Showing posts with label tedious. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tedious. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach


Rating: WARTY!

I came to this by way of the Netflix TV show of the same name which derived from it, and I have to say the TV show is significantly better in my opinion. I honestly could not for the life of me figure out why 11 publishers would bid for this novel (which is what The Guardian says happened).

I know it's very likely a debut author's dream to have that kind of demand for her work, but I'd be embarrassed to have anyone bid for this novel had I written it. I'd be more likely to post it for free on my website or in some fan fiction site. On the other hand I would never have written this. If that means I'll never have a bidding war, or a TV show made from one of my books, or a best-seller, it's fine with me. I don't work that way. I want to be proud of what I've written, not embarrassed by it a few years hence.

The problem was that the book simply wasn't interesting and was poorly written. Main character Leila discovers a chat board (how quaintly antique!) called Red Pill - named after the pill scene from The Matrix. She is groomed by the site's owner, Adrian, and then offered a job of impersonating Tess, who evidently wants to kill herself, but also to have her life continued by another person for a while before being slowly faded to black so that no one knows what happened to her.

None of this makes any sense given Tess's spastic, manic, random, scatterbrained personality. I assume it's because of that very personality that she cannot do this for herself, but to be told that someone with that same personality is planning this happening, stretched credibility too far. When did she ever plan anything? Why would she care if her life ended suddenly or was faded out? From what we learn of her, she wouldn't! The TV show scenario made far more sense.

Leila pretty much immediately volunteers for this role, and starts interacting with Tess for the purpose of learning her life. Never once does dumb-ass Leila think for a second that Adrian might be setting her up. Again the TV show did it better, and certainly better than the idiotic back-cover blurb writer who makes the brain-dead claim that this is an "ingeniously plotted novel of stolen identity."

Now admittedly I ditched this halfway through and had some suspicions of my own about what was happening, but up to the point where I quit reading, there was nothing stolen here! Tess voluntarily gave up her identity to Leila because she wanted this. The blurb outright lies as blurbs all-too-often do. Shame on blurb writers!

It occurred to me that Adrian might be behind this whole thing: that Tess had no intention of dying, and that Adrian planned on killing her, and while the exchange was confined to email and IM chat, this would have worked, because he could have readily impersonated her, but then Leila was having face-to-face skypes with Tess, so unless Adrian had access to some really good emulation software, this impersonation idea seemed a stretch, but maybe that's how it went.

Or perhaps Tess didn't plan on dying, just on disappearing, and had no idea Adrian planned on killing her, so this is why this seemed to work. Either way there was no identity stolen! I don't know what the plan was or how it actually played out, or even if Tess was dead at all, but by halfway through I wasn't even remotely interested, because the story had become such a drudge to read that I couldn't have cared less, and not one of the characters appealed to me.

The story actually wasn't too bad until Leila went to Spain trying to track Tess down. At that point, the entire thing came to a screeching halt and boredom set in like chilled molasses. The story was all over the place to begin with - not linear at all - so it was at times hard to follow. Here it was easy to follow but completely lacking in anything remotely interesting. The story literally did not move a millimeter. Leila constantly complained about the heat in Spain (which stays mainly in the plain), but when she had a chance to go to town and could spend some money, did she buy a cola, or ice water, or lemonade? Nope. She bought a bag of salty potato chips. Not realistic - unless of course my theory that Leila is a moron is correct.

This pointless bumbling around at this 'hippie' commune camp in Spain was a major turn-off. It went on endlessly and it was tedious in the extreme. I mourn the trees which were sacrificed because of this author's evident inability to self-edit or to know when enough is enough. It should be needless to say that I lost all interest and I quit reading. I cannot commend this book.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Once a King by Erin Summerill


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

There was nothing in the Net Galley page for this book to indicate it was part of a series. If I had known it was I would not have requested to review it. It does not stand alone well. I am not a fan of Sarah J Maas who recommends this. I should have taken her recommendation as a bad omen and steered clear. My bad!

I think books in a series, especially in a trilogy, and especially if it's a YA trilogy should carry a warning sign like on cigarettes. In general terms, and while there are exceptions, series are not known for being inventive. The whole existence is predicated upon derivation and cloning and that's what this felt like, even not having read the first two volumes. The earth, fire, water, and wind motif is overdone in books, and the way it’s depicted here is far too reminiscent of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series for it to be truly original.

I was really disappointed in this because it offered so little that was new. It's like the author read a dozen popular YA love stories and appropriated the most clichéd parts of each of them. I was still waiting for the king - the male interest - to be revealed to have gold flecks in his eyes when I DNF'd this out of disgust at twenty percent in. Out of sheer devilment I did a search to see if 'gold flecks' or 'gold flecked' appeared in the book, but it doesn't; however, in conducting this search I discovered that the king's other golden traits: hair, skin, eyelashes, are trotted out a sickening number of times, so in my book that counts just as badly as the gold-flecked eyes!

So this is your standard tired story of a man and a woman who hate each other and then fall in love, so there's nothing new there at all. I can't even give any credit for the author making him a king rather than a prince because really? If it had been the other way around and she was the queen and he the 'maiden-in-distress' character that would have made at least a bit of a difference, but as it was, I saw nothing here that I haven't read two dozen times too many in female-penned YA novels.

Why so many female authors pen themselves up this way is a mystery to me, but then I like to read something new when I pick up a new book - not the same tired old thing I've read a score of times before. Far too many YA authors seem not to care about that in their desperation to sell their trilogy, and neither do publishers, evidently. I think it's because, for too many writers, it's not about the writing, it's all about the Benjamins isn't it? They seem like they want play it safe by cloning trilogies of other writers, and recovering old ground endlessly, rather than take the road less traveled and bring us something truly sterling, and it's a crying shame. Rest assured I will never go down that path. It's too boring.

Funnily enough, that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was that once again the author of a YA story goes for the first person voice and then doubles-down on her error by making it dual first person. I read the first chapter (in the female's voice) and then went on into the second chapter not realizing it had changed to the king's voice. For a screen or two the story made less and less sense than it already had until I realized the author was using worst person times two. That's enough to turn me off a story even if the story is interesting, which I honestly can’t say about this one. Maybe if I’d read the first two volumes it might have made a difference - at least in that I would not have had to read this one?

