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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Andrew Bromfield, and read beautifully by Cassandra Campbell, who at least in this novel has one of the most charming and captivating voices I've ever heard, especially when she does the Russian accent. I have a feeling that if I had read this rather than had Cassandra Campbell read it to me, I might not have liked it quite so much, but this audiobook pulled me in almost from the first word even though it's not my usual cup of tea.

I'm not given to reading werewolf (or shapeshifter novels) for one thing, and neither am I a great fan of social commentary novels, and this was both), but I find something very intriguing about a werefox story, and in this particular case, I felt almost like the leading lady had used her magical hypnotic werefox powers successfully on me!

It was not all smooth-riding. Sometimes it felt a bit like the author was a little too pleased with himself, and sometimes it felt like this was a guy writing from a female perspective (which it was of course!), but for me those were so mild that they were never really an issue. Truth be told, I hope authors are pleased with themselves, because writing a novel is a lonely, intensive, and all-too-often thankless pursuit, and it bears a certain amount of self-satisfaction to have completed one, even if it's one not destined for stardom.

I read some negative reviews of this to see if I'd missed anything, but I was more impressed by what those negative (and all other reviews that I read) had evidently missed: the light treatment of a rape scene. No one mentioned that at all, which was truly disturbing.

I think if a woman had written this, we would have had a different sort of novel, but whether it would have made for a better or worse read, I can't say. Here's the rub though: if a man writes and makes the woman too much like him, he's accused of writing about a man and pretending she's a woman (man-with-tits syndrome), whereas if he makes the woman more traditionally feminine, he's accused of making her traditionally feminine! You can't win, so my advice to men writing about women and women writing about men is full speed ahead and damn the slings and arrows of outraged readers. You can't write for everybody, and most of the time you can reliably write only for yourself.

The werefox is named A Hu Li, the pronunciation of which is apparently, in Russian, an insult along the lines of 'go have sex with yourself'. Though she's Chinese, she hasn't lived in China in several hundred years, so I found it a bit short-sighted that this author was accused in one review of being mistaken in putting her last name (Hu Li) last. On the other hand, if she's not human (she's a werefox who looks like a young Chinese woman despite being two millennia old), then why would she look Chinese? This isn't explained in this novel.

Frankly, the Asians annoy me because they tend to look so young when they're really much older(!), so this discrepancy didn't bother me, but this nationality issue is one of several that went unexplored, which annoyed me even more than young-looking-but-really-not-Asians, but because the author explored so many things (and amusingly so for me), I was willing to let other things go unexplained.

Besides, she's a werefox who can change her appearance to some extent. When she becomes foxy, she typically doesn't change her appearance into that of a fox. Her only unchangeable attribute is her tail, which can change impressively, but only in size. It cannot disappear, so she has to keep it well-hidden to pass as a human.

A, who has sisters who all evidently sport names starting with English alphabet vowels (Russian has vowels, and more than in English: а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю, и, but we don't see any names prefixed with those). Doubtlessly Chinese has vowels too, but I'm not remotely qualified to get into that. Besides, this is set in Russia where she's lived for at least two centuries, so it's really disingenuous to look outside that nation for explanations or cultural attributes.

Additionally, this was an English translation of the Russian, so maybe the vowels were translated too! We hear about her sisters occasionally, and they're just as interesting as she is, but given the werefoxes apparently cannot reproduce, how they are sisters is another thing which slipped by unexplained. Maybe all werefoxes consider themselves sisters even though they really have no gender. They just look like women; they really aren't women. Or men. But given their lack of reproductive organs, their entire existence is unexplained. They are supernatural creatures though, so I let that go, too.

A is nominally a prostitute living in modern Moscow, and preying on her clients for the energy they release during sex, which is collected in her tail. I thought this was hilarious given that one abusive term for women (at least in English) is 'tail'. This tail is ostensibly a curiously masculine organ, since it become erect (after a fashion: enlarging and 'pluming out'), but given that the penis is really just an enlarged and slightly re-purposed clitoris, it's not masculine at all when you, so to speak, get right down to it.

She uses her tail to send hypnotic suggestions to her client, making him (or her, lesbians apparently love werefoxes) believe they're having sex with her when they're really just masturbating and she's sitting off to one side reading books by Stephen Hawking. So she's paradoxically a prostitute and a virgin. Until she meets a werewolf who rapes her. How can he do this when she has no sexual organs? She has a penis catcher which is an extensible pouch underneath her tail and which is there solely for tricking males into thinking they're had penetrative sex with her. This seemed like an oddity to me, but again, she's a supernatural creature, so I didn't worry about it.

It bothered me more how accepting she was of the rape. Not only did she 'get over it' quickly, but she entered into a continuing sexual relationship with her rapist. Again, supernatural creature, but even so it was hard to read and I had mixed feelings about how that rape was depicted and wondered (as I had several times reading this), how it might have been written by a female author. I also wondered if some form of punishment was coming, and for the longest time it did not, but in the end it did, so this lent a form of justice to the horror, although there really is no meaningful justice for rape.

At the same time I tried to keep in mind that neither one, the rapist nor the one who was raped, was human. They were more animal like than human too boot. On top of this (or beneath this if you will), she had no actual sex organs, merely a flexible bag of skin expressly for containing stray penises (or large clitorises, too, I guess). This did not mitigate the rape, but it did put an unusual spin on it.

The two of them are both human-looking (at least the wolf was until he got her scent when she tried to take him to the cleaners), but they're paranormal. She rarely becomes an actual fox, and he becomes a wolf only when sexually aroused (and that;s when he loses control apparently).

This certainly doesn't make rape permissible; nothing does, but I wondered if these supernatural human-animal hybrids viewed what had taken place in a somewhat different light to we humans. Had a woman written this, I think this would have been explored and the reader would have got a lot more form it, but we were left without any exploration of it, and this was the worst aspect of this novel for me. As it was, all we had was a largely barren thought-exercise on how animals behave in the wild. Is there rape in the animal world? Yes. That much is quite clear. How do the animals view it? That's a lot less clear.

That aside, the rest of the story was entertaining and quite fascinating, The werefox was completely entrancing and I enjoyed listening to her and learning about her. The werewolf was pretty much what I expected from a werewolf, and is why I do not find their stories interesting. On the contrary: they're boring, and telling endless more stories about them brings nothing to the table at all. Werewolf story writers need to get out of the fathomless rut they're in, and you can interpret that in any way you like. But I recommend this for the easy story-telling, the fascinating werefox, and the ever-present but very subtle humor.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Jot of Blood by Katherine Bayless


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Don't confuse this author's name with that of dancer Katherine Bailess!

If I'd really been paying attention and properly noted that this was the start of a series (The Coventry Years), I probably would not have requested to review it. I am not a fan of series. Once in a while one comes along that is worth pursuing and I had hoped this would be one, but in general series are very derivative, unimaginative, and often tediously and unnecessarily drawn-out, as this was. Plus it's in first person because, as you must know, it's quite illegal in North America to write a YA novel in any other voice....

I was initially curious about this though, which is why I requested it, but my curiosity was squelched at only five percent in, when I wanted to ditch this thing because of the tired YA clichés with which it was larded. By fifteen percent it was honestly nauseating me because I have read this same sad, stupefyingly simplistic story a score of times, and this author had brought nothing new to it.

It's like there is a certain category of YA author which is devoted to cloning every other YA author, and that's not for me. Maybe there are readers who like that kind of thing, but if there are, I feel bad for them for being in such a rut. I look for the authors who prefer the read less traveled, and who try to bring something original and unique to their audience. OTOH, if you want the same old, warmed-over fare you already were force-fed in the last YA novel you picked up, then this might be for you.

The cloning (such as using Vampire Academy's 'strigoi' liberally, for example), the trope, such as the incipient love triangle, the instadore in Lire's pathetic mooning over Cal, and the truly pathetic main character herself really turned me off. I made it to the end of chapter ten, which was 47% in, and could not bear the thought of reading any further, let alone going through a whole series of this.

It's supposed to be about upper high school kids, but it felt like reading a lower middle-grade story, because these people were so immature and petty. The main character - with the highly unlikely name of Clotilde Devon - goes by 'Lire' for reasons I never understood. The nickname is pronounced 'Leer'. I can understand that.

The Goodreads blurb read, in part, "Adolescence is hard enough, but add magic to the mix and things have a way of getting complicated in a hurry. Even at Coventry Academy, one of the best schools in the world for the magically inclined, some 'gifts' mean nothing but trouble." I didn't get how this was supposed to be the best school. There was nothing in the first fifty percent of the story to indicate that.

