Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label print book. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee


Rating: WARTY!

This is a debut novel by an author who really didn't seem able to get into the mind of an eleven-year-old smart girl. So naturally this book has been nominated for awards which in turn spawned a trilogy when one book was far more than this particular subject ever merited. The problem is that the author is confusing genius with autism, and 'child-genius' with 'humorless adult'. Consequently she makes Millicent look like a moron rather than a genius, or to put it more charitably, she makes a girl who in reality would need some professional psychological help, look like she was dropped on her head at birth.

This is why I have absolutely zero respect for literary awards, and normally (when I have advance warning!), avoid like the plague anything which has won awards. Once in a very rare while such a book is worth reading, but in my sorry experience those books are a lot harder to find than the lousy ones, and the ones we typically are unfortunate enough to run across are for the most part pretentious and clueless drivel. For the awards people to constantly rate this garbage as merit-worthy only leads me to believe that they too, were dropped on their collective head as a baby.

The author makes the idiotic assumption that a kid stops being a kid if they're an especially smart kid. That's utter nonsense. They may see life through a sharper lens than most kids do, but they're still children with childish (in a benign sense) - impulses and drives. They still enjoy children's games and toys. They are not, simply from the fact of being more intelligent than most (in academic terms at least) an adult or humorless, or superior in a mean sense.

One of the most glaring problems with this book is that the main character has Spock syndrome. The Vulcan from Star Trek (original or reboot, it doesn't make that much difference) is supposedly of very high intelligence, but is routinely made to look like a clown because he simply (and inexplicably, given how much exposure he's had) cannot grasp human idiosyncrasies. In the same way, this novel is constantly telling us how smart Millie is, but what it's routinely showing us is how dumb and clueless she is. Worse, it's rendering her as borderline autistic in her rigid and utterly inexplicable inability to cope with human interaction. If she is autistic, that's one thing, and might have made a great story - one worthy of an award, but this author never suggests that. What she does is inexcusable. She presents Millie as lacking completely in not only social skills, but in any sort of clue as to how to develop them, yet she offers no reason - other than how "intelligent" she is for this deficit.

Millie's parents are the worst parents ever, since they seem utterly clueless in diagnosing Millie's condition. Fortunately it's a condition which exist only in the author's limited imagination. Millie is just one in a parade of one-dimensional characters, each representing an extreme of one sort or another, and the novel is so trite and so completely predictable that it's not only fails to offer an intriguing read, it also isn't even remotely realistic. These people are robotic, as simple and limited as the mechanical arms on an assembly line, each going through pre-programmed motions, and not a one of them capable of exceeding their programming, and living and breathing.

Millie meets Emily at the same time as she is forced into tutoring a boy she hates. Desperate to keep Emily as a friend, Millie elects to lie about her intelligence and gets herself into a situation that is unrealistic and which is dragged on for far too long. Predictably, Emily blows up, even though given what we've been told about her, this blow-up is out of character and comes off as false. It was at this point that I gave up reading this book, because I could see exactly how inauthentically it would continue to play out, and I lost all interest in it offering anything new, fresh, or credible.

Millie's extreme intelligence, despite that fact that we've repeatedly been shown that she can diagnose problems with the facility of a particularly sensitive and empathetic adult, is betrayed time and time again by the author as she makes her character fail in such diagnoses where it suits her, so that she disastrously assumes her mother's obvious pregnancy is a disease. The writing is amateur, rigid, inconsistent, and poorly done. I cannot recommend this. The only purpose it served for me was to once again provide a convincing example of how comprehensively blinkered are those people who give out literary awards.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doctor Who Dark Horizons by Jenny T Colgan


Rating: WARTY!

Doctor Who is always a visual medium for me, and though I've tried other media: graphic novels, ebooks, print books, they're never as good or as satisfying as really good TV ep. This print book was always bordering on failing, but because I'm such a fan of Doctor Who I kept-on plugging away at it, hoping against hope that it would eventually shine, right until the middle of page 192, which was 62% of the way through it. It was there that I read this: "It turned their oceans from teeming with life to devastated in point four of a parsec."

Had anyone else said it, it might have been okay, but this was The Doctor speaking, and there is no way in the Matrix a Timelord would ever make such a grotesque mistake. The 'sec' in parsec is not one sixtieth of a minute, i.e a measure of time, but an arcsecond, i.e. 1/3600 of a degree - in other words, a measure of angle and thereby, distance. Don't get me started on the morons who try to retcon this same blunder in the original Star Wars movie, which was doubled-down on in the ridiculous remake called The Force Awakens.

So I quit reading this dumb-ass book right there and I refuse to recommend it. I also think I'm done reading Doctor Who adventures. As for the plot? What is it with Doctor Who and their obsession with Vikings and Romans? The show was originally, being BBC, intended to have an educational component whereby some history could be taught, but this was soon abandoned and for the good; however, this obsession with sending the Doctor back to the tired old standards needs to end.

If you must go back to Earth's past, then can we not find something new for the Doctor to visit? And can we not find some primitive people who are terrified of the Doctor and his machine instead of jovially accepting it and even learning how to operate it? This book, frankly, sucked. it was poorly written, made out that the Vikings had no word for the color blue since they never saw it. I guess they never looked at the sky? Never looked at a Hepatica flower or a Blueweed flower, both of which are native to Scandinavia?! These kinds of mistakes are pathetic and amateur, and inexcusable, and Jenny Colgan is off my list of authors I'm ever going to consider reading again.<\p>

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Courage: Daring Poems For Gutsy Girls by Various Authors


Rating: WARTY!

I must say up front that i am not a big poetry fan despite having published a book of poetry and prose (Poem y Granite - the title says it all!) myself. Poetry is like all art forms: a very personal thing, and I'm forced to conclude that it's especially personal to the author of it, and less so to everyone else!

