Showing posts with label worthy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label worthy. Show all posts

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is my third Phryne Fisher and the first I've liked. I loved the TV series, but the books (Cocaine Blues - the first and Murder and Mendelssohn the last - to my knowledge - Fisher mystery). They were less than thrilling, so it suggests to me that the TV writers/adapters can often be rather better than the original writer in capturing the quintessential main character in a series like this!

This is the 14th in the Fisher series so why it was available on Net Galley I have no idea, but I'm glad it was. I'm not a trivia buff, but I have read in some reviews by others who are following the entire series, that there are continuity errors causing them to speculate on who wrote this novel! I'm not one of those, and I haven't been reading the whole series, but continuity errors are not a good thing if you want to keep your regular fans happy. For me, a casual dabbler, it wasn't noticeable.

Also the TV show has Phryne in a relationship of sorts with the police inspector who is unimaginatively named Jack. This never blossoms into romance, but there is always a hint of it. In the books, Jack seems to be more of a bit player, particularly in this one, where he hardly puts in an appearance at all, and Phryne has no feelings for him. I sincerely wish authors would drag themselves out of this deep rut of calling their go-to guy Jack, because it's so tediously over-used that I flatly refuse to read any more novels that have a main character named Jack. Fortunately, this one really didn't!

So, you may have guessed by now that it was only because of my love for the TV show that I went back a third time into the books, but I was rewarded with an entertaining story this time, even if it was predictable and a bit of a slog at times. The Phryne here seemed a lot less engaged than in the TV show; she was less scintillating. At one point one of her two adopted daughters goes missing and Phryne never seems to show any anguish over it whatsoever. She is trying to find her, but there's not a whit of urgency or fear over it.

It's as though she has some secret information that her adopted daughter is just fine - which she was of course - but the problem here is that Phryne did not know any such thing - or if she did, then the author kept it from us. On the other hand, the author did indeed know that Ruth's disappearance was really nothing more than a red herring, if a slightly salty one. What was missing was some restrained panic in Phryne's demeanor. It did not read true. Either that or Phryne is far more sang-froid than is healthy for anyone, and particularly for her daughters' continued well-being. I think if perhaps the author had children of her own (to my knowledge she does not) she might have understood those feelings better and represented them more authentically.

The Goodreads review website predictably got the blurb wrong again. In it we're told that there is "a young woman found drowned at the beach at Elwood" but this is an outright lie! The woman is one of Phryne's flower girls for an upcoming parade, and she isn't drowned at all. Almost-drowned is right. Beaten and half-drowned would be better, but not "drowned." The Amazon-owned Goodreads corporate review web site has killed private review blogs like this one, and due to this and other issues I have both with Amazon and Goodreads, I refuse to post any more reviews at either site. They're too big, too powerful, and are becoming dangerous, so I guess they don't care if they get the blurb right Why would they? What incentive do they have?

The publisher though, ought to check on these things as they should verify that the Kindle version is formatted sensibly. I read some reviews which complained that it was not. Mine was fine as it happens, but Amazon's crappy kindle app is well-known for mangling texts. I've seen plenty of those. I recommend using PDF format, which can be problematic if trying to read it on a smart phone, or Barnes & Nobles's Nook format, which consistently renders books better than Kindle. B&N has its own problems, particularly a web site which actively gets in the way of your buying books! They need to fire their website designers.

There was a touch of ageism incorporated here. This is something I would hope a mature author would be more sensitive to. I read, "The curvaceous ladies appeared shopworn and over forty." Excuse me, but what's wrong with forty and over? Nothing, I assure you. There were other little things like this, but not quite enough to turn me off the novel. For example, we get the tired cliche of the main character looking at herself in the mirror to give us a self portrait. It's nearly always a woman when this antique MO is employed and it's tedious to read: "She pottered gently through the routine of bathing and dressing and sat brushing her hair in front of her vine-wreathed mirror. The Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher looked at herself.".

Another example was in Phryne being put in the position of justifying her sexuality! This isn't Phryne. Why does she feel a need to make excuses to Lin, regarding an affair, when he's married and having an affair with her? Can only men take a lover? I read, "'...He was my lover once,’ said Phryne, short-circuiting the question. ‘When I was twenty, in Orkney. Now he is married to his Maggie and wants to go back to her. I just didn’t want to see an old friend - and a wonderful musician - sleeping in the rain. Clear?’." No, it;s not clear why Phryne even has to say this. But again, in the big scheme of things this was relatively minor.

