Showing posts with label supernatural. Show all posts
Showing posts with label supernatural. Show all posts

Saturday, May 23, 2015

21 Down Volume 1 by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray

Title: 21 Down Volume 1
Author: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Publisher: Warner Bros
Rating: WORTHY!

I found this one in a comic book store (Austin's Tanglewood Village Shopping Center - the one on the left not the fancy new one on the right, which really isn't a comic book store) that’s a treasure trove of older comics, and which incidentally has a thriving week-end card-playing gathering.

I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, and some editions were missing, so I picked up only the first three (four and five were two of the missing editions) to begin with but after I read those I went around and picked up the rest of the series, which runs to twelve volumes. So this marks the first time I've read and reviewed a complete comic book series.

The main character, Preston Kills, has two problems, not least of which is that he’s going to die the day he turns 21. Why this is so, is a mystery, but it appears to be most definitely connected with the other problem, which is a power that he has, whereby he can relive the last moments of a murder victim’s life.

It so happens that his brother is a cop, who has the ambition of achieving the same success their father enjoyed as a detective, so his brother’s power is proving to be really useful. Of course, the main character doesn’t think so, since he has to suffer along with the victim every time he relives a murder; consequently, he’s constantly on the verge of refusing to do this any more.

Unfortunately, he really has no choice, as we discover. Preston works as an artist at a tattoo shop, and this guy who comes in there to have a web put on his hand starts giving off vibes which the main character hasn’t experienced before. He suddenly realizes that this guy is also a murderer and calls it in to his brother. The guy, with the rather clichéd name of Mad Dog Duggan, realizes how the police tracked him down, and as he's about to dispatch Preston, to his rescue comes the highly provocative woman on the cover, who knows way too much about our main character.

I loved this story. It was smart, fast moving, well portrayed, and neatly put together. Yeah, the woman is just a tad too much comic trope for my taste, but in her favor, she’s a lot more complex than way-too-many comic book characters turn out to be. She has an agenda in seeking out our main character of which we’re kept in ignorance until volumes two and three (I’m glad those were not missing from the comic book store’s collection!).

Overall, I rate this as a very worthy read and a really good story. the art work is pretty cool, but it’s nice to see a comic book that’s not just remarkable art, but also has a good story to tell in those pictures and interesting characters to unveil.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Demo Volume Two by Brian Wood

Title: Demo
Author: Brian Wood
Publisher: Warner Bros
Rating: WORTHY!

Art work by Becky Cloonan.
Lettering by Jared Fletcher.

This was different and a bit weird. It's volume two, but the stories are evidently unconnected, so you don't need to have read volume one before this one. The first two stories did nothing to sell this comic to me at all. There are six very short and unconnected stories in about 150 pages. Becky Cloonan's drawing is pretty decent - line drawing with some shading. There is no coloring, not even on the cover. I loved the way she rendered some stories, especially the third one titled Volume One Love Story (don't look for the titles to make sense!), wherein one of the characters is very reminiscent of the artist herself, and the fifth one, titled Stranded. These two were the only stories that I really enjoyed.

The first story concerned a San Francisco resident's prophetic dream of some accident occurring in a place she didn't know. Eventually, she discovers where the place is and goes there, and she gets an ending she doesn't expect, but her behavior in running off searching for a third party made no sense given the vision she'd dreamed.

Pangs is for fans of Jeffrey Dahmer and his ilk. I think. I can't say for certain! Volume One Love Story is about an inexplicably OCD woman who is magically able to give it all up, but there's no justification offered for how she came to be that way or how she was miraculously cured except for some magical deus ex post-it note solution. Waterbreather is a bit of a Man from Atlantis redux, but in reverse. Stranded is about time-travel (I think) and the miraculous if tardy undoing of past harms. The last story is about a very destructive relationship between two painfully-evident morons.

Brian Wood's story-telling was a bit suspect and patchy. Some of it made no sense or failed to go anywhere - at least, anywhere interesting. Some of it was so vague as to leave me wondering what the heck I'd just read, like the second story, Pangs (which was about the only one that did have a title which made sense, and which ironically was the one I liked least.

Becky Cloonan must love trees because she makes full use of the entire page - no wasted paper and gratuitous white space here, but the layout of the novel overall was poor. Yes, the chapters were labeled and the pages numbered, but there wasn't much of a transition between one story and another. There was a number, but no introductory page. This was strange because they'd put all the covers in the back of the book. I can't figure out why they didn't put the cover at the start of each story where it belonged.

I think maybe they were swept-up in the graphic trope of larding-up the back end-papers with extra art, and forgot about actually serving the reader. Some stories didn't even have the title, so I had to go back to the contents list each time to find the title for the story I was about to read.

As I mentioned, I really liked the third and the fifth, and I really didn't like the second and the last, which was titled Sad and Beautiful Life, and which incredibly seemed to be trying to justify co-dependent relationships. That's a no-no for me, but as with Pangs, the story was so vague as to be indecipherable. I had no idea what was really going on. Was this just an ordinary co-dependent relationship, or was there something supernatural happening between the couple like out of the movie Hancock? I have no idea. Given the fantasy and supernatural elements in the other stories, I'd guess there was something else going on, but it was never made clear what it was supposed to be.

As for the other two stories, the first, which as titled The Waking Life of Angels was okay. It was interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, if very mildly amusing. The other one, titled Waterbreather was just odd, and neither really entertaining, nor really off-putting. If I'd read four good ones out of six, I would recommend this, but given that I only got two, I can't. You may find more to like, of course, and may dislike my favorites and enjoy ones I didn't get, but for me I can't recommend it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Woman in the Movie Star Dress by Praveen Asthana

Title: The Woman in the Movie Star Dress
Author: Praveen Asthana (no website found)
Publisher: Doublewood Press (no website found)
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 enough reward aplenty!

Page 31 “Sachem Littlefeather” should be “Sacheen Littlefeather” née Marie Louise Cruz.
Page 46 “…dishy Kennedy’s…” should be “dishy Kennedys” (it’s a plural, not a possessive).
Page 164 “It’s OK darling” needs speech quotes around it.
Page 174 “…two young women in skirts so short she could tell one was a natural blonde and the other favored dilapidation…” I got a real laugh out of that! I assume the author meant “…two young women in skirts so short she could tell one was a natural blonde and the other favored depilation…”. Of course, I could be wrong and this could actually have been intended as a joke!
Page 179 Genevieve knows who Alla Nazimova is, on page 200, a day later, she does not!

With few exceptions, I normally avoid books which sport a favorable review from Jerk-Us Reviews on the cover. Since those guys rarely negatively review, their "reviews" are completely without value. This one I had requested not knowing Jerkus liked it, and it was just as well, since I liked it too! How weird is that?!

Having favorably reviewed Diana Mclellan’s non-fiction Sappho Goes to Hollywood in December 2014, this seemed like an interesting novel to me. This novelist does almost everything right. The prologue is chapter one, which I read (I wouldn’t have, had it actually been a prologue!), and I learned of Margaret Brooks who buys (from a guy named Mel - I have no idea if that delightful juxtaposition was purposeful not!) a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the movie Niagara which I haven’t seen, but which has to have one of the most boring plots imaginable fro what I read here. Margaret wants to be a femme fatale, and she already has a gun. She buys the dress.

Abruptly we’re in chapter two and it’s sixty years later, making the year around 2013 (Niagara came out in 1953), and we meet Genevieve (not her real name!) Nightcloud, who now works in the same store (but now in a different location) that Mel founded all those years ago with a dress he got from Joan Crawford. The author titles the chapters mostly after actors: Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart, Natalie Wood, Ava Gardner, and so on and adds a quote supposedly said by the actor.