On top of that, this book isn't aimed at me. Well maybe it's aimed at half of me, since I do have one X chromosome, but I suspect it's intended for those carrying at least two such chromosomes. Oh yes, it's possible to have more than two, but it's usually not a good idea. Male chauvinists might take some pleasure in the knowledge that for each extra X you have, your IQ drops by about fifteen points, but this is only in males, so evidently we can't handle the X! When females have an extra X the IQ drops only by ten points, so that ought to set the record straight!

It seems odd to say I was disappointed in this, because I wasn't sure what to expect from it. I got less than I expected, whatever that expectation was though, which meant it was a disappointment for me. I think that my first problem was that these poems didn't feel very much like poetry to me. Most of them were nothing more than prose split arbitrarily into odd line segments. We've all done that: pretentiously split up some (to us) deep-sounding prose and called it a poem, but it doesn't make it one.

And no, I'm not one of these people who believes that if it doesn't have an alternate rhyme scheme like a Hallmark card or a pop song, then it's not a poem. I do like rhyming poems, but I appreciate other kinds of poetry too, if it seems poetic! There are different ways of making a poem. It can be done by rhyming words, or by rhyming ideas or thought, or meaning, or by making the poem rhythmic in some way. It's that old truth: I may not know much about art, but I know what I like, or something along those lines.

Again, it's a personal thing, but to me, most of this stuff was not poetic. Maybe that's on me for not being a woman (or a girl in this case)! Maybe there;s a secret girl code in here that guys just don't get, but whatever it was, I think that accounts for the bulk of my disappointment. I didn't feel elevated or educated by it. I didn't feel I had any insight I had not had before. One poem, for example, bore more resemblance to a shopping list than ever it did to poetry. Others were simply women evidently getting bad stuff out of their system, which is fine. No on says poetry is required to be upbeat and perky (no one who knows anything anyway), but this simply did not feel poetic.

So while others may get different mileage out of this - in fact I hope they do - I didn't get very much out of it at all, so I can't recommend it.


The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills


Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Katie Kath, this is evidently part of the "Nora Notebooks" series, but can be read as a standalone. I'm not a huge fan of series, but this one was harmless, and moreover, it placed a heavy emphasis on science, which is a wonderful thing in books for young girls and makes them far from harmless!

Middle-grader Nora gets a new notebook and decides to devote the space to recording observations on her pet ants which she naturally (or unnaturally depending on your perspective!) keeps in an ant farm. Personally speaking, if all ants, wasps, hornets, and Africanized bees became extinct, that would work for me! Nora loves her ants though, and observes them every day. The problem, of course is that the ants die when separated from their queen, but Nora's ambition is to be the youngest girl ever to be published in a science journal, so she presses on with her research.

No one else gets her obsession though, so at school she has to contend with shrieks when she unveils her ant farm during show and tell, and she has to suffer the fake and fawning attention her classmates devote to one girl's addiction to making videos of her cat, dressed in assorted outfits. Making the girls be "girlie-girls" with this shrieking was a mistake, because it perpetuates stereotypes that need to become extinct also!

There is strife and trouble, problems with ants, problems with school; in short, the usual , but Nora maintains an objective view and deals with it all with wry comments and good humor, and everything works out in the end! Despite the stereotyping I mentioned earlier, I thought this story was charming, and I recommend it.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Blowback by Valerie Plame, Sarah Lovett


Rating: WARTY!

I think this novel may have been misrepresented, because the smaller name on the cover did most of the writing, but that's just a hunch. Or maybe, given the novel's title, it's a hunchback? Valerie Plame's claim to fame, for shame is that she was framed by the lame Bush administration in revenge for her putting a kink in their lie that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Now she's turning to novel writing, but rather than trust her to do it on her own, Big Publishing&trade, in its usual inept fashion, paired her with established writer, Sarah Lovett, whom I've never heard of. I rather suspect that latter one did most of the writing, if not all, because the story looks like it was painted by numbers. There's not an ounce of originality, inventiveness, creativity or even life in it.

The main character has the same initials as Plame, and is in the same job. All that's missing to make it a truly wacky joke is a middle initial to make it VIP. The character is a flawed CIA officer (because you can't have one without some serious flaws, right - that's the writer's code. Well, they're more like guidelines really). True to form, the guy is square-jawed, but has a crooked tooth and a scar - not from his job with the CIA, but from childhood (like Indiana Jones), and is very boyish in appearance. Barf me a fricking cow. Seriously? I was completely turned off this novel at that point, and trying to read on a bit more didn't help.

The real problem with this (I'm sure there are many, but I DNF'd it) is that here we have an actual CIA operative who has been there and done that and has some impressive credentials, yet the story we get (supposedly) from her is exactly the same as every other story we've ever had about CIA operatives, with very few exceptions. In fact I reviewed one not all that long ago which had almost the exact same opening sequence as this one does: an assassination in Europe of a contact who was meeting a female operative?

My point is that if a legit CIA agent cannot write something fresh and original, then what is the point? What is the point if all she can give us is exactly the type of story we've been getting from non-CIA personnel for years? I don't see any point, and I'm not about to waste any of my time reading this when there are other more imaginative and more engrossing novels out there just begging to be read.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

This volume concludes the trilogy and is set a year after the previous one, when Gemma is about to come out to society. She's still at the Spence Academy, but finds she has lost her power to enter the realms at will. When she finally does get in she discovers the Pippa has been building a little queendom for herself and has changed significantly, now bordering on megalomaniacal evil. Pippa is unable to cross to the afterlife because she has become so embedded in the realms by this time.

Feeling like her life is slipping out of her control, Gemma decides she has no choice but to follow every clue and discover what is really going on here since her mother was so utterly useless in helping her. After rambling around London following rather tedious clues, Gemma enters the realms again and visits the Winterlands in hopes of finding the so-called Tree of All Souls. When they touch the tree they get visions, and Gemma's is of Eugenia Spence telling her about this mysterious girl in lavender she keeps seeing. Evidently, the girl has a dagger which is somehow a threat to the Winterlands.