The main female character, whose name I already forgot, is not an actor, she is a thing which is acted upon: just a girl who can't say "No!" The blurb even tells us that "...when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no" and maybe it’s a bit cruel to quote that, especially since authors have nothing to do with their blurbs unless they self-publish, but this is actually an accurate portrayal of her weakness. She is controlled and buffeted like an insect in a bathtub drain, and if she'd shown some sign that she was rebelling against this and taking arms against this drain of troubles instead of being the tool of men (take that how you will), I would have at least had the temptation to continue, but she offered me nothing. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot recommend this novel based on the thoroughly unoriginal and uninventive part I could stand to read.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani


Rating: WARTY!

This book sounded interesting from the blurb, but turned out to be boring and I gave up on it after about a third of it. It was really a sort of journal or diary of disjointed days in the life of this ordinary, everyday girl and some of it was kind of interesting, but most of it was just routine events from which I learned nothing and was not even entertained because the happenings detailed here were so commonplace.

If you're going to tell us about mundane events, then your character had better be extraordinary in some way either in herself or in how she reacts to these events. If she's ordinary, then the events had better be extraordinary, otherwise why would we care about this story that's the same as anyone's story that we might meet or know in our own day-to-day life? If I'd been give a reason to care about this character, that would have been something, but I wasn't given any reason at all. She wasn't awful but neither was she outstanding in any way, so my feelings for her and her story were as flat as the story was. I felt no compulsion to keep turning that many pages.

I could not take the character's name seriously! In Britain, tadger is a nickname for penis. It sounds like Taja, depending on how you pronounce Taja - with a hard 'j' or a soft one. But a tadger can be hard or soft too! LOL! I'm sorry, but the name really amused me and the book failed to distract me from it. It's not my fault, honest! Seriously though, Taja is supposed to be pronounced with a soft 'j' which isn't a common use of that letter in English.

In Hindi though, the name means 'crown' or 'jewel' and while Jewel works as a girl's name, Crown really doesn't, so Taja is better. In Arabic and in Urdu, it means Mention or Name! A name that means name! Mention is actually an interesting name for a character in a novel, I think. But I'm weird. Moving right along, from the Greek - where it derives from the harder sounding 'Tadja' (see, I was right!) - it means beautiful or divine, so it's really quite a good name. Just don't use it in Britain!

That said, and as you may have gathered by now, I can't recommend this because of the monotony. It's supposedly a coming-of-age story but it takes forever to get there and it covers so many years with such brief cameo looks into her life that it really doesn't tell us anything. It's like trying to get a person's life story from merely looking at a few snapshots. This was the same but used a few words instead of a few photographs.


The Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart


Rating: WARTY!

I thing I'm going to quit reading any novel that has a Shakespeare quote or reference in the title. I didn't realize this at the time, otherwise I would have left this on the library shelf, but it's book fourteen in a series featuring a protagonist defense attorney with the ridiculous name of Dismas Hardy. If the only thing you can characterize with is a bizarre name, then you're not doing your characters right and you're certainly not doing them justice.

Worse than this though, the story was boring as all hell and moved at a sluggish pace. Worse even than that, most of it had nothing to do with the promised story, This is why I DNF'd this. And yes, you can review a novel without finishing it if it's as appallingly bad as this one was.

I should have paid more attention to the blurb which begins, " Brittany McGuire is the beautiful..." Anything that rates a woman by her looks and nothing else is to be disparaged and junked. I know the author isn't responsible for the blurb, but still! We need to move away from this objectification, and yes, authors and blurb writers, I'm talking to all of you.

The problem with an established author, especially one with a series, is that Big Publishing™ is so avaricious that they don't want to criticize any of their golden geese, so editing the novel is out of the question. That's why these novels get so bad and why I will never write a series. It's lazy and derivative and it leads to sad-sack novels like this one. I cannot recommend it and will not read anything else by such a lazy author as this.


Celine by Peter Heller


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment and I was initially quite intrigued by what it offered. Although this wasn't clear from the blurb, the protagonist was an older PI - much older than is typical for these stories and, always looking for the road less traveled as I am, this appealed to me. Celine is sort of semi-retired from PI-ing, and is working on art projects when she feels called back into the field by a woman whose husband has disappeared. Tracking down lost people is Celine's specialty.

So far so good, but for me, the problem with this was the, if you'll forgive the bad pun, arthritic pace at which the story moved. It was glacial, and when I was over a fifth of the way into it and quite literally nothing had happened, I'd had quite enough. The entire first twenty percent was family history and flashbacks and it was so boring. I wanted to see how this woman tackled this job, but I was so tired of listening to pointless, time-wasting reminiscences which did nothing to move the story or even address the plot, that I couldn't stand to listen anymore.

To me, if you're going to go outside the genre norm, which I salute in principle, and in this case, have an older PI, then you have to bring something to the table other than the fact that she (or he) is an older PI! That can't be all there is. And you really need to get rid of the inevitable detective tick, idiosyncrasy, or quirk. It is so tedious to read of a PI or a detective who has a quirk, because everyone is doing it. Find something new: something different. If you're going off-road in your story, at least find an interesting trail to follow or you'll just end up in a rut. I cannot recommend this one.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook which I did not like. It looked superficially interesting, but when I began listening to it, it turned out to be nonsensical, poorly thought-out, badly-written, and not entertaining at all, so I DNF'd it. There's no point in plowing on gamely through a novel which doesn't do it for you. if I were being paid for reviews that would be one thing, but this is entirely another, and I quit whenever I want! Being a writer myself, my own writing takes priority over reviewing, so I don't see the point in trying to force myself to read on through someone else's material that isn't entertaining me at all, when I can write my own which I typically find much more engrossing and fulfilling.