Genvie grew-up watching old Paramount movies because her dad was one of the janitors at the studio and parked his kids in the screening room watching old movies while he worked. Genvie feels like she’s caught in the middle of too many things to be anything of one thing: she’s halfway between “plain and pretty, white and brown, sassy and shy” and she’s also stuck between being a modern girl and loving those old movies.

One day, right after a new consignment of clothes arrives, which contains that red dress, a woman comes into the store hauling a kid along with her – and she buys the dress. She wants to stand out at an event, she says, because her husband has a wandering eye….

Before the three girls in the store know it, a guy shows up asking about that very consignment, claiming he’s a relative and wants to retrieve a family heirloom, but the fierce Gretchen says all those things were sold, and she refuses to divulge any information about who may have bought what despite a large monetary inducement. Good for her! This doesn’t, however, prevent Genvie from taking a growing interest in that dress, and the woman who wore it: Margaret Brooks.

One serious complaint I would make if I took book blurbs seriously, is how utterly inaccurate this one is! We all know that book blurbs are hardly the most reliable source of information about a given novel, and that the author typically has nothing whatsoever to do with the particular one which their novel is saddle, but that said, the one for this novel is about as misleading as you can get! It begins:

“A young woman comes to Hollywood to escape her past.”

No, she’s already in Hollywood (near enough)! Has been since she was a kid!

“She finds work in a vintage clothing store that sells clothes used in the movies.”

No, her father finds her the job!

“One day she discovers a way to transfer human character through these vintage clothes, and she uses this ability to transform from a lonely, insecure young woman to a glamorous heart-breaker.”

No, she notices her character changing when she inappropriately ‘borrows’ various dresses from the store, and later surmises what is happening and takes advantage of it.

“But she also discovers that with the good comes the bad as character flaws are transferred too. She begins to worry: what if one of the vintage clothes she has sold to some unsuspecting customer had been previously worn by a deeply troubled soul? One day her fears become crystallized—intrigued by a man who comes asking about a beautiful scarlet dress she has recently sold, she looks into its history and discovers a secret that terrifies her.”

No. That latter part all takes place before she starts wondering why her clothes hang her…!
(Get it? Wire clothes hanger? Joan Crawford? Never mind!)

“So begins a quest to find the scarlet dress complicated by a budding romance and the threads of her past, which intervene like trip wires. Emotions run high, and in the background the quickening drumbeat of the race to find the scarlet dress, potent as a loose, loaded weapon.”

This last bit is the only part which is accurate, if a bit melodramatic!

I have to say that despite my liking of this story, I am really not at all fond of the main character. Genvie is way too focused on (you might say obsessed with) getting herself a man – like this will solve all her problems. There is no doubt that having a reliable partner is definitely a boon (yes, I shall have it no other way, I tell you!) to a person; indeed, fans of actuarial charts (if there be such a beast) will say it’s a life-saver, but such a wish should never make itself the be-all and end-all of your life. You’re not going to be of much use to anyone else if you’re not comfortable with yourself. Clearly Genvie doesn’t get this.

She also has no qualms about borrowing expensive outfits from the store without permission and going partying in them. These are not simply expensive dresses. They're used, but they were ‘used’ by movie legends such as Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Taylor, and so on. Some of these dresses are pretty much what would be described as priceless (not that I’d hold them in such regard), but to Genvie, they’re simply tools to get what she wants, as is the peyote she stole from her dad, and she has no qualms, no guilt, no nothing about using them to get whatever she wants.

There’s a guy she meets in the story who makes a living out of murder memorabilia – objects and clothes owned by a murder victim or by the perp, especially if it was someone famous, or a famous crime. Genvie is very critical of this guy, yet she’s so very much like him, using what she calls the ‘chi’ of these clothes to get what she wants.

Worse than this is her profligacy when it comes to sex. I didn’t have a problem with her jumping into bed with a variety of partners, especially since (she thinks) it’s the outfits she wears which make her do these things. I did have a serious problem with her complete lack of birth control and disease prevention smarts.

Even if we assume that she’s on the pill or something (and nothing in this book actually even suggests that), while this would more than likely prevent pregnancy, it will do nothing to shield her from any sexual diseases. She’s actually not a very smart woman at all, and more often than not, she comes off as needy, scheming, and frankly, a royal bitch a lot of the time. On top of that she’s rather hypocritical. Not that she doesn’t have enough to contend with – a bitchy boss, a drunk father, and a violent brother.

I wouldn’t like Genvie were she a real person. Indeed, the only character I actually liked in it was Genvie’s colleague in the store: Gretchen. This business with the ‘chi’ and ‘transference’ of a person’s emotions, behaviors, and foibles via their clothing is absurd, of course. In a note at the beginning (which I almost didn't read, not being given to indulging in prefaces, introductions, etc.), the author mentions the Shroud of Turin at the start of the book – as though it’s real. It isn’t. It’s a demonstrated fake.

That said, this idea for the infusion of personality into old clothes makes a really great premise for a story. I had an idea of a somewhat similar nature for a children's story a while ago, although mine was not like this one in any of the details. I very much enjoyed the ambiguity which pervades this story, how some things are left open (is Genvie deluding herself about what's happening to her?), or which begin ambiguously, but later resolve in ways you don't necessarily expect.

So, to cut a long story (review) short, I highly recommend this novel. It’s very entertaining, well written and amusing. It’s also a bit scary, and rather gripping and unnerving even though you feel you know what’s coming (you don't!). The ending for me was a bit of a mess (like it was rushed to meet a deadline or the author wasn't sure how to tie off loose ends), but that said, it ended the right way when all was said and done.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

Title: The Witch of Napoli
Author: Michael Schmicker (no website found)
Publisher: Palladino Books (no website found)
Rating: WARTY!

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 enough reward aplenty!

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 enough reward aplenty!

A true cynic might say that the first problem with this novel is that it sports a recommendation from Kirkus on the front cover! Since Kirkus almost universally reviews novels not only positively but gushingly so, a Kirkus review is, for all practical purposes, quite worthless even assuming you buy into reviews written by people with whom you have no track record. Just when did Kirkus become "the authority" and why? And how?! Fortunately for this writer, I don't buy into Kirkus reviews; I made up my own mind as to whether this 'absorbs me from the first page'.

Actually, according to the numbering system used in this book, the first page isn't chapter one - it's the front cover! So no, I was not absorbed by the front cover sporting a review which tells me I'll be absorbed from the front cover! Chapter one begins on page eight, and this novel runs to page 276, but these 270-some pages of novel come in eighty-five chapters!

The 'about the author' page towards the back reveals that this author has written another work, which I personally also consider to be fiction, about people who supposedly have ESP. I don't believe in any of that crap because there's absolutely no evidence to support any of it, but I do love a good story about it. My hope was that this present work would at least offer that, but given that it was based on the life of demonstrated fraud "psychic" Eusapia Paladino (note the name of the publisher on my blog!), those hopes were stillborn, I'm sorry to report.

This is another first person PoV novel unfortunately, because you know writers of fiction suffer from the very pervasive delusion that it's illegal - if not a crime against nature - to write something in the third person! Few writers can successfully carry 1PoV because it ends up all "Me!" all the time, and it tends to be at best unrealistic and irritating, if not outright nauseating.

It's unfortunate that you can't pick an ebook off the shelf and peruse the first chapter since the book blurb never reveals person. Had I known this was 1PoV I would have put it back on the shelf, so I was in the position of going into it hoping that this author was one of the few, the precious few, the band of authors, who can write this person and make it readable. On the positive side, the author didn't do too badly there, and he does have the sense to make his prologue chapter one, so there was hope!

This novel is set at the turn of the 20th century up though the first world war and the narrator, Tomaso Labella (Thomas the beautiful?!), is telling us of Alessandra, supposedly a 'physical medium' whom he first met in 1899. She can, we're told, levitate objects and move them around, although no one has ever explained intelligently to me what the heck any of that has to do with contacting the dead! It remains a complete mystery, yet this is what physical mediums would have us believe!