Felicity and Ann are becoming increasingly frustrated with Gemma's refusal to allow them back into the realms, and they discover that they don't need her because there's an alternate way to get there. When Felicity encounters the very dangerous Pippa, the latter tries to talk her into eating the realm berries which will maker her visit to the realms permanent so she can always be with Pippa - who's true love was evidently Felicity all along.

In a big showdown at the end, Kartik sacrifices himself to save Gemma who then does what we all thought she'd done in volume two which was to give her power back to the realms, robbing herself of power and sealing the two worlds from each other. She then retreats to the Americas which is what all young girls do when they have no power, of course!

Some issues with this last volume, but overall, I recommend it as a fitting finale to the trilogy. It's a worthy read, despite a few problems here and there (mostly there).


Rebel Angels by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Now we're two months along from the end of the first novel, and we learn that Kartik has been ordered by the anti-Order known as the Rakshana, to induce Gemma to perform a certain piece of magic and to then kill her. Gemma must go into the realms, and "bind" the magic therein, in the name of the "Eastern Star".

Unfortunately for Kartik's plan, it's Xmas and Gemma goes to London to finally meet her family. Her brother Tom is supposed to pick her up, but Gemma cannot find him and she believes she's being stalked by someone from the Rakshana. Rather brazenly, she accosts a nearby young man (of course), Simon Middleton, and feigns acquaintanceship with him. Middleton is from a wealthy family and is quite taken with Gemma, so he invites her family to dine with him.

It turns out that Middleton was very conveniently at Eton, a very manly college, with her brother. Moving around London, Gemma also runs into Hester Moore, who is known to Gemma because she used to teach art at Spence, and who now conveniently lives in London. Hester's replacement at Spence, Miss McCleethy, is the one who Gemma believes is really Circe.

While on the topic of complete, utter, and highly suspicious convenience, Gemma's brother works at Bethlem Royal Hospital a psychiatric institution (although that's not how it was known back then) from which we derive the word bedlam. Conveniently, one of Tom's patients is Nell Hawkins. When Gemma is conveniently with her one day, she conveniently rambles on about "The Temple" which is the very thing Kartik had requested that Gemma seek out in the realms! it turns out that Nell was once also conveniently a student at a school at which McCleethy once taught.

We learn here why Felicity requested power as her wish from the realms - when a girl called Polly comes to stay with them, Felicity warns her severely to lock her doors and not let Felicity's uncle into her room. Gemma's father is a drug addict and is not well, eventually winding up in a health facility.

In the finale to this volume, Gemma determines the real identity of Circe, and defeats her in open battle. She discovers the true meaning of the temple, which is quite messianic, and in discovering this, she finds she can distribute the magic democratically across the realms so it resides in no one person's hands.

Eminently readable and listenable, this novel was a bit too convenient in many places, but despite that, made for a worthy read. I recommend this as part of this complete series!


A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Gemma Doyle is a girl in her mid-teens who is rather less than thrilled with her lot with life with her mother in India. She dreams of going back to her native England where her father resides, and taking up the society life to which she believes she's entitled.

Gemma should be careful what she wishes for, because when her wish comes true, it’s at the cost of the tragic death of her mother. One day, out in the hot and dusty market place in Mumbai, Gemma's mother is approached by a man accompanied by a boy who is conveniently Gemma's age. The man relates a cryptic message to Gemma's mother, and her mum then demands that Gemma return home immediately. Gemma becomes so frustrated with her mother's secrecy that she runs away, and gets herself lost. She's visited by a horrible vision of her mother committing suicide, and when she finally makes her way to where her mother is, she discovers that her vision was true: her mother is dead, and subsequently Gemma is being hastily packed off to England, to be sequestered at the elite Spence Academy.

Gemma starts out by being the lonely newbie because of her derided Indian background, but when she discovers the snottiest girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation, Gemma finds herself elevated to the top notch of clique-dom. Finally, she's where she wanted to be. She begins to form a close relationship with Felicity and her two friends, Pippa and Ann. Gemma also learns that Kartik, the boy she saw with the man in Mumbai, is now in England! He warns her that she is in danger, and must close herself off to what happened to her mother if she wishes to remain safe.

Gemma increasingly has visions and one of these leads her to a cave in the school grounds, where she finds a 25-year-old diary written by Mary Dowd, a girl of Gemma's age, who also was a student at Spence. Gemma identifies with Mary because May also had visions which she shared with her friend Sarah Rees-Toome.

Gemma reads the diary and discovers that Mary was associated with a society known as the Order, initiates of which were able to open a portal to other realms. They could use this power to ease the passage of souls, and the power gave them prophetic insight and the power to create illusions. The four new friends create their own "Order", meeting in the cave.

As they read more of the diary and investigate the history of Spence, they discover that the two girls from a quarter century ago died in a fire at Spence along with the principal of the school.

Finally Gemma & Co travel to the realms which are weird, beautiful and wonderful. They do not travel there bodily but spiritually, leaving their bodies behind in the real world. Gemma is able to meet with her mother there, but predictably her mother is unnecessarily mysterious. She does, however, warn Gemma not to take magic from the realms into the everyday world because it would let them fall foul of Circe, who seeks this power and wishes to take over the realms. The magic of the realms allows them to have a wish granted. Ann, who is plain, requests beauty. Felicity, who feels abused, asks for power. Gemma wants insights into her self, and finally, Pippa seeks true love.

The girls begin a routine of secret night-time meetings in the cave when they visit the realms. Gemma discovers that her mother was Mary Dowd, who obviously she did not die in the fire but escaped and changed her name. She also learns that Sarah is Circe.

