Showing posts with label urban fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label urban fantasy. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Greywalker by Kat Richardson


Rating: WARTY!

There's something like nine volumes of this series and that's nine too many in my opinion after listening to this first one. I could not make it through this book. This is another book which proves my point that if the things start going south in your read, there's no point whatsoever in gamely reading on in hope that it will get better.

It began with the tired premise that a person who has "died" and recovers (! - which actually means that they never died at all) comes back equipped with psychic powers. When is someone going to subvert that trope? So Harper Blane (I should have quit reading as soon as I read that this was the private detective's name - it sounds like a foot disease!) has this experience and finds she can enter the grey zone (seriously this is the best name you can come up with?) which is the zone between life and death, where ghosts and vampires live. Yes, and werewolves Everything was in here including the kitchen sink, which was more of an off-white zone with rust stains than grey, to be perfectly honest.

Harper is given two cases: one to track down a woman's college-student son, who has apparently disappeared, and the other to locate a pipe organ that was sold and went missing some years ago. Mia Barron doesn't do too bad of a job reading this, but her Irish accent was annoying and her voice for the missing student, Cameron, made him sound like Ash Ketchum from the Pokémon anime cartoons. Ash's real name was actually Satoshi, but why would we in the west respect that?!

I never was a fan of the cartoons. I thought the only purpose Pokémon served was to legitimize cruelty to animals, with these unlicensed and unsupervised jerks capturing critters and making them fight each other for their jailer's personal glory. Ash was supposed to be becoming the best trainer in the world, but he never trained anyone! He just made them fight all the time, and he wouldn't even let them fight in their own particular...(sigh) Concorde, "Idiom, sir?" Yes! That's it! Idiom!

In the real world, dog fighting will get you jail time, but in this world, it makes you famous. I have seen some episodes and for me the duo of Jessie and James were heroically amusing, and Misty was a feisty one, but Ash made me nauseous. I understand that team rocket retired in later episodes and were replaced by a limp facsimile, but to me the whole show was a limp facsimile of the real relationship one can have with a pet. To get back to the review, I found Cameron way more hilarious than I ever found him sad or pitiful precisely because he sounded just like Ash.

Event that I could have contended with, but the story just dragged on and on and on, with the author too frequently giving in to an obsessive details which were simply not interesting. I don't require a writer of sci-fi or fantasy to legitimize their story. they don't have to dome up with convincing explanations for why something works or why this is the way it is. Just tell your story and I'll go along with it. Unless of course, you bog it down in endless ruminations about The Grey as this one did. I was bored witless listening to that mindless drivel, and I took to skipping any tracks that dealt with the minutiae of The Grey, and any tracks that featured the Irish Witch. In the end I decided to skip all the rest of it because it was simply not getting ti done. I can't recommend this one.


Friday, December 9, 2016

The Accidental Demonslayer by Angie Fox


Rating: WARTY!

I liked the oddity of this story and the title, but when I began reading it, I ran into some issues. The first is that it's your usual cliché of the ignorant special snowflake coming into their power and knowledge of who they are. The main difference here is that the demon-slayer here isn't your usual wilting, vapory YA girl. Lizzie Brown is an older woman who teaches kindergarten. We still get the story in first person though, which can be annoying, but in this case, it wasn't awful. She lives alone (save for her Jack Russell Terrier dog), in a loft apartment and is an adopted child, her mother having given her up when she was a baby. So lots of trope. The differences were not only in her age, but also in that there was humor here, some of which missed the mark for me, but some of which was funny, such as when she tells her little dog "Feel free to protect me from butterflies, the vacuum cleaner, my hair dryer". I thought that was great.

On Lizzie's birthday, her grandmother shows up out of the blue riding a pink Harley Davidson motorbike, and she locks Lizzie in the bathroom. She's wanting Lizzie confined while the latter undergoes her slayer transformation. Why this happens when she turns thirty (or whatever age she is) is a mystery, and it's even more of a mystery why her grandmother locks her up and refuses to tell her anything - this again is tedious trope. What goes wrong though is that a demon shows up intent upon killing Lizzie, but it's told in more of a humorous vein than a dramatic or scary one. After this event is when Lizzie starts to get her education. She also realizes she can hear her dog - which talks like a frat boy rather than a dog might talk if it could - and which became annoying quite quickly, the occasional humorous comment notwithstanding.

The story really started sliding towards oblivion for me though, when the clichéd muscular, protective male showed up. I'm not a woman (I've never even played one on TV, believe it or not), but if I were a woman, I think I'd be a bit pissed-off with some stranger showing up trying to lay a claim on me and arguing with my grandmother about who has dibs on me! But the problem was much worse than that. Here we have this almighty demon-slayer, who comes along only once in three generations, and who is so scary to demons that they launch an orchestrated campaign to kill her off, and yet she needs protector? This immediately devalues her and renders her as little more than a maiden tied to a stake awaiting Saint George to come along and slay the dragon before he carries her off on his pretty charger (and by that I mean horse, nothing untoward!).

It felt like a betrayal to me. It's fine by me if she has a guy who is an equal partner, and it's also fine if, assuming it's done intelligently and realistically, they fall in love by the end of the story, but to set up this woman as some exceptional demon destroyer and then slap us (and her) in the face with "well, she's really just an air-headed and weak flibbertigibbet" is inexcusable.

It was at this point that I decided this book was not for me - or for anyone else who likes a smartly-written urban fantasy and female protagonists who have a healthy self-respect and are not in dire need of some abusive male to validate them. As soon as Dimitri (seriously? You couldn't come up with a better name than a Vampire Academy retread?) started asserting ownership of Lizzie, and literally manhandling her around - like dragging her into a corner to lecture her, and insisting she leave her bedroom window open so he can "talk to her later," and actually kissing her without so much as a by-your-leave - I'm leaving! Lizzie should have kicked him in his balls right there and then. She didn't. She's having palpitations and marveling at his muscles instead. He's just man-meat and she should have been marveling at the lack of muscle in his head. If you like moronic female leads, and guys who are outright dicks, then this is definitely for you. For me, I couldn't bear to read any more of this nonsense.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger


Rating: WORTHY!

This is yet another advance review copy from Net Galley for which I was really grateful! It's a mixed bag and you can only chose by blurb what you think will be a worthy read. Sometimes it feels like Christmas and you wonder whether you will get coal in your stocking, or a real gem. This was without question a gem of the finest cut. My only real quesitont o begin with was: who is the real author? Goodreads has two versions, one which credits authorship to Grady Hendrix and lists Paul Krueger as a contributor and this is listed as a "chaplet" whatever the heck that is. The one I read which gives Paul Kreuger the whole credit. Are they one and the same person? Is one an excerpt from the other - because it bears no resemblance to the actual Last Call! Who knows!

