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

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!

"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!

"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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood

Rating: WARTY!

I was sorry to see this series go downhill after volume two. I had been a thrilled and willing reader, but volume two wasn't as good as volume one, although still eminently readable. Volume three, this volume, was not even in the same class as the previous two. It quickly became boring and never improved. Perhaps the intended age group for which this was written will not notice this and still be fans, but for me it was blahh! I think this is an object lesson in why series are generally a bad thing, because they are essentially the same story over and over again. While some writers can do this and keep the story fresh and exciting, others cannot, and this is what I encountered here. If this entire series had been sold as a single novel, with large chunks of the boring edited out, it would have been a much better story.

The entire story here is really nothing more than a stray ostrich and a psychic, which you would think would make for an hilarious tale, but no. We meet Lord Ashton's mother and her beau, Admiral Faucet ("for-say"), who, it turns out is merely after her money, not her hand in marriage, because he wants to start an ostrich farm and a chain of ostrich restaurants.

His one ostrich is running around the Ashton estate, and for reasons beyond anyone's ken, it's decided that Ashton, Faucet, Lumeru and the three babes from the woods will go on an expedition to find it. Over the course of this expedition, Lumeru is led to the cave where the kids were raised, and she decides that Faucet is not honorable. Knowing that the Widow Ashton has doubts about remarrying, Lumeru invites her favorite psychic to contact Edward Ashton, and then tries to fake his appearance by clandestinely employing Simaru to impersonate him, but she's too late - someone else already is!

Anyone who is in any doubt at this point as to the outcome of this series is obviously not paying attention! But this volume was worse than volume three and at this point I have no desire to pursue this series. This marks four volumes and virtually none of the questions posed in volume one have been answered. The titles of the volumes are misleading, too, because this unseen guest has been around since volume one with promises of discovery and none have come! It's annoying at best and a cheap ploy at worst. When a writer behaves like this, a reader gets to the point of not caring what reveals there are. I certainly don't!

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood

Rating: WARTY!

Lumeru finally turns sixteen, but no one appears to remember her birthday! But it was all part of a surprise! But there's a mysterious letter from Miss Mortimer at Swanburne! But Lumeru simply doesn't get that it's a code! But she has to go visit the school anyway! But she can't figure out how to get there! But she figures it out! Oh look, Simon is here! Oh no, Quinzy is here!

If you're bored by this sad précis, please feel free to join the club. This was the worst of the four volumes of this I ever intend to follow. It was tedious and I was skipping track after track on the audio CDs because it was not moving the story and it wasn't entertaining, and it wasn't even funny. It was really saddening to see what began as a brilliant series devolve into a morass of tedium and mediocrity in volumes three and four. There was nothing new being added. It was like the author had decided that she was going to pen five volumes and would do so come hell or high water, and in complete disregard of the fact that there was clearly insufficient material to adequately fill them.

Nothing - I mean quite literally nothing - happened here, and I cannot recommend this. You would have better success going back and re-reading the first volume! That one was highly entertaining, and you would learn just as much new material from it as you would from reading this one, which I do not recommend.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood

Rating: WORTHY!

This story follows on shortly after the end of the first volume. Lady Constance is in a tiswas over the renovations to her home which are necessary to repair the damage which the incorrigibles' rampage caused, and is inadvertently persuaded to go for stay in London until the repairs are completed. There was hardly sufficient damage caused to necessitate several months of repairs, but this story is absurdist anyway, so adding a little more absurdity is hardly a fault.

The whole household, very nearly, is dispatched, with Penelope and the incorrigibles in the vanguard. One of the joys of the first book was that Penelope was a single girl who needed no man to validate her. My fear in this book was that we would lose this because she almost immediately met a charming gentleman of her own station, who adored the children. Fortunately, he, and indeed they together, was not something which I found to be obnoxious, so I ended-up loving this story, too.

Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia incorrigible are suitably advanced in their learning and language skills at this point, and avidly taking to hear the lessons of the Peloponnesian war. Indeed, so advanced are they that they are constructing a trireme out of a potted plant, and Cassa-woof has a pet squirrel, of all creatures. The squirrel's name is, of course, Nutsaru.

Despite all of this, forces continue to conspire against the children's equanimity. The highlight of this is their attendance upon a performance of a play titled, The pirate's Holiday, wherein the thespians inhabit their maritime roles so completely that after the children cause a disruption of the play, the result is a piratical hue and cry which pursues them all the way to the British museum, which is of intrigue because Penelope seems to have acquired for herself the only existing copy of a guide to a special and infrequently visited exhibit wherein likes yet more clues to both her and her charges' origins.