Gemma is the only one who can control the portal, and during one visit, Pippa is separated from them and is left behind as the others flee an evil power seeking them in the realms. Back in the real world, Pippa is now having a seizure. Gemma returns to the realms to retrieve Pippa, but Pippa has met her true Love there and refuses to return to real life and the arranged marriage which awaits her there. When Gemma returns to her own world, Pippa is dead.

I've also listened to the audio book version of this, narrated by Jo Wyatt, and I recommend that version, too. She does a thoroughly amazing job of narration and voices. I've had good success with Libba Bray, and although this is a series (a trilogy specifically) which I usually detest, this one turned out to be eminently engaging. I recommend it.


Arriving at Ellis Island by Dale Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

At a time when we have a president who seems dedicated to destroying all that the US stands for (apart from rampant capitalism, that is), I think it's important to remember the things it used to stand for: huddled masses yearning to be free, being an important one of them.

This children's book is part of a series titled 'Landmark Events in American History', and it discusses the history of Ellis island, the arrival point of many immigrants to the USA over the years. It was nice to read a book which covers all the bases and is written in an unflinching, yet child-friendly manner. This is an illustrated, but text-based book for older children, and there is a lot to be learned from it. It mentions American Indians (as the first immigrants) and African Americans (as involuntary immigrants during the shameful slavery era), and it does not hide from teaching about the abuses that immigrants underwent, and the struggle and fight they had to endure to finally get free and start a new life. I recommend this book.


King Hugo's Huge Ego by Chris van Dusen


Rating: WORTHY!

In a world where everyone is pushed to outdo everyone else and to inflate themselves to celebrity status in the most showy way imaginable, and in a student world where so many awards are given out for 'achievements' that the awards are in fact, meaningless, we need books like this.

Humility is not a negative quality, but you would never know it in a world where this popular TV show is centered around who can best run roughshod over everyone else in order to avoid hearing "You're fired!" and that TV show is all about beauty, like it's a character trait rather than a genetic trait. In a world where our president has the most over-inflated of them all, we definitely need books like this.

This is a large-format and fun picture ebook for children with some rhyming text about Hugo, who is so self-obsessed that he cares for nothing but puffing himself up with his own achievements and qualities. One day in his blinkered ignorance, he makes the mistake of insulting a witch, who casts a spell on him that makes his head actually swell in proportion to how much his head is swollen from his own self-aggrandizement. The book is beautifully illustrated with fun images of Hugo's sad decline and then wondrous recovery from his personal(ity) problem. That witch isn't done with him yet, and he's not done with her! I recommend this for a fun and easy read for young children - and for the useful lesson to be learned from it.


Touched by Cyn Balog


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last Cyn Balog I'm ever going to read because it was sad - not a sad story, but because it was badly written and as I've lately come to expect from this author, predictable throughout. I knew on page 124 exactly how this three-hundred page novel would end, so what was the point of reading any further when the novel consisted, very much like the author's Starstruck story, of nothing more than a first person character constantly whining, whining, whining. It was nauseating.

It wouldn't have been so bad, had it been written in third person, although it would still have been obnoxious, but evidently this author cannot write in any other voice, either that or she's operating under the same absurd delusion that the majority of female YA write under: that it's illegal to write a YA novel in third person.

The main character, whose name honestly escapes me, so forgettable was he, has been 'touched' - and not in a Catholic priest way, but in a magical way. He can see the future, but predictably only in dribs and drabs. His mother has the gift (and in true YA novel and Cyn Balog novel fashion, only one parent is extant), and so does he.

In a sad and direct rip-off of the Nicolas Cage movie Next, he says he can only see a couple of minutes ahead unless he 'gets on script' when, if he follows his path to the letter, he can see a bright future far ahead. He can change his future, but if he slips from the predictive script, things can go very badly awry, as they do when the novel begins.

He's a lifeguard and a child drowns, but for some absurd reason he takes all the blame on his self, and for me this is where the novel started seriously going downhill. It was the beginning of a two-hundred page pity party, and one long, boring, endless whine of a story, as as I said, predictable as all hell. I did not like it and I do not recommend it. If this has been written by a new, first time writer, it would have rightly been rejected out of hand, but of course once you get your foot in the door with Big Publishing™ you can shovel out any trash you want it and it gets published. Yes, it's unfair but it's what we have to deal with, so deal! Keep writing, and keep indie publishing. It's the only choice we have!

As for this author, I'm done reading her oeuvre.


Starstruck by Cyn Balog


Rating: WARTY!

This one is my third Cyn Balog novel. I liked the first two, but ran into issues with this one. It's about this overweight girl, Gwendolyn Reilly, who is so limp she allows people (even her family and boyfriend) to call her 'Dough'. Her boyfriend, Philip Wishman idiotically gets to be called 'Wish'. Honestly? Gwen hasn't seen him in three or four years because his family moved away. He's about to return (why now isn't explained), but in the meantime she's put on weight, and he's grown California surfin' good looks. He's also magically a celebrity for no apparent reason because half the school goes to welcome him back at the airport. Why? No explanation. Gwen doesn't go because everyone else does.

Her behavior is inexcusable. She doesn't say a word to him in their emails or on the phone about having put on so much weight - she simply leaves it for him to find out and potentially be shocked by It, which makes her thoroughly dishonest. When he arrives and they finally meet - the next day at school - she won't even look him in the eyes and she mumbles excuses to get away from him. In short, she treats him like dirt. At this point I flatly did not like Gwen at all.

The novel would not have been so bad if it had not been so predictable. It seemed pretty obvious from the moment the oddball new guy (with the questionable past) turned-up to work in the donut shop her family owns, that Gwen would be breaking-up with her wish and falling right into the arms of her savior Christ-ian, because god forbid any woman stand on her own two feet and be without a man to validate her for any length of time. The alternative to that would be that she manages to make a go of things with Wish.