The real Last Call took off right from the start, grabbed me and ran with me. I sped through the chapters. It had a really interesting premise: that bartenders are really protectors of humanity from the demon world, and it's not a metaphor! By mixing and consuming the perfect cocktail, they can give themselves a range of temporary powers to fight real demons which are appropriately known as tremens, and which manifest in a variety of forms. Different cocktails lend different powers and the book contains recipes for various cocktails between chapters.

Kudos for making the main character Chinese-American. Bailey Chen was such a break from the trope young adult world of dystopian trilogies or ridiculous love stories featuring Mary Sue Wasp. She was smart, determined, inventive, amusing, and fearless despite her fears. Even as she was introduced to the world of demon-hunting, for which she had a real talent, she was still trying to do the sensible thing and protect her future with a decent day job.

I was into this from the start, but the real question was: was our main character, Bailey Chen? She was bar-tending as a temp job until should could get something in the hi-tech world, and even when she discovered this weird world of alcohol magic and demon-hunting, she was still pursuing her dream avidly, even as the demon world began to go sideways in that it was no longer the predictable world it had been. But Bailey was up to it.

I adored Bailey, and liked all three of her companions in this fight, although one of them temporarily was a dick. I would have loved to learn more about Mona, but then I always seems to be more intrigued by the companion than by the star! However, it was a close run thing here - too close to call because Bailey was kick-ass also.

I loved this novel (in a sweet platonic manner...) and I recommend it highly.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Weregirl by CD Bell


Rating: WARTY!

I'm not a fan of werewolf or vampire stories. The first because that genre has never actually interested me, and the second because vampires have become so larded with trope and cliché that they've become nauseatingly bland and ridiculously pathetic. This one was different in that first of all, the blurb writer got my interest, which is almost a miracle in itself, and the secondly, that the author made the story worth reading - as far as it went.

Note that the cover calls this a novel, but all I read was actually a novella (I'm guessing, without knowing the word-count). But you know, if Amazon is going to continue trying to force writers to sell novels at 99 cents a pop, like they involve no more work than a two or three minute song does, I don't blame authors for putting out shorter stories, or for releasing them the way they used to be released in the days of Arthur Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes stories: in episodic form. This one was not such a novel however. It was, as I learned after I had requested it, merely an introductory 100 pages from a four-hundred page novel, so the publishers actually made me DNF this! This review, therefore, is only of those first 100 pages.

The first thing I liked is that this wasn't told in first person. I'm tempted to build a shrine to author CD Bell for that. It would have been very easy to make that mistake and the fact that this author didn't is highly praise-worthy. The second good thing was the two main characters: Nessa and Bree, who were for me completely real and believable.

Nessa Kurland is a high school junior who is very much into cross-country running. She not only loves it, she needs it if she's to get a scholarship for college. While running one evening, she's bitten by a wolf, and over the next month she finds herself changing at first subtly, and then more scarily, until she can't deny that something embarrassingly and frighteningly weird has happened to her. Fortunately, Bree is a true friend and she begins to work with Nessa on handling this.

The story felt too thin. For a short story this would have been understandable, but for a four-hundred page novel, it's inexcusable. By 'thin' I mean there was not a lot of depth to it. It's written it like it's a first draft, getting all the essential elements down without adding any real atmosphere. I would like to have seen it a lot more fleshed-out, and by that I don't mean padding (which it evidently has if it's four hundred pages and is this skimpy), but filling in spare areas with some color and texture. The story also has a prolog which I skipped as I do all prologs. I've never regretted not reading one, nor missed it! If you don't think it's important enough to tell in chapter one or later, then I don't think it's worth reading!

For an example of the failure to flesh out, consider one of Nessa's fellow runners - a girl named Cynthia. Nessa is supposed to train with her one evening, but they miss their connection, and despite Nessa's wolf bite injury, there's nothing from Cynthia: no asking why she had not shown up on time the previous night, or asking after her health. There were several people I suspected of being the werewolf, but my prime suspect was this Cynthia, notwithstanding Nessa's inexplicable conviction that the werewolf was male.

Another such area is where Nessa wins a race but instead of hanging around at the end, she keeps running and disappears completely. There was a good reason for this, but there was no follow up to it. Any real event like that, where the record-breaking winner disappears afterwards, would caused a lot of suspicion! Maybe it wasn't Nessa, but someone else running, fraudulently pretending to be her? I can't go more into detail over this without giving away too many spoilers but this event was simply glossed over, as though there was nothing weird about it. Reality would have brought dire consequences: an investigation at the very least.

This was an advance review copy, and there were some grammatical problems with it, which I assume will be cleaned-up before actual release. There were some cases of a word missing from between two other words such as, for example, "The tooth from the wound" which should have presumably been: "The tooth came from the wound." Another was a case where 'here' was used when 'her' was meant. That's a really hard one to catch with a spellchecker! I normally list the errors I find in ARCs on my blog so an author can make use of the information if they wish, but Bluefire reader, on which I read this and which is otherwise an excellent app, makes it impossible to capture these errors. A final read-through will fix them though.

There were also occasional odd sentences, such as when Nessa walks by a garage and she can see "...a Toyota of some kind..." which sounded really strange. I think the author intended this to mean she recognized the make but not the model, but even if you don't know the model you can identify it as a car or a truck or an SUV or whatever. I think I would have just had it that she saw a Toyota pick-up or whatever it was. Or simply kept it completely neutral and said "...an SUV on a hydraulic lift..." or something along those lines. But that's just me! I also found it odd that it's copyrighted to Chooseco LLC rather than to CD Bell, but whatever!

When Nessa meets the 'shaman', the story lost a little something for me, not least because he was disgustingly racist. Also because he was precisely the trope male which turns me off these stories: chiseled muscles and so on. I thought at this point, "Nessa deserves a better dog kennel than the one that's being built for her here if this is to be her romantic interest!" Why this trope came to be associated with werewolves, which are not larded with bulky muscles (far from it!), is a mystery. It was also odd that Nessa feels, along with other physical improvements in stamina, hearing, and smell, her eyesight becoming acute. Dogs, including wolves (or conversely, wolves including dogs!), do not have great eyesight. They're most likely short-sighted, and are largely color-blind compared with humans. They do see better at night, and the reason they do is connected with their poor color vision.

It makes no sense for Nessa's sight to undergo the improvements it did. It should have become worse, except at night. You can argue that since she was hyperopic beforehand, then becoming more myopic could have corrected her vision, I guess, but that's a bit of a stretch. Wolves have a wider field of view, but poorer binocular vision than humans. So this super-powered vision is a trope which has no honest place in the cannon, although it has actually become cannon for this kind of tale. This random, nonsensical approach to telling werewolf stories is one of the reasons I'm not attracted to the genre. It's far too deus ex machina for someone like me, who thinks it would be nice if a potential writer of werewolf stories actually read-up on real wolves before they began their story instead of soaking their pages in the tainted water which they've blindly hauled-up from the well of trope that's been established by far too many YA authors of late.