Once again Katherine Kellgren excelled in her reading, and the author excelled in her writing. The book was a charmer, with scores of laugh-out-loud moments. It pleased me immensely and I therefore recommend it to you as a very worthy read. Unfortunately after this point the series took a dive, so this is the last volume I can recommend.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Rating: WORTHY!

Fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley has just graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. The principal of the school suggested she apply for a job of governess at Ashton Place, the country seat of the exceedingly wealthy Lord Ashton and his new young wife, the Lady Constance.

Naturally Penelope is very nervous, and almost has a fit of panic over the possibility of bandits attacking the train, but she's a Swanburne girl, so she stiffens her resolve, arriving unmolested to the unsettling discovery that Lady Constance appears to be as nervous about this interview as Penelope is. What transcends is that Penelope is hired at very advantageous terms, through no effort of her own, and without even meeting the children.

Their first meeting is memorable. The three children, named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia, after the first three letters of the alphabet, are completely wild, in the most literal sense. Barely wearing clothes, they are cavorting in the barn barking and howling. Penelope isn't fazed at all, and immediately, as any Swanburne girl would, takes command of the situation at once. She quite literally has these three waifs eating out of her hand in short order. She dedicates herself to their civilization first, with their classical education a very close second, and the progress she makes is remarkable. the children turn out to be sweet, very intelligent, eager to please, and completely entrancing to the reader.

I had the audio book of this from the library, and although this robbed me of the illustrations which evidently appear in the print version, I think I got the better deal, because Katherine Kellgren's narration is as riveting as the text itself. She embraces Maryrose Wood's creation with complete abandon, and totally owns the characters. I was in love with this before the first five minutes was up. I returned to the library the very next day to pick up the other three volumes before someone else could snatch them and prevent me reading them. I blitzed the first two books with the velocity of Beowulf chasing squirrels. Unfortunately, after that, the honeymoon was over! This series went down hill rather quickly after volume 2.

On the topic of these three children, who become known as the incorrigibles, the story Penelope is given is that Lord Ashton found them while he was out hunting one day. Under his motto, "Finders, Keepers!", he took them in, yet he doesn't appear to be someone who is very charitable. Neither is his wife, who appears to detest the children It becomes apparent - although nowhere near as quickly as it should - to Penelope, that something not so obvious is going on here.

Why is Lord Ashton so addicted to his almanac? What is the mysterious howling (it isn't the kids!) Why are the children so obsessed with chasing squirrels? Will they ever master Latin declensions and Greek History? And does someone have an agenda of exposing the children purposefully to experiences which seem designed to trigger their wildest instincts? Penelope is rather slow, I'm sorry to say, to catch on.

The children appear to pick up English remarkably quickly, which suggests that they were not really raised by wolves. Either that or the wolves had a fair command of the British empire's master language, yet despite their remarkable facility, the two boys and the young girl aren't quite able to shed their barks, yips, and howls quite as quickly as they pick up the rudiments of a refined education. The pressure to succeed only heightens when Penelope learns that she must present her charges at the annual Christmas ball, which by then is only one month away. The ball turns out to be one the attendees will never forget once a squirrel is introduced into the proceedings. The kids go rapidly from science curious to sciurus....

I was completely captivated by this book, but it strikes me that it may be written on a level slightly too high for the youngest of the recommended reading age. That doesn't mean it won't work for them, because there is lots going on. It is written at a level that will entertain both young and mature, so perhaps the best solution would be to listen to the audio book or for a parent/guardian/older sibling to read it to younger readers.

I'm not convinced that this is a bedtime book however - the children may well want to emulate some of the incorrigible's behavior, and I say let 'em have at it, what?! I recommend this as a very worthy read with laugh-out-loud moments and an engrossing story - but keep in mind that it's rather episodic in style, so while each volume is self-contained after a fashion, there is an over-arching story that will, likely as not, remain unresolved until the final volume is released in 2016. Some readers may wish to wait until then before embarking on this charming voyage of enlightenment.

Having positively reviewed Maryrose Wood's The Poison diaries back in April 2015, it was nice to read something else by this same author. I recommend this audio book, and wish I could say the same for the whole series.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Leon Chameleon P.I. and the Case of the Kidnapped Mouse by Jan Hurst-Nicholson

Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Leon the Chameleon by Mélanie Watt, which I haven't read, but which is evidently a young children's story about misfits and acceptance, this is a series for somewhat older children about a different chameleon coincidentally named Leon, and who is a private investigator just like his great uncle was. Jan Hurst-Nicholson is the author of Bheki and the Magic Light which I reviewed favorably back in April 2015, as I also did her young children's fiction about a left-handed girl, The Race. I also review the first book in this series on my blog.

I'm not a big fan of series, but I tried not to let that color my review of this chameleon in his second appearance...!