It's inevitably first person voice, which with a few rare exceptions, I hate. This voice serves here only to make Gwen's constant harping on her weight even more obnoxious than it would have been had it been third person. It's not remotely amusing to read, and it made for a trying slog. Girl, if it bothers you that much, then do something about it. Cyn Balog seems to specialize in stories about young women who are thoroughly lacking in self-confidence and motivation.

I decided I'd give this one a little longer to see if it turned around because the other two books I read by this author weren't bad at all. The problem is that this one is so (forgive me the term) larded with cliché as to be pathetic. Gwen is poor, everyone else on the island is rich. There are not overweight rich kids. There are no other "poor" kids. It's sad that the novel is this thin, but Balog's novels tend to be that way. They just not usually as bad as this one in my experience, and the experience here was a bad one. I did not like this book, and I do not recommend it.


Dead River by Cyn Balog


Rating: WORTHY!

This marks the start of three Cyn Balog books I got from the library, but it also marks the end of my interest in her, because the other two sucked. I really liked this author's Fairy Tale; it was quite different from your usual high-school romance novel and I appreciated it for that. This is the same thing - different from what you expect, and I think people will condemn it for that, which is their prerogative. For me, despite it having problems (as negative reviewers have no doubt discussed), I still like the book and consider it a worthy read.

The premise is Kiandra's visit to her cousin's family's log cabin in the woods by the river. Ki hasn't been anywhere near the river in a decade or so. Her over-protective father has kept her well away from it since her mother walked into the river and never was seen again. As soon as she arrives there with her boyfriend, Justin, her cousin, Angela, and this obnoxious guy her cousin invited along for no apparent reason, Ki starts hearing snatches of conversation when no one seems to be around.

This weekend is the weekend of the prom, and Ki really wanted to go, but Ki is about as weak as they come. Even though she's been dating Justin for three years, she couldn't put her foot down, and he's still not even remotely clued-in to the fact that she'd much rather go to the prom than go white-water rafting on Dead River.

You have to wonder what the two of them see in each other, but realistically viewed, this is how people end up. They start dating way too early in high-school before they have a clue what's what, and suddenly they're in a long-term relationship and don't know how to get out of it, or even if they want to because it's become kind of a rut and not one that's entirely unpleasant. Plus Ki has zero motivation as does Justin.

It's cold and wet and muddy out here and Ki is a bit of whiner, but she puts on a brave face and when they go out on the raft the next day she decides she's going to try and have fun, but things go wrong. She falls overboard and despite the best efforts of Justin to pull her back aboard, she's pulled under - quite literally. She comes around on a shore not too far from where they put in that morning. A guy named Trey has rescued her, and apparently healed her injured back. Suddenly she notices that he has a serious injury to his arm, which despite it bleeding out, doesn't seem to bother him. She realizes Trey is a ghost - the ghost of the very kid someone told a story about over the campfire the previous night.

From that point onwards, Ki can't not be interested in the river - or more to the point, she's obsessed with it, and with the east bank, which is where the dead supposedly live. This is nonsensical of course, because pretty much everyone lives on the east bank of some river (though it may be far away!). In Ki's case, Her mother might well be over there, waiting for her. Ki meets Jack - another ghost and he seems to have a quite different approach to death than does Trey. Who should Ki believe?

This is where the story got interesting for me, because of the way the world of the dead works in this place (unsurprisingly, given it's a water world, it relies heavily on Greek mythology as to how the dead pass over. Yes, if you look too closely, the world-building falls apart as it does in all of these horror stories, but if you're willing to overlook the fact that the fabric is rather threadbare in places, it's not too bad of a world the author creates here. It's a bit thin in some parts, and a bit repetitive in others, and it's disjointed in others. Some parts of it read like a first draft rather than a polished novel, but despite all of this, I liked the story and the atmosphere.

I think that a part of the problem was Ki's perspective. In true blind, sheep-mentality, YA fashion, it was told in first person by her and she really wasn't a very good narrator. I won't say she's unreliable because that's not the tack the author takes here, but she's very selfish, which accounts for how thinly the rest of the world is veneered when we see it from her perspective. I'm not a fan of first person at all, but in this case it was interesting to see up close her juvenile and sadly-blinkered view of the world. It makes me glad I'm not in high-school anymore dealing with people like that!

The ending reflects how very selfish and self-centered Ki is, too. She ends up with Trey. This isn't a spoiler because it's so obviously coming from the moment we first encounter him. There is no tension and no surprise here except in the fact that the author glosses over the same insurmountable problem that Stephenie Meyer cluelessly failed to address in Twilight: why would a several hundred year old vampire fall for a vacuous juvenile who must have been a baby relative to him?

Yeah, he'd no doubt want to jump her bones, but why would he have any other interest in her? Fall in love? Ain't gonna happen. The same problem arises here since Trey died in 1936, and has been living in ghost world ever since. In short, he's over eighty years old and would have zero interest in a child, yet Balog portrays him as being just like a teen. Nope. That's garbage. Yes, he's portrayed as innocent in the ways of women, but it still doesn't work because that doesn't do anything to un-age him! He'd be courting her mom (or even her grandmother) before he'd ever be interested in hitting on Ki for anything other than sex.

So that was pathetic, but that aside, I liked the way this novel flowed - like a rock-strewn river, heading for a crash down a steep waterfall. I'm not even sure why I liked it. Normally I would trash a novel like this, but something in it spoke to me, so maybe it was very personal, so I recommend it with the above-mentioned caveats.


The Witches' Guide to Cooking With Children by Keith Mcgowan


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a cute and amusing novel aimed at middle graders and younger. It's an easy and fast read, and it's very well-written. It has a layer or two in it, which is unusual for this level of writing, so I was also pleased with that. Rooted loosely in the story of Hansel and Gretel, these two young kids, 11-year-old Solomon, and 8-year-old Constance find themselves suddenly uprooted and moved to a new town for no apparent reason, but the reason does become apparent to them and quite scarily so. Their new next door neighbor is a witch - and not a pleasant one. She's known for eating kids, and their dad, who happens to be a twin, and his new wife, their stepmother, want the money that's supposed to come to the kids.

