Showing posts with label paranormal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label paranormal. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrighi


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another winner from Net Galley's 'Read now' offerings, where you can find some real gems if you look carefully. This therefore is an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher.

In this graphic novel, Morrigan Moore is dragged along to yet another new town, behind her older brother and mother, who are co-authors of a series of novels based on assorted local folk-tales and legends. They're about to start a new novel, and are here for research.

Morrigan isn't happy, but is trying to make the best of a bad job. As mom and bro start to investigate the local legend of the voracious and predatory 'King of Crows' and his foe, 'The Scarecrow Prince' Morrigan finds herself not researching the legend, but living it, as she gets the mantle of The Prince thrust upon her, and discovers that it's she who must stand and defy the King of Crows - and not in some fictional work, but for real.

Morrigan grows into her role and starts making her own rules as the story careers to its uncertain conclusion. I really enjoyed this graphic novel for the feistiness of its main character: a strong female to be sure, and for the originality of the story and the excellence of the artwork. It's well-worth reading and will give you something to crow about!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mind Games by Kiersten White


Rating: WARTY!

I made it through only two chapters of this. I picked it up from the library based indirectly on the recommendation of a Goodreads 'friend'. It's not the book that was recommended, but it is by the same author, so I thought I'd get a preview of her work.

This book was dual first person, which means that it's twice as bad as a regular first person voice book, and both voices: the psychic girl and her blind younger sister who is held in captive, thereby keeping her older sister in servitude, sounded both the same, and neither was remotely interesting.

I simply did not care what they were about or what would happen to them, and so I ditched it. Life is far too short to waste on a poorly written series, or an idiotic YA trilogy, or on any single book which doesn't grip you from the off, when there is so much else to read, all different (hopefully) and amongst which are undoubtedly some gems to treasure!


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I can't honestly review this novel because all we were allowed was the first chapter! Due to a small oversight on my part I did not realize this, but based on that sole chapter, I was interested in reading more. The blurb was misleading though. The interaction between the shape-shifters: a bear (a guy of course) and a honey badger (a girl of course) bore only passing resemblance to what was described in that blurb.

I am not a fan of the vampire/werewolf stories so I normally would not have read this, but the fact that this was expressly not about wolves (which is a genre way-the-hell overdone these days), but about a bear and a badger made it more interesting to me. I'm a big advocate of authors taking that road less-traveled rather than trying to clone some other writer's work, and it pleased me that this author appears to be, too.

I have to say that the idea that a bullet hitting someone in the shoulder or arm could propel them over a balcony is preposterous! If you understand a little physics you know that those absurd gunfights in the movies and on TV, featuring grown men flying backwards after being hit is nonsensical. A bullet is so small and so fast that it will tear right through you barely if at all affecting your stance or your motion. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even notice you've been hit at first.

To paraphrase Golden Earring in their song Twilight Zone, you are likely going to know if the bullet hits a bone. It may break it, and that will cause you problems, but it still won't throw you dramatically backwards or toss you over a balcony, unless you happen to be precariously balancing on the balcony in the first place, in which case you might drop off it.

If you've seen the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery shootout from February 1997, which is admittedly grisly, you can see from it that when shot, the suspects do not go flying anywhere, and when killed, they simply drop to the ground. If you do not want to see that, it's perfectly understandable, in which case, I'd recommend watching the twelfth episode of Ray Donovan in the third season, where Ray has a shoot-out and is hit more than once. His reaction seems far more realistic than ninety percent of actors in standard TV or movie gunfights.

One thing which was a little confusing to me was the time of day that this opening chapter took place. I'd got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it was very early morning - as in very late at night, but then we find there are school-children on the street, so I was confused, because we'd been told the streets were quiet, so I'd been thinking it was about three AM. Clearly it was not, but if it was late enough in the morning for school-kids to be out and about, how was it that the streets were so quiet, and how come a team of mercenaries could invade a hotel and not be seen and reported? And if the hit squad was specifically after Charlie (the honey-badger) then what were they doing at the grizzly's hotel room? he had no connection with her at that point. The author might want to rethink her setting and action a bit, or explain it better!

That and the irritating shortness of the sample aside, I have to admit the idea of three sisters in serious trouble and trying to figure out what's going on, sounds like a great idea for a story. As long as we don't get the grizzly bear always riding to the rescue of the poor helpless maidens in distress, like these girls can't handle themselves and need a man to validate them, which would simply ruin the story, I'd recommend it, based on the admittedly inadequate portion I had access to.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment that went south with the honking geese! It sounded good from the blurb, but then doesn't everything? Maybe not! One thing I didn't notice was small print notifying me that this debut novel is the first in a series, otherwise I probably would have skipped it altogether and I would have been right to do so.

Edie is the newest nurse on ward Y4, a secret location hidden under County Hospital, and set aside for paranormal patients. I've worked in hospitals, not as a care-giver like this author is, but as support staff, and so this environment isn't alien to me. It's one I often enjoy reading about in stories, and the idea of a nurse taking care of a sick vampire amused me, but the story itself wasn't amusing or otherwise entertaining at all.

I kept finding myself thinking idle thoughts rather than listening to this as I commuted to and from work, and while I expect my attention to be divided, with the most focus naturally on traffic when I'm driving, that doesn't prevent me for enjoying an audiobook, so this inability of the author to grab my attention was not a good sign, nor did it portend a worthy read. In the end I ditched this somewhere shortly after the forty percent mark, right around the point where the dragon - yes, dragon - showed up. That was too much silly for me.

I read some other negative reviews of this, and at least one of them mentioned unprotected sex on the first date, which is a huge no-no, so either I missed that, which speaks volumes as it is, or I didn't quite reach it, in which case I promise you I won't miss it, but in either case it's a negative on that kind of dumb, even in a supernatural story.

The reading by Tai Sammons was also flat and uninspired so this didn't help things along at all. I cannot recommend this book.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wynonna Earp Vol 1 Homecoming by Beau Smith


Rating: WARTY!

This sounded like it might be interesting, or it might be a disaster, and it pains me to report that it was the second of these two options. I counted twenty-seven panels containing blood in the first thirty-two pages. That's almost one per page, which is way too many for a story which makes little sense, appears to be going nowhere, and doesn't even have decent dialog or some humor to leaven it. Essentially it's just another Walking Dead style story with nothing new to offer. Even the art was pretty much Walking Dead. The only "improvement" it had was that it was in color. Don't let the misrepresentative front cover image fool you. the art is nothing like that quality inside.

The main Character, Wynonna Earp is, we're told, descended from Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, presumably with his second wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus, but the couple had no children, and neither did Wyatt with his first wife. I was prepared to overlook that if the story had turned out to be good, but it didn't.

The basis of it is that the United States Marshals Service 'Black Badge' division was set up to fight paranormal creatures. The only ones we see here - at least in the part I read - were 'chupacabra' critters, aka goat eaters. Why, in these stories, the goat eaters never eat goats but always humans is a complete mystery, but the only reason to avoid Wynonna Earp at all cost is that she's boring. I can't recommend this based on the the portion of it that I read, which is more than enough for my taste.

You know, it makes no difference in stories like this if the para-abnormals are zombies, or vampires, or were-wolves, or whatever, the story is always the same. I like my characters and my stories to have something more going for them than endless skulls split with bullets or cleavers, and this failed dismally. It's long past time that writers of this genre came up with something new to say.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Prism by Faye Kellerman, Aliza Kellerman


Rating: WARTY!

This is a case of a new writer being "grandfathered" (or perhaps more accurately in this case, "grandmothered") into the privileged position of publishing because your mom is already in the business, so this had that already against it, and the fact that it was an audiobook, which in my hands tend to garner poorer reviews by dint of the fact that I'm a captive audience driving to and from work. So I'll pretty much listen to anything that's not a ridiculously inane DJ or an even more inane commercial, and especially if it sounds like a remotely interesting story. I know, all that gasoline! Let's make a deal: you guys buy my books, and I'll buy an electric car and kiss off my indentured service to Big Oil™. Now isn't that a worthy cause? In fact, if you buy enough books I can quit driving altogether and work at home into my ever encroaching antiquity! Isn't it worth it to get me off the streets? Think about it!! LOL!