So overall, based on one quarter of a novel, I can't recommend this. It started out great and drew me in, but as the story sailed on, particularly when the "shaman' appeared, it began to take on trope like a badly-holed ship takes on water, and this sunk the story for me! I don't any to read four hundred pages of this, and I can't recommend it based on what the publisher allowed me to read of it.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Seal Team 666 by Weston Ochse


Rating: WARTY!

This was a DNF for me and it seemed like a real waste of a great title. I think the first problem was that the novel had no good idea what it wanted to be: a fantasy/horror story, or a "procedural" special forces novel. I think it tripped up going back and forth between the two. I made it only 64 pages in, which I think was a fair shot, especially when nothing really happened in that time except the highly improbable - and I'm not even talking about the supernatural! I think I can add some observations and commentary here that I've not seen in other reviews, too.

Actually the first problem was with the main character's name. Do we honestly need yet another in a tediously long line of action adventure novels featuring a main character named Jack? Seriously? Are authors so lacking in imagination that they go to trope as soon as the starting pistol cracks? I am so sick of this clichéd name that I swore off reading any more novels which feature such a character. Somehow I managed to miss that with this one, but it self-corrected! A Navy Seal would not have made that dangerous mistake! Anyway, Jack is training to be a Seal (a contraction of SEa, Air Land). He's four weeks from finishing his SCUBA training (which is only one step in a long training schedule), yet he's pulled out of it by a redheaded woman (who was so obviously destined to be his 'squeeze' that it was pathetic) to join Seal Team 666. How four weeks from the end of a twenty-four week course counts as "half way" through is a mystery, especially when there was more to come, but I let that go since there were worse problems!

This is the worse problem: Jack's specialty is as a sniper. Seal teams count not only on toughness and skill, but also on extensive mission practice leading to working together as a finely-tuned machine. You do not throw a new guy in there right as a mission is setting out! I am not militarily trained, so this is a pure guess on my part, but my guess is that a team like this would rather go one man short than bring in a brand new guy they never even met before, let alone trained with for this specific mission. I think this is especially true when that guy's specialty is sniping and no sniper is needed for this! It wasn't like he had something critical to bring, so this made absolutely no sense at all to me, because it presented such a ripe opportunity to get one or more of the team killed because of some misstep or miscue. I cannot see how this would have been countenanced.

They were operating on US soil, too, which seemed even more odd. The author justified it by saying that there is no police SWAT team trained to deal with the supernatural, but they really were not dealing with the supernatural - they were simply gathering intelligence from some Chinese guys who they knew were in this building. It was at this point in the story where the author wrote: "Walker had been watching the Chinaman's eyes." Does that sound a bit racist to you?

I talked with a couple of people (neither of whom is Chinese!) about this, and they didn't think it was any big deal, but to me it sounded off at best, and racist at worst. If this was someone's speech in the story, I can see how he might say something like that. Even the narrator might say it if the novel was told in first person PoV, but for a writer to put that in the narration when it's third person and not part of some character's speech, seems off to me. This guy who writes this used to be army intelligence which might explain a lot. He's now, apparently, defense intelligence, which also might explain a lot. It just seemed strange.

Aside from that, the story was just not interesting. The author seemed far more attached to spewing Tom Clancy-style technical descriptions than ever he was in telling a cool story about military men facing off against the supernatural. He couldn't simply say, for example, "he cleaned his gun" or "he fired his pistol" without providing a mini-description of the weapon every time. It had to be, "he cleaned his Super 90" or "he fired his MP5", which quickly became tedious in short order and irritating right afterwards. Here's one example of a partial paragraph so you get the boring idea:

And also like the M16 and the AR15, the Stoner used a gas-impingement system to automatically move the bolt back and forth, enabling semiautomatic fire down the twenty-inch barrel. Rather than the regular floating barrel, the Stoner was reworked to incorporate the URX 11 Picatiny-Weaver Rail System, allowing for better application of any mounted hardware such as laser sights, telescopic sights, reflexive sights, tactical lights and forward grips.

Now I don't doubt that there are readers out there who like stories larded with this techno-jargon, but I really don't care about it and it gets annoying when it looks like the author is more interested in showing off how much research he did, than in moving the story along nicely. It failed to grab me and I decided after a very short debate, that there were far too many other books out there begging to be read, for me to waste any more of my time on one which doesn't thrill me from the outset. This is the start of a series, and I sure didn't want to read any more of this one volume let alone another one like it.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Asura Girl by Otaro Maijo


Title: Asura Girl
Author: Otaro Maijo
Publisher: Haikasoru
Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Stephen Snyder (no website found).

This story started out strongly and had some really fascinating and amusing moments when Aiko would go off at a tangent on some rant or another about something she had encountered. Unfortunately those were few and far between, and the further I read into this novel the less I liked it.

The big disappearance (Sano) that seemed to be driving the plot at the beginning simply fizzled out and went nowhere, and there seemed to be an increasing number of pages devoted to Aiko's dreams, all of which I skipped because I can't stand writers who write pointless and fatuous pages about a character's dreams. If the dream is somehow tightly-tied into the story, then fine. For example, if the character is psychic or is being communicated with in her sleep, then this would work, but that's not here. It was nothing more than self-indulgent, extravagant, and a waste of time. I skipped those pages.

I reached a point about two-thirds the way through or maybe less, where I really didn't want to read any more of this because it had lost all its interest for me, so I gave it up. Life is way too short to keep gamely plodding through a story that's not doing you any good, when there are countless other volumes out there which are just waiting to be read and which promise to thrill you. I can't recommend this novel.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Karma by Donna Augustine


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

Errata:
"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.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dog With A Bone by Hailey Edwards


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fallen Souls by Linda Foster


Title: Fallen Souls
Author/Editor: Linda Foster
Publisher: Glass House Press
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!

I hate to give a negative review to this novel because from what little I know of Linda Foster (from her website, which you should visit - it's fun!) she seems like a really awesome person, but I critique the books on this website, not the authors. It's important to remember that. Well mostly not the authors! And certainly not in this case!

This story is listed on Net Galley (and on the cover!) as a novella, and it's also listed as book one of a series, but it's only sixty pages, and those pages are double-spaced, so it's really more like a novelette or even a short story than anything else. At least, that's how it felt to me. It also ends in a big cliff-hanger. I was, to say the least, dissatisfied with it. I expected a lot more, and got what really amounts only to a teaser.

It's in two parts, the Earthly and the heavenly. In the first part we meet Ash, a student who happens to be at a party with his older sister, and she's quite literally falling-down drunk. Ash isn't much better off. He keeps seeing a dangerous looking guy with glowing eyes staring at his sister, so he drags her from the party in a near panic. He ends up crashing the car and his sister is about to die when the stranger offers him his sister's life for his own soul, an offer he takes up. That's all we get of that story.