We're told that Sol is the smart one, and Connie not so much, but she's a sneaky, scheming little devil, and a mischievous one, too. I liked her! Together they decide that they must take on this witch, and when Connie is captured by her, Sol becomes frantic. Fortunately, his science smarts enable him to take a logical approach to discovering where the witch is hiding his sister.

As I said, the book is well-written, but there was one issue I encountered which is worth exploring from a writing PoV. A few days ago I reviewed a book about punctuation, and mentioned at the time that not a few professional writers might make use of it, and I read a part of one sentence in this book which revealed how important smart punctuation is: "Holaderry and Connie, tied up" was what the sentence said in part. Holaderry is the witch. She has Connie tied-up, but the placement of the comma here suggests that both were tied-up! It should have read, "Holaderry, and Connie tied up."

Just nudging that comma over to the left by two words makes a lot of difference. The classic example of how the placement of commas can change a sentence is this: "Smith says Jones is an ass" versus "Smith, says Jones, is an ass." The addition of those two tiny commas gives the whole sentence the opposite meaning! It's worth remembering as a writer.

But that was a minor issue. Overall I consider this novel to be a very worthy read and I recommend it.


Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin


Rating: WARTY!

Zona Lowell is fifteen and is halfway through her second year of high-school, which in Canada and the USA is known, sophomorically as the sophomore year. It's derived from a combo of the Greek words for wise and foolish! LOL! That pretty much sums up Zona. Why it has a Greek name and the other three years have regular English names can only be put down to pretension.

I have to ask where this girl's name comes from. Maybe the author thinks it's Greek, but it's not. In Serbian and Spanish, it means 'zone', so why a girl with an American father and a Greek mother would have a name unconnected with either lineage is a mystery. In Hebrew, it's worse: it means whore. That's not a great choice for a girl's name - not when there are so many wonderful Greek names (and of other nationalities, too).

For me it didn't work, and that sentiment pretty much sums up this whole novel. I made it a third of the way through, and it was so predictable that it was tedious to read. The author quite evidently downloaded a plot-point list from Trope (tripe?) Central and stuck to it rigidly. Can YA authors not have original ideas? On the whole they seem quite incapable, but I know for a fact one or two of them do, since I recently read an excellent story set in high-school, and a romance at that, and I loved it - so it's not impossible. I can only conclude these writers are lazy and/or unimaginative.

How shall I trope thee? Let me count the ways:

  • ☑ Story is in first person because it's understood by the YA writing community that it's illegal to write a YA novel in third?
  • ☑ Mid-teen girl, parentless, or half parentless?
  • ☑ Girl has had very close female bestie for several years?
  • ☑ Girl has very close male bestie who is gay?
  • ☑ Girl has low self-esteem? (She's even named Lowell! LOL!)
  • ☑ Girl thinks breasts are too small?
  • ☑ Girl thinks she's not that great looking?
  • ☑ Author thinks 'pretty' is actually a character trait?
  • ☑ Author thinks 'pretty' is the most important character trait?
  • ☑ Girl gets to go on trip abroad so it has to be France, Greece, or Italy since there is nowhere else?
  • ☑ Story ends on positive note because you can't write a YA novel that has a tragic ending?
  • ☑ Story makes frequent comparisons between two nations, and US is made to look trashy, violent, boring, and heartless?
  • ☑ Author thinks jazzing-up the text with boring inserts is cool?
  • ☑ Author thinks Greece is way south of NYC and therefore significantly warmer?

Lowell's year is smashed in two by her father who drops the bombshell on her that he's going to Greece for six months to write a story and she's coming with him. Mom isn't in the picture having conveniently died shortly after Zona was born. The Greek half of the family washed its hands of Zona and her father since they were not even in favor of the marriage, let alone any births and deaths. Now her dad suddenly wants to reconnect. He's older than most fathers of fifteen year olds, but not at death's door, so the premise was a bit weak, especially when the Greek side had been so overwhelmingly negative, so this premise failed for me.

It failed worse in that Zona is shown to cave to her father's precipitous demands far too quickly. I lost all respect for her at that point, but I'd already lost a lot of respect for the story-telling, so it mattered little by then. One big annoyance was the absurd newspaper clipping inserts. I'm sure the author thought this was cute and inventive, but the news articles - simply reporting everyday events in Zona's life, were monotonous and I started skipping them completely after reading the first two. I didn't miss them.

They were especially poor given that they were often not contained on one page, but overlapped to the second page. The problem with that, is that in order to facilitate reading, the story ran down column one, then down two, as it should, but on the second page, the story reverted to column one again, and finished in column two. They had to do this because of poor planning in fitting the articles onto one page, but the articles were so tedious they should have just omitted them altogether.

So, the story was poor one, with nothing new to offer. Going to Greece? How original! Why not try someplace completely different for a change? Child missing a parent or two? Yawn. Child supposedly unnaturally smart (but in practice really dumb) and has low opinion of herself? Been done a trillion billion times. Token gay best friend? Seriously? I ought to be commended for even getting as far into as I did. Could the kid not have both parents? Could the girl herself not be gay? Could the trip have been to Serbia or Chile or South Africa, or something instead of (yawn) Greece?

Could the girl not have stayed at a friend's home, and we followed her adventures there? Could the girl not have precipitously followed her father and the story been about her journey there rather than the destination? Apparently not when this author is at the helm, because she had a rigid checklist to follow in order to keep her name in good standing at the YA Club, and she was in no way going to deviate from it for anything, not even for the absurd purpose of telling an interesting story which is new and different from the rest of the flock. I am never reading another of her efforts. She has Big Publishing™ behind her, so you know there's no way she's ever going to be original.


Battling Boy by Paul Pope


Rating: WARTY!