There are some anachronisms in this novel, too. The author mentions that purported psychic Daniel Dunglas Home was "entertaining royals" but since he died in 1886, it was hardly likely he was entertaining anyone in 1899! Also we're told that when Alessandra was thirteen, her father was shot for supporting Garibaldi, which would have been roughly in 1872. It's hardly likely that people were being shot for being a supporter of Giuseppe Garibaldi when around that time he was being elected to the Italian parliament and was leading Italian troops with the support of the government...!

That aside, the story tells of a woman in her forties, who mesmerizes the much younger Tomaso for reasons which are really unexplained (in the portion I read, there was no "erotic" despite book blurb claims!). The book borrows from The Godfather movie and claims he was (metaphorically) hit by a lightning bolt. Alessandra has been in the medium business for some time, managed by a sadistic Mafia-style husband from who she is ineffectually planning to escape. She gets her chance when a purported scientist is won over by her abilities, and sponsors a tour. That was as far as I got.

The writing wasn't technically bad - no huge grammatical or spelling errors, for example - but it was uninspired and uninspiring. By one quarter the way through I had no interest whatsoever in the story or in any of the people in it. There was nothing really gripping or engrossing going on and the characters were neither outstanding nor endearing. I had no interest in continuing to read a novel which offered so little when there are other novels begging for my attention which promise much more.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Take the Dog Out! by Lynne Dempsey

Title: Take the Dog Out!
Author: Lynne Dempsey
Publisher: Lynne Dempsey
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Mandy Newham-Cobb.

No, this is not an order by a mob boss to assassinate a puppy! It's actually quite a charmer. Amusingly illustrated and playfully put together, this story could even classify as educational because if there's one thing dogs love to do, it’s let out their inner wolf - that's why they make that sound when they bark: "Wolf! Wolf!" They love to get out and play, and this author's story shows the dire consequences of not taking care of your young dog properly and seeing that she gets adequate exercise.

She's first rejected by mom who, I'm sorry to say is stereotypically depicted in the kitchen while dad sits on his lazy butt reading the newspaper. This would be the one complaint I had about this particular book. It's never too early to start showing children that they need not be hide-bound by traditional and misguided gender roles.

Dad also seems to think that it's more important to read the newspaper than to exercise the family pet. The dog of course has other ideas, and she demonstrates them to each family member in turn with great gusto, including grandma and the two young children.

Was that a whirlwind in the bathroom? Nope, just a dog who needs to run off some high spirits and can’t find an outlet! The story ends up happily, I'm pleased to report, as the family realizes that nature just begs to be explored, and you can’t do that stuck in the house on a beautiful day.

You might want to read the back of the book first because that's where the secrets are hidden! Each picture (I'm told) sports a sneakily-hidden dog bone. I confess I could not find them all! My excuse is that I was bone-tired.... In addition to finding these, young readers are encouraged to count - specifically the number of barks the puppy lets out in her wild enthusiasm.

So, in short, a couple of issues with this, but overall, a wonderfully illustrated story that will teach kids a thing or two about pet ownership as well as provide a fun story that I'm sure young readers will employ to exercise you (or at least your patience!) with demands to read it again and again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Witch-Hunt by Wendy Scott

Title: Witch-Hunt
Author: Wendy Scott
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

This is book one in the Lodestone series, because why publish one book and then create something brand new when you can milk the same tedious topic for an entire series? I am not a fan of series, as you can guess. They are, with very few and treasured exceptions, boring, and they are abusive in that they actively prey on reader addiction. I've seen readers review a book negatively and then admit that they're going to read the next in the series because they have to know what happens! How wrong-headed is that? People who write series are no different, on the bottom line, than drug pushers, and publishers and writers are okay with this and indulge themselves in it mercilessly. I am not on-board with that, and I am not an addict!

The title is about as unoriginal as you can get. Sometimes the publisher rips the right to title their own novel right out of the author's hands, so maybe it's not her fault, but BN lists thirteen pages of books when you type this title into their search engine, and the first page consists almost entirely of books sharing almost this exact title! As I quickly discovered, originality is not this novel's forte.

This book started out just fine - minor issues, but otherwise quite engrossing, until the shirtless guy showed up with his muscles rippling. Seriously? It was actually funny because he was brushing down a horse which had just arrived in the stable, and his own eyes were exactly like a horse's - brown with long lashes! Since this is a book of witchcraft, maybe the guy's a horse? Of course this begs the question as to what other traits he has and whether this is really a young adult novel about witchcraft or if it's simply YA erotica. I'm guessing it’s the former even as I continue to wonder about the wrong-headedness of this stuck-in-a-rut approach to stories about young girls (and I use the word 'rut' deliberately).

Seriously, though, the problem is that this is yet another in a long, long, way-too-long, line of books with a female main character who is presented as heroic, yet right up front the author starts telling us loudly that this girl is actually quite useless without a macho guy to validate her. Why would an author - especially a female author - do this to a girl? I have to say that this put me right off this book. Fortunately for the author, it had been interesting enough until that point for me to want to continue reading it, but I was definitely not pleased.

It certainly didn’t help at one point in chapter 4, we were explicitly told that, "Women are nature's sacred carriers, holding the precious seeds of future life, and are far closer to spiritual perfection than a man could ever be." Seriously? Please, get it right. Women carry half a seed of life; men carry the other half. Let’s not get disgustingly genderist about this. Women do carry that life in their bodies for nine months, and pay a hefty price for that. I don’t get this kind of writing: one which on the one hand puts women on a pedestal like this, and then on the other, renders them as air-headed, blushing, giggling, flibbertigibbets as soon as His Royal Majesty King Shirtless o' the Rippling Muscles shows up. A woman cannot intelligently be both a strong female character and a man's 'bit of skirt'.

What's almost as bad is that this is yet another Harry Potter clone: it's a school for witchcraft, with an orphaned child who is *special*. On top of that, it really bothers me that writers take up a fantastical and boundless topic like witchcraft, full of adventure and promise, and then hobble it by placing it into a rigidly mundane setting. Just like in Harry Potter, there's a council (like the Ministry of Magic) which controls the witches. Seriously? I don’t get the mentality whereby an author can take the supernatural and then treat it as the ordinary, with schools, and controls, and councils and - well in short, make it exactly like the mundane world. How unimaginative is that? The supernatural deserves better!

As if that's not bad enough, Sir Shirtless is suddenly man-handling Sabrina - the main character (Sabrina? Seriously? Let’s get some originality, please!). Instead of approaching her respectfully and standing away from her, advising her as to how to brush this particular horse, this creep is all over her, grabbing her hand like she's a little child - but then that's how this kind of jerk views women, isn’t it?

We read: "…strong fingers radiating warmth slipped over hers, and a musk-laden voice, breathed into her ear." It’s not even good punctuation. A musk-laden voice? What does that even mean? Is the author confusing husky and musky? There's clearly no concept of chivalry in this novel, so why not set as an example that it's okay to grab and manipulate women without even considering a need for permission, let alone actually asking for it. Clearly women don’t deserve that kind of respect in this world, any novel which doesn't respect women likewise doesn't deserve my time in reading it.

I rate this novel misogynistic. You can see from the covers of some of her other novels (such as Ferrasium, Golden Scarab, and Pyramidion), that either the author or her publisher is very much into the objectification of women. I'm starting to become convinced that such novels should be reviewed negatively without even reading them, based on the cover alone.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hellsbane Hereafter by Paige Cuccaro

Title: Hellsbane Hereafter
Author: Paige Cuccarod
Publisher: Entangled
Rating: WARTY!

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. 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 enough reward aplenty!