My biggest problem was the epistolary nature of this story which is told as a series of asinine interviews and purportedly official records. Typically whenever a novel is written like this - using diaries, journal entries, documents, or whatever, the entries are entirely unrealistic and therefore keep kicking me out of the story for lack of credibility. Most writers don't think about what they're doing when they adopt this method and make these 'documents' far too detailed, like a novel (duhh!), quoting verbatim conversation and so on. No one keeps written records like that. Very few audio or video records are of that nature either.

Worse than this, the story is supposed to be gripping, but when you remove it from the reader like this by making it sound like the proceedings of an official enquiry, all immediacy and therefore any hope for excitement, is gone. The stupid attempt at having a boy-girl love-hate relationship (at least I assume that's where it would end up) is not only tediously overdone, it was in this case ridiculous and turned me off. I cannot recommend this because of how poorly thought out it was (assuming thought entered into it), and how scrappily thrown together it was based on the portion I listened to, which was not very much.


Black Panther Doomwar by Jonathan Maberry


Rating: WARTY!

Drawn and colored by an assortment of evidently uninspired and certainly unimaginative artists, this was several volumes in one compendium and I wasn't impressed. I picked it up at the library because I'd loved the Black Panther movie and the wealth of strong female characters. When I saw that this book was about Shuri - the Black Panther's kid sister, who was now filling the role of the Panther after her brother had been injured, I thought it would be well-worth reading, but written and drawn by largely, if perhaps not exclusively male writers and artists, it turned out to be yet another disturbing and lackluster venture into boring objectification of female super heroes.

The villain is Doctor Doom. How utterly tedious! Can they not find a new villain? If not, then could they not at least find a villain from Black Panther's own history to resurrect? One of the biggest problems with comic books and a good reason why we see them tailing off is the total inability of their creators to bring something truly new to the table. They keep resurrecting - often literally - vanquished villains from ancient history, and it would be laughable were it not so tiresome.

Worse than this (and don't even get me started on the kitchen sink cameos from other 'heroes' of the Marvel stable), Shuri's form-fitting black costume makes her - a black woman - look like she's naked, and her unnatural postures in far too many frames seemed drawn by adolescent boys for no other purpose than to titillate rather than inform or impress.

It is truly and honestly tiresome to see this kind of unhip-dysplasic and scoliosis-ridden posing from female characters affecting stances that would be downright painful to strike were a real person to attempt them, with hips and asses thrust out unnaturally, and deliberately provocatively. When we see nothing remotely like those poses from the male super heroes, you know this is pure objectification. It's outright genderist and it's to be shunned and boycotted in my opinion. I dis-recommend this entire series.


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


Rating: WARTY!

This was a short audiobook that I did not enjoy at all because it made no sense, and the narrator, Carolyn McCormick, reading in a first person voice which I typically do not like anyway, did not help the book's case, because her reading felt false, stilted, and ultimately unrealistic.

The premise is that four women are entering 'area X' (great imagination used in the description there huh?! I'm surprised it wasn't designated Unobtania'...) to investigate a bizarre locale in which humans do not seem to have fared well and nature seems 'off'. A dozen previous teams have disappeared or gone insane, or had other negative outcomes, yet these four female volunteers are sent in alone, with small arms, but with no armed escort, to try to find out what's going on in there, and not a one of them is allowed to carry any communications or electronics? There are no drones or robots to help out? This made zero sense and wasn't explained in the 30% or so of this story I could stand to listen to. How the hell are they going to learn anything on the outside if those on the inside cannot pass word out as to what is happening? It's stupid from the outset.

The girls find what the narrator stubbornly insists upon calling a tower even though it's buried in the ground just like an underground silo. It has the weird fungus growing on the wall which spells words, and the narrator naturally gets 'infected' with spores while examining it. That's as far as I listened because the narration was annoying, the story nonsensical, and my reasons for pursuing it beyond this point non-existent.

None of these women had a name, merely a profession, so one was the biologist, one the psychologist, one the linguist, and so on. This was asinine! Even if they'd been issued some sort of instruction not to use names they inevitably would have, because who on the outside would even know? This felt completely inauthentic and felt like what it was: a guy writing about women without really understanding how they think or work together. It was merely one more reason not to take this seriously. Based on what I heard, I cannot recommend this at all.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Red As Blue by Ji Strangeway, Juan Fleites


Rating: WARTY!

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

I was very disappointed in this. I knew it was experimental going into it, but I did not realize it would be more mental than experi-. I don't know if the contributor's names are real or made up, but Strangeway definitely describes how this story is told, and the illustrations are minimal, so do not go into this thinking it's a graphic novel in any way; it isn't.

It has some some illustrated pages sprinkled through it, but they don't really tell a story in the way a graphic novel does, and they appear only about every half-dozen pages or so. That said they were, for me, the best part, since they were well done - black and white line drawings though they were. They were full page illustrations, some with panels in them, but the downside of these was that on my iPad in Bluefire Reader, they sometimes took seemingly forever to open up. Worse: they simply retell the story in pictures and tend to precede the text which tells us the same thing the illustration just did. It seemed superfluous if not also pretentious to include them.

As far as the writing went, it was literally like reading a play. No, not like, was - it was a play. I DNF'd this, but I also skimmed through a goodly portion of what I did not read, and the format was the same all the way through as far as I could see. On nearly every page there was a conversation which consisted of a character's name in block caps in the center of the page, their speech centered below it, then the next character's name the same way, rinse and repeat except the rinse was more like a gargle.

The descriptive prose was minimal, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but here it ran into jargon issues. So much of this is used that there's a glossary at the start of the novel to clue people in to what's obviously an unnatural system. This kind of thing doesn't work for me.

Even that might have been readable if the main character wasn't so unlikeable. She came across as a complete halfwit, constantly having to be told what relatively common, and fairly simple words mean. I can stand to read a good novel about someone who might uncharitably be described as a halfwit, but I can't read about someone who seems to have an unacknowledged learning impairment with which the author has saddled her for no apparent reason.

So for an experimental novel there was precious little experimentation, since it was pretty much a play with some pictures. It didn't strike me as being inventive or imaginative, but as lazy and pandering to a seriously niche audience rather than to a much larger audience of people who would genuinely like to enjoy a well-written LGBTQIA novel based on the author's own experiences.