To take a brief detour into gender issues here, I have to say I found it sad that a female author put a female character in the position of having a guy rescue her, like she's totally incapable of taking care of herself and is reduced to being a damsel in distress. She's not even Ash's kid sister, which would certainly have ameliorated the situation somewhat. Grace is his older sister, so this was really hard to stomach. Could we not have had her get sick to her stomach from something she ate at the party or something - not from irresponsibly drinking, and this was why he was driving? Just a thought!

In part two we're in a heaven where the angels do not have traditional names! There is Kali, the good angel, who is female, and Adrian, the bad angel, who is male. Now this was a bit different, but it felt odd because the names were not remotely of Hebrew origin. Kali, for example, is Indian (Indian, not Native American) and is the name of a Hindu god, and Adrian is of Latin origin.

My real problem with the angels is that they behave exactly like humans. They speak the same, have the same emotions and wants and fears. They have lungs. They breathe. They fight. They're petty. How are they in any way, shape, or form different from humans? They're not. And for some reason, as usual, they use swords instead of modern weaponry or divine magic. This isn't a problem unique to this book by any means, but it is a problem of seriously-limited story, character, and plot imagination, and a complete lack of inventiveness and creativity in bringing something new to the table.

I found this story a bit too breathlessly told, too lacking in substance, and a very unsatisfying read. It wasn't - technically - badly written. Linda Foster has a voice which deserves to be heard and if it had been a longer story with more to say, and the world(s) fleshed out a bit more, I might have been able to enjoy. There are a lot of signs of writing potential, but it seems that the author isn't ready to spread her wings and fly yet. The plot on the heavenly side is right out of Kevin Smith's movie Dogma, for example, with angels (led by the psychotic Adrian) plotting a war against god.

I have to say that I'm not a big fan of angel stories, so if an author wants to draw me in, then I need something more than your traditional boiler-plate bog-standard choir of angels. Maybe others will like a familiar, cozy world like this, but it's not for me because it felt like there wasn't anything new on offer here, and it just makes me ask: where is my incentive to read it? The very word 'novel' means new. If it's not new, it's not really a novel, is it?! I can't recommend it, and I have no interest in pursing this series, but I wish the author all the best.

And in my 'fighting-a-losing-battle' effort to offer a parody song whenever I review something negatively, here's my "Angles of Heaven" to the tune of U2's Angels of Harlem

It was a cold and wet November day
When I read this book from Net Gall-ay
Rain was bouncing on the ground
I turned round and heard familiar sounds
of an angle

A story as old as a Christmas tree
With the same old shape and symmetry

Angles

Sword divine, and this sword just won't cut it!
No more! Angles of Heaven!

The cover blurb appealed to me
The story sounded like a symphony
We got spooky stuff, a mystery tangle
But it turns out it's just another one - an angle

Demons all evil, angels all good
Demons have eyes which are shining blood
Angles

Sword divine, and this sword just won't cut it!
No more! Angles of Heaven!

Angles of Heaven, yeah.

Angelic, divine, oh! but human motive!
Yeah, Yeah,
yeah, yeah
Yeah, Yeah, yeah, hey, oh no!

Too many writers have lost their way
Can't find enough words that are new to say
And despite the angelic acumen
The final solution's down to humans
Simple humans with simple lives
have to prevent demons and their connives
Can't we have a new fandango
Can't we have a brand new angle?

Angles in demon shoes just leaves me reading with the blues
Will I never read anything new?
Except angles! Angles of Heaven?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Isis, Vampires, and Ghosts - Oh My! by Janis Hill


Title: Isis, Vampires, and Ghosts - Oh My!
Author: Janis Hill
Publisher: Hague
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.

Errata:
p? "...we can assist you release your sadness..." should be "...we can assist you to release your sadness..."
p11 "...sorry your family has been effected..." should be "...sorry your family has been affected..."
p14 "...I'm taking your torque and cramming it..." should be "...I'm taking your torc and cramming it..."
p17 "...Goddess' Light..." should be "...Goddess's Light..." since we're talking about the property of only one goddess here.
p "...you near silent cynicism...' should be "...your near silent cynicism..."
p29 "...find out how to his crucible..." isn't right! Maybe it should be "...find out how to destroy his crucible..."
p29 "...over power..." should be "...overpower..."
p52 "...Branwyre growled something that was obviously fowl..." should be "...Branwyre growled something that was obviously foul..."
p77 "...effected..." should be "...affected..."
p85 "...regain consciousness too..." should be "...regain consciousness to..."
p86 "...ass' rectum..." should be "...ass's rectum..." since there is only one ass here.
p100 "...the Priestess of Isis were..." should be either "...the Priestesses of Isis were...", or "...the Priestess of Isis was..."
p127 has an extra letter 'o' at the start of a line beginning "o I sat tentatively...".
p133 "..tagging alone." should be "tagging along."
p136 "...under the shops eaves." should be "...under the shop's eaves."
p182 "...Word Domination..." probably should be "...World Domination..."
p187 "...wrecking further havoc..." should be "...wreaking further havoc..."
p199 "...postulate to..." maybe "...pontificate to..."?

This is book one of the "Other World" series and it begins with Stephanie Anders attending the funeral of her loved and hated sister Estella, whose stated wish, evidently, was to have her funeral conducted at the apparently oddball 'church of Isis'. Stephanie is a bit freaked by this, but is willing to put up with it for a couple of hours to get this over with and move on with her life.

Just a word on a small point of order here: 'Isis' is actually the Greek name for an Egyptian god whose name is unknown. The name that the Egyptians gave to her means 'she of the throne', and it's thought to have been pronounced as something like 'Aset', or 'Iset'. Why we're using Isis here goes unexplained.

Stephanie is of the considered opinion that the acolytes in this church are weird from the off, but that's nothing compared with what she's about to learn. She thinks it's more weird when she's escorted down, down, down deep into a cavern beneath the church to view her sister's body and that very body sits up and greets her with, "Hey sis, 'bout time you showed up."

Unwillingly and disbelievingly, Stephanie learns from the sisters of Isis (the Isisters?!) that her sibling is actually dead, even though she appears to be quite alive. She's told that the only thing which is keeping her pinned to her life on Earth, is the fact that her soul is 'stained' with a kind of 'essence of vampire'.

The vampire leader, Branwyre (great name for a vampire, BTW!), has a hold on part of her soul - a hold which is of course weakest in daylight hours and strongest at night. This hold must be broken before the next full moon three weeks hence, so that Estella can pass on to the after-life, otherwise Branwyre will be strong enough to possess Estella which can't be good. This isn't exactly what Stephanie was expecting from this funeral!