This is book three in the inevitable series because authors can’t write one-offs any more, evidently. I haven't read the previous two volumes. This one looked interesting and it appears it can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind being in some ignorance of the previous history, which is referred to often and of which we’re given details in mini-infodumps here and there. I honestly didn’t feel like I'd missed anything. Let’s face it, in a series, everything is prologue until the last volume, and I don’t do prologues anyway!

The novel sounded interesting from the blurb - but that just means the blurb did its job - it lured me in, but once I got in there, it quickly became clear that this was not for me. The blurb and the cover image (both of which are typically misleading) are very suggestive of titanic angelic battles, but - at least as far as I read - there was no such thing. Instead there was a heck of a lot of moping around and soul-searching, which I didn’t enjoy in the least.

The worst part for me was when the hero, Dominica Hellsbane (seriously?) went to see her evil father - the very father she should have slaughtered in two previous volumes and failed. This was no epic meeting in a palace with her father sitting a-throne. It wasn't even a hellish trip down into the baking environs of the pit. Nope! Dad-the-demon works in an office downtown. I kid you not.

I have never understood the Harry Potter mentality whereby the supernatural is laundered into base currency, becoming tiresomely ordinary and losing all its color and appeal in the process. With Harry Potter it was the Ministry of Magic and boarding schools and so on, but at least Rowling had the smarts to poke fun at her designs. Here, we get the struggle between good and evil demoted to average-ville, with palatial offices atop skyscrapers, looking out over the city, and spreadsheets, secretaries, and hedge funds - on short, nonsensical in the extreme.

We’re told that Hellsbane can teleport, yet when she gets into the building, she apparently has to ride the elevator! The boss has a secretary, and every person she touches sends an electric shock through her because they're fallen angels don't you know, and they're "beautiful" and "erotic". The problem is that if you have to keep on telling me how beautiful and erotic they are, it kind looses its "oomph" in the repetition.

At this point I’d had quite enough. Not only did Hellsbane fail to kill her evil dad, she's now working for him by doing a little job involving her angelic step brother, who is a frat boy and lives with other angelic frat boys in an apartment. Honestly? What is the point? What is the point of writing a story about something as exotic and supernatural as angels and demons if all you do with it when you've got it is to render it into nothing but a juvenile Hellsbane Does Coed? Frankly, I didn’t have enough Promethazine on hand to make it through this kind of a novel, so I quit it right there.

I yearn for something new and original in these heaven and hell books - something with power and majesty, and with an original take on angels and demons. I pray for something heavenly, but what I get is hellish: it seems that it's foolish to hope for something above average when all writers are capable of delivering in this sphere evidently is the ordinary, the tame, the boring. It’s truly sad. I can’t recommend a novel like that. Like this. It's time to turn the Paige.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Karma by Donna Augustine

Title: Karma
Author: Donna Augustine
Publisher: Strong Hold Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

"loosing" should be "losing" (12% in)
"Battlestar Gallactica" should be "Battlestar Galactica" (chapters 6 & 8)

Well today's the eleventh of December so this must be the day I post a review of a novel beginning with 'K'!

This is book one in the "Karma" series, of course, because, why go to all the trouble of giving birth to a potential new cash cow when you can keep on milking the old? I started out thinking that I really wasn't going to like this, then I warmed to it, but nowhere near enough to want to keep reading more of the same.

The premise is rather juvenile. Twenty-seven-year-old Camilla Fontaine dies in a train wreck (a literal one) and finds she's being recruited by Harold, who is the Mr Jordan of this story. Harold thinks she's perfect for taking over the role of Karma - the celestial being which is responsible for seeing that everyone gets their just deserts. Of course there is no such thing in real life because life isn't fair. There is nothing out there keeping accounts or maintaining balances.

The problem in this story is that Camilla/Karma is a transfer - someone recruited from the newly dead, rather than being a lifelong inductee, and fate isn't kind to such recruits, particularly the Hand of Fate - the guy with whom she must work. It's so nauseatingly obvious from her completely unjustified and over-the-top hatred of him, that she will be falling in love with him before long which was frankly rather sickening to me.

I have to say that I'm not a big fan (actually I'm not a fan at all, with few exceptions) of supernatural novels where the supernatural world is exactly like ours except supernatural. That is to say, it turns me off to read a vampire novel (which I purposefully try to avoid for just this reason), where there is a royalty - with king vampire and/or queen vampire, and princes and sheriffs, etc. One of the weaknesses of the Harry Potter series for me was the Ministry of Magic and all the laws and rules and the farcical policing.

To me, that was completely nonsensical, trite and tedious, and it kept reminding me I was reading a novel, pulling me out of suspension of disbelief, but at least Rowling seemed to realize this, and made an effort to put some absurdity and humor in there to make it just about palatable. I've read too many other stories (including one last month) where this kind of thing goes on mindlessly and it's ridiculous, for example, in how the supernatural investigator comes back to the office and has to fill out paperwork. I'm like, what? What paperwork? Who is asking for this?! What possible purpose can it serve? It's stupid.

Back to the story in progress! So here, Karma - whose real name is Camilla, but who is renamed Carma (seriously?) when she's reincarnated - works in an office, lives in a beach house, drives to work in an old car. No one tells her squat, so she's completely in the dark. Even though she changes her mind about doing this job, it's because of formalities and paperwork that she can't get out of it immediately and has to work for thirty days. Since this is a series, we know for a fact that she's going to stay in the job, so this was farcical at best.

Day after day goes by with no one telling her anything. I mean people literally don't say anything to her except "Hi!" and "Bye!" She gets no training whatsoever despite being a 'transfer' who quite evidently needs it. She keeps getting told that she'll have to wait and she will know when it's her time to do anything, but she's given absolutely no clues whatsoever about what's going on, what she might expect, and what she might have to do about it. This is dumb because we're told the job of the people in the office is to correct imbalances caused when the universe forgets to maintain a balance by itself, yet it's the universe - evidently - which notifies her when it's her time to intervene. Huh?

She shares the drab office with several other such beings: the Hand of Fate (who is a complete jerk, and creepy to boot), Lady Luck, the Jinx triplets (who are really teenage brothers), a leprechaun, Murphy of Murphy's Law, Kitty, who is in charge of the black cats, and so on. None of them seem to do anything. Given that there are seven billion people on the planet, I find it hard to believe there isn't more to do - unless there are offices like this all over the country, and all over the world.

OTOH, if the universe is so good at doing this that there's is so little to do, what does it matter if one slips through the cracks here and there? What harm does it do? Again, no explanation! Why does there even need to be a balance? There's no explanation for that either. I wouldn't mind the office and the paperwork, and the rules and regulations so much if I were offered some sort of justification, or if some attempt was made to make them make some sense, but none is. This is a classic example of a really good plot idea thrown down the toilet with piss-poor execution.

Karma's first task comes in the form of a dream about a bad guy who has, through several incarnations we're told, cheated and otherwise been very naughty. Apparently neither the universe nor previous incarnations of Karma did squat about him - so why is it suddenly important now? Again, no explanation is forthcoming. The current Karma's home-grown solution is to put a wild bee's nest in his car, so that he dies from stings. How does this correct all the evil he's done over several incarnations? I have no idea, and neither does the author as far as I can see! It doesn't actually fix anything. None of the people who he screwed-over gets a thing out of this, so how is this even Karma (in the sense intended here)? There is no justice served, no balance restored.

It makes no sense either, to have a "Karma" to restore balance and to simultaneously have a "Murphy", to upset the balance. How the heck is that supposed to work? What happens if Fate and Karma are at odds? Who decides who wins?

It was at this point that I found myself thinking that I honestly didn't know how much more of this I wanted to read. Camilla agreed to join the organization because she wanted revenge - but that's the very opposite of how one is supposed to approach the concept of Karma! Someone, we're told, purposefully caused the train-wreck which killed her, so why didn't Fate step in then? There's no explanation for that, either!