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover that this one was actually to my liking - for the first twenty percent. The characters were fresh, funny, entertaining, and different from the usual YA high-school clichéd morons. Yes, so they failed Bechdel–Wallace, but only a bit and it was funny. The story turned around, but not in the way the author intended I'm sure, when there was an overnight school field trip. In the dark, and far from anywhere, the three traveling in this one van, and separated from their partner van, woke up to find they had run off the road and rolled over. They climbed out and ran from the van into the dark, ignoring the fact that their teacher was still trapped inside. A storm came up and they retreated into a nearby cave where they fell into a pothole and woke up in dumb-ass world.

The dumb-assery unfortunately, was not what the author intended. Instead, and from that from that point onward, the characters started behaving exactly like characters in every bad, trope-infested YA novel you ever read. Any relationship not only to intelligent behavior but even to realistic behavior was gone, and so was I! I said, "Check please! I'm outta here!" I'm done with the Kellermans two; next author please, right this way!


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Where Silence Gathers by Kelsey Sutton


Rating: WARTY!

This is a curious novel wherein the main character, Alexandra, can see emotions/impulses as physical beings which manifest mostly as white men for reasons unknown. This seemed rather racist to me. It's a companion novel to an earlier one set in the same world, but with different characters. I have not read the previous volume.

Alexandra's almost constant companion and pseudo-best friend for many years has been one named Revenge, who has been with her ever since her family was killed by a drunk driver. When Revenge tells her that Nate Foster has been released from jail for good behavior, she takes the gun she knows her uncle keeps hidden, and sets out for Nate's home, but she only spies on him through a window. She doesn't act. She does see a new emotion there, but cannot identify it, and she leaves. Are these things all really emotions? That's how they're described in the novel, but there is quite a variety, most of whom spend very little time with Alexandra. They seem more like fleeting impulses to me!

Anyway, when she returns the next night, Nate isn't home, and his wife is crying in the kitchen. This is when Alexandra meets the new emotion face-to-face and discovers that it's Forgiveness. She also learns that her father could apparently see these characters in the same way that she can. She had never known this before. Her life has been on a downhill spiral, and no one, not her aunt and uncle, not her two best friends in high school, nor anyone else seems to have any clue where her head is at, but now, with this new information, maybe she can turn herself around? Who cares, really? She was an obnoxious, self-obsessed, whiny-ass brat, and I sure didn't.

One thing which made little sense to me was the almost constant companionship which Revenge provided. There is supposedly only one of each emotion (at least from what I saw), and they arrive fleetingly when needed and disappear afterwards, so how come Revenge gets to spend so much time with her? Was he not needed anywhere else in the world? Maybe they have only white revenge in the US, but in Africa there is black revenge, or maybe one for each nation? One for each race? The novel never makes this clear. Maybe it's covered in the first volume. I really don't care that much.

I came across a writing issue here - obscure text. At one point I read, "I refuse to let how much his presence affects me show." It was so curious I had to read it twice more before I fully grasped what it was saying. Wouldn't it have been better to write, "I refuse to let show how much his presence affects me"? One simple change and it improves readability immensely. At least to me it does. This is the value of good editing, which is all on you if you're self-publishing. It's a big burden to carry.

The writing, though, wasn't the real problem, not from a technical PoV. The real problem was the unending tedium of listening to the main character's obsessive-compulsive wallowing, which made me detest her. I ditched this novel as a DNF. I can't recommend it and I'm done with this author.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Dead is so Last Year by Marlene Perez


Rating: WARTY!

This is part of a series with the rather lame inevitability of the word 'dead' in every title. Apparently no one told Marlene Perez that Charlaine Harris has already been there and done that. I didn't realize that this was part of a series when I picked it up on close-out. I went by the blurb, which I freely admit is often a mistake, which made no mention that this was volume three. I don't hold the author responsible for this since you give up all control of what's on the cover when you go with Big Publishing™ The story is set in Nightshade, a town busting at the seams with paranormal characters and activity, yet the blurb mentions none of that. It merely says that the fraudulently described "smart sisters" are psychic.

Note that the fraud was not in describing them as sisters. The blurb and the title do, I grant, indicate some paranormal goings-on, but nowhere near to the extent that this book exhibited. Again, if I'd known beforehand that there were vampires, and that one of the sisters was dating a werewolf, I would certainly have left this particular novel to gather dust on the clearance shelf! I certainly have no intention of pursuing this series. The weird thing was that neither the werewolf boyfriend nor the vampire was the reason I disliked it! This amused me even more than the title had.

My initial problem was that the author seemed to think that the only virtue female characters can have is their beauty, which is a major turn-off for me in any novel. However, this one surprised me by eventually leaving that theme where it belongs - in the past - which was unexpected, I do confess! Unfortunately, and just when I thought I could stand to read no more, the main character (another first person PoV I'm sorry to have to report) decided to focus on the mystery rather than the looks of all the females in town. Unfortunately, other issues kicked in at that point too, so the story still fell short of being a worthy read for me.

Apart from an obsession with looks, one thing which turns me off is dumb female characters. Yes, there are dumb people in life, male and female (and even some in between), and once in a while you can get an entertaining story out of such a character, even more so if she wises up, but you can't get a good story out of a young woman who is, even within the framework of the story, persistently and irremediably too dumb too live, or one who fails to fulfill even the author's own criteria for the character.

Clearly not much thought went into this series. Nightshade is supposed to be a relatively small town (at least it is from reading the test), yet it has a large high school with a successful football team, it has a college, and it has assorted other large town things going on, things found only in larger towns, yet it's talked about as though it's a cozy little village. It made no sense.

This novel was told from Daisy's PoV. Daisy has two sisters who are named Poppy and Rose, which was a bit too trite for my taste, and Daisy was not only not the sharpest knife in the knife drawer, she didn't seem capable of hosting much that was in the way of intelligent thought, or of following even elementary logic. She was presented as this psychic investigator who was supposed to step into the gap left by her mother's absence. She failed dismally. She mentioned her psychic powers frequently, but barely used them even when it would have made clear sense for her to do so. We were told more than once that she was "rusty" in practicing using her powers. Who, in real life, if they found that they had such power, would get rusty in using it? No one! Of course, this doesn't happen in real life, but in the book it was part of real life. It made no sense that she would become rusty or would have little or no interest in using her powers.

The sisters' mom was in Italy, where she and her daughters had spent part of the summer. Dad is out of the picture having gone missing in an earlier volume evidently. The girls were purportedly back to attend school, although none of the story took place in the school to speak of. All three of them get jobs without a shred of effort although, after the initial 'just starting her tiring job as a waitress period' is over, Daisy is never doing her job either.

Apparently unencumbered by school or work, Daisy has all the time in the world to wander around trying to figure out what's going on and she still takes forever - long after the reader has it all sorted. Some people describe a character like that as a Mary Sue although technically that's incorrect. A Mary Sue is a character who goes through a novel without a thing going wrong, without running into any difficulties, and without making any mistakes, but gets everything done, and does it perfectly. A Mary Poppins would be actually a better name for such a character. This would leave the term 'Mary Sue' open for the use it seems to be adopting: that of a character like Daisy who can't figure out anything, despite clues that are obvious even to a reader like me who is typically the last to figure things out. Maybe we should call such a character an Ian! So Daisy spends the entire novel, virtually, being a complete Ian.

The problem in this story is that someone is making clones. There are two obvious suspects, yet never once does Daisy suspect either one. Neither of them is investigated even though one of Daisy's sisters works with one of them, and Daisy herself witnesses the other doing things which are quite obviously shady and underhand, and which involve secret spells and employing old clothes. These are the smart sisters, remember, yet the one with whom one of the sisters works is called Doctor Franken (I am not making this up) who works in a genetics lab, yet never once does anyone consider that she might be a suspect!

Worse than this, the plan is supposed to be these clones taking over of the town council. They could have done this with bribes or blackmail, or better yet, used direct magic to control these people, yet instead they come up with the idea of creating clones to replace the council members! The problem is that not one of the initial clones is a clone of a council member - they're just random citizens which are then allowed to wander around town aimlessly. Worse than this, the clones have a sugar craze and eat large quantities of sweet food such as donuts, and still no one suspects a thing.

Now this is a town in which supernatural activities go on all the time, yet no one, not even the "smart" sisters, thinks for a split second that well-known citizens are suddenly behaving oddly. These sisters are not smart. They're morons. They don't even react when the yard is invaded by a ravenous pack of werewolves - other than to run indoors. They never call the police even though the wolves could be harming someone else while these chickens cower indoors. They never make the connection between the ravening wolves and the football team jocks suddenly miraculously bulking up on muscle. They're worse than irresponsible; they're freaking idiots.