Writing this my have been cathartic for an author who has grown up in a conservative small town with no role models and prejudice galore, but 270 pages is much to long of a novel to experiment with in this fashion. When I see a book like this, I have to wonder whether the author really just doesn't like trees.


Friday, May 4, 2018

My Pretty Vampire by Katie Skelly


Rating: WARTY!

This was a waste of my time. There is no story here, just female nudity and random bloodletting. The inexplicably named Clover isn't in such. She's a vampire who demands blood. Her brother kept her confined for several years in order to protect her and humanity both, but Clover is hardly the sharpest canine in the dentition.

She breaks out and seeks fresh human blood. No excuse is given for why she simply doesn't drink her brother dry. She clearly has no morals, yet for reasons unknown, she leaves the man who has imprisoned her for years, untouched, and picks-off assorted, random innocent people she encounters. She's too stupid to know she must get out of the sunlight until she starts broiling herself. She's not remotely likable, and the ending makes no sense at all mostly because it's not really an ending in any meaningful sense. Story? What story? Art? What art? At least it was short.

Comic book writer Jaime Hernandez recommends this. I have no idea who he is so you'll have to remind me never to read anything by him if he thinks this is so great. He either hasn't read it and therefore is completely clueless, or he's just completely clueless. I don't get why idiot publishers think a recommendation by a writer most people have never heard of somehow carries any weight. I honestly do not give a damn what other writers think, even if they're writers I like. I want to make up my own mind, and I did. I certainly cannot recommend this waste of time.


The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare


Rating: WARTY!

This was probably written around 1611, and first published in 1623 in a folio which grouped it with the comedies! It's not a comedy, unless a comedy of error. Some have labeled it a romance, but it's not a romance. To me it's a tragedy in more ways than one because it's not well-written and it's an awful story in the sense of being completely unrealistic. In that regard, it's a typical Shakespeare play where he asks us to remove our brains before entering the theater, but then he does call it The Winter's tale - like it's the mother of all tall stories, told in this audiobook by a very average full cast.

It's also another one of Shakespeare's thefts. He was a monstrous plagiarist. This story is essentially the same as Pandosto by Robert Greene, published some two decades earlier, a story in which the King of Bohemia, Pandosto, accuses his wife of adultery with his childhood friend, the King of Sicilia. Greene in turn may have taken his version from The Canterbury Tales which may have in turn been lifted from earlier stories such as The Decameron And so it goes!

In Shakespeare's rip-off, we're supposed to believe that Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, has so little to do in his own country that he can waste nine months (a curious amount of time) swanning around in Sicilia with King Leontes, whom he hath known since childhood. When Polixenes refuseth, citing pressing business back home, Leontes unreasonably tries to require him to stay, and when he fails in that, he sends his wife to try to talk him into staying. Why he would send his wife who knows this guy less well than does her husband is a mystery, but she persuades him so quickly that Leontes immediately decides she's had sex with him in order to convince him not to go!

Note that Bohemia is part of the present-day Czech Republic, so there is no way in hell a name like Polixenes would be in play there, nor a name like Leontes in Sicilia for that matter, but that's Shakespeare for you. Nor is there any way these two were childhood friends when their countries of origin were so far apart given the vicissitudes of travel back then, but again, Shakespeare expects us to buy this old mystery meat pie. He also expects us to believe the king took his wife to court (not the same as courting his wife) in a complete farce of a trial rather than simply behead her as was the fashion at the time. The reason for the trial is that it's far more an exercise in linguistic strutting and puffery than ever it was a realistic trial.

The wife, of course, dieth after the trial, but isn't really dead, just like the unheroic Hero wasn't really dead in Much Ado About Noting. Shakespeare wasn't original by any means. He even plagiarized himself! In the end, the child he thought had been burned alive on his own orders was in fact raised away from his sight for sixteen years, and the wife he thought was dead was living with a neighbor and lo an behold, all is forgiven at the end.

Horseshit! This king is so clueless that he has no idea what's going on in his own court, let alone his own country! He's so selfish that he won't let his supposed friend go home, and he's so stupid and paranoid that he thinks his best friend and his wife had sex. The guy's an asshole and simply isn't worth reading about. I do not recommend this! If you must indulge in Shakespeare, he has better material to read or listen to than this.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Lost Path by Amélie Fléchais


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say, up front, that I was disappointed in this story, which is depressing because back in August of 2017, I reviewed this author's The Little Red Wolf and loved it. This was a different kettle of comic though, because I'm not even sure what happened in it, despite reading it all the way through.

It felt unfinished for one thing, and on top of that it was disjointed and confusing. I had a hard time following it, which was fine, because it seemed to be going nowhere anyway. The story is supposed to be of these three kids who remain nameless, and who get lost in the forest and encounter strange and magical creatures, but while I found nothing magical in the story, I'm sorry to say I found a lot of strange, and not in a good way. I ended-up being glad these kids were lost and hoping they were never found, thereby decreasing the surplus boredom - as Ebenezer Scrooge might have wished!

The weirdest thing about the graphic novel was that it started out in full color - and quite well done as it happened, but then inexplicably switched to black and white line drawings. I thought at first that maybe this was to indicate that it was nighttime, but it wasn't! Later the color came back - again for no apparent reason, and then went away once more.

Was there a reason for this? Who can say? It was a gray area, but I could see no purpose in it! There was at least one image which had a splash of color, like the artist had begun to color it, but hadn't finished. The only conclusion I could draw by then was that this was unfinished because it was an advance review copy. Alternately if the author/artist was trying to say something with the absence/return of color, it was lost on me, as was the bulk of this non-story.

I was truly disappointed in it, and I cannot recommend this at all.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Life After Life By Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was another attempt at Kate Atkinson via audiobook. It failed.

I came to her as an author via Case Histories on TV, which I really enjoyed, but my foray into her novel about the same characters was boring. I had the same experience here, but I confess it did take me longer to get bored! Normally when an author has failed me I don't go back to that same author. I had the same policy on dating when I was single! LOL! I don't see the point in revisiting a disappointment so I've never done it with dating and very rarely with authors. I only went back to this author because I got three of her novels from the library at the same time and wanted to at least give them all a try as long as I had them.