Quite the contrary; it seemed like any ordinary high school, but with far more bullying than any ordinary high school would have. The oddest thing though, was that it was so ordinary. Unlike at Hogwarts for example, there were no magical lessons taught here - not even how to control or use your particular skill. That seemed extraordinarily strange (and not Stephen Strange!) to me, so where the 'add magic to the mix' came in is a complete mystery. There was none practiced here.

One reviewer who reviewed this negatively said that "Cal wasn't a typical twilight werewolf", but he was. There was literally nothing new here at all. Cal is your typical trope werewolf and Zach is your typical standard-issue buddy (but more obnoxious). Let's call them what they are: Clone-Wolf and Yuk. Neither of them were remotely interesting except in how obnoxious they were, immediately and repeatedly calling Lire 'princess' for no apparent reason, and randomly tugging on her ponytail again and again for no apparent reason. Lire is such a passive, wet rag that she had can find absolutely no objection to this treatment whatsoever.

Of course Cal is obnoxious towards Lire so she immediately falls for him, and from that point onward, quite literally every other page has an observation from Lire on how muscular he is, how attractive he is, or how good he looks in this outfit or that, or how he couldn't possibly be interested in her. Oh my but how attractive is he? How muscular! How cut and ripped and [insert other destructive adjective perversely intended to indicate perfection] he is! Here's an example: "My heart fluttered, and I immediately wanted to kick myself for it. I wasn't a damsel in distress. I could take care of myself." No, she can't. She's proven this repeatedly by this point, so she's not even honest with herself. Maybe her nickname is really 'Liar'?

This is the asinine love triangle we're presented with, even though there's absolutely no reason whatsoever for Clone-Wolf and Yuk to pal up with her. Of course they do, not because it was going to naturally happen, but because the author insists that it has to happen no matter what.

The bullying in this school is so extreme as to be completely absurd If this had been a parody, it would have been funny, but as it his, quite literally everyone in the school (except for newcomers Clone and Yuk of course) detests Lire. I am not kidding you. She's a complete pariah and she lets us know this routinely, and in first person voice! Frankly, I would have shunned her because she was so nauseatingly whiny, Who cares if she's a clairvoyant? Shes actually more like a bifocal-voyant because she can only whine endlessly about her treatment, or drool endlessly over cal. That's it. That's her entire repertoire.

The Net Galley blurb tells us: "The contents of this book include one surly werewolf, a snarky invisible prankster, and enough indelicate language to make a succubus blush." Really? Indelicate language? No there's none, unless you class "fricking" as indelicate. In short, it's totally unrealistic, No kid in this entire school actually swears, which I took as more evidence that it was aimed at a middle-grade audience.

The writing is often as obnoxious as the characters. There's fat-shaming at merely 2% in: "He'd been three years older and a big fat jerk." Maybe that wasn't meant to be literal, but it was also entirely unnecessary. Lire is supposed to be attending an elite academy and this is the best she can to to express herself? That remedial English level of expression was common. Lire was obnoxious in coming up with an abusive name, on the spot, for anyone she did not like, often in the form of a truly juvenile Mr Mcfartypants (that wasn't one but it's of precisely the same mentality - again, it's middle-grade material). Lire even chortles at one point! No, I am not kidding.

The French! Periodically we got a French lesson with the French phrase followed immediately by the English translation (for example: "Bon, tu m'as compris. Alors, tiens, elles sont à toi." Good, you get me. So, here, they are yours). It was tedious, and especially so for those of us who understand enough French to get the sense of the phrase. Even those who do not, do not need it monotonously and literally spelled out every single time. There are better ways of handling this, and this author seriously needs to find them.

The writing was bad in other ways, such as when I read this: "Total invisibility, including their shadow." Seriously? There are different ways of being invisible, of course, but in a paranormal novel lie this, where it quite literally meant that the character was invisible, of course there's no shadow! How can there be a shadow when there's nothing to block the light? Clearly this concept was sorely lacking some thinking-through.

Another example of poor writing was this: "The car rocked as Dad executed a three-point U-turn. What the...frick (to employ an indelicate word from the book!) is a three-point U-turn? It's either a U-turn or it's a three point turn. It's not both.

Oh, and Lire's two paramours can move at super-speed. This is their secret power. She leaves the cafeteria shortly after they do, all-but sprints to her class, and they still get there before her, and early enough to cause trouble before she arrives. Again, it's not thought through.

This was the problem with this whole book when you get down to it. It could have had the makings of a good story but to get there from here, you'd need to make a 3 point U-turn - the three points being to ditch Lire, Clone, and Yuk. And lose the first person voice. Or give it to a character who would be worth listening to, and who was a whole lot less whiny. Amanda, for example. Now there was an interesting character although the author did a lousy job of giving her any rationale for her behavior.

As it is, this novel is not a worthy read and I cannot recommend it.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire


Rating: WARTY!

I liked the previous novel I read by this author, but this was another failed audiobook which went on too long and was far too rambling to hold my interest. The title was curious. It sounds like one David Weber would have chosen for his Honor Harrington series. Maybe I missed it but I never did figure out how the hell the title fit the story.

There are parts I liked and parts which amused me, but the author got off-topic way too many times and overall, the novel was a drag which I gave up on about two-thirds the way through. She seems to keep forgetting that her detective is supposed to be hunting down a missing teenager.

The novel is also brimming with tired trope and klutzy cliché. I've mentioned oddball names for fictional detectives before, no doubt, but the one in this story almost takes it to another level. She's called October Daye and goes by Toby for short. On the other hand, this isn't your usual detective, since it's a fantasy novel, with fairy characters. Toby herself is half fairy.

But the annoying first person voice is here, which I typically detest, although some writers can make it far less nauseating than others. Here, it wasn't too bad, but I think the reason for that is that it was seriously helped along by Mary Robinette Kowal, who read this book (and who is also an author in her own right), and whose voice I could certainly listen to for a long time without growing tired of it.

That doesn't mean the story didn't drag, and I feel that if I'd been reading a print or ebook, I would have quit it a lot sooner than I did, so this author owes this reader! But Seanan McGuire definitely seems to have a knack for attracting sweet readers to her books. Amy Landon's voice in the previous novel I listened to by this author (a stand-alone titled Sparrow Hill Road, which I rated positively despite the fact that it also dragged here and there) was really easy on the ear, too.

The problem, I felt, was that the author is so enamored of this little world she's created here that she goes off on tangents talking about aspects of it, and she forgets that she's actually supposed to be telling a story and not just describing scenery and character quirks.

I am definitely not one for those kinds of stories, and this is part of a whole series of such stories. In fact, it's number six in a series of thirteen as of this writing, but there was nothing in the blurb to indicate any such thing, which is how I came to read this one first. I'm not a big fan of series, either, and this novel is a great example of why not.

It's technically not necessary to have read the other five before reading this one, since it's a self-contained story, but there's also a history that's referred to often, and there are ongoing story arcs that cover more than one volume, and which meant nothing to me since I was got in on this in the middle.

There were more issues in that Toby was a coffee addict. Barf! Can we not find some new trait to give our first person voice detective? Please? She also had an old car that got damaged, so there really was nothing new here except that it was set in a fairy world rather than the real world, and that simply was not enough to save this poorly-told tale.


Fated by Alyson Noël


Rating: WARTY!

This YA novel should have been titled Ill-fated. It was at least different in that it's about a young female who is on a film shoot in Morocco instead of your usual bratty, or ditzy or sappy high school student and her ridiculous love triangle with the sweet best friend and the new bad boy. Barf. I appreciated that, but the problem is that it soon deteriorated into a clone of every other young adult first person female character novel. Are there no female authors out there writing YA female characters that can actually think for themselves and come up with something original?

I know there are a few - people who are not mindlessly copying very other YA writer and coming out with vomit-inducing bullshit like this:

I shove through the crowd, knocking into girls and bouncing off boys, until one in particular catches me, steadies me.
I feel so secure, so at home in his arms.
I melt against his chest-lift my gaze to meet his. Gasping when I stare into a pair of icy blue eyes banded by brilliant flecks of gold

Yes, it was first person. That's a negative for me ninety nine times out of ten.

But there it is! The inevitable gold flecks in the eyes. If I've read this description of the main male character in a YA novel once, I've read it ten billion, trillion, quadrillion times. That, right there, that alone should be sufficient reason these days to negatively rate a YA novel, and I think from now on I shall make it an automatic negative review for any book I read that contains this asinine cliché of a trope.

And I haven't even started yet on the appallingly abusive habit of these female writers have of rendering their female characters as mere appendages of some manly male lead.

What is wrong with these authors? Do they not have a brain, or do they have one and simply chose to turn it off when they write? Or are they so desperate to sell a book and so lacking in standards that even though they know perfectly well how pathetic it is, they compulsively write a clone of every other YA writer's book - and make series and trilogies out of them because this is what Big Publishing™ demands these days? Just how spineless and incompetent are these YA cloning authors?

