overall was well told and the art work was not disastrous. Please read my review from November for my full take on the novel. This version would make a decent substitute if you don't want to read the full-length story.


Monday, March 26, 2018

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova


Rating: WARTY!

Another soured audiobook experiment. I typically avoid long novels because it means they're full of filler which ruins the story. Before I started blogging books I read this author's The Historian and quite liked it. I went looking for my review of that, to see what I said about it, but I must have read that before I began blogging so it's nowhere to be had! This story was far too rambling.

When I saw Kostova had out The Swan Thieves I took a look at it, but it didn't appeal to me, especially given what a fat tome it was, so I never read it. I thought it would be boring. This one sounded like it might be more interesting despite Kostova proving herself by this time to be a one-note author. I was wrong! It was rambling and boring. I listened to about an eighth of it (an eighth of a one note and I didn't quaver) and while the reader (Barrie Kreinik) was listenable, the story wasn't. Quite literally nothin happened.

I don't want twenty pages about a woman being driven to a monastery unless all of those twenty are relevant to the story, but that's what I got here (at least it felt like it), and in this case none of it was. Kostova takes a whole chapter to write about a drive from A to B, which has nothing whatsoever to do with moving the action forward, In fact it did quite the opposite. It would be like that movie, Dunkirk about the dramatic evacuation of British troops from French beaches at the onset of World War Two, showing five minutes of action on the beach, five minutes of disembarking the boat at Dover in England, and then two hours in between spent in existential angst during the twenty-mile boat ride, or admiring the beautiful ocean, the action of the waves, the blowing wind, the burning of the surf, the engine noise, the diesel fumes, and declaiming upon ocean wildlife.

Or maybe in that famous car chase in the movie Bullitt, instead of simply showing the car chase as they did, the story focused on backstory and admiring window boxes of flowers as he drove, and stopping to gas-up and get a car wash, and slowing to let the chicken cross the road and so on. I am not kidding about the chicken, it quite literally happened in this story. It ruffled my feathers and I decided that was more than enough for me.

In short I cannot recommend this drivel, and I am now completely done considering this author worth wasting any more time on.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

'Til Death Do Us Part by "Amanda Quick"


Rating: WARTY!

Amanda Quick is the pen name of Jayne Ann Krentz, an American author who doesn't do too bad of a job on Victorian London, but there are one or two fails. In Victorian times there were no such things as Crime Lords for one thing! The reader doesn't do too bad of a job either. Her name is Louise Jane Underwood. Apart from not knowing that the British pronounce the word 'process' with a rounded 'O' like in 'hose', not with a short 'o'; like in 'ostracize', she doesn't do too bad of a job. The story was quite engaging to begin with, but began to pale after a while, and I ended up not happy with it at all. I think I'm done with "Amanda Quick" now. This is the second title under that name I've not liked.

Once again there is a Big Publishing™ fail here. The cover for the audiobook shows a woman in a Victorian-style, bright yellow dress running away from the viewer across a meadow. This cover bears no relationship whatsoever to anything that happens in the story! LOL! This is one of the perils of letting Big Publishing™. My advice is to take charge of your novel. Why do book cover illustrators/photographers/designers never, ever, ever read the books they are creating the cover for? Why does the author not set them straight? I guess the publisher doesn't give the author much of a choice, and if an established author like Krentz has no such pull, then what hope is there for the rest of us? This is why I self-publish. I refuse to let an old-school publisher ruin anything I write.

This is one of the author's stand-alone novels. Maybe the name Amanda Quick is related to quick turn-out? She has a bunch of these stories. Starting in 1990 she churned out about two a year for half-a-dozen years or so. The titles should tell you all you need to know about the subject matter: Seduction, Surrender, Scandal, Rendezvous, Ravished, Reckless, Dangerous, Deception, Desire, Mistress, Mystique, Mischief, Affair. I got these titles out of Wikipedia and I wish I had read that before I picked up this novel! I have not seen the covers for those novels, but I imagine the covers are of some buxom woman in a bosom-baring pose, probably wearing a Victorian outfit with some dominant, self-absorbed, narcissistic, manly man ravishing her. He's probably bare-chested. The covers will be in pastel colors. Yuk!