This one had sounded really interesting. In some ways it was reminiscent of my own Tears in Time, although that was sci-fi and didn't involve the character dying. This novel was a bit more like the movie Groundhog Day except that instead of the main character falling asleep and reliving the same day over, the main character here dies and then somehow continues on as though nothing has happened. There's no information as to how this works: whether it actually is a redux or whether this is a trip through parallel universes. Perhaps by the end of the novel this is made clear, but I only made it to just under halfway through.

I gave up on it because it was becoming tedious and repetitive. It wasn't so much that it went over the same story again and again, although it did to begin with. In this story we did slowly move forward and the character did progressively grow older as the story went on, from infant-hood to childhood to teen years and older, and even into a marriage which didn't work out. I lost interest because the tedium of her life remained the same, the relationships remained the same, and the kind of events that befell her remained the same. Nothing really different happened, so while she was growing, the story was not!

On top of that, Ursula, the main character, simply wasn't that interesting. She was so passive and she didn't do anything! Instead, things happened to her, and this never changed. She was far too passive: even a rape and a subsequent botched abortion did not impinge upon her significantly. You'd think that repeatedly dying and then finding out they had survived the death and had a second (and a third, fourth, etc) opportunity, would actually change a person and have a profound effect on them, and that this effect would become increasingly powerful as it was repeated, but this wasn't the case here at all. Ursula was Teflon™ coated! Nothing affected her. Nothing left a mark! It was entirely unrealistic, and this story simply wasn't for me. I do not recommend it. I'd much rather have read about Ursula's aunt Isabella, who sounded far more interesting than ever Ursula could be.


Friday, April 6, 2018

The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati aka Rosina Lippi


Rating: WARTY!

This is a novel Stephen King would have been proud of, and anyone who knows me well will also know I don't mean that as a compliment.

I ditched this big fat book of fluff and padding after reading about ten percent. The premise was wonderful - female doctors fighting Anthony Comstock, who was a real person who left his name on things like the Comstock Law, which essentially labeled anything he didn't like as obscene, including leaflets offering advice about birth control and venereal diseases, and he also left his name in the vernacular of yesteryear, in the form of "Comstockery".

Unfortunately, instead of telling that story, which could have been gripping and interesting, and a fun read, this author decided instead to simply document the minutiae of life in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This meant there were far too many pages devoted to empty volume with nothing of interest happening. If she'd cut out the fluff, we could have had a two-hundred page novel where things happened and things moved, but no! We got seven hundred pages. This author clearly hates trees with a vengeance. If I'd wanted to read about how much research the author did, I'd have emailed her and asked her, but I really don't care and I certainly don't want to read it in place of an actual story. This was a fat volume which spent far too much time going nowhere and was such was boring and a waste of my time.

Worse than this, there was a character Named Jack, and I flatly refuse to read any novels with a main character called that. It's the most over-used go-to name in the history of writing. The character's actual name was Giancarlo, and I see no honest way to get to Jack from that. Yes, Giancarlo is a contraction of Giovanni Carlo, and Giovanni is the equivalent of John which often gets rendered down to the obnoxious 'Jack' for reasons which completely escape me, but seriously? If I'd known this novel was jacked-up to begin with I would never have picked it up. Fortunately I wised-up before I'd wasted too much time on it. I have better things to do with my life than read another authors research used as a substitute for telling a good story.


School for Psychics by KC Archer


Rating: WARTY!

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

Not to be confused with The School for Psychics by Carolyn Jourdan, this School for Psychics is volume one is a series which seems to have as its aim to be an adult version of Harry Potter, but don't let that fool you. It's really a YA novel with non-YA characters, and this made for an inauthentic, if not laughable story. I did not like it. I didn't like the main character, which was the first problem I had with this. She started out fine, but went rapidly downhill.

24-year-old Teddy Cannon owes a lot of money (like low six figures) to a Serbian crook by the name of Sergei. Her plan is to use her psychic ability (which she doesn't know she has) to win big at poker and repay the loan. How she ever got into such debt when she can win so easily at poker is a mystery. Though she doesn't realize it, she's psychic and knows exactly what the other players have in their hands.

In her ignorance of her true calling, she puts this skill down to her ability to detect their 'tells' - little peccadilloes and mannerisms which reveal what they're holding in their hands. As it happens when we meet her on her big gamble, she fails and is contacted by a mysterious man who invites her to come to the school for Psychics on an island off the coast of California. If she does, he says, all her debts will be paid. Does that sound like entrapment? It did to me, but Teddy isn't smart enough to be the least bit suspicious of how all this magically came together. I wondered if she was set up for this right from the off, but if she had been, it really would have made no sense anyway.

I also have to wonder, since she's been specially recruited - having been watched for some time - why her recruiter waited so long, and if he's so sure about her, why she has to undergo these entrance tests. As another reviewer suggested, it would have been better to test potential recruits before they arrive at this secret school, not afterwards, but none of this is gone into in the novel. It speaks very poorly of the recruiters skills that so many new entrants were kicked out so quickly. Up to the point of Teddy's arrival at the school, the story wasn't too bad at all and it held my interest, but it went downhill quickly once school began. The author needed to think this through much more than she evidently did, is what it felt like to me. It simply wasn't realistic, even within its own framework.

Teddy thought she was epileptic. She had no idea she was psychic, although how that happened went unexplained in the 25% or so of this that I could stand to read. You would think that someone introduced to a whole new world as Teddy was, would revel in it, but she acted like she didn't care much about anything - she behaved as though it was simply another day in the life, which again felt inauthentic.

In the end, my biggest problem with this was that I wanted to read "School for Psychics" not a heated Harlequin romance, but that was what I got instead. I wanted to read about a main character who was strong and independent and who relished the chance to learn to use her abilities. I did not want to read about clichéd 'bitch in heat' who really had no great interest in anything save the "hot guy" she sees on the first day, and with whom she can't wait to have unsafe sex. I don't do covers because my blog is about writing, and author's have little control over their cover unless they self-publish, but this novel's cover was actually pretty cool. Unfortunately it was wrong for the book, which ought to have had the stereotypical naked, shaven-chested guy on the front cover, standing behind a swooning Teddy.