There's an element of Harry Potter here, in that Estella will be safest in Stephanie's company because of the blood tie between them - so she can't abandon Estella to the sisters and walk away from this. There's also a bit of ass-backwards folklore of "the night is darkest before the dawn" variety, which is of course, patent nonsense. The night is darkest when there's the least light which, absent a severe storm and a power outage, is at midnight when the sun is at the exact opposite side of Earth from you, but at least it explains why these two have to hang out together.

Stephanie has those three short weeks in which to find the ceremonial crucible belonging to Branwyre and employ it to bind Branwyre and thereby save her sister. During all that time, Branwyre is going to be fighting her tooth and nail to prevent this, and as if that wasn't bad enough, she's actually going to have to live under the same roof as a sister whom she resents intensely and for very good reason.

overall, I liked this novel, but there were some issues with it which I felt left the edges a bit rough. one was the record-breaking 17 spelling and grammatical errors (my previous record was twelve). Janis Hill needs to recruit me as a beta reader!

Another example of sneaky problems occurs at the end of chapter six, where Stephanie finally arrives at a motel and gets a room in which she ties up Estella and surrounds her with ring of salt so that when Branwyre's spirit shows up that night and starts to animate her, Stephanie won't be at risk, and the vampire won't be able to escape in Estella's body.

Now she has him restrained physically as well as magically, he is quite literally bound to answer her questions truthfully, so she asks him where the crucible is being kept, and eventually he spits out an address, but she fails to follow up on that and ask him exactly where at that address the crucible is located. That was probably done to play out the story, and keep Stephanie at risk, but it makes her look at bit dumb that she didn't think to narrow it down. I like Stephanie and don't like to think of her as dumb.

There was also some cheating going on here, too. I had understood that Branwyre, when bound, could be only truthful yet (as we discover) he lied about the crucible's location. This was rather glossed-over in the story-telling. I don't mind cheating characters; people in real life cheat after all, but when a writer cheats a reader, that's a different matter. OTOH, maybe I missed something here. The author does go on a lot about speaking loosely, so maybe it could be put down to her poor wording of the question.

I should also say a word about this novel's cover. I don't normally do covers since the author typically has little or no influence on how they look (unless they self-publish), but I have to question the utility of this particular cover in regard to its appeal (or otherwise) to any given readership demographic.

For me it doesn't make any difference because I don't judge a book by its cover (! I'm all about the writing), but for others who do consider the cover, this one seemed to me to be out of step with the playful and sarcastic tone of the writing. Jade Zivanovic's art is beautiful - don't get me wrong. It's really good, but it just doesn't match the tone of the writing. Is Jade Zivanovic an awesome name or what? She's a fellow blogspotter, although I don't know her. Her web site is well worth a visit and it has at least one Doctor Who image!).

Both the cover artwork and the tone of the writing seemed out of step with the whimsical title, too. The cover looks like it belongs on a Gothic horror story, not here! The title looks like it belongs with a story aimed at a much younger readership, so there's a sort of demented ménage à trois going on here between title, cover and interior! Or in this instance, I guess more like a mélange à trois! For me, I'd like to have seen something a little more amusing or comical in the cover illustration - not slapstick, but less foreboding than this one is - with a title that's reads a bit more maturely.

I have to say that I began to go off this story somewhat when the ghost showed up, and he uses the word "left" way too often, but even this was turned around, so it became readable again, although even then, the endless insulting (which wasn't really that amusing to begin with) became really annoying after too many repetitions. I didn't get why Roxanna - the Isis sister who is supposed to be guiding Stephanie, was being so completely useless to her. Why, for example, didn't she advise Stephanie to bind the ghost to herself before the night came on?

It became truly annoying that neither Roxanna, the 'priestess', nor Estella were helping Stephanie. I know that people can be obnoxious, either purposefully or ignorantly, but frankly, this was too much to swallow. I know that this was somewhat excused by the fact that this situation was new and different, so no one really knew what was going on, but there was so much, even within those constraints that those two could have done to help out, and which they failed to do.

They were far too passive, leaving literally everything to poor Stephanie, without making any real effort to lift a finger or even trying to go the extra mile for her. She had to squeeze everything out of them like getting blood from a stone, and this felt completely unrealistic to me.

Estella was depicted from the beginning as being, shall I say, socially challenged, so her lack of utility was not a surprise, but the 'priestess' was supposed to be an example of goodness personified, yet she was effectively no better than Estella. No one expects gods to help - they are consistently useless in fiction or out of it - so I wasn't surprised by how pathetic Isis was, but Roxanna could have been a lot more forthcoming, otherwise what exactly is it about her that defines her as 'good'?!

On this topic, you I have to ask why 'priestess'? Why not priest? We really need to work on removing this stealth genderism from our vocab! I keep hoping that female authors (not 'authoresses'!) will take the lead in this and push it in their writing, but so few of them seem willing to step up, and instead simply parrot vocabulary designed by men for men, women need not apply. Writing with a more gender-neutral approach doesn't require stridency or harsh agendas (harsh isn't what strong women do anyway, not in my experience). It can be done with subtle changes to the way we write, like using 'priest' instead of priestess, 'actor' instead of 'actress', mater instead of mattress (that last one might be a joke).

Yes, I know that 'priest' isn't exactly gender neutral, but that's not because it's an inherently masculine word, like 'male', or 'tomcat', or 'bull'. Priest is a gender-neutral word that has been artificially imbued with masculinity by dint of the fact that priests traditionally were only male, women need not apply. There's no reason it cannot be reclaimed. So there! Take that Bembridge Scholars!

I do have a problem with the ultraviolet aspect of this story. We're told that it's the ultraviolet emissions from the sun to which the vampires don't react too well (this trope has been used before in stories, notably in the Underworld series of movies), yet we're also told that moonlight can help to "bind" Branwyre. The problem with this is that Moonlight, which does contain ultraviolet emissions, doesn't contain much (which is why you can't get a tan from Moon-bathing!), so here's the problem: if there's so little coming off the Moon that vampires can wander out on Moonlit nights with no problem, then how does it bind them? If there is enough to bind them, why isn't it a problem for them on such nights?

In related news, we're also told that Stephanie is going to have a really tough time binding Branwyre one night because of the heavy storm clouds hiding the Moon, yet clouds do not stop UV light from reaching the Earth (which is why you can get sunburned on a cloudy day). This is what happens when writer devotes too much time to honoring a god and nowhere near enough time honoring science! We're talking about UV light, but the story is written as though we're talking about visible light. UV light isn't visible to the human eye! The visible light you see from a so-called 'black light' isn't the actual UV, it's just visible light that's emitted with the UV.

But enough griping. I started out liking this novel, got a bit disillusioned with it in the middle where it seemed to miss its stride a bit, and very much liked it again at the end. I think it could have done with being a bit shorter and a bit more briskly-paced, but in the end, the overall story was good and fun, and entertaining, so I have no problem in recommending this.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead


Title: The Immortal Crown
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin
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.