Karma initially starts out, after being rein-Karma-ted trying to visit her family and fiancé, but she can't. Whenever she gets near them, she gets horrible feelings that they're going to die. They can't hear what she's saying anyway. It's like she's only partly visible in her old world. She can go to a café and order coffee, but no one sees her dump the bee's nest in the car, and she doesn't get stung even once from doing this. She's initially brought in with the promise of getting justice for the train wreck; then she's denied it, and finally she's offered it again. How does any of this roller-coaster contribute to restoring balance to the universe?

This business of karma (not Karma!) makes no sense, especially in view of how it's depicted in this novel. The Indian idea of karma is that your actions dictate your future; bad acts make for a bad person and vice-versa. Duhh! It's hardly sublime! The problem is that this is popularly taken to mean that if you do something bad, then something bad will happen to you in return, and vice-versa, but this is a very blinkered view, and it really makes no sense, especially in a western civilization where reincarnation is not considered an option. It makes even less sense if it's being forcefully controlled as this novel suggests! Around 40% into reading this, it made even less sense, as I shall discuss shortly.

Looked at from another angle, I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen to Carma for all the bad stuff she was perpetrating here. She was a lawyer, but she was a public defender, so does this mean she has dharma and punya for helping disenfranchised individuals to have a voice and find justice, or does it mean that she's larding herself up with adharma and pap because she has helped bad people to avoid justice?!

Taken to its logical conclusion, why is it so focused on bad stuff? If the bad stuff has to be balanced out, then doesn't the good stuff also? If you do something good, then "logically" shouldn't something bad happen to balance it out?! This is the problem with religious beliefs. They don't lend themselves to rational analysis, because once you do that, they fall apart completely.

I decided I was pretty much done with this story at this point. This is where Karma - against express instructions, kills a guy who is abusing his wife, thereby preventing him from killing her. She was supposed to have got his wife's blood on his clothes, thereby implicating him so he'd be arrested, but she lost her cool, and she done him in!

Here's the first problem with that: isn't she supposed to be in charge and do what she thinks is best? This is what we were told about her. Yet when she does precisely this, the weather changes to thunder, lightning and rain?! The universe is pissed off? How? If the universe missed correcting this, then how can that same universe declare what's to be done? Why would it even care? If it knows what's to be done, how can this be considered to be a case which slipped through the cracks? None of this makes any sense.

That's not even the worst part, and the juxtaposition of the abusive husband with Karma's next actions is completely ironical at best and downright criminally insane at worst. Here we have Karma going full throttle to seek justice in the case of an abusive guy and his wife, and next she's making out with Fate, who has done nothing but abuse her from the off?

Can no one see the hypocrisy of this paradox? Admittedly Fate had not beaten her up or anything like that, but he had physically (if in minor ways) and mentally (in major ways) abused her, and she has the hots for him? I'm sorry but this is entirely the wrong message to send to female readers and that's why I am rating this book WARTY! I've seen this in too many young adult novels, and though this isn't one of those per se, it's clearly aimed at adults who are at the young end of that range.

I can't condone a book which tells women of any age that it's okay to 'put up' with domination (in the broadest sense) and outright abuse, and as if that alone isn't bad enough, that as a young woman, you should be more than willing to lay down and open your legs for abusive partners, and fall in love with them too, if they require it. It's sick, and Donna Augustine and her publisher should be ashamed of themselves for purveying inappropriate and sick trash like this.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Dark Victorian Risen by Elizabeth Watasin

Title: The Dark Victorian Risen
Author: Elizabeth Watasin
Publisher: A-Girl Studio
Rating: WARTY!

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 is a very odd tale set in Victorian London. It’s the first of a series, of course, because one volume is never enough these days. Indeed, writers seem so desperate to establish a money-spinning chain, that novels are becoming increasingly shorter because what used to be one full-length novel is now split and issued as a series of episodes. Such is this one. There is no real conclusion to this novel - you have to buy the next one to find out what's going on.

The two main characters are Art (short for Artifice), who is a resurrected and statuesque woman with nicely-defined musculature and impressive fighting skills - and Jim - a sentient skull. They are special agents in a police force which combats supernatural entities, and which is known as the Secret Commission.

Despite the impressive credentials of the main female character - normally ones which I would admire and to which I;d warm quickly, I really could not get into this story. It’s really short - less than ninety pages, and though it’s technically well written (I didn’t see any faux pas, grammatical gaffs, or spelling screw-ups, nothing really seems to happen in it. The story is rather plodding, and the thrust of the plot is entirely unclear. It's also confusing. I constantly felt like I was coming into a series in progress rather than into the beginning of a new story.

Art is a Quaker (or was a Quaker) so she's constantly saying grammatically nonsensical things along the lines of "Thee art correct" which was intensely irritating and seemed to serve no purpose other than to give her a quirk, which she clearly did not need, given how impressive she was already. Art was smart, strong in more than one way, she was self-possessed and independent, she healed quickly, and she was an astonishing fighter. She could be corporeal and very much a regular human when she wanted to be, which she nearly always was, but she could also go into some sort of 'ghost form' and move through walls. Trust me, she needed neither quirks nor affectations. The problem is that she was woefully wasted in this novel.

So what was the story about? Well that's impossible to say! Even having read it I can’t tell you! There are one or two bizarre murders, there's an investigation conducted by the main characters, and there are some weird things happening, such as zombie, arm-biting children, but there didn’t seem to be a real story here, nor any logical progression towards any sort of dénouement, which was disappointing to say the least. There were constant hints of something better, something exciting, something more intriguing to come, but it never actually arrived.

So, in short, this novel interested me because it seemed like it had amazing potential, only for me to see that potential quickly squandered. The story simply could not recover from that. What a sin, Elizabeth!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Oracle by Michael H Sedge

Title: The Oracle
Author: Michael H Sedge
Publisher: The Sedge Group
Rating: WARTY!

I had a couple of immediate issues with this, to say the least! The first is that the novel presents as double pages in Adobe Digital reader, meaning you have to enlarge the whole thing to actually get a decent page size. I've never seen that before in books that were not written for children. It’s not disastrous, just odd, a bit irritating, and rather surprising coming from someone who is supposed yo be a marketing specialist! It's no huge deal, except that this novel is listed as 109 pages in the reader, which in practice means that it’s 109 'double pages', not 109 individual ones - i.e. it's very short.

The second things was about the writing. Technically, the writing is fine as far as I could see - nothing bad, no grammatical errors, no spelling issues - not that I noticed anyway (apart from "…glove box3." on page 23. A spell-checker would catch that), so props for that, but we quickly fell into the trap of identifying the only important thing about a woman: her beauty. It took only until page two to reach that revelation: "...Jennifer, who, despite a hint of grey in her otherwise raven-black hair, was still a beautiful woman." Despite a hint of grey! Because that grey sure uglies up a person, don’t it?! This woman has nothing whatsoever to offer but her beauty. Despite that hint of grey. How very sad.

Note that if this was a first person PoV novel, then the character making this observation would have still been misguided, but if it had been a part of that character's make-up, then it would have been a perfectly acceptable observation. There are people who are that shallow and blinkered, but this isn't a 1PoV, so this wasn't the narrator's thought, it was the writer's own comment. I thought it was badly done. It’s particularly amusing to contrast that with the comment on page ten, in a section describing how Jennifer and her husband David initially got together, where we read: "David was unlike other men who were only interested in her physically"! I almost laughed out loud at the irony.

This is further compounded in chapter two (which contains the above sentence). In chapter one, we had been introduced to David, the main character, with a large info-dump. He was introduced as "The Writer". It's in chapter two, we meet Jennifer, but she's merely an appendage. She's introduced as "The Wife", and then we get a paragraph once again dwelling on her physical attributes. The not-so-sub-text here is that it’s only her body we need focus on. Her mind is nothing of interest or use, which is highly ironical because her mind is one of the key plot-points in this novel!