I'm back again after taking a couple of weeks off from blogging to pursue illustrations for the print version of Baker Street, the e-version of which is released today.

This graphic novel was a bust for me. The most amusing thing about it was that when I first saw it on the library shelf I thought the title was "Pope Battling Boy" which I thought was hilarious. But no, it's just Battling Boy - the ''Pope part came from the author's pretentious conceit of putting his name at the top and the title below it, like this is supposed to mean something to me.

I'm sorry, but no! I don't borrow - and I certainly don't buy - a book for no other reason than that the author thinks I should because it's by him - or her. I read books based on whether they sound appealing, and I often get that wrong! I don't go by the title or by the pretty cover (yes, insanely melodramatic cover reveal authors, I'm looking at you!) and I really don't care who the author is, or what they've done previously. I'd hate to think people were buying my books just because my name is on them and for no other reason. People who think like that are morons.

I sure learned my lesson here with the confused and chaotic story and the indifferent illustrations I got. The basic story is that the super hero who protects the town in this purely fictional alternate world - but which looks exactly like ours - is killed by super villains whose sole purpose in life (other than dressing like mummies) seems to be abducting children - for reasons which are unexplained. A lot of things go unfortunately unexplained in this book because it's part of a series, which is one reason I thoroughly detest most series I've ever encountered.

The super hero has the absurd name of Haggard West. His replacement is his daughter who, again for reasons unexplained, has a different name from her father. But there's a second replacement. For reasons unexplained, it's a kid whose bar mitzvah is to be dumped into this world from the heavens by his Thor rip-off dad, so he can prove himself. He's given no instructions, no tools, and no training - for reasons unexplained. He's just left there to fight the monsters which invade this city routinely...for reasons unexplained.

For reasons unexplained, he has a set of t-shirts which are imprinted each with a different animal logo - mostly real, but in one case mythical. For reasons unexplained, when he dons a Tee, it doesn't give him the powers of the animal, it makes the animal appear and talk to him offering pretty much useless advice. For reasons which ought to be clear by now, I don't recommend this book.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog


Rating: WORTHY!

I was so thrilled to read this book - an example of how to write a really well-done high-school romance. This book was amazing, and other writers of such works would do well to read this and learn from it. It was not perfect, by any means. I had a couple of issues with it, but those aside, the book was deep, well-written, passionate, amusing as hell, and amazing in how well the author controlled it, and brought it to closure.

Morgan Sparks is about to reach her sixteenth year and she gets to celebrate it with her lifelong partner, Cam Browne, who shares her birthday. That's the last great memory she has of the relationship, because almost from day one, things start going south. It turns out - hilariously, I thought - that macho football star Cam is a fairy. He was switched at birth with the Browne's newborn, and now he's about to turn sixteen himself, the fairies want him back. And Morgan isn't about to let that happen, but when he starts losing weight and growing wings out of his back, and Morgan is the only one who can see these changes, she starts to wonder if her dream romance is actually over for real.

A female fairy named Dawn arrives, and starts tutoring Cam in the ways of Fairy World. She's not supposed to be visible to anyone but Cam, yet Morgan can see her, which annoys Dawn. Dawn is, however, deadly. She has fairy magic and a mission not only to bring Cam back but to marry him and unite two fairy dynasties, and she is not about to let anyone get in the way of it, even if it means killing and maiming to accomplish her aim.

Morgan herself is psychic, yet she has a hard time seeing her own future, and has never seen future for herself and Cam. Her assumption has been that it will work out fine and they will always be together, but is it so? Or has she been so blind that she simply invented their future and now is about to find out the cold truth?

I loved this story and will look for more by this author. This story reminded me, a bit, of a story idea I have for a fairy tale, but fortunately this one is very different from what I had in mind, so I don't need to scrap mine! Phew! I did like this one. I liked that it was different, and that the author wasn't afraid to take a path less traveled. How sorry it is that far too many authors of this kind of story fail so dismally precisely because they're aping everyone else's stories? Kudos to Cyn Balog for blazing her own trail.

And kudos again for being unafraid to call it what it is: a fairy story. Nowhere in this book is there 'fae' or 'faerie'! It's 'fairy' all the way, and the author is proud of it; it's right there on the front cover. Good for her. If you're going to write a story like this and then let yourself be too embarrassed to use the word 'fairy' then I don't want to read your book anyway. And kudos to myself or being smart enough to recognize that this one might just be different! LOL!


Jane Austen's England by Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins


Rating: WORTHY!

Sometimes fortune favors the depraved, so today I have two books to blog which were pure joy to read. The first is this one, written not about Jane Austen's stories, but about her times - not her life, but the time in which she lived, and what life was like back then. It's reasonably-well documented because people were fond of writing letters and keeping journals, and some of Austen's own letters are quoted from here.

Austen was a contemporary (near enough) of Mary Shelley, although to my knowledge, the two never met. Austen was twenty-two and had completed Lady Susan when Shelly was born. She died by the time Shelley was twenty, the year before the latter published Frankenstein, so while Shelley had undoubtedly heard of Austen, the reverse was never the case. Austen as so prim and proper that the two of them probably would not have got along together even had they known each other! The Brontës were all of this era, but they were all born right around the time Austen died, so they never met either, which was probably just as well. By all accounts, Charlotte was no fan of Austen's.

There were other well-known writers alive in this era, too, such as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who published anonymously, Donatien Alphonse François, aka the Marquis de Sade, who died three years before Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley's mother, who died as Shelley was born. There was also Sophia Briscoe, and in terms of better known writers, both Charles Dickens and Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot were born around the time Austen died - to within a few years. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand, was around treize when Austen died.

Austen was not the only known and read female writer of that time; Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Ann Radcliffe all preceded her very slightly, and she knew of, and liked at least two of these. She disliked Radcliffe. The reason I mention all of these people is that this book surprisingly does not. Despite it being about Jane Austen's England, and despite it quoting many many writers of letters and journals, there are none other of what we might term "professional" writers, even mentioned! We get not a word on their lives or influence during this era. I found that very strange.