All of that said, I enjoyed the pell-mell of this story, which featured something new popping-up regularly: a personal crisis or a parade crisis, or a new development in the story. It kept things moving in general, although at some points it felt a bit of a stretch or worse, a bit of a slog. That notwithstanding, overall I liked it, and I consider it a worthy read.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Centurion and Emperador by Rob Schneider, Patricia Schneider


Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not sure what this story is called! Net Galley had it as Centurion and Emperador by Rob Schneider, but the downloaded advance review copy (for which I thank the publisher!) has the first page reading The Gamble Ranch with no author ascribed. Inside the credits are: story by Rob and Patricia Schneider, script by Patricia Schneider (not sure that that means!), art by Francisco Herrera, and colors by Fernanda Rizo (who is a remarkable artist in her own right, and definitley someone who I would want doing my artwork were I writing a book needing images, and if I could even afford her! LOL!). Hopefully those issues will be cleared-up by publishing time. Maybe what seems to be the cover in the ARC is actually an interior page - it was hard to tell.

None of this matters though, when compared with the story itself, which is magnificent and is actually based on real horses of the same names, which are owned by friends of the authors, and who reside at the Gamble Ranch. The horses really do dance. This story is perfect for young children and the art work is amazingly good. I mean really good - far better than you usually get in books for young children or even for older readers. Herrera's line work is gorgeous, and Rizo's coloring is beautiful. I was totally hooked from the opening image (of the 'it was a dark and stormy night' variety!). The vista of the farm, with the lightning in the sky, the slashes of rain falling across the picture and the mood lighting imbued in the artwork were magnificent.

Of course this would just be a coffee table book, albeit a beautiful one, if it were not for the story, too, and that was told nicely, beautifully worded for kids, and made sense in its own little world of anthropomorphized animals and gentle fairy-tale influences. The storks arrive at the wrong place with these two baby horses, but the mother duck, who sorely wishes she had children of her own, snaps up these two with a determination which Hilary Clinton probably feels Democrat voters had had more of on election day!

The horses prove to be unusual ones, however. They're really not very good at racing, and the other horses make fun of them, but come the Town Fair, they discover something the can beat anyone at, and they really come into their own. I love the way the story not only celebrates, but heartily embraces differences and teaches kids that being different isn't a problem or a curse, it's a source of wonderment and joy. I recommend this book for its horse sense! Quite frankly, if you don't like this story you're an equine dock (just kidding!).


Monday, June 13, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley


Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know her, but in my opinion, Kate Beasley is a mischievous-looking author, so it was hardly surprising to me that that this came from her keyboard! It's a nicely-written middle-grade novel and is of course about Gertie, who is planning on being the best fifth-grader ever this year. She's well-on-track to kick-start it with her zombie frog, until Mary Sue Spivey shows up as a transfer student. Mary Sue is smart and her father is a movie director who happens to direct movies featuring Jessica Walsh, who is a hero of fifth graders everywhere, so Gertie's plans have to hop-it.

Her phase two decision to become a genius student and thereby overshadow Mary Sue also gets a D. It seems like every plan Gertie comes up with is effortlessly derailed by Mary Sue and now, looming on the horizon, is career day, wherein Mary Sue gets to have her movie director father show up maybe, and Gertie can't even bring her own father because he's gone for two weeks working on an oil-rig out in the ocean. Gertie decides she can handle this alone. She's a big girl now. The problem is that career day doesn't go anything like Gertie planned or even imagined it would, and now Mary Sue is more popular than ever and Gertie is looking more and more like the villain in this little drama they have going. Talking of which, the school play is auditioning next....

The story was a bit of a roller-coaster, and Gertie was in many ways her own worst enemy, but this state of affairs wasn't random. For reasons which go unexplained, Gertie's mom abandoned her and her dad, and married another guy, and Gertie has never come to terms with it. She grew up with her dad, who was absent periodically, and her great Aunt Rae, and an annoying little kid named Audrey who was often parked with Rae when her folks wanted a date night or day (both of which seem to be very often). Gertie doesn't suspect that her 'perfect' nemesis also has personal issues with which she wrestles, too.

Names of characters in my stories are important to me and (as they used to in years gone by) tend to carry a meaning behind the façade, which relates something of the character who carries them. In that context, I have to observe here that the popularity of the name Gertrude - which I personally don't like - fell steadily throughout the twentieth century, becoming very effectively non-existent since the mid-sixties, so why this name was chosen for this character, who I think deserved better, is a mystery explicable it seems to me, only as a rather forlorn attempt at alliteration, but I decided not to fret too much over that any more than I wondered why it was Kate Beasley and not Kat Beasley which to me is a kick-ass name! Not that Kate is awful; I have several nieces named in some variation on 'Kate'.