The other thing we learn about her is her drinking. This is evidently a problem where Jennifer is concerned, but it’s not a problem in a flashback to when David first encounters Jennifer, and the Navy guys (including her father) who she's with when David meets her, are just short of falling-down drunk. I guess it's OK if you're a guy - to have a drinking problem.

The other thing was more of a quirk than a real issue, and it’s where we get the introductory few paragraphs about the trials and idiosyncrasies of being a writer. Let it be said here that the description given does not fit me! I do not neglect my family. Writing comes second to them, and it always will. The weird thing is that this first chapter was dated 1986, and yet the description talks about writing with a "...typewriter - or a computer...". I seriously doubt many professional novelists were writing using a computer in 1986, although that was admittedly right on the verge of things changing dramatically.

But that's really by-the-by. The thing here is the story, and that was not a thrilling one to read. By the time we reach the midway point, there are deaths arising from completely unrealistic circumstances bordering on the farcical, and that's pretty much where I decided I could not rate this novel positively. It's also at this point that we’re introduced to a completely new set of characters; in fact, we're actually not even introduced to them in any meaningful way. We just meet them in progress. It’s like the entire first half of the novel was nothing but a prologue - and I don’t do prologues!

I skimmed ahead for some several pages trying to see where this was going, but it didn’t offer me anything to entice me into reading more. I was not in the least bit interested in what was, effectively, starting over at the halfway point with a brand new story! I was especially not interested in a do-over given that I hadn't honestly had anything to enjoy in the first half, so I decided to cut my losses and quit right there. I can't recommend this novel.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Burning Girl by Lisa Unger

Title: The Burning Girl
Author: Lisa Unger
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

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 novel is reward aplenty!

Today I'm reviewing a pair of short stories (actually novelettes, but they felt like short stories, being short and a fast read!) by Lisa Unger, The Whispers and The Burning Girl, which is a kind of a sequel to the first. Both of these were rather unsatisfactory in that they had no real ending, although the first The Whispers) was an acceptable read. This one, The Burning Girl was not, and I'll tell you why here.

Let me just say right up front that I don't believe in the supernatural - not any of it - because there is no actual real evidence for any supernatural things or events, whereas there's ample evidence of people's endless capacity for self-delusion. I do love a good story about those things though, if it's told well, and has some interesting characters and events.

I don't normally talk about book covers because this blog is about writing, not fancy dress, and the author typically has nothing whatsoever to do with the cover (unless they wisely self-publish), but what we have here is yet another case of a cover designer designing a cover without, evidently, having the first clue what the story is about! I must congratulate Big Publishing™ once again for showing how royally they can screw-up a book!

The woman on the cover appears to be the same model who was on the cover of the first in this trilogy, but this second novelette is set ten years on and Eloise is ten years older and has more mileage weighing her down than is good for anyone, yet none of this is represented on the cover! The 'burning girl' is a young girl in the story, not a "smokin' babe" which is clearly what's being aimed for on this cover (in that background image), so the cover is a major disaster which misrepresents the story shamefully.

But the cover is nothing when all is said and done. It's the writing that's important, and the writing here is all about Eloise Montgomery. I call it a "kind of sequel" because it's set ten years after The Whispers, and really has nothing to do with the first story. Yes, it's the same character, and yes, she still has a surviving daughter and a friend who used to be a cop, and she still gets visions, but this story seemed so disconnected from the first that it may as well have been a different story. It also really doesn't involve anyone but Eloise, and it's pretty much all about how badly done-to she feels.

Eloise is essentially wallowing in her misery throughout the story, and that wasn't even remotely appealing to me. She's even weaker and less engaging here than she was in the first story, which I found to be an acceptable read. In this story, she's falling apart and whiny. It's all "me" all the time and it's tedious. There's nothing to attract a reader to her, and everything to repulse one.

She's letting herself go - and by that I don't mean in the typically accepted idea of failing to dress nice or to put on make-up (I couldn't care less about that in a character), but in that she's simply not taking care of herself and has no interests at all outside of her obsession with this one vision she keeps having - which ultimately goes nowhere. It's like Eloise has no interest in life and no motivation, and this left me with no interest in her, and no motivation to read about her, but the fact that she was an entirely unappealing character wasn't even the worst part of it!

The worst part was that the title is completely misleading. It's very dramatic, yes, but completely misleading. The burning girl is a vision Eloise has, and it keeps returning and getting worse, and worse, and more and more feisty, and then it completely fizzles with no actual resolution.

If you count Eloise letting it go, then yes, there was a resolution, but if, as a writer, you title your story 'The Burning Girl' and obsess on this character throughout it, building and building upon it, and then simply wave it away at the end like it's really nothing, then what do you have, really? Nothing. There is no resolution. If Arthur Doyle had simply ended The Hound of the Baskervilles without revealing what the hound was or who was behind it all, but had Holmes simply say, oh let's not fuss over it, would you consider that a classic? I sure wouldn't. But that's exactly what the author does here.

Or are we expected to accept that the entire second novelette is actually nothing more than a huge teaser for the third installment, where the burning girl issue is resolved at last? I don't know, and I certainly have no intention of reading any more because I really don't care anymore. The publisher was right in chanting: "a spellbinding story that will leave you wanting more". The reason you want more is because you've been cheated of an ending.

The Whispers by Lisa Unger

Title: The Whispers
Author: Lisa Unger
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
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 novel is reward aplenty!

Today I'm reviewing a pair of short stories (actually novelettes, but they felt like short stories, being short and a fast read!) by Lisa Unger, The Whispers and The Burning Girl, which is a kind of a sequel to the first. Both of these were rather unsatisfactory in that they had no real ending, although the first (this one, The Whispers) was an acceptable read. The other wasn't. I'll explain why in that review.

Let me say up front that I don't believe in spirits or visions, or gods or ghosts, or any of this supernatural stuff, such as witchcraft or demons or angels or flying saucers or Sasquatch - none of that! - because there is no actual real evidence for any of it, whereas there's ample evidence of people's endless capacity for self-delusion. I do love good fiction about those things though, if it's told well, and has some interesting characters and events.

The story is about Eloise Montgomery, a married woman with two daughters in high school, Amanda and Emily who are as different as chalk and cheese, and a loved and devoted husband, Alfie. The four are out in the car one day driving off to school and work when a trucker falls asleep at the wheel, crosses the line, and sideswipes the car, killing the two family members who were on that side: Alfie, and Emily.

Note that this isn't much of a spoiler because this happens right at the beginning of the story and is more like a prologue to it. See, writers? You can incorporate your prologue right into chapter one! Lisa Unger has proved it! NO MORE PROLOGUES!!!

Eloise is a weak person and this is too much for both her and Amanda. Amanda shuts down, refusing to speak for weeks. Eloise almost shuts down herself, but hangs on by a thread for no other reason than Amanda. Soon, Eloise begins seeing ghosts, or visions, or future events. It's not really very clear exactly what's happening or what she's seeing. She hears whispers in the air, hence the title of the story. She does not handle any of this at all well.

The main event here is that of a young girl who is alone and cold, and appears to have fallen down a well. Eloise sees her, like she's with her and like she is her, and becomes convinced that this girl won't survive another night. She calls in her vision to the cops and the girl is discovered alive. Then Eloise, like she doesn't have enough on her plate already, has to deal with the publicity surrounding these events.

This novel doesn't really end. It simply kinda stops, like that that's the end of episode one in a TV show - or more accurately, like it's the end of the first segment of the show and now we're cutting to a commercial break. I understand that this is part of a trilogy and I think it's sad that not only can we not get away from trilogies, but that it looks like it's come to the point where we're now splitting a single novel into three novellas just so we can have a trilogy. That's simply warped, to me.