Errata
p31 "…dropping and rolling to the ground…" should be "…dropping, and rolling on the ground…"

p98 Mead uses the word 'frequented' when she really appears to mean 'visited'.
p101 "Mae shook her head wonderingly"? Better: "Mae shook her head in wonder"
p193 "When he'd stopping their escalations before..." should be "When he'd stopped their escalation before..."

This is book 2 in Richelle Mead's Age of X series. I reviewed book one, Gameboard of the Gods a while ago, and despite finding well over a dozen errors in the advance review copy, I really enjoyed it, so I've been looking forward to reading the next installment.

I have to say that while I definitely don't think anyone will ever laud Richelle Mead of being a great literary writer (she could use a crash course in the difference between 'less' and 'fewer' for example), she does a pretty decent job in general; however, there are some fingernails-on-chalkboard moments in her writing, where she employs bastard 'words' such as, for example: 'politician-y' and 'orangey-red'. Any writer can do better than that. Note that these things appear not in a character's speech, which would have been perfectly fine because people do speak like that, but in her own narrative, which is a bit too much, since she's not telling this in first person as though she's a character herself.

This novel continues the story of Mae Koskinen, a soldier in the so-called 'Praetorian' guard - some sort of super-soldier outfit in Canada/the USA (known as the RUNA - the Republic of United North America). Mae is Finnish by descent, and a genetically healthy woman in a world where a plague has struck down much of humanity and disfigured many of the survivors. Mae is assigned as bodyguard to Justin March, a religious investigator for the RUNA government. The RUNA doesn't like religion, because in this world, there really are gods vying for a following amongst the humans, and in this volume, they appear to be gearing up for a war.

After receiving a vision via a special knife which was an anonymous gift which Mae received, she comes to believe that her niece, an eight-year-old who was lost to her family and whom Mae has long sought, is being held in Arcadia, a nation not known for it's generosity of spirit towards the female half of the population. Coincidentally, Mae has the chance to go there on official business.

This story, I should forewarn you, is over 400 pages long and it moves with a proportionately sluggish pace, which I found annoying. In addition to a decidedly more lively narrative, something else I would like to see in this series is the termination of this non-existent relationship between Mae and Justin. Not only does it not exist, it doesn't work. There's no basis for it and it's neither appealing nor realistic, so at the risk of giving away spoilers, I was rather thrilled with the ending of this volume, although I am sure it's not any kind of an ending in the long run. Going there, would take a writer with some real guts!

Perhaps I should explain. Volume one featured a quickie between these two characters before Mae knew that he was the guy she was supposed to be body-guarding (he knew who she was, but he never let on). Justin, who is being sought as a devotee by the god Odin, had a revelation that if he started getting it on with Mae, he would simultaneously be selling-out to Odin, and becoming the god's priest (read: pawn). He doesn't want that, so he rejected Mae in a rather callous way. She does not know his motivation, and simply accepts that he's that kind of a guy, but unrealistically, this does not prevent her from obsessing over him unhealthily. This causes me to seriously question Mae's smarts!

So, end of story, right? Naw! For reasons beyond human understanding (which is sadly all I'm equipped with), the two are still attracted to one another. I can see why he would be still hot for Mae - he's a lech and a womanizer and she's attractive (not that that's a requirement given the premises), but there's no reason why she should be, especially not after his behavior towards her. The problem with this relationship is not only that it doesn't exist in any romantic sense, it's that even in a romantic sense, it's non-existent.

It didn't work in volume one, but there was enough going on to render that a minor matter. Now that the pace is reduced to a limp in volume two, the interaction between the two really stands out as a pairing which needs paring. There is no chemistry; there's no tension, sexual or otherwise, and there's no reason at all why the two should be so focused upon one another in any way other than purely professional.

The first mistake Mead makes I think, in this novel (other than including the first hundred pages, that is) is after there's a attack on Tessa, Justin's young, female ward. Because of the assault, which was actually aimed (so we're told) at Justin, Mae and some of her friends at the Praetorian volunteer to watch the house. Mae also hires a dedicated, retired soldier named Rufus as a more permanent guard, and here's where the problem lies.

We're given to understand that both Justin and Mae are really shaken-up by what happened to Tessa, yet Mae hires this guy, a stranger, at his first interview, and with zero background checks! This is a guy whom she quite literally just met. That struck me as gullible at best, and stupid at worst, neither of which traits Mae has exhibited before. Just saying! It felt like bad writing to me, and I never trusted Rufus.

It was only when we got past page 100 (that is, some 25% the way in) that the story got to where I felt I could become honestly interested in it. That first 100 pages could be completely skipped and the story would not suffer for it. Also, the sections in which Tessa appears could be skipped. I liked her in the first novel. She contributes nothing in this one. If this had been a first time novel by a newbie, any competent editor would have advocated this, but once you're established, it seems that no one dare say boo to you. Go figure!

In chapter nine, they've finally arrived in Arcadia (read Alabama) and their military escort is deprived of its weaponry, yet not a single one of them raises any sort of protest. This struck me as being really dumb and unrealistic. Why did they even take their weapons with them if they were going to be robbed of them anyway? It made no sense. To me, this was poorly written. Think about it in a modern context. If the President was going to Iran, and the Iranians wanted the Secret Service guards to be robbed of their weapons, would this be acceptable? No! Then why is it here?

Worse than this was the the way the females in the party were treated. They were forced to be silent, to cover up, and to undertake menial household chores! Seriously? Could you see that happening in the real USA? No one would stand for it, least of all the women. This was entirely unrealistic and it really degraded the quality of the novel for me. Fortunately, it was right after this that things improved dramatically and turned it around for me, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to rate this novel favorably, which would have saddened me, being a fan of Mead's (at least of her Vampire Academy series!).

Mead also missed a great opportunity with Mae's magic knife. It's discovered in her possession, but instead of having her say that it's a religious artifact and daring this highly religious nation to confiscate it as such, Justin steps in and says it's his, and he's allowed to keep it. I found that completely irrational given that they'd just confiscated weapons from the military for goodness sakes! It made no sense and could have been written much better. I've seen several reviews on this novel which compliment Mead for her writing, but I don't see it as anything special. Her writing isn't outright bad per se, and she delivers on so great ideas, but there are some serious flaws in it as I've pointed out in the errata and throughout this review.

The reason I mentioned Iran above is that some reviewers also commented on the Islamophobic aspect of this depiction of the Arcadian nation - that Arcadia is nothing more than a surrogate for a slam at Islam, but while Islam does merit being pilloried for its appalling devaluation and marginalization of women, such reviewers appear to be blind to the problems of religion in general. It's not only the Muslim religion which is abusive of women: each of big three monotheistic religions, all of which share the same root - Judaism - are misogynistic and the root cause of that lies in the story of Adam and Eve.