I don't need books about idiot girls in my library. If I wanted to see that I would watch so-called reality TV (in which I have absolutely no interest either). Had this novel been written for middle-graders, I might have perceived it differently, but it's aimed at young adults and it misses its mark disastrously. It is not a worthy read, not even remotely.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Succubus by Richelle Mead


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Succubus Blues by Jim Behrle.

Georgina Kincaid is a succubus living amongst humans in a world where paranormal creatures exist side-by-side, but hidden - your standard paranovel. Though she is an immortal, Kincaid prefers to live amongst humans, dressing and behaving like them. It makes it all very convenient for the author, who clearly has to do no supernatural world building!

Kincaid is also a shapeshifter, and can appear however she wants. She can even emulate clothes, although she prefers to dress in real clothes rather than sport the appearance of them. I guess I don't know how that works exactly, because at one point when she's running late for work, she shifts into clothes in preference to actually getting dressed, yet later, a guy with whom she has casual sex is unbuttoning her shirt and fondling her breasts through her bra. How is he unbuttoning something that's technically a part of her? That would be like unbuttoning your skin! It made no sense, but I don't think this novel is intended to make any sense. It's seems like it's really just Urban Sexual Fantasy (USF). The F can also stand for 'frustration' or other things.

Moving right along, and in keeping with the 'she's really a human' theme, Kincaid works as an assistant manager at a book store in Seattle, known as Emerald City Books. She lives in an apartment, and she carries on a perfectly ordinary life , so other than being a succubus (and there are even issues with that as I shall discuss), she is in actual fact exactly like a human in every way, except that she acts like a teenager rather than her own apparent age.

Given that this is an introductory novel - the prologue to the 'chapters' which will form the volumes of the series if you will - it offered very little information (other than an annoying flash-back-story) about why she is the way she is, why she chooses to live like this, and what, exactly is expected of her by the forces of evil, so all we're left is to conclude that the author did this purely out of laziness, giving her a character - who is completely human in all regards, and whose only paranormal facet is that she can (indeed must) have endless unprotected sex with no consequences. It's not like it wasn't well thought-through, it's like it wasn't thought at all. That said, and for as exceedingly light and fluffy a read as it was, it ended up being enjoyable despite numerous plot holes and issues. It's as if Nora Ephron wrote an urban fantasy movie. Read it on that level and you'll be fine.

One problem is the same one we see in endless paranormal - particularly vampire - stories. Kincaid is a couple of thousand years old, but absurdly acts as though she's a teenager, and she's unaccountably ignorant, after two millennia, about the paranormal world in which she lives. It makes no sense. Clearly Mead had to explain her world as she went along, but to have her main character do it in a way which makes her look like a complete ditz does this story no favors at all.

I know Mead can write adult characters, so I don't know what was going on here. Maybe a paranormal rom-com is what she was aiming for. Kincaid's paranormal "job" - although she never seems to do it or get paid for it in any way, is capturing souls for Jerome, her demon boss, who's barely demonic at all. None of this is explained - it just is. Why there has to be a balance, and that the forces for good tolerate - and even pal around with - the forces for evil makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, nor does it make sense that the evil side is perfectly ordinary - there's no evil going on here at all. The closest we come to evil is the actions of this novel's villain, and his behavior makes so much sense that he's not actually a villain from what I saw. He's actually doing the work the bone-idle angel ought to be doing - in this novel's framework. The fact is, however, that angels aren't actually fighters-against-evil at all, they're merely messengers - mythological email - stolen by Bible writers from the Greek Hermes (and copied in the Roman Mercury). I liked the bad guy!

Kincaid doesn't exude any sort of evil. In theory, she has sex with people and their soul goes to hell presumably, but she also has sex with people where nothing happens to her lover. How does she differentiate? I have no idea, and Mead offers no help whatsoever. When the story begins, its framework seems to indicate that sex out of wedlock is sinful; but then that's religion for you! This is contradicted later in the text however, where Kincaid ruminates that while sex out of wedlock was sinful in the past, the world has moved on, and it's no longer considered a sin because everyone is having sex outside of marriage. This made little sense and implies that if everyone began murdering and raping, then this would no longer be considered sinful either!

From the way this novel is written, I was left with the consolation that I'm fine with the idea of going to hell - if there is such a place and I'm condemned there. Can you imagine spending eternity in heaven with the same partner? I'm not talking about a paltry sixty years of marriage. I'm not even talking about a mere lifetime. I'm talking about ETERNITY wedded to one person, and you can't even experiment sexually with that one person?! I'd rather be in hell with the raunchy crowd any day, especially if it's for eternity. But maybe that's just me!

The writing is technically fine - a minor issue or two here and there but eminently readable, despite being first person PoV, which I normally hate, but which in this case was engaging as opposed to nauseating. There are plot holes galore, but this is routine for a paranormal novel, and there were some quirks which caught my attention, such as when Kincaid remarks to us in chapter ten that some guys she introduced shook hands "guy style" and then the very next chapter she shakes hands herself. What is that? Girl style? I don't get how her shaking o' the hand was any different from the way the guys did earlier. If there is one, Mead failed to clarify exactly what it was and made her character come off as being hypocritical or clueless - and this isn't the only time that Kincaid is portrayed this way, I'm sorry to report.

Because she's a YA writer at heart, Mead had to have a love triangle. On the one breast is Roman and on the other, Kincaid's favorite writer, Seth Mortensen. Kincaid bounces between these two (not literally) and also between them and her casual (and oft frustrated) sex partner who works at the bookstore. Some negative critics have called Kincaid out on this, intimating - if not outright declaring - that she's a slut, but hello: SUCCUBUS! I think they clean forgot that this was a paranormal novel and Kincaid relies on sex for sustenance, being a vampire of the venereal. That's understandable however, because despite the novel being replete with angels, demons, vampires, imps, hybrid human-angels, and so on, there really was no paranormal stuff going on at all in this novel! I mean almost literally none at all.

The big deal here is that there's supposedly a slayer in town who's slaughtering immortals, and is apparently a threat to Kincaid herself, although neither she nor we are ever told why. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that, but given that Seth is new in town and Roman is new in her life, it immediately struck me that either one of these could be the villain, and the remaining non-villainous one would become her love interest as the series progressed. And as it progressed, the relationship with Roman became about as clichéd and trope as you can get, so my money was on him being the new immortal villain in town. He was Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way! He was tall (Kincaid is evidently very short despite her shape-shifting ability), chiseled, commanding, dominating, irresistible, and a perfect lover. My question here was: how is this possible given that she's a succubus?! This loaned more support to my feeling that he was the troublemaker.

It also made me wonder what the heck the point was of making Kincaid a succubus at all if she was completely overpowered by people like Seth and Roman. At one point she is "terrified and thrilled" by how close he is, and we're constantly reminded that she's like a lovesick teenager around him. Is she not the dominant succubus she's supposed to be? How is a mere mortal able to make her feel that way? This was yet another reason to believe that Roman and/or Seth were more than human. By this point we'd learned that immortals of a certain level can mask their immortality so other immortals cannot sense them. Was Roman doing this to hide his true nature? This begs the question as to how effective a succubus can be when potentially anyone can overpower her in this way!

When they went bowling together, Mead sadly resorted to the boring trope of having Roman (who sports the boring trope of gold flecked eyes) get behind Kincaid and show her how to hold the balls, leading to an intimate level of physical proximity. It was as sickening as it was pathetic to read, precisely because this trope has been done to death. In fact I didn't read it - as soon as I saw where it was going, I skipped several paragraphs. This could have been a cheap Harlequin romance novel at this point. I would have thought someone as inventive as Mead could have come up with something original, but she struck out in the lanes.

In an amusing section where Kincaid is bantering with a couple of vamp friends, we learn that she has to use far more energy to change gender than she does to merely 'remodel' herself. We don't learn why. We also learn that she requires even more energy than that to emulate a different species. None of this is explained in any way at all. We don't know why she literally assumes the physical form of the thing she's emulating as opposed, for example, to merely mimicking the outward appearance of it. If she quite literally becomes the subject, then what happens to her own self? Does she literally lose her mind? If so, how does she get it back? If she doesn't (as she clearly doesn't) lose herself, then how is she assuming the exact form of her subject in any meaningful way? We're left in the dark. Maybe future volumes flesh this out - as it were!