I didn't appreciate that, because it seemed like the reader is being teased for a series, when the events could have been adequately related in one book. It felt a bit like a bait-and-switch in some ways, being promised a story and getting only an episode, and that's not something I'm up for at all, but having said that, the story itself was well told and had some interesting events, and interesting people, so I'm rating this one a worthy read.

Where I felt this went wrong was in killing off both the husband and the daughter. I think it would have made for a much more entertaining read if both daughters had survived. Actually it probably would have also worked better if the husband had survived and the whole family had to deal with the change in Eloise, but that's not what we got. What we did get was just enough for me.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tempt the Devil by Jill Braden

Title: Tempt the Devil
Author: Jill Braden
Publisher: Wayzgoose Press
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 Wayzgoose Press. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my favorite editor at Wayzgoose for the sneak preview of this.

This is the third in Jill Braden's 'Devil of Ponong' series. I already reviewed the first The Devil's Concubine, and the second The Devil Incarnate both back in June.

The problem with choosing a novel title with the word 'devil' in it is that it's probably already been used. That's why you have to make sure that yours stands out more brilliantly than other books which might have a similar - or the same - name. Jill Braden has proven three times in a row now that she has the skill and ingenuity to accomplish this and not even make it look like she had to work for it. And yes, I'm shamelessly biased - and proud to admit it!

I'd like to thank DJ Rogers for the cover design which allowed me at last to place my eyeglasses over the image of the main character and amuse my kids since they fit the cover so well. Now the eldest wants to read this series too. At the time I did this, I had no idea that eye-wear would play an interesting part in the novel! There's a spoiler (but not much of one).

My only disappointment in this novel was that my favorite character, QuiTai, was a bit sidelined (by her own choice in pursuit of an elaborate scheme she's cooked up). I adore QuiTai, and always want her front and center. I guess since she took the reins in the last volume, it's only fair to lend them to the other main character in this one, but I don't find him anywhere near as fascinating as I do her. QuiTai is now my second favorite fictional female of all time, surpassing even Molly Millions of William Gibson's Neuromancer

But I digress. In this volume, QuiTai is pissed-off, and her reaction to this is to get herself arrested. She's in jail for a goodly portion of this novel, but that does not, in any way, shape, or form, mean that she's idle. She has an amazingly cunning plan and it turns out that she's exactly where she needs to be to see it through.

Meanwhile, poor beleaguered governor Kyam is stuck trudging through Levapur's heat trying to solve the murder of his predecessor before QuiTai is unceremoniously - and without trial - hung for it at sundown. Like I indicated, I would have preferred it if Kyam were jailed and QuiTai involved in investigating the crime, but to be perfectly honest, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as thrilling for me had that been the case, as it actually was the way it was written. Besides, QuiTai already knows who did it, and she has another agenda....

I have to say this is technically the best-written of the three volumes, but I can't make up my mind which is my favorite. In each volume there are new things to learn, and some new characters to explore. I particularly liked the introduction of Kyam's wife, Nashruu here. This is yet another strong female character tossed into the mix, and she promises to be quite a handful in future volumes. Certainly she proves herself her to be more than Kyam can handle in this one.

The world of Ponong continues to grow and to be filled-in with ever more fascinating detail, becoming increasingly intricate and absorbing. I have no doubt that this will continue with each volume, and I am very much looking forward to the next one already. Meanwhile, Ill leave you with the opening few lines from this volume:

She was vapor: insidious, addicting, forbidden.
She was QuiTai, the Devil's right hand - and often his left one, too. Former actress, former prostitute, former mistress to kings and prime ministers, she was a dangerous mixture of ruthlessness, charm, intelligence, and cunning.

What better introduction could you ask for? Now go read it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Devil Incarnate by Jill Braden

Title: The Devil Incarnate
Author: Jill Braden
Publisher: Wayzgoose Press
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.

p126 "...wreck havoc..." should be "...wreak havoc..."

p149 "...ever piece of furniture..." should be "...every piece of furniture..."
p185 "...council..." should be "...counsel..."
p210 " into..." should be " to..."
p249 "...he could tell it she'd forced it..." should be "...he could tell that she'd forced it..." perhaps?
p260 "Kym" should be "Kyam"
p265 "...her let her go..." should be "...he let her go..."
(Hint to Jill Braden recruit me as a beta reader! I'll catch this stuff!)

This is the second volume in The Devil of Ponong series. I have already reviewed the first and I also plan on reviewing the next one, the first chance I get, because this series is that good. I am not a fan of trilogies/series because I find it rare that an author can sustain the passion and attraction over such an "extended novel" so it speaks volumes(!) that I am enjoying this one so much and willing to recommend it.

In passing, and as I did for the review for volume 1, I advise you to visit the author's web site, which is a joy. Contrary to what all-too-many authors use their web pages for, this is not a shameless self-promotion site, but a place where a real writer shows how much she loves to put words on paper (or on screen!). For anyone interested in the art and process of writing, it's a welcome breath of sweet scented air, believe me.

In volume one we met a rare, rather startling, and very unusual female protagonist in the shape of QuiTai, a complex and intriguing woman of the Ponongese people - a race of beings which is humanoid in form, but which carries certain traits typically found, on Earth, in the viperid snake family. You may think it odd that I find such a woman - one who has venomous fangs folded away in the roof of her mouth - appealing, but I found QuiTai to be irresistible, even more so in volume two than in volume one. She is smart, capable, fearless, and relentless.

She is a member of the Qui group, which has special powers. In particular, QuiTai is gifted as an oracle, something which she only slowly comes to realize. She lives on the island of Ponong, which was, some time before this series begins, invaded by the Thampurians, a race of sea-dragon people who are shape-shifters. Maybe you can guess into which shape they shift. Also in this world are the Li, a race of people with cat-like traits, the Ravidians, a race reminiscent of lizards, the Ingosolians (a race of indeterminate gender!), and finally a race of werewolves, which now appears to be extinct on Ponong, although their legend lives on - something which both benefits and plagues QuiTai.

This woman is not your usual action hero. She's more like James Bond, but a James Bond who has gone over to the dark side - yet not completely gone over. QuiTai can be viewed as a recipe which melds James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, with a dash of The Dark Knight added for piquancy - I kid you not. By the time volume two begins, she's simultaneously seen by the locals as both an underground hero and a dangerous villain.

She sidles around in the shadows, collecting information, processing it in her sharp and incisive mind, and arriving at conclusions which others would reach slowly, if at all. Once she determines what needs to be done, she does not hesitate to act. In short, she's the very epitome of what I search for almost fruitlessly in novel after novel: a strong female character where strength isn't blindly equated with the ability to kick someone's derriere. QuiTai is a strong female character where strong = the opposite of weak. She's the kind of woman who does not need rescuing, who relies on her own mind and body to take care of business (whatever that business might be), and who goes after what needs to be done like a greyhound at the track.

That doesn't mean that she's always running. Indeed, in this novel, she starts out largely incapacitated after a life-or-death struggle with a werewolf in the first volume. Now she has an infected leg and is forced to lay low until she recovers. Laying low, however, should in no way be equated with keeping still. QuiTai does not keep still, not even when sick.

She needs to learn who it is who paid to have her assassinated in volume one, and as she pursues this inquiry, she discovers that something really odd is happening on this occupied island: a new Thampurian militia is stealthily moving into place and all Ponongese activities are slowly being suspended and thwarted. Their right to meet and exchange goods in the market place is abruptly canceled for example, and their fishing fleet is prevented from putting to sea.

This new military wears non-standard black uniforms, without insignia, not even of rank, and the soldiers never use names when taking to each other. So what the heck is going on now in QuiTai's homeland? This is something which she cannot let pass.

And that's the sum total of spoilers you're going to get! I will tease you, however, by saying that, very early in this novel, there's an exquisite encounter between QuiTai and Lizzriat, the androgynous Ingosolian owner of the Dragon Pearl drug den, which I found delicious. Jill Braden is a tease and that's all there is to it. I said it first! Lizzriat reminds me a bit of the character Pie'oh'pah in Clive Barker's Imajica, and I demand more of her (or him) in volume three. Do you hear me Ms Braden?