The story, published a couple of years ago, was fortunately not one of those sickly things. In general was quite engaging to begin with, but it went downhill as soon as romance reared its ugly head. The romance was ham-fisted and so dominated by the male side of it that it was nauseating. I think the novel could have done with omitting it altogether or certainly muting it, but that would not have fixed everything that was wrong with this novel. The problem with it their 'romantic' encounters for me was the violent terms used to describe it, and the callousness of Trent's approach to Calista. It was sickening to listen to, and sounded not remotely Victorian at any point.

Calista Langley is in her late twenties and she runs an introduction service to enable wealthy Victorians to meet people who might be like them in that they seek companionship and perhaps romance. She vets her clients to keep out the riff-raff and fortune hunters. I think this was actually a pretty good idea for something to build a novel around: take something modern and set it in the past. Unfortunately the author didn't stick with that. Instead there came murder and dominating males, and it went to hell in a hansom cab.

Lately Calista's life has been upset by the fact that someone has been sending her memento mori: objects associated with death and funerals, and which have been engraved with her initials. She has no idea where they're coming from though the answer seems obvious to the reader. All we;re told is that they're from a stalker who at one point makes use of a kind of dumb-waiter that was installed in Calista's house, and of which she seems to be ignorant. It was a bit far-fetched that someone could sneak into the house unobserved, use this contraption unheard, and leave something in Calista's bedroom. It made her look stupid - and how would the intruder even know about the dumb waiter? It was dumb!

Into her sphere comes Nestor - a dick with whom she was involved some time before, but who left her for a more wealthy conquest with whom he is now displeased and who he wants bumped-off so he can get her fortune for himself. After a year, and out of the blue, he now wants Calista back in his life as his mistress, but she rejects him. What she ever saw in him goes unexplained, and iot makes her look even more stupid than she already did. Also arriving is author Trent Hastings who is at first predictably antagonistic to Calista, and then who predictably 'magically' falls in love with her and she with him. That part of the story was genuinely puke-worthy. He "heroically" helps her with the investigation, but essentially takes over her life. he has a sister whom he dominates and infantilizes in the same way that Calista's brother, predictably named Andrew for his excessive androgen level dominates her.

In Britain, and evidently unbeknownst to this author, there is a river named Trent. No one named their child Trent. It's not even in in the top 200 names, and neither are Calista nor Eudora, although Andrew is. Eudora is like the one thousandth most popular name for 1890. Please, a little more thought for your character names! There are lots of names to chose from that are unusual now, but which were popular back then.

The blurb says, "Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels" but the reticence about involving the police made zero sense. Of course from the perspective of writing the novel it left everything to be done by Calista and her author acquaintance, but it stood out as being poorly addressed to me.

If you don't want the police to be a part of your story, fine, but please do better than a wheedling excuse as to why they cannot be involved! At least go to them and have them reject your position for some reason or come up with an intelligent reason why going to them at all will not work. Don't simply refuse to resort to them citing a lack of evidence when the evidence is steadily mounting in your favor. It made little sense, especially when Calista's home is being broken into and the two of them are being attacked by a murderer. It made no sense to avoid reporting these things and made Calista and Trent look dumb and clueless.

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Although I started out liking this novel, it is for these reasons that i decided it was in the end, not a worthy read. I cannot recommend this one, and I am done with this author!


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell


Rating: WORTHY!

Also known as "The Girls" this novel should not be confused with The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair, The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace, or The Girl From the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan, none of which I've read, but I am intrigued that two of these have authors with rather exotic names! Shades of The Perfumed Garden (but not fifty shades)! Anyway this novel was another audiobook experiment I picked up from the library.

Getting these books for me is like buying a lottery ticket. You take a risk when you buy one of those, because most of them aren't winners, but you hope at least the money you paid is going to a good cause. With audiobooks you take a similar risk. This one was a winner. I really liked it. I liked the writing voice, and I also liked the reader, Colleen Prendergast. If either of those two elements is off in an audiobook it can spoil it even if the other is spot on, but in this case they worked well together, and in this case I did find a good story, so I requested more work by this author from my library in hopes that her other novels will be as good as this one was.