The novel was very predictable and will disappointment many people from its lack of paranormal activity. Kincaid makes no sense as a succubus, and it's sad that we have to be told how funny and smart she is without seeing any evidence of either, and it's disappointing that she's so juvenile - not even acting her apparent age, much less her succubus age, but despite all of this, I actually liked the novel, and I can't tell you why. I think maybe it was because I read this as a YA novel even though it ostensibly isn't. it works better if you pretend it is. It was, as I indicated, a light, fluffy read, and maybe that's why - you can close off the analytical part of your brain, and just go with it for the light, brainless fun. Some parts were really engaging, and fun, others not so much. In short I felt the same way about his as I did about Vampire Academy - but after reading two or three volumes of that series, I gave up on it because it became too stupid, so while I'm willing to go on to volume two here, I'm not offering any guarantees about staying with the series beyond that.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Life Sucks by Jennifer Abel


Rating: WORTHY!

This graphic novel about vampires is hilarious. It deftly removes all the sickly sparkle from the modern genre (a sparkle which was never there in the early vampire stories save for the one written by John Polidori (The Vampyre), inspired on that famous night when Mary Shelley invented Frankenstein). In this story, there wasn't a glimmer of glamour. This one is more like a cross between Dracula and Clerks. The art work by the unlikely named Warren Pleece, and by Gabriel Soria was functional but nothing spectacular by any means. I wonder if this style was chosen precisely because it complemented the dressed-down" text? Who knows?!

The story is of a young man, Dave, who applied for a night shift job at a convenience store. He didn't know the store owner was a vampire, so went happily into the stock room where he was "turned" and became enslaved to his maker. I don't know who first invented that trope, but it is popular in the genre. Now the sort owner can get his employee to do anything he wants him to do for minimum wage and he can't be denied! Great business plan, huh? The sad thing is that from the employee's perspective, nothing has improved - it's all deteriorated. Dave doesn't get women fawning over him as vampires are popularly supposed to do. He still has to work for a living (so-called), and he used to be a vegetarian, so now his diet is appalling to him. He drinks plasma and substitutes, shrinking nauseously from the idea of actually biting someone. Un-life seems hardly worth living until he encounters a charming Goth girl, Rosa, a Latina.

Here's where the novel took a bit of a slide for me, because the only thing he (and his friends) have to say about the girl is that she's beautiful, so here we are once again objectifying women. Rosa is given no other credit. Admittedly the guy is lusting for her from afar and doesn't know her when the novel begins, and admittedly he's not the sharpest tack in the box, but this business of rating women solely on their looks is as primitive as it is obnoxious when you get right down to it. Graphic novels in particular need to get over this. In this case it was bad because Rosa is shown to be rather dumb and precipitous, so maybe they were right, and beauty is all she actually had going for her.

The funny thing here is that Rosa has a rather Twilight take on vampires and sees them as suave, sophisticated, wealthy dilettantes. She's unconvinced when Dave tries to educate her about how un-life actually is. Rosa starts falling for surfer vampire (now there's a concept) Wes, and Dave rails against it, pissing Rosa off, until she finds out for herself how Wes really is. Later, she learns of Dave's true nature. She wants him to turn her, but he won't, because he doesn't want to condemn her to his un-life style.

The ending is crappy, but it's worth putting up with that for the rest of the story. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Darkness of Light by Stacey Marie Brown


Rating: WARTY!

This volume had two potential strikes against it as I began reading: firstly it was book one of a series, and secondly, it was first person PoV, which is normally a horrible voice to tell a story in, full of self-importance and self-promotion. The all-important I did this! Hey lookit me! Now lookit me again! Imagine that for a whole series! However, there are some people who can carry that voice, just as there are some people who can carry a series so my hope going into this was that here was an author who can carry both.

The title is a bit trite. There are very many volumes out there with variations on this contradiction, most of them, it seems, series, so it's not a good title to have chosen if you're looking to make your work stand out from the pack, as most authors are, so having buried your novel deeply in the pack with your choice of title, we now have to look solely to the writing, and this is what my blog is all about.

That did start our too well, because on the second screen I read this: ""

His eyes ran over my body. "You look good... I mean beautiful."
Ember's immediate response is to thank him for objectifying her, except that she doesn't frame it in those objective terms

Judged by the first two screens, this book is all about shallow. Ember's assessment of her best female friend, Kennedy, is that she "...could see the true beauty in her porcelain skin." That's her true beauty. It's not in her wisdom, or in her integrity, or in her smarts, or in her skill with something, or in her reliability - not even in her steadfast friendship over many years. It's not even, for goodness sakes, in the commonly-cited abuse: that she would make a good wife and mother! It's in her beauty, because let's face it, if you're a girl and you ain't got that, you ain't got nothing. No wonder she's going to grow up dreading wrinkles and blemishes, and spend a fortune on snake oil 'remedies' for them.

Why do female writers insist up demeaning their gender like this? Can we not get a YA novel that's not about skin-depth? Can we not, for that matter, get a novel about a "hot cheerleader" who turns out to have smarts, courage, decency, or anything that's more than skin and (good) bone (structure)? In this novel, Ember's brief interlude with Ben is rudely interrupted by this very thing (the hot cheerleader part, not the rest of it). Kallie is "tall, blonde, and beautiful." That's how she's categorized and pigeon-holed, and I'm only in the fourth screen in on my smart phone!

Every female who has appeared in this story to this point has been completely and solely defined by her looks. This is, quite frankly, disgusting. You think pornography is degrading to women? Well that's obvious. How much worse then, is this culture of stealth degradation which puts the value of a woman on her looks alone? The fact that this has been done through history is no excuse to continue it. What is this doing to young girls, subject to this barrage of objectification, story after story after story, in a subtle and not-so-subtle undermining of their value, being told relentlessly, that if they're not beautiful they have nothing else to offer? How many depressions and suicides has this relentless assault on girlhood and womanhood caused, do you suppose? Do you dare to try to calculate that carnage?

Don't think for a minute that guys avoid this objectification: "Ben was gorgeous and at the top of the food chain in our school. He was the basketball star and every girl's wet-dream." That's a verbatim quote cut and pasted directly from the Kindle app on my phone. I love that Kindle app despite various issues it has. You can't copy text from the Bluefire Reader app on the iPad for quoting.

The characters don't speak realistically. At one point Ember says, "Hide me from whom? What are you talking about?" No one talks like that unless they're nobility, pretentious, or caricatured. Ryan says at one point shortly after this, "There you are. Kennedy and I have been looking for you." Kennedy and I, instead of "We've"? it doesn't happen. The "from whom" comes from an author's knee-jerk desire to try to be taken seriously by offering correct English, but forgetting that this isn't the narrative part, this is character speech, and no one speaks like that. 'Whom' needs to be retired completely from the English language in my opinion, although there are occasional instances where even to me it sounds wrong not to use it, but never in someone's speech. Not unless the character in question is Queen Elizabeth or someone like that.

The story continued to become more clichéd as trope was piled upon trope: Ember has odd eyes, and is tall, long haired, willowy, and no doubt "beautiful", but she's detested by the entire school except for her two trope friends, the guy portion of which is of course, gay. Despite her being reviled, the hottest guy in school falls for her. Despite him falling for her, and his enjoying a god-like status in school, he lifts not one finger to bring an end to the buying she endures. The bullying is torrential, and not a single teacher lifts a single finger to try to stop it. Ember doesn't feel the slightest bit depressed ir suicidal despite this bullying. She doesn't care about the insults to herself but won't have her friends insulted. The hottest cheerleader is her worst enemy and delivers verbal assaults on her worthy of the most moustache-twirling villain in melodrama.

This latter item brings a crisis at the Halloween dance, where Ember has a Carrie moment. The lights break in their tubes. The disco ball crashes to the ground, the decorations go up in flame, the students panic and flee. Ember awakes to find she's alone in the trashed gym, and despite there being EMTs and fire-fighters galore out there, evidently not a single one of them came inside to check for injured, trapped or dead students? I'm sorry but this is bullshit and an insult to emergency services personnel. Le Stupide doesn't end there however.