Maybe the problem isn't the writers except in that the writers are pandering to a sad readership whose standards are so low they'll read anything from the YA landfill? I read in another reviewer's assessment that at one point, "...despite Daire's protests, Dace is kissing her and has his hands up her shirt. Is this really okay?" I have to tell you that no, it is not okay. It is NEVER okay. Believe it or not, Dace is supposed to be the good guy, and it's an awful abuse of young women to write trash like this.

Alyson Noël and her publisher need to publicly apologize for putting this crap out on the market unless they can demonstrate some important and overriding purpose for it. Again, this alone is sufficient reason to rate this book as garbage - like I needed another one! What's that, four strikes against it already? Reading comments like that one in other reviews makes me glad I ditched both this book and also this author DNF. I'm done reading her inexcusable, sloppily-written, stereotypical, trope-laden, clichéd crap.

I know there are a few good YA writers because I've read the work of some of them. My question is: why are they so very hard to find? Why are so many YA writers such pathetic plagiarists that such a limited number of them can come up with original ideas and original characters and the rest have to essentially steal - or perhaps more charitably, share - their characters in a bland pool with every other female YA writer in a trashy, first-person voice, limp, clingy, female desperately in need of salvation and validation by the gold-flecked male in novels which are indistinguishable from one another because they all tell the same story with barely a twist here and there to differentiate them?

This story begins with Daire Santos. Yes, 'dare' - could it be any more pathetic? She seems to be of Latinx roots, yet exhibits little of them not only in her name but in her entire personality. She experiences a horrible vision of bad things happening. She evidently passes out from this and wakes up to find herself restrained in a bed, with mother there and a doctor on the way because they all think she's had some sort of a psychotic episode. She's quickly bundled-off to stay with her grandmother, Paloma, since Daire-to-be-the-same finds that the least objectionable alternative to being sent to a psychiatric institution, which is her mother Jennika's only other offer. Yes, Jennika - no Latin influence there either.

Here's a third reason: the idea of a modern female character - especially one who has the confidence of hanging around with actors (I had thought Daire herself was an actor originally, but apparently she was only there because her mother is a make-up artist in the movie business) - revisiting the historical but obsolete "traditional female role" of screaming and hysteria, is growing old fast, which is ironic, because the story didn't move fast at all. It's lethargic.

Almost literally nothing happens in this entire volume from what I've seen myself, and from what I've read of others' reviews. And why should it? This isn't a novel. At best it's a prologue; at worst, a preface or an author's note. I don't do prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions or any of that time-wasting (and tree-slaughtering) 'front-matter' crap.

If it's worth reading, then it's worth including in chapter one or later. No, this is a series, so what incentive can the author possibly have to deliver you a decent story in volume one? She can't afford to give you anything, because she has pad this to the max, and to drag it out for god only knows how many volumes before she'll quit taking your money several times over for something that she should have had the common decency to take only once.

The novel became bogged down in several ways and for many non-reasons. One was in the 'traditional native medicine' rip-off: dream catchers, native folklore, herbal remedies and so on. The reason 'alternative medicine' isn't just 'medicine' is because it doesn't work! If it's found to work, then it becomes 'medicine' and you can get it prescribed at any hospital or doctor's office if you're deemed to need it!

No, there is no conspiracy to keep these 'secret' folk remedies out of the hands of the public. The pharmaceutical corporations are far too avaricious and profit-oriented to ignore anything they can make money on, so I'm not a fan of that kind of woo, unless it really makes for a good story, and this one wasn't going anywhere on that insulting, cultural-stereotype-hobbled, tacky tack.

There seemed to be a curious obsession with naming all young male characters with four letter names (and I can see the value in that in some stories!), but here the names seemed to all have a letter 'A' as the second letter, and an 'E' as the final letter, so we met Vane, Cade, and Dace, and so on (Cade and Dace are the good-evil twins, while Vane - and to be honest, I can't speak to the spelling since this was a audiobook - was Daire's actor 'friend'). It was weird, although I do admit to finding some amusement in the fact that Vane was the star in this movie they were making. For all I know, maybe his name was actually spelled as 'Vain'!

The audiobook I listened to was read by Brittany Pressley, who was perfect for this title, but the opposite of the kind of voice I want to hear reading stories. The contrast between her nasal whine and the charmingly listenable voices of other readers I've heard lately, such as Mary Robinette Kowal, and Amy Landon is dramatic. You have to hear those voices to fully appreciate how bad this one was, and my guess is that precious few of the people who enjoy this crap would ever sully themselves with a quality reading to even grasp that there even is a difference in the first place, let alone appreciate it.

So in short? No! Just no!


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The First Taste is Free Pixie Chicks - Tales of a Lesbian Vampire by Zephyr Indigo


Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with The Pixie Chicks by Regan Black, or with the Pixie Chicks' Writers Group, this story was so whimsical (and very short, but it's free - as an introductory overture) that I was lured into reading it and in the end, it was not a bad temptation at all. I'd be interested in reading more, but the story is an episodic one, and there are ten episodes, which means you'll end up paying nine dollars for the whole book. Is it worth that?

Only you can answer that question, but consider that there is no page count offered for these 'episodes', only a file size, which is a cautionary omission! This one (excellently titled 'The First Taste is Free!) is 174K. The next one is only 211K so that means it's hardly longer than the free book - maybe 25 - 30 pages max, depending on font size. So all ten can't me more than two hundred to two-fifty or so pages. For nine dollars it had better be good for as slim a volume as that would be.

Mega-vendors like Amazon have forced authors into this world though, so it's what we as both writers and consumers have to deal with. Will it work? Does it pay? I guess we'll find out! At least with this method, the author gives you the option of buying bite-sized pieces and you can quit any time, so you don't find you've laid out the full price for a novel that you can't stand to read past page twenty! Frankly, I'm wondering if I should try that with one of my novels. I had this weird idea for a humorous story just a couple of days ago, and I'm wondering if it might be worth experimenting with this technique: write it as a short set of episodes for ninety-nine cents each. It's worth a try, but I would never run it to ten volumes of twenty pages each, so you can relax on that score!

I'm not familiar with the author at all, but I seriously doubt that Zephyr Indigo is a real name. I also have my doubts that the author is even female. It's a sound marketing ploy to have a female front for this kind of story, but I feel like it's probably a guy; however, I do not know, so I could be completely wrong on both scores. I often am!

That said, and though I was skeptical about this story, it did win me over, so there is something there. You;'re quite free to disagree of course, but for me, I thought it was pretty darned good for this genre. The story was fresh and different, and though the sex is rather perfunctory, which may displease many female readers, it really did feel like it counted as erotica. It's about a lesbian vampire. Much of what is termed erotica these days is nothing more than smut, but this wasn't like that. I know it sounds cheesy, but the erotic bits are decently if somewhat clinically done and the story that links them is actually an interesting one.

The vampire is sick with herself and looking for a cure or for the vampire hunters to find her and finish her, but she meets this pixie one night, alone in the forest, which is a dangerous place to be when vampires are loose. The vamp of course get the hots for her, but the pixie, who goes by the amusing name of mint (but who may as well have been called catnip) will only give in to her desires if the vampire meets with Ariel, the pixie goddess. Ariel has a mission for the vampire - to work with the pixies in finding a cure for vampirism.

For me it made for an interesting story, even though it was only some twenty pages. I am sure this is what the author wants, to lure readers in, but you can't blame him or her for that in this ebook world we've created for ourselves, and this is a good lure. Maybe I'll be lured into reading more. We'll see.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Shimmer by Brinda Berry


Rating: WORTHY!'

This completes my brace of reviews of mermaid stories I decided to...dip into. While I like the idea of a good mermaid story, the execution of such stories has nearly always failed me, so I'm not a fan of the genre. Once in a while a story comes along that sounds like it might be worth reading, but often I'm disappointed which is what happened with the previous novel I reviewed, which was awful. This one is a very short story, and when I began it I had the feeling that I might end up not liking it, but as I read on, it won me over.

It's not brilliant, but it was a worthy read even though, with all the advertising in it, it felt more like it was a flier for Brinda Berry's writing than ever it was an honest attempt at selling a story. There are pages of advertising for books by Berry, so the actual story starts on page seven and ends on page 43 of a sixty-three page book! The actual story isn't even forty pages. The last section of the book is taken up with two chapters from another Brinda Berry novel, which (and not coincidentally!) I'm actually reading next.