That glaring flaw aside, I enjoyed this book every much; it was well written, well-supported by contemporary account, well-referenced, and fascinating in many regards. It was very much another era back then, with different senses and sensibilities, much misplaced pride and prejudice, and a different outlook on life altogether, with death and disease looming at every stage. There was war, off an on, and many injured ex-soldiers had been left on the scrap-heap with little to their name despite their sacrifices. There was a huge gap between rich and poor, as there is now, and very little hope for - or love of - the latter.

This book devotes a chapter to each stage of life, exploring what it was like for rich and for poor, what customs and habits were, and how things fell together. There was an introduction, which I skipped as I do all antiquated prologues, prefaces, forewords and so on; then comes a chapter each devoted to marriage, "breeding", childhood, home, fashion, church, work, leisure, travel, crime, medicine, and death. Some of it is amusing, much disturbing, some very surprising. Nude weddings, for example, were not invented by Star Trek writers!

Aside from the missing writerly references, this is all-in-all a very comprehensive work, and a must-read for anyone who aspires to write a novel as Austen did. I recommend this as a worthy read, although I must confess curiosity as to why Roy gets precedence in the attribution over Lesley. The names are not alphabetical, so was this done because Roy did the most work? Because it was his idea? Or because even in 2013 when this book was published, even in a book dedicated to a woman and her times, the male still takes precedence as he did during Austen's lifetime, and the woman still takes his name?


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows


Rating: WORTHY!

This book was a true delight from start to finish. The wonderfully feisty and mischievous Bean (short for Bernice - somehow), is a little tyke, which is why she's not interested in making friends with Ivy, the quite evidently boring girl across the street who just moved into the neighborhood.

Fortunately for history (and literature), fate has other plans and the two are thrown together as Bean has to make a hasty escape from her older and rather peeved sister Nancy. Ivy is teaching herself to be a witch, and suddenly Bean is very intrigued. The two set off on an amusing adventure (which never leaves their's and their neighbors back yards, and I loved it.

This may be written for seven years and up, and aimed at readers who are past the beginning reading stage, but not yet on to more strenuous novels, but it kept me entertained quite readily! Sadly, it's a quick read which left me wanting more. It's only a hundred or so pages, with copious and amusing illustrations by Australian artist Sophie Blackall. Does that make them illustralians? I think so. Anyway, I recommend this.


Sophomore Switch by Abby McDonald


Rating: WARTY!

This is the third of three sorry reviews - sorry that I started reading the book in the first place! I read only a few chapters of each and was so disappointed that I DNF'd. Some idiots argue that you can't review a book when you haven't read it all, but they're morons. Yes, you can reject a book if it's garbage and or simply fails to move you anywhere other than irritation.

This one is your typical "let's switch places" story, and those can be fun if done right. This one wasn't. It started out brightly enough, but quickly devolved into serious dumb-assery and trope, and was so bigoted it was obnoxious. I've had quite enough of female authors who seem dedicated to degrading their female characters to maximal extent, and this seems to be de rigeur in far too many YA stories. I'm pretty much at the point where I'm done reading YA, although I have probably more of that genre still sitting on my shelf (real shelf of e-shelf, it doesn't matter!). Who knows, maybe one of those will restore my faith, and that's the whole point of ditching a badly-written and abusive novel like this: so I can move on to something better. I have no loyalty - nor should anyone in their right mind - to authors who are as clueless as this one is.

Emily the Brit and Tash the Yank are students who have switched colleges for a semester. The circumstances of the switch are truly dumb and lacking all credibility, but for the sake of the story, I was willing to overlook that. Emily is studying law (or pre-law, I guess) in Oxford, whereas Tash is studying film as a gut form in California, but now Tash is doing Em's classes, and vice-versa. None of this makes sense, but I was willing to let this fish play out of water for a good story.

The real problem was with the characters. They were boring and cliched stereotypes, and this switch between the two countries separated, as they say, by a common language, rather than being educational and fun, turned out to be a bitch-fest. Given that the author evidently moves between the two countries, it was shameful that she presented such a blinkered view of them.

At one point, Emily actually says to herself "Sam is...far more attractive than any boy I could find back in England." Seriously? How fucked up is that? It doesn't matter that the country named is England. You could put the name of any nation in there in its place and the sentence would still be as blinkered, blind, and brain-dead.

Worse than this it conflates 'attractive' and 'California beach bum' in the most stupid way possible. I lost all respect for this author and her characters at that point and ditched the novel It had been bad enough seeing Emily create bigoted twin stereotypes of Californians as being universally laid-back and the British being universally uptight, but really, why would I care about her opinion? She's clearly a moron.

This is the same hypocrite who just moments before has been perceiving herself as street meat under the ogling of the guys she passed, and who has just declared that she's not the kind of girl to rush into things, and yet now, with a guy she literally just met is "distracted by the heat of his torso," shes letting him have his hands all over her, and is about to let him kiss her. The only thing which prevents it is that she's an 'uptight Brit', apparently!

There's no moral code in play here; no question of impropriety. There are no thoughts of her allowing herself to be the very street meat she recoiled at earlier, and not only perpetuating, but also fostering the 'easy' stereotype. Nope, She should have let him have his way with her! She's too uptight. She needs to get over it and let boys get their hands all over her when she's just met them!

Does this author even read what she writes? Quite clearly she's utterly clueless about how to write a realistic, intelligent and conscientious novel. You know the worst thing about this though? The worst thing is that these two girls who are dishonestly presented here as totally different, are actually exactly the same! That's how pathetic this pile of garbage truly is. Normally when I'm done with a print book I donate it to the local library. That's the best kind of recycling there is, but this one? I'm honestly tempted to burn it in an effort to prevent this pernicious disease from spreading.