When Ember wanders outside, determined to find her friends and tell them she's all right (why were they not panicked for her and trying to get back into the gym or urging the emergency response teams to find her?), an EMT immediately takes charge of her to address her 'deep cuts', but as soon as the principal comes up and harasses Ember, the EMT melts away despite not having attended to her injuries? Seriously? Way to demean and insult the EMT. The sheriff is there and both he and the principal blame Ember for this, despite having zero evidence, let alone proof. Ember runs away like a little child (forgetting about meeting up with her friends) and encounters a man with electric blue eyes who speaks in riddles and offers her no explanations for her witchy powers. She's interrupted by Ryan, and Electric Blue Eye Guy disappears like magic.

Ember Brycin and her friends Ryan, and Kennedy. No one in this book has a first name unless it's also a last name - except for Ben - or something weird like Eli Dragen, the hot bad boy. Trope much?

I'm sorry, but this isn't an original novel, not even close. Yes, the minor details are different, the character names are different, but this is essentially the same story that's been told a thousand times before and it's not worthy of being read. Some authors can take cliché and trope and make something truly new out of it, but that's not what's delivered here. I cannot recommend this one.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos by James Marshall


Rating: WORTHY!

The world of zombies is real, but we know nothing of it because the zombies have an alliance with the supernatural people, such as fairies and centaurs, who clean up after the zombies and keep them hidden from the humans. In return, the zombies agree not to stage any rampages, and to keep their carnal pleasures down to a reasonable amount. This bites, but they now must focus their lack of attention only on people who genuinely want to embrace the zombie death-style. No problem there.

Buck Burger, however, is a depressed zombie. He hates the wife-style, especially when she catches him cleaning up. She’s disgusted by this and nags him to be all he can zombie. It’s a great life in the harmful. She wants to go to counselling with him just as all her friends are doing. Buck gets a prescription from his zombie doctor for his condition, and has it filled by the fairy pharmacist, whom he befriends. Though he’s winging it more than she is, he’s in awe of her élan vital, her perfection and cleanliness, and the fact that she can feel through her skin. Little does he know that the albinos, who control 90% of your average zombie’s brain and who, in favoring ordered chaos over zombie mayhem, have a far-reaching plan. Buck is going to be an integral part of it. He’s the kind of zombie who has no balls, but grew some (this pun is dedicated to Aimee, purger of puns by appointment to her major jesting Queen).

Despite the fact that I fell in love with the title, I wasn’t sure I would like this when I first began reading it. There is a previous volume to this, set in the same world, but not necessarily featuring all the same characters, and a similar sequel. I am interested in reading both of them now. I had not read the first volume, however (never having heard of it), and did not need to have done so in order to enjoy this, but this particular volume got its teeth into me and would not let go. The writing is really good – if you’re willing to ignore the fact that the author is yet another who employs staunch when he means stanch. Apart from that, his writing style in some ways reminds me of Jasper Fforde, so if you like the latter and also like zombies, especially humorous ones, then there’s a good chance you’ll like this.

The novel flagged a bit in the middle but came back strongly and kept my interest. Overall I rate it a worthy read.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

iZombie Repossession by Chris Roberson


Title: iZombie Repossession
Author: Chris Roberson
Publisher: Warner Bros
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Michael Allred
Colors by Laura Allred
Guest art by J Bone and Jim Rugg.

The morons at Barnes & Noble have this listed as iZombie Repossessed. Unless they changed the name for the ebook, it's actually 'Repossession'. I try to support B&N because they're one of the few large presences capable of standing up to Amazon, but they need to get their act together or even they will be going the way of the small independent book stores (remember those?). Amazon isn't any better in this case. They have it listed exactly the same way. They're morons, too. Its right there on the cover, guys; you know, the cover you're using to illustrate the book for sale? Maybe you should buy this from your local comic book store? Of course they don't have the ebook, but if the ebook is too small to read, then what's the point?

This one rips off so many things it's almost unreal. The band Ghost Dance is taken from real life band Hawkwind, and Adam Morlock is the novelist is Michael Morcock who had close ties to the band.

Strider is really nothing more than the Silver Surfer as depicted in the Fantastic Four movie Rise of the Silver Surfer. That said, this entire series has been an homage to fifties horror movies, and to golden age comic book culture, so no harm no foul here.

This volume is the fattest of the series and it brings all the story arcs to a conclusion. Again the art work and coloring are top notch. The story just flies (not 'lifes', as my spell-checker thinks my klutzy fingers were trying to type!). Spot meets Gavin, who is Gwen's brother, and the two fall in love, but Gavin is possessed, so there are issues there. the Dead Presidents are working with the corporation, and with whole of Eugene Oregon is under martial law.

Galatea's plan starts coming to fruition on top of a hill outside of town, while Ellie and her zombie/vampire boyfriend find and free Spot who Amon was trying to sacrifice to free the world from Galatea's plan. But what about the brain in the coffee maker and the Russian zombie?

So as Amon's once-a-year liaison with his were-leopard wife is passing before he can avail himself of it, (shades of the 1985 movie Ladyhawke) monsters start appearing all over town, coming from an ever enlarging rift, and Amon teaches Gwen that though her sacrifice, the rift can be healed and everyone saved. Maybe Gwen has her own ideas about that. I thoroughly recommend this series and I also recommend the TV version, which is very different from the series and in my opinion, better.

iZombie Six Feet Under and Rising by Chris Roberson


Title: iZombie Six Feet Under and Rising
Author: Chris Roberson
Publisher: Warner Bros
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez and Michael Allred
Colors by Laura Allred.

Guest artist J Stephens.

I notice that B&N in its klutziness describes Gwen as a detective. No she isn't! She's a grave digger! B&N is referencing the TV show, not the graphic novel with that idea, and even in the TV show she isn't a detective per se. The TV show is great, but please don't confuse the two!

This comic picks up the slack left by volume two, which was less than stellar, but still a worthy read especially as part of this complete series with orange juice, eggs, bacon, toast, marmalade, coffee and that other thing which I always forget.

The vamps, having lost one of their number to Galatea, recruit a new member. Meanwhile, Lewis and Clark - or is it Horatio and Diogenes? - are separated because the latter has to go off somewhere and do something. Gwen starts to get the idea that Amon is up to something that's not exactly going to benefit her, and we meet the Dead Presidents, with names like Nixon, Ford, and Kennedy. Ford died relatively recently of course but Nixon has been dead since 1974.

It's not that these people look anything like their names. The names seem to be random, but these people are not your usual government agents. One of them, Madison, is a were something, who looks cool in both were and human form. Another, Kennedy, is a sentient zombie just like Gwen - which opens up another story arc - and the third is...I have no idea what Nixon is. He has some sort of ghost-being which comes out of his belly when he gets annoyed or feels threatened.

These people do not get along with Diogenes and Horatio or anyone from the private corporation for which they work. Meanwhile Claire, the vamp who is now working for Galatea, and who her old vamp friends think is dead, has fallen for the creature Galatea is creating for use in her own private project, thus opening-up an amusing love triangle with ghost Eleanor, who also likes him. Spot the were terrier gets trapped underground with a zombie hoard, and Dixie from the diner proves her mettle.

Once again the bizarre twists and takes on paranormal tropes in this series are what makes the series so specials. The art work and coloring are wonderful. I recommend this volume and the rest of the series.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

iZombie U Vampire by Chris Roberson


Title: iZombie U Vampire
Author: Chris Roberson
Publisher: Warner Bros
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Michael Allred
Colors by Laura Allred.

This story felt a bit flat for me when it began. Scott, the were-terrier gives us a boring back story about his grandfather, who raised him. There was a falling out and then gramps died - your usual crap. The twist here is that gramps's over-soul comes back and ends up inside a chimpanzee, which Scott "liberates" from the zoo and then takes home with him. Gramps isn't appreciative. This particular story was boring and not even funny, but later it did take an interesting turn.

On the Gwendolyn side, Gwen starts dating one of the vampire hunters, which is also, as it happens, boring. The one interesting thread is the arrival of Galatea, from Amon's past! She takes control of the vampire babe she resurrected. Once Amon, the local mummy, discovers she's in town, he starts to get very, very nervous indeed. I liked Galatea. She's rather like the mad scientist here, with her vampire Igor assistant. That part was really quite entertaining.

The one thing which really stands out for me in this series, and which I appreciated very much, was the oddball interactions between the different supernatural characters. I think you can really do well writing if you invent some really cool characters, especially if they're supernatural, give them their own life, back-story and motivations, and then place them randomly together and see how they play off each other. If you do that well enough, you won't need a plot because one will blossom out of these interactions.