The thing which started to turn me off the novel was the main character names, which were so bad and uninventive that it almost made me quit. The guy is named Draven - he's the landlubber. Draven? Seriously? The mermaid is named Coral. She's land-bound due to a family decision from long ago, but she knows of her mermaid heritage from her deceased mother, and she's trying to get back to it. This explains why Draven (Draven? Honestly?) thinks she's drowning herself when he's out on the beach at an ungodly hour in the morning. He "saves" her and they form an uncomfortable friendship. But Coral is determined to revert to her heritage, so the relationship seems doomed.

Like I said, not usually my cup of sea. I like a good paranormal story, even some romances, but they have to be organic and make sense within their own framework and far too many do not. I think you have to have some sort of framework, otherwise anything goes and the story has no substance. This one was short enough and vague enough that I didn't run into any of those problems, and Coral was so practical I couldn't help but like her. She doesn't care that Draven sees her butt-naked, which makes a refreshing change from the panicked modesty we often encounter in scenes where one of the main characters is unexpectedly exposed. It was this grounding and Draven's more mature attitude which won me over. He almost lost me with his over-protectiveness, but in the end I liked the story which is why I moved on to read the book-length Berry novel titled The Waiting Booth

It's for these reasons that I consider this a worthy read, especially since it was free from Barnes & Noble when I picked it up! I'm always looking for new, intelligent authors to get into, and maybe Brinda Berry (which is actually a really cool name!) will be one of them. Although I solemnly promise right here that I will never read any of her novels that have naked male torsos on the covers. Ugh! Talk about genderist! I actively avoid novels like that no matter who had written them. Maybe that should have informed me on the second book I reviewed by this author, which did not fare so well despite having no naked torsos on the cover!!

I don't normally talk about book covers because my blog is about writing, not pretension or glitz, and authors rarely have anything to do with their covers (or their back cover blurbs!) unless they self-publish, but I have to say this one was interesting. The model's face was quite captivating, but what I loved most of all was how the title, Shimmer was in a font where it looked like it might read "Swimmer". I don't know if the artist planned that consciously. If so, it was a master stroke. If not, it was a fortuitous happenstance. I enjoy plays on words, especially in book titles, so this one was a winner there, too! Note that this is not the sad cover shown on Goodreads with the guy, and the mermaid holding a starfish. The one on this edition was so much better!


Friday, January 22, 2016

Crossroads by Sophie Slade


Rating: WARTY!

I picked up this book as an advance review copy from Net Galley. I'm not a fan of vampire stories, werewolf stories, or paranormal romances, but I've read one or two, and this one promised to be different in that the vampire was married to a human female (at least he was after the first few screens), and contemplating reverting to human if only his wife's concoction could be perfected. I should have known better than to trust a blurb! It's hard to believe that a series like this which depends upon the vampire character would actually cure him anyway. Now that would be a story, but I'm guessing, sadly, that it's not the plan for this series.

This was volume two in a series (and it has a prologue! wasn't volume one the prologue?!), and I have not read volume one, so it's possible that I was missing something from that, but having read ten percent of this, which was more than I honestly wanted to, I don't believe I've missed anything at all! Lance and Leila have a half-human, half-vampire child, and they get married in the beginning of this novel. Lance is the leader of one of the vampire clans in England, and ridiculously rich in addition to being, as Derek Zoolander might put it, really, really, ridiculously good looking. His wife was voluptuous and beautiful, because there cannot be ordinary, everyday people in these novels.

So much for hoping that this novel would eschew trope and venture onto new ground. Every single vampire trope save one was here. It was the typical centuries old vampire falling in love with the mortal human, which doesn't work and is frankly disgusting. It's the old vampires and werewolves don't get along trope. It's the old vampires are ageless and beautiful, which is tedious, trope. It's the old vampires are organized in hierarchies with leaders or queens or whatever, and the country is divided into organized territories, which is a tired cliché. It's the old vampires are inexplicably rich story. There was absolutely nothing that was original. There was nothing to set any atmosphere, and there wasn't a single piece of descriptive prose worth the name, not in the part I read. It was all talk and movement.

The one exception I mentioned was that despite all this vampire trope, they seem to have no trouble going to Aruba for their honeymoon, and being out in the bright sunlight. If you're using all the other tropes, why not that one? Who knows? The most serious problem as that if you removed the paranormal element, this same story could have been told about a rich businessman and his trophy wife. There was nothing her that really required vampires and werewolves. The guy could have simply had an ordinary illness. The entire Harlequin romance catalog could have one of the characters be a vampire, with nothing else changed, and republished! What would that give us? Nothing we didn't have before!

The novel is supposed to lean towards the erotic, but there was nothing erotic to be found here. Not that I find vampires erotic at all, but the love-making here was full of cliché and frankly, was boring. The funny thing is that at one point we're told that the sun was starting to set. The couple had sex three times, and then decided to sleep all afternoon. Wait, wasn't the afternoon already gone if the sun was setting?! Maybe the sex was so great that it turned back time? Wouldn't it be great to have sex like that?!

Part of eroticism is playing-out the love-making, making it last, teasing, slyly stimulating, being a playful bit mean by withholding and denying from time to time. There's an old joke that erotic is using a feather; kinky is using the whole chicken, but there was neither here. This sex chickened out. It was much more of the 'slam-bam thank you ma'am' style: an urgent drive to orgasm, avoiding the scenic route like the plague,, and offering no rest stops to appreciate the journey or the view along the way.

It really was just a determined rush to orgasm, and the saddest thing was that there was no love-making after the orgasm either. Here I mean love-making in the old-fashioned sense where endearments and warm touches are exchanged. There was no pillow-talk, no nuzzling, no gentle hands on the back or the hips, or wherever. There was no hugging, snuggling, or holding, no sweet teasing as an invitation to a future encounter. It was like these two couldn't wait to get out of bed, or to fall asleep. This betrayed all of the 'lovey-dovey' talk they spouted so tediously endlessly at each other the rest of the time.

I was actually glad that they slept, because if I'd had to read about Leila arching her back once more, or reading of her saying that she was "more than okay" one more time after having sex, I would have to arch my back and throw up before I was more than okay. Here's an example of the prose:

"More than okay," she said, grinning. "Here," I sad, biting into my wrist. A moment later, red crimson blood dripped from the wound. "Drink this," I gently cooed, knowing that I needed to heal her.
This is part of the problem. No, not the red crimson blood(!), nor the cooing, but the fact that Lance effectively owned Leila. She's "Mrs Lance Steel" (Lance Steel, really?! It sounds like the pseudonym of a porn actor!), and he's always putting his arm around her "protectively". He's hovering over her and worrying about her like she's his child, not his wife, and it was creepy. It was creepy how obsessively they were "in love" which actually felt fake in the extreme. There was creepily obsessive parenting, and it was creepy when they'd just become married and he kissed 'the bride' like so: "my tongue danced with hers before our family and friends." Seriously? In front of the guests they're tongue kissing?

The objectification of 'the bride' - especially given that this is a female author - was as sad as it was disturbing. I read phrases like "Leila was beyond beautiful in a white, spaghetti strapped wedding gown that accented her curves in all the right places," way too often. Nothing about her mind was said, like all she had to offer was this body and once that was gone, what use would she be to any man? This is upsetting. At least it was until I found myself contemplating how "her curves" could ever be accented in all the wrong places and managed a smile at last.

These two flew off on their honeymoon in Lance's private jet, but while it had sufficient range to fly them to Miami, it didn't have the range to get them just 200 miles further directly to Aruba? That was curious, but a minor issue. I think I really got to a point where I wanted to throw the book a the wall when Leila microwaved a bag of blood and stuck a straw in it to feed their child. Smart moms don't even heat breast milk in a microwave. The nutritional value of the blood would be destroyed if it was microwaved, but then since we get no vampire lore related here, perhaps not. Who knows?

That said, the thought of this happy, happy, joy, joy family sitting around with the kid sucking blood through a straw from a microwaved bag, and the husband hungrily gulping down his own blood bag, while the doting wife sits beaming at them both was simply too hilarious to take seriously. I had hoped, as I said, for something different, but all I got was more of the same tired ideas that have been staked to death long ago. There was nothing new here and nothing worth my time.

I had hoped to make it to at least 25%, but like a bag-o-blood, I honestly could not stomach it. The idea of a centuries-old vampire even remotely finding a twenty or thirty year old woman appealing as a partner carries the same creep factor as a ninety year old man marrying a nine year old child. What could they possibly have in common? Why would a normal woman find anything attractive about a man who drinks blood from hospital bags and sucks her blood when they make love, without even asking? Perhaps there's a market for this, but I could not take it seriously. Paranormal stories seem to do really well, but they're not for me when written so un-inventively. I wish the author the best of luck with this, but I can't in good faith recommend it.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden


Rating: WARTY!

This is going to be a wa-ay long review even by my standards, so be prepared! My blog is about more than reviewing - it's about writing and about the language, but even so, this one is longer than usual. You have been warned!