In episode two of Leon's adventures, a woodland mouse is kidnapped by an ill-informed human boy who thinks he can take better care of the mouse - about whom he knows nothing - than the mouse can do for himself. Wrong! This novel not only continues to wise us up to the wildlife, their habits, and behaviors, it also sets out to educate children that wild life is best left wild, and that capturing wild animals in an attempt to domesticate then or keep them as pets, is doomed to failure. Leave them in their natural habitat, and we'll always have a natural habitat to enjoy.

This story was published in the nineties, and is now re-released as an ebook complete with great original images by Barbara McGuire. The main character, Leon lives in an African forest and tries to help out various animal victims of criminal activity such as egg-napping and human abduction of forest critters. This time a woodland mouse has been abducted, and Leon and the police are in full cooperation to rescue one of their own. Using bird spies and a non-naked mole rat (this is a children's story after all!), the mislaid mouse is tracked down to a cage in a garage, but the garage is by a house across a busy highway and there's a dog on guard. Can Leon come up with a plan to save his furry brother?

In a mice, er, nice twist, an unlikely lad from the first story in this series is called into action in a rather heroic role in this story. I really liked that, but I'm not going to rat on the author and tell you which character it is. Once again, Leon's inventiveness and careful thinking save the day. As before, the best thing about his novel apart from the humor and the writing, is the delightful way the author sneaks in educational material about the animals who appear as characters, and in this particular story, sends a message to leave well alone when it comes to nature. I recommend this whole-heartedly, but I can't for the life of me figure out why Leon doesn't like tongue-twisters....

Leon Chameleon PI and the Case of the Missing Canary Eggs by Jan Hurst-Nicholson

Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Leon the Chameleon by Mélanie Watt, which I haven't read, but which is evidently a young children's story about misfits and acceptance, this is a series for somewhat older children about a different chameleon coincidentally named Leon, and who is a private investigator just like his great uncle was. Jan Hurst-Nicholson is the author of Bheki and the Magic Light which I reviewed favorably back in April 2015, as I also did her young children's fiction about a left-handed girl, The Race. I also review the second book in this series on my blog.

But back to the review in progress. Leon lives in an African forest and tries to help out various animal victims of criminal activity such as egg-napping and human abduction of forest critters. He never seems to get paid, which is par for the course for lowly PIs! He does, however, get all his food and lodging free from the forest, and he doesn't own a car, so his expenses are minimal....

This book was first published in 1993, and re-released as an ebook in 2009. It's amusingly and competently illustrated by Barbara McGuire, and this first book introduces us to the forest, to Leon, and to the local police (the Pigeon Valley Police), consisting of Constable Mole, Sergeant Loerie, and Lieutenant Crow, as well as a host of other forest creatures of all stripes, dapples, brindling, spots, and whatever. Mrs Canary left her nest for only the briefest of times, yet when she returned, her three eggs were missing! Obviously someone poached them and no one is singing! It's time to scramble the police! Call out the frying squad. No, it's actually the flying squad!

I don't know if they really have a flying squad in police departments in South Africa, where the author lives, but she grew up in Britain, so maybe she's conflating. I don't know, but either way, it's funny. In Britain, the flying squad, through rhyming slang, was known as the Sweeney, from Sweeney Todd, and was a huge hit show in Britain many years back. But I digress!

So, with eggs missing and the police struggling, Leon leaps, well quivers, to the rescue, the long tongue of the law, using his keen mind and his swiveling eyes which, to paraphrase Joseph Heller, could see more things than most people, but none of them too clearly! Nevertheless, paying close attention to the clues, Leon soon has it all figured out, and as the police run down one useless 'lead' after another, Leon closes in on the likely suspects despite some rather unfair disparagement from the law.

The best thing about his novel apart from its sense of humor and the beautiful way it's written, is the sneaky way the author slips in educational material about the animals who appear as characters. This is the way a really good children's novel ought to be done, but rarely is. I recommend this completely.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Carrots by Colleen Helme

Title: Carrots
Author: Colleen Helme
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WORTHY!

I've said frequently that you can get away with a lot with me if you tell a decent story, and this novel is a classic example of that. Now you know I'm a man of my word!

This is the first in a series about a character named Shelby Nichols. It's told in first person, which is the worst of all voices. Most writers screw it up, which makes for an obnoxious read. A few can get it right, and this author managed that, for which I was very grateful. It was an easy read and easy to empathize with this character even though she was far too focused on, nay obsessed with, clothes and looks for my taste. Neither was she very smart, but she made up for her lack of smarts with a certain amount of inventiveness and pluck. I didn't like the way she was far too ready to take a back seat to her husband. It undermined the adventurous spirit with which the author was trying to imbue her elsewhere.