But I digress! I had some technical issues reading this in Adobe Digital Editions reader. The chapters were slow to load, taking about eighteen seconds for the screen to appear when turning the page to a chapter header, whereas pages with images on them (which often do load slowly in ADE) popped up right away! I don't know what that was all about. The only problem with the images was that some of them were truncated so it was impossible to see all of the image. In contrast, on the Kindle app on my phone, I had no problem with slow screen loading or with seeing the images (although the images were understandably small). The best of all, though, was on the Bluefire Reader app on my iPad, where it was picture (and text) perfect.

I had some minor issues with the writing, too. I felt the story ended a little too abruptly. There never did seem to be any resolution. It felt like it was left hanging a bit. Although the very brief epilogue (which I typically don't read since the epilogue ought to be the last chapter, not some appendix), was unexpectedly interesting, and peculiar in that it didn't wrap-up the story at all. In fact, it seemed like it was actually the prologue (which I don't read either) to another story! I felt that Mary Sue was portrayed as much more of a villain than she actually was, which was misleading given later revelations), but perhaps middle-graders won't be so picky.

Those gripes aside, I really liked the story and the general way in which it was unveiled. I liked the tone and the chapter headers and the excellent gray scale illustrations by Jillian Tamaki (now there's another great name to play with!), and taken overall, I recommend it as a worthy read for its intended age range and perhaps, beyond, too! Go read it if you don't believe me!


Sunday, March 6, 2016

How To Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks


Rating: WORTHY!

I listened to this audio book some time ago and thought I'd already blogged it. I guess I was so blown away by it that I forgot to blog it! LOL! it was excellent and I recommend it highly. A large part of my enjoyment came from the narration by Mandy Williams which was beyond excellent. She was remarkable and I really enjoyed listening to her, especially to her renditions of the folk songs, which were really heart-rending, the way she sang them, and to her rendition of Birdie's voice, the main female character, which was a joy.

This is a middle-grade book with some dark content, so be warned it might be scary - and the scary parts aren't really anything to do with the bogles. The nasty life these poor children were forced to live back then (and which many endure even today) is the really horrific part. The kind of life that was your everyday lot for people is exemplified in the songs which Birdie sings. They're aren't anything sweet, but are about pirates and young women being hanged: The Female Smuggler, The Highway Robber, Rescued From the Gallows, Bonnie Susie Cleland, and Sovay, Sovay, and Three Black Ribbons.

Ten-year-old orphan Birdie McAdam sings to lure out bogles, monsters which hide in dark places and which feed off children who are unlucky enough to stray too close. They are attracted by tuneful singing, and this is where Birdie's canary-like voice comes in so handily. She stands in the open and lures out the bogle with her folk songs, and Alfred Bunce, her partner, stabs them with a special lance and they turn to dust.

The job is dangerous, but Birdie trusts Alfred and has worked with him quite a bit. She's proud of him in fact, and proud to be his assistant ("Am a Bogler's gel, ah yam!"). Poor as they are, everything is fine for this pair of monster-hunters until children begin disappearing, they're approached by the highly suspect Sarah Pickles, and on the other end of the social scale, a certain Miss Eames starts fearing for Birdie's safety and welfare and starts proposing scientific methods of attracting bogles which would put Birdie out of a living.

The real joy of this story was Mandy Williams's reading of it. Sometimes, an audio book can be fingernails on a chalkboard for one reason or another: poor writing, poor reading, a reader's interpretation of the story interfering with your own, but in this case, I was one hundred percent in love with Williams's interpretation, her vocalization, and above all, her singing. She was not a diva by any means, but she was very good and in this case, her voice, to me, was Birdie all through. I fell in love with the signing and the songs, and even had the story not been so engaging, I would still have rated it a worthy read just for the songs and the vocal performance! Highly recommended, guvna!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sidekicked by Russell Brettholtz


Rating: WORTHY!

It's really hard these days to come up with something original in the way of graphic novels about super heroes, but I think there's still some solid gold to be mined (or even mind!) here, and this creative team proved it with a really great, original, and meaningful story. Set in contemporary Chicago, this novel is about a world of selfish super heroes - and let's face it, is there really any other kind than the self-absorbed, super-powered, suited sentry? In this case, each hero seems to come equipped with a much put-upon sidekick, and the sidekicks are treated like dirt. So they go on strike!

It's not long before the super villains, who have hitherto been getting the worst of the deal, take up the slack and start exploiting this vacuum for their own ends. Teaming up as they never have before, they start taking out the super heroes until only the sidekicks are left. That's when the sidekicks team up and start fighting back. This is also a selfish attitude, but it works for them! Their experience in supporting their heroes proves invaluable in working together - something which the egotistical super heroes were never able to master. But there's more to the story than this. Villains have sidekicks, too....