It's worth keeping that in mind if you're trying to come up with a plot for your novel. Come up with characters instead, and the hell with a plot. Make the characters real (that is, real within their own context), make them interact in real-life situations (again for their own context), and you'll get your story. Think about it - no one plots life, yet when people from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of personalities get together and beginning playing off each other, life happens and goes to totally unexpected places. Your novel will, too, graphic or otherwise.

Another character I really liked in this volume was Eleanor, the ghost. Ellie had a lot of independence. Before, it seemed like she was almost Gwen's shadow, not even having an existence apart from her zombie friend, but here, she starts to get a life, plus we get some back story from her which is a lot more interesting than Scott's. Although I started this not very much moved by it, I left it really looking forward to reading the next volume.

iZombie Dead to the World by Chris Roberson


Title: iZombie Dead to the World
Author: Chris Roberson
Publisher: Warner Bros
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Michael Allred
Colors by Laura Allred.

This novel is gorgeously illustrated by Michael Allred with awesome coloring by Laura Allred. At the Comic Vine website, Laura is listed as the wife of Michael in the lead-in blurb. Michael isn't listed as the husband of Laura. Shame of comic vine for their genderism in indicating that Laura is really a chattel. I think I am going to have to quit using those guys as a link for writers and artists in graphic novels.

This is the first of four in a series that was pretty awesome. I am not typically a fan of series, but I got into reading this because I first watched the TV show, which is completely awesome. I was initially disappointed in the comic because they changed a heck of a lot for the TV show and I really liked that, but the comic grew on me as I read it and now I am a fan of this, too. Volume two dropped a bit and was not quite up to par for me, but three and four came roaring back so I recommend the whole thing.

There were some issues with it, nevertheless. For example, in this series, Gwen (who is Olivia in the TV show) is not a doctor who conveniently now works the medical examiner's office, but is working on a crew of grave diggers. She doesn't live with a room mate, but in a crypt in the graveyard, and she isn't in touch with her family or her old boyfriend. Nor does she work with a cop pretending to be a psychic to solve murders.

Everyone she knew in her old life thinks she's dead. Her grave is right there in the graveyard. For me the TV scenario was smarter. It's highly unlikely they would have four people working in a cemetery digging graves full time. Don't they have one guy with a little backhoe working part time these days? The expense of having four people would be way too high. OTOH, this is comic book fiction, so I guess we shouldn't expect too much realism.

There are two detectives (after a fashion) in this novel, though. They work for a private corporation, and are pursuing an investigation into certain mysterious events in this city (Eugene, Oregon), and at one crime scene, one of them takes Polaroid pictures. The image shows him waving the picture back and forth to "dry" it, but unless it's a really antique black and white original Polaroid, there's nothing to dry. The newer Polaroid pictures were sealed, so shaking one of those doesn't do anything except maybe risk damaging the developing picture. It certainly won't dry it, but maybe this guy spends so much time sitting on his ass that he got a bad case of Polaroids?

I noted the phrase, "To meet whom?" which is grammatically correct, but once again I have to say I think this form is antique and should be abolished. No one uses it in speech any more unless they're trying to be pretentious, or unless they're an English teacher, and even then I suspect it's rarely used. If it's not part of modern, everyday speech, which this isn't, it's time to let it go in our writing, too. Authors tend to make the mistake of not only writing it in their narrative to show how educated and accomplished they are, but they also put it into the mouths of their characters and make them unrealistic by doing so. BTW, did you know it's The Whom's 50th touring anniversary this year...?

On the good side (and purely in the context of the novel), they had this really interesting explanation for ghosts and other supernatural creatures which was rooted in Egyptian mythology. I don't know if this is true of the ancient Egyptians or not, but the narrator in the story was talking about how they believed in several different kinds of soul. They believed in what he termed an over-soul, which resided in the mind and was more rational and analytical, and an under-soul which resided in the heart, and was much more emotional.

The character said that when the over-soul is freed from the corporeal body, it becomes a ghost, but when the under-soul is so freed, it becomes a poltergeist. When the body dies, but the over-soul remains, it becomes a vampire, and when the same thing happens but the under-soul remains, it becomes a zombie. I thought that was pretty cool.

The character, Amon, goes on to explain that when the over-soul gets into someone else's body, they're deemed to be possessed. If an animal under-soul gets into your body, then you become a werewolf or were-whatever-the-animal-was. If you die but both souls remain in your body, you become a revenant, and he was telling Gwen, that this is what she is, so she's not actually a true zombie. This begs the question as to why Gwen is behaving like a zombie, craving brains, and worrying about losing her memories if she doesn't eat brains routinely.

Like I said, I recommend this novel and the following three.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky


Title: Utopia, Iowa
Author: Brian Yansky
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Rating: WARTY!

I went to Iowa once. There's nothing there. Funnily enough, I had the same experience with this novel! My first mistake was in failing to notice that the main character's name was Jack. I've sworn-off reading any more novels which feature someone with that name as a main character. The name is so clichéd as to be pathetic and I denounce all writers who resort to this tired and threadbare trope.

Seriously, how many young adults do you know or have ever even heard of who are named Jack? I know there must be some out there, but nowhere near enough to merit the bizarre prevalence given to this name in stories, particularly adventure stories. Any writer who is so lazy and/or unimaginative and/or clueless enough that they employ this name deserves to be completely ignored! This novel proves it!

I read the blurb (not nearly closely enough as it happened) on my library's website, and it sounded interesting, so I clicked on the library's hold feature and eventually picked it up. That's when I discovered that it's a first person PoV story, which is another huge no-no for me.

1PoVs are routinely impractical, often nonsensical, and typically self-limiting in everything except the main character's own sense of self-importance, that they're honestly not worth reading. Once in a while a writer comes along who can make one work. Those are the very rare exceptions which test the rule.

That said, I had the book in hand and was tired of the previous volume I'd been reading, so I thought, "What the hell; let's give it a go!" I made it to the end of chapter one before I had to call the doctor for a fresh prescription of promethazine, my nausea was so high. This guy - the main character - I refuse to use his name - is supposedly a screen-writer wannabe who, I've noted in the reviews of others, shows absolutely no interest in actually writing a screenplay. Nothing new there.

The closest he gets to it is larding-up his self-obsessed memoir with brief movie references (title, writer, stars). Every. Single. Time. He. Mentions A. Movie - or part of a scene from one. Yeah, just like that. After the second one of these I'd reached my maximal satiation point and was looking for a vomitorium so I could purge. The first of these references is at the beginning of his second paragraph the last of them is on the penultimate page of the novel, so you know the whole thing is completely clogged with these pointless references.

It's a big mistake for a writer to think his readers have coincident interests with himself and/or will thank him profusely for bloating his novel with his own personal passions, pastimes and pursuits. It's because of all these things and the writing style that I cannot recommend this, but again I read only chapter one, although that was more than enough to put me off this writer permanently. You may get to chapter two or beyond and decide you love it. Good luck with that.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin


Title: Cycler
Author: Lauren McLaughlin
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WARTY!

This is a story about Jill and Jack, and yes, I know I said I'd sworn off novels which feature a main character named Jack because it's such an abysmally clichéd name, this one was different enough that I let it under the wire.

The deal is that Jill and Jack are the same person, and no, it's not what you think. Jill McTeague isn't transgendered - not in the way you normally think of it. Whereas most females eventually begin undergoing an inconvenience, or a highly troublesome, or even a downright painful "time of the month", none of them have anything on Jill. Once a month, for four days, she literally turns into a male - who has taken the name Jack.

Yes, I hadn't read anything quite like this before, either, which is why I took it on, despite it being both first person PoV, usually a no-no for me, and had a main character named Jack, also a no-no for me.

I have to say, though, that I had some really mixed feelings about this novel, loving some of it and hating other parts. The book hasn't been a particularly big seller, but it has already been optioned for a movie, believe it or not. It just goes to show that you never really know where your novel may end up no matter how oddball or idiosyncratic you might think it is. WRITE IT ANYWAY!

Even though I didn't like Jack, I felt bad for him because he's confined to the house for the four days he shows up, and he lives in fear of being somehow erased by Jill, so his initial unsavory character softens slightly over time, especially when he realizes he's fallen for Jill's best friend. The problem is that he turns out to be precisely the kind of 'Jack' I detest in novels, particularly YA novels.