The story is of some dysfunctional families: three in particular. Clare Wild is effectively a single mum. She has two daughters, one who is just twelve, the other a year older. Their father, Chris, is a documentary maker, but recently he was in a psychiatric hospital after burning down their house to get rid of the alien rats which he was convinced were living there. Claire has had enough of him and wants nothing to do with him. He's been released from the hospital, but Claire has not informed her daughters, Pip (short for Pipsqueak - obviously not her real name) and Grace, that he's out.

She lives in London in a home that borders on a private communal park named Virginia, which is supposed to be a shared garden used by all the homes bordering it. Children run free and unsupervised in this park, and are in and out of each other's homes. It's a bit like a commune, but not quite, and everyone except Claire who moved there only recently, has known each other for some time, although that doesn't mean they know each other.

Another such home is where Pip and Grace's friend Tyler lives. Tyler's mom is single, having divorced her husband who was mean and violent. Now she's off dating a new guy and Tyler is pretty much left to her own devices, which are more vice than devious, but that latter element plays a part in this story. Closer to home is Adele and Leo Howes, a seemingly well-balanced couple who home-school their three daughters who are all named after trees. They treat them with worthless homeopathic remedies when they get sick rather than with proven medical aid. I wasn't too keen on the Howes.

On the night of their midsummer party, Claire's daughter Grace is found unconscious with her clothes rucked up as though she was sexually assaulted, and the book then focuses on finding who the perp is. It seems we're meant to wonder if this was perhaps Chris, the schizophrenic absentee father or Leo, who had a technically inappropriate 'relationship' with a 13-year-old girl when he was only eighteen. A month or two before his birthday, everything would have been fine, we're supposed to believe, but a month or two afterwards, and it's an unforgivable crime? Laws are made to serve the lowest common denominator, let's face it, but they are the law. Calling it a 'relationship' though, is a bit of a stretch. Thoughtless misadventure might be a better term.

The thing is that Grace was found in almost exactly the same place that, many years before, 15-year-old Phoebe Rednough was found dead. Phoebe was the sister of Tyler's mum. Has her killer resurfaced? Or was hers merely a suicide and nothing to do with Grace's case?

Be warned that this story moves somewhat ponderously. It's not your usual whodunit, but it was nonetheless interesting to me, and I really enjoyed it.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chance by Kem Nunn


Rating: WARTY!

This is form an audiobook I got form my library after having watched season one of the TV show which is based on this book and actually follows it pretty closely.

Overall, I though that this was a worthy read, but I have to qualify that by adding that this author is so in love with his own turn of phrase and with repetitive philosophizing that he spoils the story in some places. The worst example of this was during what ought to have been a gripping climax, when the final showdown comes between the corrupt detective and the, let's face it, equally corrupt doctor. In stead of letting the pace pick up and making it exciting, this author slowed it down and went off into endless rambling diversions which caused me to skip pretty much the whole of that section instead of enjoying it as I was hoping to. Kem Nunn does not know how to write a thriller.

I did not like Eldon Chance, the so-called "neuropsychologist" either. That actually is a profession, but to me, the name sounds like it was made up by a writer who didn't know medicine too well! Chance was just as corrupt as the detective who was the villain in this story. As a doctor, Chance sees people to evaluate them for legal purposes: court cases, last will and testament contestations, and so on. When he meets Jaclyn Blackstone, he falls for her - which is to say that he just wants to jump her bones; he doesn't really fall for her in any other way, or at least if he does, it's not apparent from the writing.

The problem is that he's the doctor here, which makes him a quasi-authority figure, so though she is technically is not his patient as it's generally understood, he is in a professional relationship with her and it would be flat-oout wrong to get involved. Worse than this, she is a sick woman. She has multiple personality disorder and it's entirely unethical to take advantage of that and of her vulnerability. That said, it's hardly the "steamy affair" the book blurb extolls. Worse than this in a different way, by becoming involved with her, Chance has undermined any reliability his professional diagnosis might have had should people find out about his behavior. This could actually harm Jaclyn Blackstone.

She's not only vulnerable as a patient; she;'s also the victim of an abusive and somewhat codependent relationship. She's married to, but separated from a detective in the San Francisco PD. As Jaclyn Blackstone, she is afraid and seeking to avoid her husband, but as Jackie Black, she willingly has rough sex with him. When the detective discovers that Chance is hoping for a chance with her, he makes veiled threats.