This is a young adult kitchen sink story in that there is pretty much nothing from the paranormal world that isn't in this book. There's horror and voodoo, and vampires, oh my! This was an advance review copy which sounded really intriguing when I read the blurb, but by the time I was ten percent or so into it, I started having reservations about it purely because of the YA clichés which had begun to pervade everything. More on this anon. By the time I was a quarter the way through there was so much that made no sense and so many issues that I honestly started to feel I wouldn't be able to actually finish reading it, which is truly sad, because in many ways it was interesting and from a purely technically PoV, written rather well. At the risk of giving away details, and posting spoilers, let me try to explain.

Adele Le Moyne is fresh back from a disastrous stay with her French mother in Paris. Adele doesn't like mom. Why she went so late in the year that her return would cause her to miss the start of school isn't explained. Obviously the storm had some say in the matter, but it didn't really explain it. The storm is a whole other issue which I'll get to. Adele is returning to New Orleans with her father. They're coming back to see how their home and her dad's bar fared after a truly devastating storm. Adele likes dad, even though he treats her like a child. Actually, given how immature she is, this is probably a wise move on pop's part. Note that this storm both is and isn't Katrina, which gets no mention here, though other storms do. This felt to me, initially, like it was a huge storm in the near future, but I came to understand that it was meant to be Katrina. Why the author had a problem with identifying it as such is a mystery. The problem is that we're told it was the "largest" storm ever to hit the continental USA. That's not Katrina. I'll get into this later.

The city is largely deserted, but is slowly coming back to life. Adele's biggest fear is being sent back to France because the local arts school is closed indefinitely. As she starts to settle in, she finds strange things happening to her. On her first day back in the house, a bird attacks her and scratches her face. Later, she finds a freshly dead body in a car on her way home. It seems there's a rising murder rate, especially over the last twenty four hours. Oddly enough, despite the devastation and the lack of adequate policing, there seems to be no National Guard presence in the city. This struck me as me as absurd, and was one of the things which began chipping away at the credibility of the story for me.

Adele has other things happen, too. She visits a local voodoo store which she has never been in before, and she meets some slightly eccentric people. She experiences a weird event on the way home with a banging shutter and an inexplicably shattering window at a convent, yet despite being a New Orleans resident for her entire life (apart from the last two months), and therefore obviously aware of the voodoo culture, she never once starts to wonder if there's something to it after these odd events. Of course there isn't in real life, but this is a voodoo story inter alia, so you'd think there would be something, somewhere in her mind that starts wondering. The fact that there wasn't - even after all this - made me think that Adele wasn't very bright, which is never a good trait with which to imbue your main character.

There were some odd descriptions, too, such as the non-word 'chainmaille', which should either be 'chainmail' or simply 'maille' (which by itself means the same thing). I know this was an ARC copy, but I can't see this kind of thing being fixed in the final published version unless someone highlights it. On a slightly different issue, at one point Adele almost has an accident with a large nail, which she describes as a "giant nail twice the width of my palm" which struck me as badly described. I may be wrong here, but I think what's meant was that the nail was as long as two widths of her palm, but the way it's written makes it sound like the nail's width (i.e. diameter) is two of her palm widths, which would be a truly humongous nail!

I had an issue with the multi-language use. It may not bother other readers, but for me, it was too pervasive. Indeed, it felt more like the author was showing off her faculty with languages than really contributing to building a strong story. This kind of thing is done often in novels, and unless there's really a good reason for it, it's just annoying to me. It's even more irritating when we get the foreign phrase followed immediately by the English translation, such as in "J'en doute. I seriously doubt it." Although this isn't an exact translation (it would need sérieusement added for that) it makes my point here, and this just kept kicking me out of suspension of disbelief.

I found it hilarious that phones in New Orleans can text in French! One message from "Pépé" read, "Préparer un pot frais de chicorée" Evidently when envoyer des SMS en Français (texting in French), one doesn't use abbreviations! I'm sure there are ways and even apps which allow you to enter accented letters, but why would you bother when texting to people who speak English? Why not just send "make fresh chicory" and be done with it? Rightly or wrongly, this only served to reinforce my feeling that the author had been employing French much more as a pretension than as a legitimate writing tool.

Since this is New Orleans, I could see a French word here and there showing up, but when she meets two Italians, they're doing it too, and it was too much, especially since they also have grammatically perfect English - better than your typical native English speaker! LOL! Amusingly, the first phrase either one of them uttered was, "Well, whom do we have here?" The problem is that no one speaks like that, much less a foreign speaker of English. It's much more likely for the speaker to say, "Well, who is this?" The thing is that few use correct grammar in their everyday speech, so while you can write in your narrative, 'whom', it's just wrong to write it as part of someone's speech unless that particular character actually is a stickler for grammar. Most people are not, especially if English is their second language. It's also worth remembering, in a story like this one - which is told in first person, that the narrative should reflect the speech patterns of the person. Truly correct grammar is unlikely unless the narrator is an English teacher, for example.

I know it's hard for a writer to let that go (although personally, I'd kick 'whom' out of the language altogether), but it has to be done. Some writers, including this one, apparently, can't ignore a compulsion towards good grammar, which in a way is commendable, but it doesn't contribute to a realistic story. I won't get into the employment of the French in and of itself since mine is so rusty, but I'd be curious to know if "Comment a été Paris?" is more accurate than what was used here " Comment était Paris?" for "How was Paris?" - meaning, of course, how did you like Paris - what impression did it leave you with? Everything else seemed in order to my out-of-practice eye, so I guess I'd bow to the author's evidently superior expertise in this case.

The biggest problem for me in the first ten percent though, was when Adele met those Italian twins, Gabriel and Niccolò, who I quickly found to be creepy and obnoxious. Why one had a Jewish name whereas the other had the expected Italian name went unexplained, but it did occur to me that one is the name of an angel, and the other could be the name of the devil - as in 'Old Nick', for example. Actually they were not twins, but they may as well have been. They were brothers: a dark haired leather-clad bad-boy type, and a blond-haired good-guy type. Talk about trope good and evil!

This jumped out at me as a potential beginning of your typical and tiresomely clichéd YA love triangle. I was hoping I was wrong but it had all the hallmarks, and my stomach churned from reading about this "nauseating display of high school flirtation" (you'd have to read the book - or at least 22% of it! - to feel the full weight of that sarcastic comment!). As it turned out, the triangle was not over the two Italians, but it did involve the predictable one of the two. Nothing new there. Everything about these boys was a complete cliché from their height, to their chiseled good looks, to their foreign nature and athletic build. It's truly sad to find YA author after YA author who cannot seem to develop an original character as a love interest, and persists in going down the same tired and over-used macho guy and sad love triangle circuit that's been beaten to death, and which is already way beyond tedious at this juncture.

A real problem came with Niccolò's conduct, bad boy or not. I honestly don't know how an author can write inappropriate or overly familiar contact as though it's right or normal. Yes, some people do behave that way, but let's not make those people heroic or the love interest of the main character, please? This conduct should certainly not be portrayed as something to be meekly tolerated. At one point, one of the brothers, uninvited, gets right into Adele's personal space, and starts touching her and manually examining the medallion she has hanging around her neck (a medallion which is actually there for no good reason). He doesn't even do her the courtesy of asking. It's like she's now his property, and he can do whatever he wants with her, even though they'd never met prior to that very minute. This isn't the only time he abuses her so.

Adele responded (to his effectively fondling her) not by becoming assertive, but by becoming as compliant as a whipped puppy. We read "his fingertips grazed my cheek" as though it's supposed, I assume, to be intimate and romantic, but it's not. It's creepy and overly familiar. It's presumptive and assumptive, suggesting that young women are there for the taking, and it sends entirely the wrong message to both genders. If these two had known each other for years as friends, or were lovers, or married, or even if they were young kids, then yes, this would be fine, or at least expected, but for a complete stranger to effectively own a woman of Adele's age in that manner, and for her to very effectively lie down before him like he's the alpha male and she's just part of his pride or his pack is trashy at best.

The reason I was sad was that this author had drawn me right in and was writing pretty well to this point. She had a great facility with the language and with her descriptive writing, and it was honestly a shock to find myself suddenly suffocating under this worn-out, teen-aged fabric that was being unceremoniously piled on to the pretty decent material she'd been so skillfully working to this point in the story. I don't know why authors, especially female authors, feel they have to validate their female characters with male ones (the same applies to male characters, for that matter) I really don't, but it's never a good thing. The truly odd thing about these two Italians, by the way, is that while they claim that they're here to find missing relatives, they seem to spend absolutely no time whatsoever actually looking. Of course, since this is a first person PoV story, we have no idea what's going on when Adele isn't around.