The hope I had for how this novel might play was quickly dashed. It went in a different, although initially interesting direction. On that score - on having a very rare bisexual character in a YA novel - major kudos to the author. The problem was that the author really blew it on handling how this character was dealt with - and she blew it in several different directions. More like vomited it really.

Jill and her friend Daria Benedetti, and best friend Ramie Boulieaux (yeah, I know) are working on Jill's plan to get Tommy Knutson (or Tommy Knutsack as Jack refers to him - Jack can access Jill memories, but not the other way around) to ask her to the prom. Her plan is completely stupid, so this was a bit of a downer for me. I don't like female main characters to be dumb-asses or shallow - unless, of course, they rise above it as the novel progresses. Nor do I like stories which repeatedly tell us how smart the female character is, yet consistently depict her as being boning-fido stupid! Jill obsessed more and more on the shallow as the story went along instead of wise-ing-up, unfortunately.

I really like the author's writing style, so it was hard to actually drop the novel. Usually when something starts going downhill like this, I have no problem dropping it and moving on to something else, but the more this went on, the more curious I became about where the author thought she was trying to take it. The writing itself wasn't god-awful, only the main characters, and since it was short and I could already see some changes dawning in Jack's personality, I decided to run with it, but in doing so, I really felt betrayed by the author.

My first really big problem (other than how stereotypically gross Jack was depicted as being), was when Jill and Tommy had their first real conversation. Right up front, Tommy brought up the fact that he is bi. Yes, you can argue that it's commendable he wanted her to know the truth and was being up front with her, but it was out of place and for more than one reason.

First of all, it's not like they were in imminent danger of having sex at that moment - far from it, so it didn't seem like his honesty fit the requirement. They were not even dating, nor was it certain that they would, so sexual history was hardly on the cards. Jill wasn't even looking for a date per se, only for an escort to the prom.

Let's look at it this way for a moment: suppose instead of telling her he was bisexual, he had told her that he liked girls with different colored hair from Jill. Suppose he said, "I usually like brunettes, but a lot of the time I like blondes, too!"? See how nonsensical that sounds? Who cares? And why raise this?

The way it was brought up here was that it made it sound like Tommy was going to date Jill, but he also wanted to be free to date guys at the same time. Who would countenance that? Well, some people might, but typically not. If he was going to be faithful to her during the time they dated, then who gives a shit who he liked to date before, or who he might date afterwards?

This whole thing made it sound like, yeah, I really want to go steady with you, but occasionally I plan on popping out and having a guy on the side. Seriously? It was just so badly-handled, which actually made it stand out like a sore thumb given that the rest of the writing was entertaining (if a bit dumb here and a bit gross there).

In some ways this made the whole thing homophobic: like, hey, I'm bi, so I might have aids. Well guess what, anyone might have aids, straight, gay or bi. It's irrelevant in and of itself! And it would remain irrelevant until and unless they planned on having sex, in which case their sexual history is important regardless of whether they're gay, straight, or anywhere in between.


So I did not get this approach at all. It was rendered in an especially bad light when Jill was grossed out by Tommy's revelation! If Jill had been a prudish, closed-minded person, then I could see her reacting like this, but she was not, and this Jill, recall, was someone who changed into a horny guy for four days a month - a guy for whom she had talked her mother into procuring porn. Why wouldn't she be completely thrilled to find a potential partner who was bi?! It made no sense at all.

One other issue with the writing was the aggravating over-use of two words: "deeply", and "mal". It was like at least one appeared on every page, and sometimes the same one would appear two or three times in as many lines. It was really annoying. Please don't try to be hip unless you're cool!

Jack, as I mentioned, was a disappointment. At first I thought he couldn't be as bad as Jill painted him. The novel opens as she "returns" from a four-day spell as Jack, and she makes him sound atrociously bad. He was actually worse than she makes him sound. Once he decides he has the hots for her best friend, he sneaks out of the house and stalks Ramie, spying on her in her room (from up on the roof, through her dormer window), and at one point is preparing to masturbate while spying on her, until he falls off the roof. He gets rewarded for this by Ramie inviting him into her room soon after, for a kissing and feel-up session on her bed. This was not acceptable to me. I had the hope, initially, that he would really turn himself around, but he just got worse, and he was obnoxious to begin with.

So what the heck was it that appealed to me about the writing, if I found so much to dislike? I'm glad you asked, but I'm not sure I can give you a satisfactory answer! The writing style was just my kind of style. It was a comfortable an easy read for me, with some amusing situations and some hilarious observations scattered through it, all of which really hit my funny bone, but that was canceled out, I'm sorry to say, by the extreme dumb-assery going on.

It was this, the general tone and pace, and the banter and dialog, which appealed to me and made me continue with this much longer than I would have done had this same story had a poorer way with words. Plus, as I mentioned, I was really curious to know how this author was going to handle this story, especially given where she'd taken it so far. Maybe I just wanted to know how she would dig herself out of the holes she had so blithely opened up! The problem is that the author didn't go anywhere with it. It turns out this is just the prologue. The second act comes in volume two. I felt robbed at that point.

In the end, it was the stark gender segregation and utterly insensitive stereotyping which killed this for me: that Jill is the ultimate in mindless, girlie-girl femininity, whereas Jack is the sex-crazed closet rapist, and neither has the first clue about the other despite quite literally sharing mind and body. I cannot in good conscience recommend this, and I shall not be reading the sequel, 'hilariously' titled (re) cycler.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness





Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Publisher: Viking
Rating: WARTY!

This is volume 1 of the All Souls Trilogy, but after starting this, I was forced to conclude that it ought to be the Ass-hat Trilogy. This is a DNF review because this novel was too tedious to finish. Deborah Harkness is a professor of history at USC, and I'm guessing that she had the idea for this novel when she was researching a scholarly work she had written shortly before she wrote this novel. She starts out with Doctor Diana Bishop, a witch who has rejected her heritage which was passed on to her by her parents, two supposedly powerful witches who should never have procreated, some said. They were right. Her parents died in Africa, but we're given no details; nor are we really informed as to why Bishop has so whole-heartedly rejected witchcraft, but she stubbornly resists it and did not knowingly employ it to get herself into the position she's in; she did that entirely through her own smarts and hard work. She does allow herself an odd spell here and there in an emergency or when she's tired, but she severely restricts herself.

Note that I have no more nor less respect for Wicca than I do for any other religion - they're all nuts as far as I'm concerned, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a good supernatural romp. It's all fiction isn't it?!

The novel begins with Diana in an Oxford university library, opening an ancient manuscript written by Elias Ashmole, who died in 1692. There's a problem in that the manuscript's title is in English, which IMO is highly unlikely given that scholarly treatises were routinely written in Latin in that day and age. For example, Isaac Newton was a contemporary of Ashmole, but his classic work wasn't called "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" (as such), it was titled Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. OTOH, Harkness is the scholar, not me, so maybe Ashmole did write in English.

The real problem here is with the plotting. Bishop is purportedly a PhD who is something of an expert on ancient manuscripts. So how in hell did she come to request Ashmole 782, which has long been known to be missing - for one hundred and fifty years, so Harkness tells us? Surely someone of Bishop's stature would know it was missing and that it would, therefore, be foolish to request it? This makes no sense whatsoever, and again, it's an example of a writer not thinking about what they're writing.

Bishop is immediately aware that there is magic embedded in the manuscript, but she doesn't allow herself to indulge in it, studying its condition and layout carefully in a purely scholarly manner, and returning it to the desk with undue speed without really reading it! The next day in the library, she meets a vampire, Matthew Clairmont. Yep - it didn’t take long to introduce the studly YA trope guy, even though this isn't a YA novel. He's tall and muscular, and good looking, of course - oh, and he watches her sleep. Clairmont is a professor at Oxford University, which is where Bishop is visiting. Evidently vampires are scientists in this world, and demons are the celebrities and rock stars!

Now here's a thing that I find absolutely hilarious in these vampire stories: every one of them typically has a really old vampire and contrary to human life, the oldest guy is the most powerful, and the trope is that he's tall and muscular, but the problem here is that people historically were short compared with us. This wasn't a universal rule; there were some tall people in history, but in general everyone was short. So how is it that the oldest vampires are universally tall? It's nonsense, and it is one more example of writers simply not thinking before they write. They really don't place the vampire in context. They just invent him out of nothing and never honestly consider the consequences of his origins, which is ironic, because origins is precisely what this novel is all about!