Almost as hypnotic is her relationship with RhiHanya, a woman who, at no small risk to her family, opens her home to QuiTai and takes her in until she's recovered from her fever. The slowly rising tension between these two, and QuiTai's amusing and frustrated thoughts about it are precious.

A word to the wise (or to those who wish to be): if you're expecting a tedious trope romantic novel, don't look here. You won't find it. You'll find amorous allusions, and teasing thoughts, but there are no fluttering breaths or "be still my beating heart" gasps here. If you want a wilting maiden you're in the wrong novel. There are scores of other adult and young-adult novels out there with which you can numb and stunt your mind in that regard. If, on the other hand, you want a woman who is meaningfully strong, and a story which is unpredictable, and which is full of intrigue, shifting political affiliations, and unexpected alliances, then Jill Braden's beat is the place to be.

I honestly cannot judge if this is better than volume one, or if the first volume just edges this one out. I think it's a tie. This is a different story with the largely the same cast, but with some wrenches gleefully tossed into the works by the author. It organically builds upon the first story (and despite what the author claims on her web site about her writing style, I suspect there was planning going on here - at least in the rough, to get this to flow so well! Either that or Jill Braden is even more brilliantly off-the-cuff than I at first assessed her to be.)

I highly recommend this. If you liked the first you will enjoy this, and if you don't, remember that QuiTai is out there, fangs folded, stalking silently, and she's a woman who does not suffer fools lightly...!

(On a personal note I should very much like to thank Dorothy of Wayzegoose Press for her kindness and support and for allowing me a chance to get an early look at this novel)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Devil's Concubine by Jill Braden

Title: The Devil's Concubine
Author: Jill Braden
Publisher: Wayzgoose Press
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 Devil's Concubine is another exercise in making sure you choose a unique title for your novel. Barnes & Noble lists six titles with this name and that doesn't even include Palle Schmidt's graphic novel with this same title. The cover art is exquisite, although I don't normally address covers because the author typically has little or nothing to do with them. This blog is about writing! This novel is evidently the first in a series. The sequel, The Devil Incarnate is already available and the author is working on the third in this unique series.

Jill Braden is a fellow blogspotter, although I don't know her. From her blog (link above) it sounds like she writes pretty much like I do (in terms of basic approach) which is a bit nice to know, and it looks like she blogs about her writing as she goes. I've never recommended a writer's blog before, although I always link to it if I can find a link, but in this case I will make an exception because it looks like she's all about writing too, something which I have to say I admire and in which I find a lot of comfort! Her blog is not one of those nothing-but-promote-myself blogs like all-too-many writer's blogs seem to be to me. Please go take a look.

Braden's is actually a dynamic blog. I love, for example, that she's a Doctor Who fan, and that she gets so passionate about Irene Adler from the British series revived by Doctor Who head writer Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss: Sherlock You can find my refutation of the standard criticisms of the Lara Pulver episode here. I think too many people, several of whom are purportedly feminists, sadly got this wrong in their quite evidently undue haste to condemn Moffat's Adler, and I think they will realize how wrong they got it when Irene Adler returns. Of course, I could be wrong (I often am!), but we'll see.

The critics' main problem, in my opinion, is in first of all misunderstanding Adler in the original Doyle version, and thereby pumping her up into something she was actually not and second, in misunderstanding Moffat's version even more than they have misunderstood Doyle's. That's not to say that their criticism is entirely without foundation, but I think such criticism needs to be much more realistic than it has hitherto shown itself to be.

What bothers me about Braden's criticism is that she's a writer herself! If she's so outraged by it, why doesn't she take up the challenge and write her own Adler story? That I'd like to see, especially since she appears (from what I've read of her blog so far) to share many of my own views on strong female characters! Indeed, I had several fleeting ideas for my own Adler story once I'd caught up with all the jetsam in the wake of Moffat's juggernaut version of the tale. I volunteer to co-write it with her to make sure both male and female perspectives are adequately represented; then let people come and criticize our effort! Bring it on!

But I digress! In several ways, this novel reminds me of Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, which I also reviewed, although it's a very different story. It does have a similar vibe in that, for example, the main protagonist is a woman of pleasure who is subjected to some pain (not willingly, and nowhere near as much in this novel as in the other), and who is in a position of some power which she can wield only in secret or indirectly. Like Kushiel's Dart, it's also well-written: beautifully expressive and evocative. Some might find the story a little slow-moving to begin with (I did not), but that makes it only more suggestive of the roller-coaster that it is, and once it gets going, there's no stopping it. You will want to ride it to the end, and then get on again (in volume 2!).

The name, QuiTai sounds remarkably like the name of my favorite female character of all time: Kitai from the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. Talk about strong females! Of course, that does depend upon how the name is supposed to be pronounced, but there's no guide offered to that end, so I'll pronounce it how I choose, thank you very much! This QuiTai is nowhere near in that Kitai's league, but she's definitely worth following.

In this novel, too, the main character is an alien, but in this case, a humanoid with some snake traits. I'd gage her to be the first cousin to the snake on the tree in Eden if I believed in fairy tales: she definitely has the same skill set! Like some snakes, QuiTai has collapsible venomous fangs in her sweet mouth, and the venom can be used, in moderation, to summon her oracle god, into the mouth of those she injects, enabling them to foretell future events for QuiTai, although as usual with this kind of thing, it doesn't seem to do her much good, or to keep her out of trouble!

The Devil in this story, is a werewolf pack-leader named Petrof; a disgusting animal of a man, who nevertheless somehow manages to evoke passion (either in the form of anger or of pure lust) within QuiTai. She's the concubine to this werewolf, but given that he has no wife, I'm not convinced that 'concubine' is technically the correct term. I freely grant that it makes for a much more intriguing title, however. Be advised that I am not a fan of werewolf stories, so I launched into this with some trepidation, although by the halfway point, I'd decided that this was not a drawback for me, and I was quite happy with where this novel went and how it turned out. This is not your grandmother's werewolf story! Indeed, it isn't a werewolf story at all, not in the big picture.

QuiTai lives on a island - an occupied island where the colonists rule everything, and where exotic beings of several hues and varieties coexist. It's rather reminiscent of North America in the mid-eighteenth century, ruled from afar and bearing a heavy tax burden, but the characters which populate this tale make the colonists and their overlords look like characters out of a children's story book! Just as QuiTai is being picked-up to visit her master to serve his animal needs, she receives a secret note from someone she considers to be her arch enemy: an artist named Kyam Kul. He's of the same race as that which is occupying the island, and he hails from a wealthy family from which he's apparently all but exiled in disgrace. And he's also not an artist. Not in his soul, at any rate.

What he wants from her she does not know, but she finds it intriguing that right at the point where she has been having indefinable feelings that something is seriously amiss on the island somehow, somewhere, her enemy has reached out to her. She has to talk The Devil into letting her pose for a portrait in order to get time with Kyam to find out what he wants - and whether what he wants will serve her interests adequately. I confess I was a bit disappointed that more was not made of the scene where he starts to draw her. I saw a potential for some very subtle eroticism there, which failed to materialize, but it's rather hard to be so sensual when there's sand blowing into every crevice...!

From that point onwards, the story is one of intrigue, adventure, danger, and death, and I loved every minute of it. It's a very original tale with some unexpected story devices to keep the interest boiling and move the plot along organically, not artificially. Everything fits and everything works. It did slow down for me in the second half, a little bit, but by then I had enough investment in it that I wasn't going to let that get in my way. Overall, it's professionally written and very entrancing. This is a story that makes all the poor ones worth wading through just to find something as seductive as this. I recommend it highly.