People dishonestly pretend that Christianity is not as bad, but it is, and some sects of Christianity such as Mormonism and the bizarre Amish-style cults are worse. The more orthodox Judaist sects also repress women. Religion in general is very bad for women, so this isn't what those reviewers think it is; it's much broader than that narrow view and I appreciated Mead's tackling of this important topic.

Having said that, I also have to register some disappointment with Mead's own writing about women. It seems that all she can talk about as the women are introduced to Arcadia is how "beautiful" or ugly they are. She tries to hide this by depicting it as Justin's thoughts, but this actually makes it worse because from her PoV of developing him as a character, it makes Justin nothing but a shallow jerk, and yet we're somehow expected to root for him as Mae's beau? I don't think so! I for one am not on-board with him!

It's like even Mead thinks that women have no (or at best, limited) value unless they're beautiful, the hell with how their minds are, the hell with whether they're strong, emotionally stable, good providers, hard workers, reliable, have integrity, and so on. There are scores of criteria by which to appreciate them, yet Mead's sole criterion for which women are to be valued is skin deep, and that's it. I find it hard to believe that Mead writes like this, but let's face it, she does foreshadow this in her Vampire Academy series which is the only other series of hers that I've read, and which I actually - for the most part - like. Let me just say that I am very disappointed in her at this point in reading around page 114...!

Those problems aside, the interest for me definitely ramped-up as Mae was turned loose (figuratively speaking, that is - she was in fact extremely restricted) amongst the Arcadians. She didn't, unfortunately, "go all kamikaze on their asses" as one reviewer amusingly had hoped, but she did cut loose at one point and I appreciated that.

You can see that here, she proved herself to be strong, independent, aggressive when necessary, effective, capable, and resourceful, yet never is she appreciated for any of that - only for how beautiful she is. It's sad. Hopefully, from the way this novel ended, we'll see much more of that side of her and much less of the limp, uninteresting and let's face it for all intents and purposes other than as a love interest for Mae, completely pointless Justin in volume three.

Prior to this point, I had seriously been wondering if I wanted to finish this novel, let alone go on to read another in this series, but from that point onwards, it really turned around and became very readable. If Mead had started this novel chapter nine, and had excluded all the chapters where Tessa was involved, and excluded the pointless scenes of flirtation between Mae and Justin, this novel would have been perfect. As it was, it seemed to take forever to get through this, which isn't a good sign! However, it was worth reading in my opinion, but it's certainly not my favorite novel of Mead's.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson


Title: Valkyrie Rising
Author: Ingrid Paulson
Publisher: Harper Collins
Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Ana Meadows The Stolen Valkyrie: Rising Phoenix, in many ways this is a standard trope urban fantasy: a teen girl has powers of which she's initially unaware, no one will tell her anything even when it's to her and their best advantage to tell her, she has two guys in tow, she's separated from parental oversight and control, and so on. In one other way, it’s a bit different, because unlike far too many YA novels these days, it doesn’t feature werewolves, or vampires, or angels. That doesn't necessarily mean that it’s any good!

This novel is odd in that it features a kind of double-triangle. Sixteen-year-old Elsa Overholt is the main character, and her older brother Graham is in tow, not in an incestuous way, but in an overprotective way. His best friend Tucker (seriously) has had zero interest in her, but now is suddenly all over her, but also simultaneously backing away from her because of Graham. The "flirtation" between him and Elsa is so forced and fake as to be embarrassing if it were not so fingernails-on-a-chalk-board irritatingly cheesy.

Normally Graham has been the one protecting her from guys, but now it seems that she has to protect him from Valkyries. Given that Valkyries are creatures from Norse mythology who are supposed to scour battlefields and transport those who are worthy to Valhalla (kinda like the Islamic mythology of seventy virgins and whatever), their habit of picking up hot eighteen-year-olds in bars seems a bit like slumming, but those teen boys are never seen again.

So for part of her summer, Elsa gets to travel to grandma's house in Norway. Graham comes along too, and inexplicably, so does Tucker. Fortunately for Elsa, everyone in Norway speaks perfect English - even in a remote and tiny fishing village, so there's never as language problem. Elsa claims she speaks hardly any Norwegian and then goes on to show us what a foul liar she is by showing that she more or less understands every single thing anyone says in her vicinity, so there are never any language problems.

It's no spoiler - indeed it’s patently obvious from book title, blurb and first couple of chapters that Elsa is - what Elsa? - a Valkyrie, as is her grandmother, who won't tell Elsa a fricking thing. This is where we discover that Elsa is a complete and utter moron. She obsesses over getting her grandmother to tell her exactly what’s going on, yet the very first time her grandmother comes even close to doing so, Elsa bolts for the door the first chance she gets. Does she want to know or not? And why is the author writing this so badly? I guess Elsa can’t help us with that either!

There is no mystery here. The Valkyrie girls are abducting guys. That's obvious from the first time Elsa goes to a bar with second trope guy named Kjell (pronounced Chell with a hard 'ch'). Seriously? Two statuesque valkyries enter and mesmerize the whole bar, and try to pick up Kjell. Elsa saves him, and the two valkyries - as a professional courtesy if you can handle that, let her get away with it, recognizing Elsa as one of their own, and simply leave peaceably. Ri-ight! These women only take boys - the best, the strongest, and the smartest, we're told - but we’re not told what they do with them, and no police authority seems to have any interest whatsoever in doing their job, so already we're well beyond the realm of intelligent now.

This is when Elsa decides she will have to reverse the situation on her bother Graham by protecting him, but the day after he arrives, he goes out play soccer with Tucker, and Elsa refuses to go. Some guardian! Now the boys are here, however, Paulson starts pulling trope trick after trope trick out of the YA grab-bag of tired and tedious ruses (you know the one marked 'doggedly uninventive'?) to throw teen bodies together. We learn that trope Kjell is trope-stalking trope Elsa who's supposed to be this trope powerful being, yet who quite evidently needs trope rescuing by trope guys all the time, and who is blatantly manipulated time after time by Graham, Tucker, and Kjell into bending and giving in to doing things she doesn’t want to do. She's so pathetic and so completely the opposite of the image we’re expected to swallow here: tall, powerful, beautiful, driven, dedicated Valkyrie women.

About those Valkyries (actually, it's valkyrja (plural valkyrjur but we get none of that in this authentic tale...)! In reality (that is, in mythological reality, if that makes sense) a Valkyrie (which literally means one who chooses the dead) is a female who chooses which soldiers die in battle. Of those who do die, fifty percent are taken by the valkyrie to Valhalla for Odin to rule over. The other fifty percent ends up under Freya's supervision at Fólkvangr. valkyries are associated with ravens, but also with swans and horses. The valkyries are not solely the domain of Norse mythology, according to wikipedia. Old English references wælcyrge and wælcyrie which are thought to be similar beings.