On her way home one evening, Shelby stops at the supermarket for a bunch of carrots, and gets into the middle of a robbery of the bank which is within the store. She's grazed by a bullet, which skims her head. From this point on, she discovers that she can read people's thoughts if they are close by. Unfortunately, "Uncle Joey", a local mobster, manages to learn of her ability and by threatening the welfare of her family, he 'persuades' her to work for him part time, listening in on conversations he has with his lackeys, to alert him to any signs of unrest and dissent.

As if this isn't trouble enough, the bank robber is out to kill Shelby so she can't testify to his appearance in court should he be apprehended, and the new hire at her husband's law firm, Kate, is definitely after her husband and doesn't care if Shelby knows it.

I liked this story because although it was a bit far-fetched, it stayed largely true and real, and it was believable. Yes, the mind-reading is nonsense of course, but this is fiction, and that's a part of the framework for the story so I had no problem with that, especially since it was presented in an interesting and realistic-feeling way. I also liked that Shelby was married and had children, so we didn't have to deal with dumb-ass romances. That would have spoiled this story, so I felt that it was a smart decision on the part of the author.

I enjoyed Shelby's struggle to cope with the demands on her, especially in light of her new power and her subsequent 'gray-area' employment. I think her husband's acceptance of her lying to him about it was a bit to easily glossed over. I think it should have been more of a problem, and more of an argument than ever it was. Yes, he loves her and isn't about to divorce her over this, but he's a high-priced lawyer and could have helped her with this, at least by giving advice and support. He also probably would have been far more suspicious of her than he was.

The fact that she got into so much life-threatening trouble and shared none of her situation with him should have been more of a hot spot than it was, too. I also didn't like that he often tried to take over her life and control her behaviors - such as when she replaces her car and he gives her the third degree about it. Yes, she isn't too smart, but his domineering attitude and her passive acceptance of it was a bit disturbing to read. One example which comes to mind is that Shelby has some pain pills from the time she was shot in the head and later, we read: "When Chris offered me a pain pill, I gratefully accepted." This makes it sound like he was hoarding her pills and doling them out to her as he saw fit. That probably wasn't the author's intention, but that's what it read like to me! If you're a good little girl and do what I say, I'll let you have your medicine! Rightly or wrongly, that made me bristle a bit!

I had a huge problem with the cover since it in no way represents the main character in any way whatsoever other than gender. Normally I ignore covers because they have nothing to do with the writer, and you can blame their ill-fit on the publisher and the fact that the cover artist never, ever, ever, ever reads the novel for which they're illustrating the cover, but in this case it's self-published through Amazon's Create Space scheme, so I'm not convinced that we can let the author off lightly here here!

There were a lot of other problems, too, which a good book editor or even a decent beta reader might have caught. This is another author who can't tell the difference between 'stanch' and 'staunch' when she writes: "He staunched the bleeding with a bandage". The antique 'whom' shows up here not as part of the narrative, but as part of a character's speech: "...identify the guy whom...", but shortly afterwards we get "There’s too many things wrong..." when it should have been "There are" or even "There're". You can't have it both ways - either your characters are going to speak correctly or they're going to speak like almost everyone else does. Mixing it up, especially with the same character doesn't work.

We got a "My name is Detective Harris..." when his name is just Harris. It's his title that's "Detective". I know it's a minor thing and a pet peeve of mine, but little things matter, especially when there are a lot of them. Why not just have him say, "I'm Detective Harris"?! It's that easy.

There was one part where it looked like one sentence had been cut and pasted smack into the middle of another sentence: "I’d barely hung up the phone when Then they’d probably want to stay me as rang again...". Then there's the flirtatious redhead who has auburn hair! Yes, I know that technically auburn is classed as red hair, but when people think of a redhead they typically don't think of auburn, so if you've directed them down Redhead Road, it's a bit of a jolt for them to discover that they're really on Auburn Avenue! It was for me anyway!

One or two things made no sense, such as when Shelby thinks to herself that she "...could read minds. I’d know when he was around. I could make it work...." The problem was that this came right after she had failed dismally to detect an assailant in the parking garage! It was inconsistent, or it made her seem really stupid, one or the other. I liked Shelby and it was annoying to have her portrayed as an idiot on more than one occasion.
Also obsessed with saying, "the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes"

Another thing which made little sense was where it was revealed that Shelby helps her husband with legal work. This came as an announcement out of the blue because we had not been told that she was employed by the law office where her husband works. it sounded bad - like confidentiality counts for nothing in this law firm. I doubt the clients would have appreciated that their lawyers randomly have family members wander in and do odd jobs. I certainly wouldn't.

Those quibbles aside, I liked this story a lot. It wasn't something which made me desperate to read the next in the series as soon as possible (especially not now that I've seen the cover!), but I don't doubt that I will read it if I come across it on sale somewhere. This was, in general terms, an engaging, fun, and enjoyable story, so overall, I rate this one a worthy read.