So it's not really about psychics at all, it's about this woman's obsession with this guy and which turns into a clichéd YA triangle in short order. Yawn. I wanted something original and instead we got a boring version of X-Men crossed with Harry Potter, and this had the worst elements of both those and a poor YA novel into the bargain. There's even an guy unoriginally named Pyro. Barf. It's all adults, but it reads like a high-school romance. Sorry, not interested!

I wanted to read about the psychics, not how hot this woman thinks this guy is. If she'd just mentioned it a couple of times, that would be fine, but it's every other page and it's boring. I don't want to read about women like that. Women do not need a man to validate them and it's sad that so many female authors think they need not one, but two, including your standard trope bad-boy, to make a woman whole. I cannot recommend a novel that's as bad as this one, and is so insulting to women.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce


Rating: WARTY!

This was a novel I bought thinking it might give an interesting take on the Snow Queen story, but while it started out great, it failed about halfway through when the main character stupidly left her car unlocked with valuables inside, stupidly chased after the men who stole from her, stupidly ran into their trap, and stupidly got captured by "gypsies" who of course were magical people and knew all about the Snow Queen and could help this totally ineffectual non-hero of a main female character. Stereotype Much Jackson Pearce?

The Snow Queen (aka Snedronningen) was originally written by Hans Christian Andersen and was first published, appropriately on or about the winter solstice of 1844. He gets absolutely zero mention or credit, not even in this author's acknowledgements. What an ingrate of a rip-off artist she is. Now I like her less than I liked the main character! She even steals the name of one of the main characters from Snow Queen - Kai, for the guy Ginny goes tumbling after like Jill down a hill. That's Ginny, because the author evidently wasn't interested in ripping off the name Gerda (the main girl in the story) even as she ripped-off pretty much the entire story!

The Snow Queen has no name in the original (not that Andersen chose to share, but she was modeled on actor Johanna Maria Lind, better known as Jenny Lind so why call her Mora? Why not Johanna? Did the author not know or care enough about the original story to think of this? Names are important in stories, but apparently not to this author who didn't care enough about her characters to think about what the names mean. If she didn't care, why should we? Just FYI, Kai is really form Kaj which means Earth.

Andersen apparently fell in love with Jenny, but she wasn't interested in him so he modeled the icy heart of the snow queen on this rejection. That's a far more interesting story than this author delivered. Wh not name her as an anagram of Snedronningen, for example, Rennin Songend? Gerda comes form a Norse word meaning protected, which makes sense when you think of the story. The best the author could come up with as a replacement was Ginny? Which means Virgin? The two are nothing alike! Alexia and Shamiria both mean pretty much the same thing as Gerda. Would not one of those have been better? Oh, but it has to be an all-American white girl, and it has to be set in the USA because it's YA! Never mind!

The book was first person because the law requires that every YA novel to be first person, or the author will end up in the cooler, right? Wrong! It especially has to be worst person voice if it has a main female character, right? No! This author admitted what a juvenile mistake she'd made when she had to add chapters (and a prologue, which I skipped as usual...yawn) in third person from the perspective of Mora, the name of the Snow Queen in this novel. Mora is Gaelic and means 'star of the sea' so it has nothing whatsoever to do with ice, snow or cold! This author is pretty dumb when it comes to names. Those third person chapters could easily have been left out. It was very amateurish to include them and it spoiled the book even more than the author was already managing to do.

Like I said, I got about halfway through and asked, "why am I even reading this?" I had no good answer and dropped it like a melting icicle. Unlike such an icicle, it was going nowhere and the main character was too limp to care about. I cannot recommend this. It'll be a cold day in Georgia (USA) before I read anything else by this author. If her next work is anything like this novel, then it's a waste of a perfectly good tree. I'd rather look at the the tree.


Monday, March 26, 2018

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova


Rating: WARTY!

Another soured audiobook experiment. I typically avoid long novels because it means they're full of filler which ruins the story. Before I started blogging books I read this author's The Historian and quite liked it. I went looking for my review of that, to see what I said about it, but I must have read that before I began blogging so it's nowhere to be had! This story was far too rambling.

When I saw Kostova had out The Swan Thieves I took a look at it, but it didn't appeal to me, especially given what a fat tome it was, so I never read it. I thought it would be boring. This one sounded like it might be more interesting despite Kostova proving herself by this time to be a one-note author. I was wrong! It was rambling and boring. I listened to about an eighth of it (an eighth of a one note and I didn't quaver) and while the reader (Barrie Kreinik) was listenable, the story wasn't. Quite literally nothin happened.

I don't want twenty pages about a woman being driven to a monastery unless all of those twenty are relevant to the story, but that's what I got here (at least it felt like it), and in this case none of it was. Kostova takes a whole chapter to write about a drive from A to B, which has nothing whatsoever to do with moving the action forward, In fact it did quite the opposite. It would be like that movie, Dunkirk about the dramatic evacuation of British troops from French beaches at the onset of World War Two, showing five minutes of action on the beach, five minutes of disembarking the boat at Dover in England, and then two hours in between spent in existential angst during the twenty-mile boat ride, or admiring the beautiful ocean, the action of the waves, the blowing wind, the burning of the surf, the engine noise, the diesel fumes, and declaiming upon ocean wildlife.

Or maybe in that famous car chase in the movie Bullitt, instead of simply showing the car chase as they did, the story focused on backstory and admiring window boxes of flowers as he drove, and stopping to gas-up and get a car wash, and slowing to let the chicken cross the road and so on. I am not kidding about the chicken, it quite literally happened in this story. It ruffled my feathers and I decided that was more than enough for me.

In short I cannot recommend this drivel, and I am now completely done considering this author worth wasting any more time on.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore


Rating: WARTY!