Adele wasn't very likable for a variety of reasons. One of these is my own bias against the fashion world. I think it's the shallowest, most self-indulgent and least beneficial endeavors in human history. I have no time for fashion designers, fashions or runway models, and unfortunately, Adele wants to be a fashion designer, which as you can now imagine, did nothing to endear her to me. My gut feeling was that she wouldn't end up there, given the way this story was going, but the real question here is: why is she that character - the one who wants to join the fashion world? What does it contribute to this story except to further establish how frivolous she is? Why isn't she wanting to be a doctor, or an engineer, or a software designer? She's from New Orleans, so why doesn't she want to be a chef or a musician, or an architect, or even a merhcant marine for that matter? I didn't get where the fashion thing was coming from. She could have been aiming to be a chef or an architect, and still have justified the trip to Paris, for example.

The other issue with Adele is that she's a whiney, shallow, ungrateful little tyke who behaves inappropriately for her age. What with this and her fashion 'ambition', her age seemed more like twelve then ever it did sixteen. Yeah, I get that she hates her mom, but when her father wants to discuss school with her, she becomes resentful, tearful, and childish. Someone that emotional would never survive vampires let alone be able to stand up to them! She has the option to go back to Paris, which she flatly rejects. Fine! But she also has the option to study fashion design in California at a very prestigious school, and stay with her best friend who, we're told, she misses immensely, yet she rejects all of this in favor of staying in New Orleans where there's nothing to do and her career plans are effectively on hold. This tells me that she's not only a petulant brat, and that she really doesn't care much for her friend - or for her supposed fashion ambitions for that matter, but also that she's clueless and actually has no ambition. These are hardly heroic traits! On the one hand, rejecting fashion would warm me to her somewhat, but on the other, none of this bratty behavior endeared her to me at all. It merely served to render her into someone about whom (see, I can use it!) I cared very little, and whose story I really didn't feel much like following.

You'll note that I didn't mention 'scientist' as a possible career choice above. The reason for this is that Adele doesn't seem to have an even remotely inquiring mind. Even when she finally accepts that supernatural events are taking place around her and she has some influence over them, she still fails to pursue this with any kind of intellect or determination or with any sort of spirit of adventure. Instead, she idly tinkers with it like it's an old Rubik cube she found somewhere. I honestly don't know of anyone - male or female - who would be as lackadaisical as she is over such a series of events!

Adele toys with her new power, yet shows absolutely no motivation whatsoever (and she wants to make it in the cut-throat fashion world?!) to get to its root. She doesn't even think of taking her power out for a real run, or to start seriously investigating what it is or why she has it. Most damning of all, she doesn't even begin to consider ways in which she could use this power to help in putting her supposedly beloved city back on its feet. She's not too smart, either, over figuring out what the extent and limit of the power is, when it seems patently obvious to the reader. This character began as an interesting one, but for me, she became ever more unbelievable the further the story went on. In the end, she wasn't remotely credible. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Adele was really an insult to women with her all-pervasive inertia and her shallowness and lack of any real substance.

At the front of this book is a dedication to the people of New Orleans (the author is evidently a native), but it says nothing about how strong they are. It's all about myth and magic; however, given the story we have here, it would be hypocritical for the dedication to have talked about strength and motivation. This fictional character, as a New Orleans native, was an insult to the real-life people of that city, given what they've been through, and how they rebuilt and moved on afterwards. If Adele had been portrayed as a go-getter, and an industrious young woman who refused to be beaten down, and who worked hard every day, I could have seen a reflection of New Orleans in her, but the fact remains that she isn't a shadow on the real people there, and that was the biggest disappointment in this book for me. I know that some people are actually like Adele in real life - lazy, shiftless, unwilling or incapable of doing a fair day's work, and you could probably get a really good novel about such a character, but this wasn't it, and the character that Adele actually was didn't belong in this kind of a story. Like Adele herself, it didn't work.

This same lack of motivation pervades her whole life. We've been told that she wants to be a fashion designer, but she never works on designs, neither with a sketch pad, nor with a computer. That life she supposedly wants doesn't even pervade her thoughts at all! Pretty much the only thing in her thoughts isn't even her new power! In the first quarter of the novel, her mind is most often on some dude she hung out with in Paris. This is how shallow she is. Her assessment of this guy is: "he's very hot and very French" Seriously? That's the basis of her 'rapport' with him? Pure objectification? Instead of being the heroic figure a novel like this begs for, Adele is reduced to the status of a lovesick tweenie (her actual age notwithstanding), who has an impossible crush on some older kid. Worse than this, despite her assertion that she wants to stay with her dad in New Orleans, she spends virtually no time with him. Every day he's out all hours, working on fixing up his bar (at least this is what we're told, but I didn't believe it), yet never once does she offer to go help him. She'd rather sit on her lazy ass in the coffee bar, doing nothing, evidently, save for her almost ritualistic indulgence in growing paranoia and endless self-pity. That is when she's not lusting after one or another of several boys she encounters.

It seems like she's 'employed' in this coffee bar, but there are no customers, so how are the owners even paying her - and why?! All she does is sit around. At one point she thinks some guy is sketching her, and she resents this, yet she's so inert that she can't even think of changing where she sits, or perhaps moving into the back area where he can't see her. This is how inanimate her brain is. We're told that she's supposed to be attending this exclusive school in lieu of her own school being closed indefinitely, but she hasn't been attending, even though it appears to be open and this is now mid-October! Why she's so tardy goes unexplained. She eventually does attend, but it's only part time, and her overly protective father makes no arrangements for her to be transported to and from the school even when there's a murder spree going on in the city and he's supposed to be so protective of her!

The reason I initially felt that this story was set slightly in the future was that Katrina was never mentioned by name - unless you include a reference in the acknowledgements to a person named Katrina! LOL! The hurricane was described very vaguely as the largest one to hit the US, but 'largest' can mean many different things. By what measure was it the largest? By cost, Katrina was the "largest" by some margin, but every few years the "largest" by cost changes because property values rise, and so more damage (in dollars) is done, even if the hurricane is relatively tame. The problem is that by any other measure, Katrina was not the largest, not even by death toll, by which measure it was third (so far). By largest diameter, Katrina wasn't in the top five. By 'most severe' it barely made the top five and by 'most intense' failed to get into the top five. By highest sustained winds it wasn't even in the top ten. By barometric pressure it was tenth, by most tornadoes spawned, it was sixth, and so on. I wouldn't describe it as the 'largest' and I found it objectionable that cost seemed to be the only measure deemed worthy of measure here. Surely death toll is more important than property damage?

At one point Adel goes with Isaac (the other leg of the triangle and another Biblical name) to her friend's house to find something. Although Isaac has no clue what it is that she's seeking, he says, "I'll go check out the rest of the place" - why? What's he looking for? Evidently it was to give Adele some time alone with her powers, but this part made no sense to me, especially since he was supposed to be keeping an eye on her.

Adele's hypocrisy was annoying at best. This is the girl who is lusting after every trope male she meets in this novel, yet at one point she tells us, "My eyes rolled at the ripple of testosterone" Honestly? Her other faults were numerous and never deemed to be faults by her or anyone else, but perhaps the worst was her chronic indolence. This infests her every neuron, and drags this book out to an unwarranted number of pages. It's ironically reflected in the larger story arc, and is what contributes to the ruin of this story for me. The story felt very much like New Orleans appeared after the storm: a mess, a tragedy, and leaving an all-but hopeless feeling in the gut. Whereas New Orleans had a real human story which grew and heartened, this fiction never did. I know this is the south and the cliché is that it's supposed to be laid back, but there's a huge difference between 'laid back' and 'moribund' and that latter place was where Adele resided.

This business of guys taking advantage of Adele and her having absolutely no negative feelings about this abhorrent behavior, was what finally turned me off (and my stomach over) with this novel. There was another incident where Adele was with Isaac, and she became very emotional over the damage done to her friend's home. Isaac saw her emotionally weakened, and instead of asking if she wanted to leave, or if she wanted to talk, or even just giving her a friendly hug, this jerk-off kisses her. What a louse!

It was at that point that I decided I was done with this nonsense. It wouldn't have been so bad had she pushed him away and read him the riot act about taking advantage of emotional weakness and painful upset, but she never did. This is one of the two guys who both abused her like this, and instead of being outraged and repelled, she's falling for the two of them, not even caring that someone is going to get hurt through her irresponsible ambivalent behavior. Adele is obviously also a jerk and I feel no compulsion to read any more about a person like that, who quite evidently has no redeeming value, and is as clueless as they come. So no, I never made it to sixty percent because I didn't care if it improved. There is no improvement a writer can make which can ever fill a hole that's been dug this deep!


Friday, September 11, 2015

Soulless by Gail Carriger aka Tofa Borregaard


Rating: WARTY!