Clairmont knows who Bishop is, claiming to have read several of her works, and he invites her to dinner, She declines. That's when he watches her sleep: he's after the manuscript she had examined the previous day, and for no reason other than that it gave him a chance to watch her sleep, he convinces himself that she had this irreplaceable manuscript with her at home. He stands watching her snoring on her settee, remarking on how unusual it is for a witch to pulsate with light like she does, and he leaves when he realizes the script must be still at the library. But he never breaks into the library to try and find it! Clairmont is a moron.

I had thought I might have trouble with this novel when I began it, since it's far more of a tome than a novel - striking out strongly for six hundred pages of closely-spaced typeface, and although parts of it were interesting and easy reading, it became increasingly tedious, the deeper I went into it. I seriously have to question my unerring ability to select novels narrated in the first person present. I really don't like such volumes, and yet I seem to find myself frequently picking them up because the blurb interests me, only to later discover the tense and person - tensely and in person! It seems that the bulk of this particular tome is to be first person present, but some of it is third person, such as the part which describes Clairmont's visit to Bishop's home (actually "rooms" she's staying in at the college). Evidently vampires in this novel do not need to be invited in.

I also came across an interesting writing problem - how do you deal with words which are broken and hyphenated over two lines when the word itself contains a hyphen?! Harkness used the word 'to-dos' (as in 'to do list'), but it was broken between one line and the next, making it look like the word was 'todos' (almost the same as the Spanish for 'all' in the plural) and had merely had the hyphen show up artificially because of the line break. It was actually confusing for a second before I realized what the word was supposed to be - but how to avoid that problem? And is it a problem or am I just being anal about the English language? Hey, this is a writing blog: I’d be delivering less than I promised if I didn’t obsess over these issues, now wouldn't I?!

Bishop goes rowing to relieve stress, but she takes out a single scull which is less than 12 inches wide! It would seem that it's tailored to someone suffering from anorexia, not for a healthy and physically fit young woman. I know those boats are deliberately narrow, but the immediate impression this gave to me (rightly or wrongly, misunderstood or not) was that Bishop was unnaturally thin! This is an area where the writing might have been a little better planned IMO! But maybe it's just me?!

Back to the story! So Bishop claims she knows nothing about vampires, but she actually knows a lot, and was friendly with a vampire scientist in Geneva. She discovers that Clairmont is predictably protecting her. At that point I was reduced to hoping that this novel would not be yet another tale ostensibly about a strong female protagonist, but who in the end turns out to be nothing more than another weak women who desperately needs a powerful man to shelter her. My hopes were forlorn.

Bishop finds herself being stalked by vampires, wizards, witches and demons. Why the men are sometimes described as wizards rather than witches goes unexplained. It’s obviously the genderist Harry Potter factor leaking in. Clairmont tells her that it's because of the manuscript and Bishop's personal power that these people are drawn to her. One day when at lunch, she's visited by an Australian demon called Agatha Wilson, a woman who is supposedly a fashion designer. Then she disappears and we hear nothing from her (at least as far as I read). She bemoans the sad lot demons have to endure - unpredictably born of human parents, who often reject and abandon them. They have no heritage and no status, as witches and vampires do. She begs Bishop to share the content of the manuscript if she ever takes possession of it again, and Bishop agrees.

Clairmont invites her to a yoga class with him, and it's held in a sixteenth century manor out in the country - a manor which Bishop discovers was built by Clairmont, proving that he's at least five hundred years old (he's actually more than a thousand years old). The class is run by an Indian witch named Amira, and is, to Bishop's surprise, attended by vampires, witches and demons - and no humans. It's a pleasant change for her to be surrounded by these people and not feel under pressure or threatened as she has been when bugged by them in the library. What the point was of this is a complete mystery (as least for the first two hundred pages), since this yoga and fellowship never enters into the story.

Harkness unaccountably and repeatedly makes a distinction between "human" and witch/vampire/demon. Given that demons are born of humans, and given that vampires are fully human right up until that fatal bite, and that witches are human, period, I don’t get what she thinks she's distinguishing here. It could have been addressed with more clarity and/or better writing. Later Harkness tries to address this with allusions to mutations and chromosomal differences, but the 'explanations' are confused at best and silly at worst.

I gave Harkness the benefit of the doubt regarding whether Ashmole wrote in English or in Latin, but I guarantee you that Miryam, sister of Moshe (whom you might know as Mary, sister of Moses) did not write poetry in English! Even if we're expected to understand that the poetry was very loosely translated, Miryam did not have a modern concept of hours, and I'm guessing she had no idea what a chain was, so the poem makes no sense. As with so many Biblical characters, the name we know them by today wasn't the name they were originally given in Biblical fiction; neither Miryam nor Moshe were Hebrew names. The whole story is probably of Egyptian origin, not Hebrew. What is interesting is that Matthew has a vampire friend Miriam, who is helping him to bodyguard Bishop. Nothing is said about whether she's the Miryam who supposedly wrote that poem!

That's actually part of the problem: Nothing is said. We learn much about Bishop and Clairmont, but nothing about any other character. It’s like the rest of the cast is merely a sounding board to amplify the voice of the two main characters, which means this is a bit one-dimensional. We’ve met a witch called Gillian who seems furious with Bishop for no good reason. We meet Peter Knox, a very powerful witch who wants to get his hands on the manuscript, like everyone else. He tries to warn bishop off Clairmont.

Harkness would have us believe that Diana Bishop is a descendant of Bridget Bishop, the first so-called witch to be executed during the Salem witch trials, but Bridget was a Playfer before she was a Bishop, and she did not become a Bishop until her third marriage, which took place when she was in her mid-fifties. It was highly unlikely that there were any offspring from that marriage. If Diana is descended from one of her previous marriages (which did bear offspring), then why the fuss about her 'Bishop' name? Again, it's poor writing which makes no sense.

The love between Diana and Matthew grows predictably (no surprises there at all), but the sad thing is that once again we find ourselves in a story written by a woman, yet which revolves around a man subjugating/dominating/protecting a woman. Diana is scared and this is why she's attaching herself to him. She keeps making the claim that she can look after herself, but that claim is betrayed by her every action. And this is yet another novel where two characters need to exchange information - indeed, one of them wishes urgently to do so - yet they put off the exchange again and again! That's sad writing, but occasionally Harkness does offset this clunkiness with unintentional humor, like where she gives an initial impression that the rowing dock house is actually the striped color of the scarf which Matthew is wearing!

At about one-third the way through this novel, it became too tedious, repetitive, and boring. We continued to be treated (not really the right word, but nauseated seems cruel) to Bishop's 'dear diary' which consists of nothing more interesting than monotonous tales of her morning rowing, her pushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear (I'm not joking! The number of times this is brought up is laughable). She continues to visit the library where she tries, and fails this time, to get her hands on that manuscript. She's told that it has been missing for a century and a half, but she doesn't have the elementary smarts to have them look up her previous call slip and verify that she was delivered the manuscript! And that's it. Nothing else happens for insipid page after tiresome page after wearisome page, and I have other intriguing books waiting in the wings for this one to actually go somewhere, which it strongly promises not to do.

Matthew is cloyingly close, and other demons and witches show up at the library, vaguely threatening Bishop, and in the case of Knox, overtly so. Once again she betrays her claim to being able to take care of herself when someone leaves a plain brown envelope at the porter's lodge, evidently a joint effort between Knox and Gillian. She picks it up and opens it to find a color photograph of her parent's dead bodies, her mother broken, her father disemboweled, with his head stoved in. I guess they weren't such powerful witches after all.

Despite the fact that this occurred some two decades ago, Bishop is rendered into a jellyfish. I found that unbelievable given what we'd so far been told. It seemed to me to be yet another assault on a woman by a woman! At this point, Clairmont effectively takes Bishop hostage, refusing to take no for an answer, and eventually she lets herself be subjugated to this brute of a control freak, takes his sedative pills and passes out.

So first they decide to go to Africa where her parents were killed, then they decide to go to Paris where Clairmont has an ancient manuscript (why? who knows!); then we're treated to several tedious pages of Clairmont's ancient history extolling his virtues in 1777. Yawn. We also learn that this control maniac is not going to inform Bishop of the results of her DNA test (run to see where she stood in the hierarchy of witches). It was at that point I decided I no longer had any interest whatsoever in this tedious tale, and especially not when it more than likely involves reading another four hundred pages of dreary drivel of this nature. This is a definite warty.