Sashenka was another audiobook experiment I tried that failed. I don't normally go for the longer books because my time is valuable and it's a bigger investment of it to put it into a longer book and have that fail. If it works out, it's great, but given that I take more risks with audiobooks, they tend to fail more than other media, so I tend not to go for the longer ones. This one sounded like it might be good if it worked out, but it didn't.

If it had bee about half the length it was, I might have been willing to invest more time in it, but it was endlessly rambling, jumping back and forth, and worse, the author seemed like he was obsessed with showing off his knowledge of the classics instead of telling a succinct and engaging story. He spewed out title after title, some of which I'd even heard of, but it served the story not at all. Writers who do this are among the most pretentious, substituting books for smarts, and book names for knowledge and sophistication.

Despite this focus on showing how intellectual the main character is, the ham-fisted book blurb describes her - sixteen-year-old Sashenka Zeitlin - as "Beautiful and headstrong" like her best trait is her beauty. I detest writers who reduced women to skin-depth, like a woman has nothing else to offer and their character is quite useless except for her 'beauty'. What does it matter where she is on the dangerously sliding scale of beauty to ugliness if she's an interesting character? Is she so boring that the author has to make her beautiful in order for her to have anything at all to offer the reader? Because that doesn't work for me.

It's not just the book blurb writer. The author himself is equally culpable, sexualizing his character very early on in the story when he informs us that she has the "fullest breasts in her class." How is this remotely relevant to anything? If the story were about sex, then I can see how it would be something of import, but it isn't. It's supposed to be about this woman and her life in Tsarist and then revolutionary Russia. Her breasts are really nothing to do with her story unless she goes to work for the communists seducing political enemies, in which case I could see some relevance. if the tit doesn't fit, you mustn't acquit, and I find this author guilty.

I thought it might start to get interesting when Sashenka is thrown into prison as a political offender because of her association with her uncle, but no! The novel is set in 1916, right before the Russian revolution, and I thought this might make it quite gripping, but the author seems to have sterilized it so effectively that the rich soil of a potentially entertaining novel is reduced to unproductive sand.

The only interesting thing to me was the repeated mention of gendarmes, which I had never heard of in connection with Russia, but these were the political police. It would have made more sense to call them jandarmov, which is how the Russians pronounced it.

The author may be able to write knowledgeable non-ficiton about this era, but he has no clue how to write a gripping novel, a compelling main character, or realistic female characters.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Wonderful Baron Doppelgänger Device by Eric Bower


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say up front that I was disappointed in this novel aimed at middle-graders. Maybe a portion of middle-graders will like it, and obviously I am not its audience, but I've read a lot of middle grade novels and found very many of them amusing and/or engaging in other ways. This one didn't resonate with me from the start. It's apparently number three of a series (The Bizarre Baron Inventions) and I'm not a series fan at all, but from what I can tell, it can be read as a standalone, which is how I came into it.

The first problem I encountered was with the formatting, although this isn't what garnered it a less than enthusiastic review in my case. This book, like many such books I've reviewed, fell prey to Amazon's crappy Kindle app, which simply isn't up to the job of fairly representing books unless those books have pretty much been stripped of everything that renders them as anything more than totally bland. Kindle format cannot even handle routine formatting, let alone specialty items like drop caps. Spacing between sections is random at best, and the formatting of this book in the Kindle was atrocious on my iPhone.

In the contents (why is there even a contents page - it's a novel for goodness sake?!), chapter two was run right into the end of chapter one, rather than appear on a new line. Chapter three was randomly indented on the next line. Chapter four was not a link, so you couldn't tap it to actually go to chapter four, whereas other chapters were links, but only a part of the chapter title was actually a URL. So - the usual Kindle disaster.

There wasn't a return tap either - to get back to the contents from the chapter title. Given that ebooks have bookmarks and a search function, I see no point in a contents page! It’s a brain-dead feature of the ebook system which makes zero sense and was obviously designed by a committee. It’s even more pointless if it doesn't work and Amazon seems determined to undermine it with its Kindle system anyway.

The book looked much better in Bluefire Reader in a different format, but even there, there were problems. It was all but unreadable on a smart phone because the pages were represented as a whole entity, which was far too small to read comfortably (at least for me who does not possess the eyes of a falcon!). You could stretch the pages to make them larger and more readable, but then you couldn't swipe to the next page without shrinking the page back to its original size first, so this made for an irritatingly ritualistic reading experience risking carpal tunnel syndrome just from continually stretching, shrinking, and swiping!

I am sure that on a tablet this would work much better, but for me, a phone is usually more convenient and I always have it with me, so I read the Kindle version and tried to ignore chapter titles that had random caps in them, such as chapter 2 which was titled " wHy would a Horse wanT sequIns on ITs HaT?" You see it appears to be only certain characters which are capitalized - the H and the T in this case, so maybe it's not so random. Why this occurs though, I do not know. I have seen it annoyingly often in Kindle.

The Bluefire view presumably represented how the print book would look, but for me this had problems too. In the electronic version, abusing trees by having too much white space isn't an issue, although a longer book does require somewhat more energy to transmit, so there's an issue of energy abuse.

As far as the print version goes, as judged from the Bluefire Reader, the margins, top, bottom, left, and right are super wide, and the chapter title pages have such huge chapter titles that the actual text doesn't start until the last third of the page. There are also illustrations which do little to augment the text and could have been omitted. More on these later. I calculated that there is about a third of each page (and more on the chapter title pages) which is white space.

The fact is that we cannot afford to abuse trees like this in an era of rampant climate change. Each printed book releases almost nine pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and printing books topples over thirty million trees every year. An e-reader is also harsh on the environment, but once you read a couple of dozen books on it, you’re getting ahead of the print curve. An electronic book takes three times fewer raw materials and uses seven times less water, but even so, the design of your book can make a huge difference.

No one wants to read a print book where the text is so jammed together that it's hard to read, but in this case, instead of blindly following rote rules of one inch margins on all sides (or whatever), making the margins smaller would have shortened the novel significantly, and for a large print run, saved more than a few trees and many pounds of CO2. It's worth thinking about if you care about the planet.