Because those old Norse names are so obscure (and unpronounceable!), Paulson does not use them, but she also, it seems, fails to try and approximate them using more familiar names. All names mean something, and in particular, older names were simply names of real world objects and events. Rose is named after the flower, April is named after the month. Melissa is named after bees (or honey, I forget which). Some wonderful examples of Old Norse Valkyrie names from wikipedia are: Geirskögul, Göll, Göndul, Gunnr, Herfjötur, Hrist, Mist, Ráðgríð, Skeggjöld, Skögul, and Skuld.

These names also mean things, like shield-bearer and other suitably militaristic (or even peaceable) themes. It would not be that hard to find a name that's appropriately warrior-like, but which sounds more modern. Paulson chickens out and names one of her Valkyrie 'Astrid', which is ultimately from áss and fríðr, and which means 'god-beautiful'. That's hardly a fierce Valkyrie name as judged by the ancient names which were given to these beings! The only one of these which she does avail herself is Hildr, which she renders as Hilda - Elsa's grandmother's name.

Tucker is an Australian term for food, and Tuck is an old British term for it, which is funny because Paulson writes, on page 236, "While Tuck was in the kitchen, foraging for food…"

The first problem which Paulson has here is that she's playing into the common misperception that valkyries were fierce warriors when in actual fact they were servants and serving girls, minions at best, in Norse mythology. The second problem is that even if we agree to gloss over this error and say, "Fine, let's go with your changes, and let's see where you take it", where she takes it is down entirely the wrong road. Instead of being a strong female character, Elsa persistently defers to others and she's constantly needy of Tucker, and at the mercy of others. Indeed, at one point, this loose-living and irresponsible guy Tucker takes charge and "trains" the Valkyrie! This tells us that Elsa is indeed a minion and not at all a fierce warrior, so either way this goes, Paulson gets it wrong. Even the cover artist agrees that Elsa isn’t ready for prime time since he puts a shadowy guy in the background ready to pick her up when she falls!

That's pretty much where I lost any hope for this novel, and indeed for Paulson herself if she couldn't see the damage she was doing to her main character by so completely subjugating her to this the trope 'love' interest. The novel was close enough to the end at that point, that I thought I should finish it just to see precisely what kind of a train-wreck it becomes, but this novel doesn't so much come off the rials as become subsumed by them.

I was so saddened that Paulson has taken what could have been a majorly kick-ass concept and main character, and has castrated the whole thing with the blunt knife of teen trope. She's taken a falcon and clipped its wings and tamed it. She's taken a wolf and put a collar on its neck and fluffy bootees on its feet and she wants us to buy it as a guard dog. That's why you've probably never heard of this novel, and that's why it’s gone nowhere. It has nothing to offer that four-score and teen other YA novels haven’t already spewed-up just as rankly.

Elsa and Tucker get to spend the night "together" in a hotel room, and Tucker lives up to his name - tucking her into bed like she's a child. I'm sorry, is this supposed to make me think it’s true love? The next day they go to a soccer game planning on yet again confronting Astrid. This would be what, the fourth ineffectual time? It’s just as ineffectual this time as the previous three ineffectual times. Here’s a serious problem: Astrid is abducting boys left, right, and center and in public, yet there's absolutely no police involvement whatsoever. When Graham is abducted, the very last thing in the world that Tucker and Elsa think of, is calling the police. They're morons. This novel is entirely unrealistic.

Here's further proof: before they go to the soccer game they spend the morning practicing shooting with a hand-gun which Tucker appropriated from Hilda's house, yet when they see Astrid taking a guy from the soccer stadium, they do nothing to stop her or confront her. At this point Elsa knows that to gain power she must defeat a Valkyrie or have one surrender to her, yet she fails to use the gun either to get Astrid to surrender or to simply take her out and end this. She's had this hammered into her head repeatedly: defeating a Valkyrie or having one surrender is the only way to increase one's own power (so much for a sisterhood!), yet she cannot get this into her thick skull no matter what. She's quite simply stupid.

This assessment is adequately confirmed when she abandons the gun for an old rusty sword she finds under the floorboards in her grandmother's house. Yeah: you had your under-aged, inexperienced ass handed to you four times, so now instead of shooting the bitch, finishing this once and for all, and getting your brother back, you're going to challenge the Über-warrior goddess to a sword fight! I guess she really doesn't care that much about her bro' after all. But who knows - new magical powers come out of her ass whenever she needs them, and they arrive without any trial, skill, or test, without build-up, training, or preamble, so why not? And about those powers? If she doesn’t become a Valkyrie until 18, from whence all this power and all these skills? It makes no sense. It’s all deus ex asinine.

Tucker is nothing but a waste of ink, tacked-on because (and with only a few much-admired and appreciated exceptions) YA writers in general don’t have the first clue how to create a female main character without making her a vestigial appendage of some trope guy. Here's how badly pervasive this is: I read one review of this novel where the reviewer said that they liked the fact that Tucker allowed Elsa to grow into her character - like she was Tucker's property and she must have his permission and indulgence before she can be all that she can be?! Maybe the reviewer didn’t mean it that way, but that's not the only time I've encountered that kind of mindset in a review - like girls are still nothing more than chattel and possessions of men. How much longer are female YA authors going to hobble their creations like this, and keep hammering this into their young and impressionable female readers that they're nothing without a guy? Criminal is what it is.

This story is so badly written that even though the valkyries have been seen repeatedly abducting guys, and Elsa hasn’t been seen doing that even once, and she has lost her own brother, this psycho moron Margit (obviously with emphasis on the last syllable) is obsessed with insulting Elsa, who never once kicks her ass or punches her out. That's the kind of worthless 'warrior' she is. She's a disgrace even to the fictional wuss of a valkyrie which Paulson has invented here. The absurd thing is that Margit then does a complete 180 and suddenly allies herself with Elsa after spewing nothing but hatred and invective the minute before. This writing is pathetic, amateur, and lacks all believability.

The really laughable thing is that Margit marshals the resources of her vigilante network: this is the worthless crew which has been romping around and maintaining radio contact with each other, and carrying guns, and which has never once stopped a Valkyrie abduction! Elsa plans on planting one of the vigilante's beacons on Astrid to track her to her lair (or is it layer cake?), but they already tried that and Elsa discovered that she couldn't follow her into the Norse realm because she's not yet a full Valkyrie. This rite of passage happens at eighteen for reasons unspecified, and at that point Elsa had not defeated a fellow Valkyrie, no had she had one surrender to her. In short, this is a waste of time and yet more bad writing, but Paulson pulls a easy win out of somewhere so Elsa can qualify. How convenient.

This novel is godawful trash, period.