Before she adopted a pen name and began writing quite charming books set in a steam-punk and paranormal Victorian England, Tofa Borregaard spent time at Nottingham university studying archaeology. The gave her a certain well-taken familiarity with England, but it was insufficient to completely Anglify her, hence we have problems in her writing, such as breakfasters spreading jelly (rather than preserve) on their toast, and saying things like "gee". These are minor issues however and unlikely to be noticed by most people, so I didn't worry about them too much.

Given that her steam-punk isn't canon and is, as it happens, rather tangential as opposed to central to this story - it's hardly surprising that her paranormal isn't exactly canonical either. In this novel, we learn that werewolves can't take the sun, for example, although she does toe the tedious line of organizing vampires into hives, each sporting a queen, and werewolves into packs having alphas, which is rather tedious and uninventive.

You would think that having lived in England she would know that being both seven miles from the sea, and entirely land-locked, Canterbury isn't a port by any stretch of the imagination. Given that this is a world of steam-powered airships, I was prepared to grant her the benefit of the doubt and understand that she meant that it was an airport, but later she talks about sailors being in town, so this was clearly a serious gaff, unless her geography is in an alternate reality. Carriger also doesn't know that what a butler does, is buttle, not "butler". And while we're on the topic of gaffs, it's chaise longue, not chaise lounge. Yes, the latter form has come into use of late, but it was most certainly not in use amongst cultured people in Victorian England.

The story, set in the same world as her later young-adult series, is about Alexia Tarabotti, the daughter of an Italian man, who is now dead, and an English woman, who has subsequently remarried and mothered two more daughters who shame Alexia by being quintessential English roses. Alexia is evidently of a more dusky and masculine appearance, although still very feminine. I quickly grew tired of learning that she was half Italian, had somewhat olive skin, and had rather less than a button nose. Carriger, for reasons as irritating as they were unknown chanted these things like a mantra at every opportunity. Alexia is, at twenty five, considered a spinster, ten years past her marry-by date, and this doesn't bother her in the slightest, although it evidently bothers Carriger because she repeats this to a really annoying degree, too. Alexia is extremely well-read, self-possessed, smart, fiercely independent, and addicted to books. In short, her name ought to have been Mary Sue.

This explains why, attending a ball (for reasons unknown, given what we've been told about her) where food isn't provided, she rather outrageously orders tea in the library, where she is attacked by a rogue vampire. What the vampire doesn't know is that Alexia is soulless, and therefore immune to both vampires and werewolves - their fangs retract into almost non-existence as soon as they lay hands on her. This vampire seems unaware of her traits and even her existence as a soulless on. He cannot understand why his attack has failed, and he repeats it only to fall afoul of one of her wooden hair pins. Alexia has no soul because her father had none. It's the dominant trait, evidently, but Carriger never explains exactly what this means. I took it to mean literally what it says - it was not a comment on her morality as too many reviewers seem to have decided, but the simple statement that she literally had no soul and therefore was never going to go to Heaven or Hell after she died.

Lord Maccon, the werewolf alpha, and a government official is on the scene of the vampire attack disturbingly quickly, almost as though he were stalking Alexia, which he actually does later. He covers up the incident and keeps Alexia's name out of it, but the very next day, while out walking in the park with her friend Ivy, Alexia is visited by a claviger - an acolyte of the vampires - who happens to also be a well-known actress. She extends an invitation to Alexia to meet with Countess Nasty (or something along those lines), the queen of the Westminster vampire hive.

In order to learn whether she should accept this potentially dangerous invitation, and perhaps why it might have been extended. Alexia invites her dear friend, the foppish Lord Akeldama (from the Hebrew for 'field of blood') to tea. Akeldama suggests that she consult Maccon about it. No love is lost between Maccon and Akeldama, so his suggestion is a surprise. There is love between Maccon and Alexia, however, trope-ishly repressed as it is. Despite the potential threat, Alexia decides to meet with the countess.

At one point Carriger references "the British Isle" - singular! Like there's just the one. The problem here isn't so much that however, as her referencing it in connection with Queen Elizabeth (the original - version 1.0. not the 2.0 version who has recently become the longest reigning British monarch ever). Elizabeth I was queen only of England, Wales, and Ireland, not Scotland, so suggesting she had dominion over the British Isles is wrong. Scotland wasn't incorporated until Elizabeth's successor, James, came to the English throne.

All this came up when Alexia went on a date with an American - after his being disparaged by pretty much every one except Alexia. Does Carriger really think that the Victorian British hated Americans? The story is that the US is not integrated as Britain is: supernaturals aren't an accepted part of society there, but neither are they in Britain either according to how Carriger writes! In her world, they live an entirely separate existence, and despite their being 'out' for some three centuries, they've evidently not had one whit of influence upon British society. This speaks to really poor world-building on Carriger's part.

In another error, Carriger writes on Page 103: "...by an earl of Lord Maccon's peerage." This makes zero sense. Peer isn't a relative measure of nobility, value, importance, or breeding. It's merely short-hand describing those who are alike - as in "a jury of your peers" - but in the case of the nobility. Of course, juries never really are of the accused's peers, otherwise when a gang member was on trial, the jury would consist entirely of other gang members! When a voir-dire is conducted, it is the prosecution's job to try to avoid allowing peers onto the jury for fear of them empathizing with the accused. It's really only the defense's job to actually try and get peers on the jury. Most people are not really tried by a jury of their peers because most criminals are of a completely different upbringing and background than are their jurors.

But I digress! In terms of the peerage, what Carriger says is a tautology, the same as saying "a well to-do person of Lord Maccon's wealth." A good editor would have caught this, but then her editors were just as American as Carriger is and just as blinded by the "Britishness" of the story, just as a British editor would be blinded by the "American-ness" of a story, and failing to focus properly on problems like this because their eyes are dilated by the thought of American sales. Brits are far more savoir-faire of American culture than Americans in general are - of any culture other than their own for that matter, and this latter fact is what's the problem here.

But that's not what started putting me off this novel. I don't care that much about gaffs like this as long as the story is a good one. I'm willing to let a writer get away with a heck of a lot of faux pas for a good story. What put me off here was the growing attraction between Maccon and Alexia, an attraction which began threatening the quality of the story right around the same time as the 'peerage' gaff popped up. Maccon essentially 'rapes a kiss' out of Alexia. Why romance novel writers think it's romantic when the inevitably stronger man "violently" kisses the inevitably weaker woman is utterly beyond me, but this is exactly what happens here, and romantic it is not.

The fact that Maccon is four hundred years old is another issue entirely. I mean, Eww! In more human age-relative terms, that's the equivalent of an eighty-year-old falling for a five-year-old child. Maccon is therefore at this point, effectively a pedophile, but even if we allow the objection that Alexia is a mature woman rather than a child here, there still remains the question as to what a 400-year-old person, even if they retained their youth and vitality, would find remotely interesting in someone who is, relative to their own life experience, not even an adolescent?

Without so much as a by-your-leave, Maccon wrenches Alexia into his arms. He "grabs" her chin and pulls her towards him "hard", forcing his lips upon her "almost" violently, we're told! Almost violently? I'm sorry but the 'almost' is a lie. He's doing violence upon her, period, and asking no permission either verbally or in taking her cues. He's raping her. Carriger is clueless enough to describe this kiss as "quite gentle"?!!! His feeling up of her ass at the same time, not so gentle, maybe?

The werewolf is growling, yet Alexia has no problem with any of this. When he literally starts biting her, she considers it a "delightful sensation" and loses control of "her kneecaps" Seriously? Losing control of one's muscles, yes; specifically of one's kneecaps? Idiotic. I now believe that, instead of a woman sporting a parasol, the cover ought to have featured some bare-chested man and suitably simpering woman with an overly exposed décolletage. The Earl's name does sound like 'Mack on', though, doesn't it? Maybe this shouldn't be such a surprise.

Not only was this entire and very public exhibition inappropriate for the era being depicted, it was such a cliché that it would have nauseated me had it not been so laughable, so perhaps I should be grateful for that. Do I want to read another four volumes of cheap-ass "Harlequin romance"? Not on your nelly.

At this point, and considering both the issue of peers raised earlier, and the Victorian setting, Alexia's peers evidently are London prostitutes. Had she been seen, her reputation could never have overcome a disgrace like this. Apparently none of this bothers her. Yes, she's been shown to be something of a rebel, but she's also been clearly depicted as a stickler for decorum so this seemed out of character at best and really poor writing, not to mention insulting to the female gender, at worst. In fact the more I thought about this at that point, the less inclined I was to read on.