The novel is 237 pages (judged by page numbering in the Bluefire Reader), but it actually starts on page nine and finishes on page 234, so it's really about 225 pages. Tightening the margins and reducing the number of empty pages at the beginning of the novel could have brought this book down to well under two hundred pages (and even with the book-end fluff pages).

Authors and publishers need to seriously consider what they're doing to the environment. To my knowledge there are no fixed rules about how a book should look except what individual publishers 'prefer' so this should be a no-brainer: environment first, formatting second. Save trees, save energy on print runs, and guess what? Save money in producing the novel!

Another formatting issue was that the page headers (the author's name at left, the book title at right) which looked fine in the Bluefire version, were interposed with the text in the Kindle version. For example, one page had this text over three lines:
...said P. "I
erIC bower 29
heard you tell my wife that...
As you can see, the Eric Bower and page number are in the middle of a sentence, and the 'IC' in Eric is randomly capitalized. Why is it even necessary to put the author's name and book title as headers? Do authors and publishers think the reader has such a short-term memory that they need to be reminded every page what they're reading and who wrote it? Again, it's antiquated, hide-bound tradition and nothing more. It serves no purpose.

Back to the image issue I mentioned: completely and predictably mangled the images. They looked even worse on my phone because I keep the screen black, and the text white to save on the battery (it takes more power to keep the screen white and the text black), so the images (on a white background) always look out of place, but it gets worse! On page 21 of the Bluefire version, there is a line drawing of an airplane. This was chopped into segments which were then distributed over seven - count 'em seven! - screens in the Kindle app on my phone! Consequently, the image was largely unintelligible.

The same thing happened to an image of a car. Curiously, the 'monkey in the plumed hat' image, which appeared shortly after the airplane image, was not completely Julienned, but it was split over three screens, and there were black lines across it so it looked like Kindle was thinking about making a jigsaw out of it, but never quite got around to it!

Finally the story itself: it honestly felt just too silly and improbable for me. It seemed less like a story than it was a series of skits jumbled together, and it was larded with so much asininity and so many meandering asides that it was hard to follow the story (and in this I am graciously assuming there was one). It was too silly to read. I reached about forty percent and had to give up on it because it was simply not entertaining and the story appeared to be going nowhere.

Maybe the target audience will go for this, but my kids, who are now a bit older than this target audience admittedly, would not have found this engaging. Personally, I didn't like the main character at all. I felt that first person voice was the wrong voice for this story. It usually is the wrong voice, and is way over-used, but in this case it was made worse because he was just so annoyingly voluble and so repulsively full of himself, proud of his incompetence and trouble-making, and never once sorry for what he did to people.

In fact it was when he was all-but strutting with pride over dropping a fountain pen onto someone's head so that it became permanently stuck there, that I gave up on the novel. He never once exhibited remorse or guilt, and I'm sorry, but this is not the kind of thing you need to be teaching impressionable young boys. At this point it was just too dumb for me to continue and I gave up on it. I cannot recommend this novel based on what I read of it.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King


Rating: WARTY!

I don't think Ive ever had a month quite as bad as this for finding one read after another to be disappointing. Only one out of sixteen reads so far?! To be fair a lot of those were audiobooks in which I take a lot more risk than I do with other formats, so I tend to see more failures there than anywhere. This one was no better. I'm expecting things to pick up int eh next few reviews, however, so hang in there!

I've long given up on Stephen King, but a friend recommended this one and I decided to try it since it was so short (at least as compared with King's standard overblown, massively-bloated tomes), but once again he failed to move me. This was an audiobook read quite delightfully by Anne Heche as it happens. I'm a fan of hers, but even she could not overcome the improbable material. The main character is nine years old, but she's written as a far more mature character than that and it simply didn't ring true, so I lost suspension of disbelief right from the off. Worse: the story was rambling and uninteresting, and overcooked with artificial ingredients that will make you sick. It did me anyway.

The story is that Trisha gets lost on the Appalachian trail when she wanders off the track to take a leak. Her lousy mom is so busy childishly arguing with her petulant older brother that neither of them notices that she's gone. Trisha inevitably gets lost, and instead of working logically (as her far too mature brain ought to have) she makes things ever worse for herself by wandering further and further from the track, never once considering backtracking, until she blunders accidentally back onto a main road where a hunter fortunately doesn't shoot her but gets her to safety. And in one of the most sickly endings ever, estranged mom and dad magically get back together again. Barf.

This could have been a decent story in better hands, but it's all been done before. King could have chosen to write it a little differently, but you know he can't write a story that doesn't involve bogey men, so there is one chasing Trisha that's entirely a product of her own mind, which admittedly isn't absurdly mature, but it is tiresomely childish. We're expected to believe that her vast passion for baseball (not actually hers as it happens, but King's - yawn) is what saves her and keeps her going. Ho hum.

It's a tedious, tedious, asinine, and thoroughly unrealistic story that you know is coming from the brain of a man in his fifties which isn;t remotely like the brain of a nine-year-old girl. I'd expect a story like this from a first time amateur who was out of good ideas for a novel, but not from a seasoned writer. I'd even go so far as to say if this had been submitted as a first novel by an unknown, it would, rightly or wrongly, never have been published.

After the first sixth of the novel I began skimming and it didn't improve. This one had these utterly pointless and asinine drum and cymbal riffs at the start of each chapter for no evident reason. Why audiobook publishers feel an utterly braindead need to inject music into a story I have no idea, but it pisses me off. The author never wrote this music! What is it doing here? I hate it when they add music to novels which the author never had anything to do with. If an author of King's power and influence cannot keep it out of one of his novels, then what hope is there for any of us except to avoid Big Publishing™ like the plague?

If the sound disaffects had been baseball calls and cheers or something like that, I could have at least understood it even as I detested it, but drum riffs? cowbells? Cymbal zings? It made zero sense to me. Please, audiobook publishers, get a clue! It's about the writer and what they've written, not about your dumbass audiobook producer's frustration with his or her complete lack of musical talent. It's an insult to try to tart up a good story with irritating bells and whistles, and it makes a tiresome story like this one so much more obnoxious. In the end it was one more Big Fail by Big Publishing™ and I flatly refuse to recommend this disaster.