I really liked this story. Yes, the sidekick shtick has been beaten about the bush before now, but never quite in this way in my reading experience at least, and I liked the way the dynamic played out. The characters seemed realistic and were interesting, with different motivations and personalities. It was a really good, engaging story, and the artwork by Miguel Mendoça was suitably heroic. I recommend it.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Hungry Fox by Kitty Barry


Rating: WORTHY!

This is one weird story. It's more along the lines of the Grimm fairy tales - which were pretty grim - and most people tend to forget how evil some of them were, either that or they managed to get by without even knowing it in the first place.

In this story, the fox, evidently not a very smart fox, is wandering around eating all kinds of inappropriate and downright crazy food. At first I thought the story was trying to make some sort of a point about pollution and destruction of the environment, but that's not the way it goes.

Eventually, a friendly rabbit tries to suggest some things the fox might eat, and it's only at that point that the fox has a bright idea about what real fox food should look like.

The book is nicely illustrated by Robyn Crawford, and the tale capably told, but whether you want your kids to discover what the fox ate is a choice you will have to make! I think this is an odd story and decided to rate it worthy because in the end it does show the true nature of the fox. Consider it an antidote to the story of the fox and the scorpion which wants to cross the river!


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Galaxies: The Quaint and Quizzical Cosmos by Natalie J del Favero


Title: Galaxies: The Quaint and Quizzical Cosmos
Author: Natalie J del Favero (no website found)
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Orsolya Orbán.

I wasn't sure if I would like this book when I first began reading it, but it grew on me. It's written in poetic form, with dark images of space. The images are populated by fairy-like characters, which was perhaps the main reason I had doubts about it, but in the end I decided children would probably like this, and decided to let it go. If you like this, there's also one about planets, and one about the so-called Big Bang by the same creative team.

What impressed me was how scientific it was without going into any real scientific detail. It described how galaxies came to be, and then went further to talk about the massive black holes that all evidence shows are at the heart of galaxies. It didn't even stop there, but went further, to talk briefly about dark energy and dark matter, so this was a really pleasant surprise for me, and was what won me over to rating this positively.

Few people realize that the massive majority of the matter and energy in the universe is entirely invisible and almost undetectable. We can't see it directly, which is why it's called "dark". We can only discover it by observing the effect it has on the matter we can see. It's entirely possible that there is some other explanation for what scientists observe, but right now the best candidate is the dark twins - energy and matter.

Maybe you've been to an aquarium or a pet shop and seen those "glass" fish - the ones which have no pigmentation and you can see right through them apart from the occasional internal organ. You can find pictures of them online. Imagine trying to see one of those in the water in the wild, especially if the water is deep or murky. If you could measure currents in the water, you could track the fish even if you couldn't see it. Another way to track it would be to observe its predators - they would be drawn to it. In the same way, matter is drawn to, and bound together by, dark matter. This is how scientists 'see' it.

I think author Natalie del Favero, and artist Orsolya Orbán have done a worthy job here of finding a way to present fascinating, if sometimes counter-intuitive information in a form that children can appreciate, and I recommend this book.


Friday, May 1, 2015

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir


Title: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic
Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of a dozen books with the same or a similar title. I've read only this one and I can recommend it for its great detail and thorough coverage. Indeed, it may be a bit too detailed and too dense for some readers, but it worked for me. The only issue I had with it was with the Kindle ebook version, which I read on a smart phone. The formatting was questionable at times. Words which would normally be hyphenated were often missing the hyphen, but instead of sporting a space in its place, they were run together to make one word. A spell-checker would catch this, but what I suspect happened here was that the original typescript was fine - it was the conversion to kindle format which screwed it up. This is just my guess.

The other Kindle issue I had was that the location tracker, which monitors how much reading you have left to do and displays it as a percentage, was totally screwed-up. When it shows page 396 of 571 at the bottom of the screen on the left, it should then show 69% completed at bottom right. Instead, as you can see in the image on my blog, it shows only 50% completed! That's quite a discrepancy. Now there were end notes and a bibliography, but if this is included in the page count, then the percentage is still wrong. If it's not, then the percentage is reflecting the entire book, not what's left to read. It's misleading at best.

On top of that, sometimes I would start a chapter and the screen would tell me I had a minute left to the end of the chapter, then I swipe to the next screen, and it would adjust to show five minutes or fifteen or whatever. A couple of times I started a new chapter and it would tell me I had an hour's worth of reading, which was never the case, and the estimate would drop precipitously as I swiped the screens as I read. Clearly something was not working properly here!