Here is where I really took a dislike to Chance. Instead of thinking of his family and backing-off, he continues to actively pursue Jaclyn, leaving his young daughter open to retaliation by the detective. At one point he spends a weekend with Jaclyn, with his phone turned off (turning it off and forgetting to recharge it are constants in Chance's life), and when he finally gets back on the air, eh discovers his daughter is in hospital having OD'd. That's the kind of lousy, selfish, absentee father he is. We never see him interact with his daughter except in reaction to something.

Chance is also separated from his wife and they're divorcing. In order to try and raise some money, he sells some antique furniture after having had it tarted-up to look like it's all original, by a guy named Dee (real name darius Pringle, but you'd better never call him darius to his face). Dee is a big tough guy who lies about his military experience, but who nonetheless is a very dangerous man. He and Chance form an awkward friendship and partnership in trying to get one-up on detective Blackstone, but until the climax. it's like everything Chance does is ill-conceinved and doomed to failure.

For me, Jaclyn and Dee were fascinating people, and even detective Blackstone was more engaging than Chance, but we only got to know about them through Chance interactions, as it were. Dee and Jaclyn both have amazing stories to tell but that's not what we got unfortunately. I was sorry about that, but even so, we got enough of them and enough of a decent story for me to rate this a worthy read.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is my third Phryne Fisher and the first I've liked. I loved the TV series, but the books (Cocaine Blues - the first and Murder and Mendelssohn the last - to my knowledge - Fisher mystery). They were less than thrilling, so it suggests to me that the TV writers/adapters can often be rather better than the original writer in capturing the quintessential main character in a series like this!

This is the 14th in the Fisher series so why it was available on Net Galley I have no idea, but I'm glad it was. I'm not a trivia buff, but I have read in some reviews by others who are following the entire series, that there are continuity errors causing them to speculate on who wrote this novel! I'm not one of those, and I haven't been reading the whole series, but continuity errors are not a good thing if you want to keep your regular fans happy. For me, a casual dabbler, it wasn't noticeable.

Also the TV show has Phryne in a relationship of sorts with the police inspector who is unimaginatively named Jack. This never blossoms into romance, but there is always a hint of it. In the books, Jack seems to be more of a bit player, particularly in this one, where he hardly puts in an appearance at all, and Phryne has no feelings for him. I sincerely wish authors would drag themselves out of this deep rut of calling their go-to guy Jack, because it's so tediously over-used that I flatly refuse to read any more novels that have a main character named Jack. Fortunately, this one really didn't!

So, you may have guessed by now that it was only because of my love for the TV show that I went back a third time into the books, but I was rewarded with an entertaining story this time, even if it was predictable and a bit of a slog at times. The Phryne here seemed a lot less engaged than in the TV show; she was less scintillating. At one point one of her two adopted daughters goes missing and Phryne never seems to show any anguish over it whatsoever. She is trying to find her, but there's not a whit of urgency or fear over it.

It's as though she has some secret information that her adopted daughter is just fine - which she was of course - but the problem here is that Phryne did not know any such thing - or if she did, then the author kept it from us. On the other hand, the author did indeed know that Ruth's disappearance was really nothing more than a red herring, if a slightly salty one. What was missing was some restrained panic in Phryne's demeanor. It did not read true. Either that or Phryne is far more sang-froid than is healthy for anyone, and particularly for her daughters' continued well-being. I think if perhaps the author had children of her own (to my knowledge she does not) she might have understood those feelings better and represented them more authentically.

The Goodreads review website predictably got the blurb wrong again. In it we're told that there is "a young woman found drowned at the beach at Elwood" but this is an outright lie! The woman is one of Phryne's flower girls for an upcoming parade, and she isn't drowned at all. Almost-drowned is right. Beaten and half-drowned would be better, but not "drowned." The Amazon-owned Goodreads corporate review web site has killed private review blogs like this one, and due to this and other issues I have both with Amazon and Goodreads, I refuse to post any more reviews at either site. They're too big, too powerful, and are becoming dangerous, so I guess they don't care if they get the blurb right Why would they? What incentive do they have?