The most disgusting thing about all of this is that a few minutes before this kissing began, we're apprised of the fact the Maccon had been feeding - he has blood on his lips or chin or something. What he was feeding on while waiting for Alexia to exit the hive is not specified, but given the locale and the time of day, rats would seem to be the only available food. So...YUCK!

Is Alexia really so stupid that she's macking on a dog after it ate fresh meat? And she perceives nothing wrong with taste or smell or anything here? She's hardly the kind of person I want to read about, but what intrigues me more is why so many people seem to want to switch off their brains to read stories of this meager caliber. Are we so desperate for good stories - or are we just so desperate? I could not read past this and I refuse to recommend such a poorly written novel.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dog With A Bone by Hailey Edwards


Title: Dog With A Bone
Author: Hailey Edwards
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Rating: WORTHY!


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

This novel would seem to borrow rather liberally from the TV series Lost Girl (the first season of which I recommend) in that the main protagonist is a young half-fae woman living a world where there are dark and light fae. Yes, "fae". It would seem that rather a large number of writers in this genre are too embarrassed to call them fairies - or even faeries! Why that is, I have no idea. Call 'em what they are, I say!

I was on-board with the idea because the blurb made it sound interesting - which technically means nothing more than it did its advertising job, let's face it! My thinking was that if this was reminiscent of Lost Girl then I certainly wouldn’t mind reading it. The difference here turns out to be that the main female protagonist, Thierry, is not a succubus. Although she is having an inappropriate relationship with an incubus, so maybe that counts?! OTOH, inappropriate and incubus are really mutually tautological, aren’t they?

This is also apparently "Book One" in the inevitable series, because why write one when you can milk it for many more? OTOH, a precious few series are actually worth reading, and maybe this will be one of those rare exceptions. I do seem to have lucked-out, in that this is the first one in this particular series. That's rather a novelty for someone who is a highly-acclaimed master of dropping into a series in progress without even realizing it until I start reading chapter one. Talking of which, at least this novel does not have a prologue, so I commend the author for that. I also thank her for this line on page twenty: "At worst I had suggested he boink a flamethrower who might flambé his manly bits." That was a LOL, right there.

Her training partner, now she's graduated fae academy (Ooh! Fae Academy! Now there's an idea! You heard it here first, folks!), is named Shaw. He was her instructor at the academy, and now he's also giving her OTJ training. I'll bet! Their first job together is to pick up an Ourobouros, a simple task, but it seems they've found something deadly, which spits fire, so the action suddenly heated up, and we learned something rather interesting about Thierry.

Also, here was the second time the author used "nape" instead of the whole phrase, "nape of the neck". Being totally anal and deeply in love with the English language (much to my wife's jealousy, I admit), I actually looked that up, thinking nape was a word - like 'neck' itself, for that matter - which could be employed in ways other than referring to a person's neck, such as to mean a small area, as in 'neck of the woods', or as in 'bottleneck', but nape by itself actually does mean the same as nape of the neck - meaning that the latter phrase is a tautology. I learned something new!

All you need is 'nape', so I confess I'm officially impressed. Not only does the author proudly use accented 'e's in words like flambé, but she's also evidently literate (despite using "chaise lounge" instead of "chaise longue" for which I forgive her!). So at this point I started really appreciating this novel. Of course, there was still time for it to go to the proverbial hell in the proverbial hand-basket, but I decided to enjoy it while it lasted and hope it lasted until page 101!

Yes, this is a short novel - only 97 pages (from chapter one to the end). I don’t have a word count, but maybe it’s a novella. This does seem to be the trend these days. There are sixteen chapters, so short chapters, too. Hopefully, I thought, all of them will be as appealing as the first four! With little exception, I wasn't disappointed. I think the novel could have been a bit better, and I certainly was turned off by the romance angle (why does a female character always have to be drawn with the weakness of needing someone? Why is she never enough by herself?

On the plus side, the romance was very muted, for which I commend the author. On the minus side, I have to say that this fae story lost several Brownie points (Brownie? Get it?!) with me for following the juvenile Harry Potter route of having a magical society, but making it exactly like a non-magical one. There is a "police" academy in this novel, from which Thierry graduated; then she gets OTJ training, and when they return from a case, they have to fill out the paperwork. Seriously? Paperwork? Why? Why ruin a really good story by sticking it in such dreary and mundane mud? Because it’s easier to do this than to actually build a world? How lazy is that?

I've never understood the point of this at all. What is this paperwork? Where does it go? Who requires it? What friggin' purpose can it possibly serve? Why is there so much of it? Why is this society organized exactly like ours? You know, I avoid werewolf stories for this (and other) reasons, but they're not as bad as vampire stories. At least wolves in real life do form packs and have leaders, but what about vampires? Where in the name of Dracula's aged and wrinkled ass did the idea of an hierarchical vampire society come from? Who came up with the need for kings and queens and sheriffs? Honestly? Why? I blame Doctor Polidori.

Seriously, think about this in the human context to begin with. We humans have to learn a lot of things. We have to learn to walk and to speak, and we have to get an education so we can hopefully get a decent job which will in turn allow us the freedom to do the stuff we really want to do in life, which is write novels, of course! This is all a part of our society, but you know what we don’t have to do? We don’t have to learn how to actually be a human!

We do not have to learn how to grow. We don’t have to learn how to make thoughts go through our brain. We don’t have to learn how to digest food, or how to smile or how to socialize and make friends (assuming all our circuits are wired normally). These things are part and parcel of being human. Why then must supernatural beings have to learn how to be supernatural beings? Why must innately magical beings have to learn how to be magical? That's like sending us to school to learn how to be human. Frankly, it’s bullshit and completely nonsensical.

That's why I'm not a huge fan of this kind of story, and especially not when it carries with it the additional baggage of tropes like vampire royalty or, in this particular case, fae police who have to fill out paperwork! Who pays their salary? Whence cometh the money - and money to pay a bounty for a chimera pelt for goodness sakes?! I've encountered this trope time and time again and I can't tell you how many times I've wished dearly for a writer to take the road less traveled instead of trudging along behind all the other sheep.

Actually, you know what this novel reminded me of? It reminded me of an hilarious movie titled The Kentucky Fried Movie. It was a series of skits parodying TV and movies, and in it there was a segment which was a spoof of the spectacular Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon. In the original movie, we see a character named Lee, played by his namesake, teaching a boy to put his soul into his punches. In the spoof, we see the Lee parody character teaching a guard dog how to bark properly - putting emotional content into it! That's exactly what this is. No one needs to teach a dog how to bark - quite the contrary: a lot of dog-owners spend time telling their charge to quit barking! We don’t need to teach supernatural characters to be what they are. If a tree falls in a forest, do we need to teach it to make a sound even when no one is there?!

This is where, as a reader, you have to decide: is this particular story worth swallowing down all the nauseating trope for the sake of enjoying the story? Normally, you have to eat your greens - if you're smart and want to be healthy - before you can bask in the enjoyment of your desert, but with novels, you don't. You can go straight to desert if the writer lets you. I just wish more writers realized this! That said, this one was just over the wire and came down on the side of being a worthy read. Just! And that's how I ended-up rating it, but it isn't a novel which made we want to continue on and read a whole series.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge


Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Bolinda Audio Books
Rating: WORTHY!

Seductively read by Elizabeth Knowelden

Nyx made the mistake of coming out of the womb ahead of her twin sister, Estrella, for it was because of that, she later learned, that she became betrothed to a demon, in order to extricate her oh-so-loving father from a mess of his own making.

This is the same demon which killed Nyx's mother, so she believes, and now she's his wife, and she's supposed to assassinate him and thereby free herself, her family, and even her homeland from his power. Everyone knows that a virgin knife, wielded by a virgin, can strike a demon dead. Ignifex, the name by which the demon is known (even the demon himself doesn't know his real name), appears to be afraid of her knife, but he's far more afraid of the darkness, which can at the very least make him suffer terribly, if not outright kill him.

So the compelling question here is: why didn't Nyx stab the demon when she first met him and she had a golden opportunity? And when he was apparently dying from the dark shadows that night, why did she return, having initially left him to rot, and save him? Could it be that she actually wants to be his wife? But then what would become of her relationship with the Shade, the only being she's encountered in that castle of a prison of a puzzle, who seems to have her best interests at heart? Or does he?

This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and Hodge has entwined it inextricably with Greek mythology, so you might want some good reference materials by you as you read this, but take heart: never has there been so intriguing a beast, and never has there been such beauty: a beauty which is Hodge's writing. She writes exquisitely. The beast is the pace of the story, which even entranced as I was, I found to be rather ponderous!

I was entranced only partially by the text, but I was completely captivated by the warm, cultured, English accent and (I have to say it) amazingly sexy voice of Elizabeth Knowelden who embodied Nyx more fully than anyone else could do, I'm sure. I'm in love!