The publisher though, ought to check on these things as they should verify that the Kindle version is formatted sensibly. I read some reviews which complained that it was not. Mine was fine as it happens, but Amazon's crappy kindle app is well-known for mangling texts. I've seen plenty of those. I recommend using PDF format, which can be problematic if trying to read it on a smart phone, or Barnes & Nobles's Nook format, which consistently renders books better than Kindle. B&N has its own problems, particularly a web site which actively gets in the way of your buying books! They need to fire their website designers.

There was a touch of ageism incorporated here. This is something I would hope a mature author would be more sensitive to. I read, "The curvaceous ladies appeared shopworn and over forty." Excuse me, but what's wrong with forty and over? Nothing, I assure you. There were other little things like this, but not quite enough to turn me off the novel. For example, we get the tired cliche of the main character looking at herself in the mirror to give us a self portrait. It's nearly always a woman when this antique MO is employed and it's tedious to read: "She pottered gently through the routine of bathing and dressing and sat brushing her hair in front of her vine-wreathed mirror. The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher looked at herself.".

Another example was in Phryne being put in the position of justifying her sexuality! This isn't Phryne. Why does she feel a need to make excuses to Lin, regarding an affair, when he's married and having an affair with her? Can only men take a lover? I read, "'...He was my lover once,’ said Phryne, short-circuiting the question. ‘When I was twenty, in Orkney. Now he is married to his Maggie and wants to go back to her. I just didn’t want to see an old friend - and a wonderful musician - sleeping in the rain. Clear?’." No, it;s not clear why Phryne even has to say this. But again, in the big scheme of things this was relatively minor.

All of that said, I enjoyed the pell-mell of this story, which featured something new popping-up regularly: a personal crisis or a parade crisis, or a new development in the story. It kept things moving in general, although at some points it felt a bit of a stretch or worse, a bit of a slog. That notwithstanding, overall I liked it, and I consider it a worthy read.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Water Memory by Valérie Vernay, Mathieu Reynès


Rating: WORTHY!

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

From writer Mathieu Reynès and artist Valérie Vernay, this beautifully illustrated and well-written story of a family curse and how it affects a younger generation is a delight. It begins with a single mom, Caroline, and young daughter, Marion, arriving at a gorgeous clifftop home overlooking the Atlantic off the coast of Brittany in northern France. The home has not been lived in for years, but the two of them soon have it shipshape, and Maron is off exploring.

Marion is a little too adventurous for her own good, and almost drowns when an incoming tide takes her by surprise, but her restless spirit also takes her to the clifftops, where strange carvings exist, and to the lighthouse, just off the coast, which can be visited at low tide, but which is not a welcoming place at all. From her trips and questions she learns of local legends, one of which is very ominous indeed. Something vague and malign, something from the sea, hit the town with a severe storm in 1904, and now it looks like that storm is returning.

The story explores the gorgeous Brittany coast, sea legends, and a curious old lighthouse keeper who seems to be shunned by the entire village. Except for Marion who despite warnings from her mom, senses that this old man is the key to the mystery. Marion is a strong female character, well worth reading of.

Despite being static drawings on paper (or on my screen in this case!) the story is nonetheless creepy, insinuating itself into you like a crawling fog, chilling bones and driving you to follow Marion as she learns the truth about this curse that follows all descendants of this one family name, which must do penance for an ancient evil it perpetrated. The drawings are colorful, beautiful and as captivating as they are varied. I recommend this.


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.

There was a minor writing issue with this, and since my blog is more about writing than it is about reviewing, I want to add this in, if a bit belatedly. I read:

Deidre trailed after the two men as they trudged across the stricken yard, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Now you can argue it's fine the way it is, because it's clear what's intended here, and I accept that, but I believe it could have been written better, and thereby have avoided the question of who it was who trod more carefully: the two men or Deidre! How about:
As they trudged across the stricken yard, Deidre trailed after the two men, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Small change, big difference, No reader in their right mind is going to ditch your novel for one or two infractions of this nature, but suppose you've made a dozen through inattention? This is why reading helps - to clue you in to how other writers tackle it and to what's acceptable and what's nonsensical. It's why re-reading your own work often before publishing is a tedious but worthwhile expenditure of your time!

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.