There were a couple of other minor errors, too, such as misspelling 'curtsies' as "curtsys", and telling us (of Anne Boleyn watching workmen build her death scaffold): "On the green outside her window she could see workmen erecting a high scaffold, for which they would be paid £23. 65. 8d." Given that there were only twenty shillings to the pound, you can't have 65s in the middle like that! The most you could have is 19, and I'm wondering if it should have been either just the 6 or just the 5, but I can't find any on-line account which records this sum. Google doesn't help. It just ignores the pound symbol and returns any result containing 23, for instance, if I run a search for £23 connected with Anne Boleyn.

That said, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was very readable and painted a clear picture of these poor women who had to put up with this ruthless dick-head of a king. That said, a couple of the women were quite as ruthless as Henry himself was, and these were the ones he tended to behead. Katherine of Aragon, or to give her her much more beautiful Spanish name, Catalina de Aragón y Castilla was first in line, and her marriage was needed to cement a relationship with what we now call Spain, as a bulwark against the French. Of course at other times Henry would seek to marry into the French royal family to cement an alliance against Spain.

Katherine was rather aged (by fertile bride standards of the time), being in her mid twenties, and she failed to produce Henry a male heir (at least none that survived more than two months after birth), which of course, back then, was the only heir worth having. This made it quite ironic that Henry's sole male heir from all his marriages died young, and thereby brought two successive queens to the throne (three if you count Jane Grey), one of whom, Elizabeth, presided over what has come to be called England's golden age.

Since Katherine was initially married to Henry's older bother Arthur (until Arthur died young), Henry used this as an excuse to ditch her, claiming the marriage was not legal because the Bible says you can't marry your brother's wife. Throughout her life, Katherine resolutely maintained that the marriage to Arthur had never been consummated, but Henry was hypocritically religious (as far too many people seem to be even today), and though he dissolved the monasteries, this was for no other reason than to fill the royal coffers. He never abandoned the Catholic church and was dead-set against the protestants (although nowhere near as set against them as was his daughter by Katherine, who became known as Bloody Mary when she came to the throne). He had no qualms about using religious excuses to change wives. Katherine was lucky and got off lightly, although she felt robbed and was indeed badly treated both before and after the marriage.

Henry had become enamored of a scheming little vixen, one of the ladies-in-waiting, by the name of Anne Boleyn - who I used to feel sorry for, before I read this. Henry had already bedded Anne's sister Mary, but Anne was not about to be as free with her body as Mary evidently was. She schemed her way onto the throne very expertly, holding her virginity, if indeed she retained it, as a prize, but ironically, she didn't know when to be satisfied, and she continued scheming and running merciless vendettas even as queen. That and her failure to produce a male heir (like Katherine before her, she produced only one daughter, this one named Elizabeth) was what brought her down and meant that there was no one to speak in her favor. Anne was even more 'antique' than Catherine had been when she married Henry, but Henry was so blinded by her charm and enticement, and his own unbridled lust that he really didn't consider whether she could actually produce him an heir.

What I still feel sorry for is how Anne was rail-roaded by Henry before there even were rail-roads. She was sent to the chopping block with trumped-up charges of adultery (which was probably not true and certainly not a capital offense, even then) and treason, which was indeed a capital offense, and probably not true either in this case. Her ladies-in-waiting had to pick up her severed head and drop it and her lifeless body into a basket so it could be carted off like offal.

Henry had of course already set his eyes on his third bride before Anne ever climbed those stairs, and Jane Seymour, only a few years younger than Anne, actually did provide him with a male heir, who was named Edward before going on to have a great acting career (I might have made-up that last bit). The truth was that she died within a week or two of Edward's birth.

Henry perhaps actually loved Jane, and pined for her, but nevertheless he felt compelled to marry again because he had only one male heir and the attrition rate for children (and indeed adults) back then was stupendous. Every year in the summer, Henry and his court absconded from London because of plague outbreaks. They also moved almost continually from one residence to another because each palace became so filthy and stinking after a while, that it had to be aired out and thoroughly cleaned before it was fit to occupy again.

Enter Anna von Kleve, better known as Anne of Cleves. She came from what is now Germany and was once again chosen to cement an alliance, but Henry, having received her sight unseen (apart from an evidently over-flattering portrait), rejected her from the off, although he could not be seen to openly reject her because of the alliance. He claimed she smelled funny, which is hypocritical at best, because by this time Henry was suffering a weeping wound in his leg which plagued him for the rest of his life, gave him a nasty temper at times, and smelled something awful by all accounts. Anna went easiest of all, the marriage being annulled and she being treated and addressed as the King's sister, and living in comfort the rest of her life. She was not the longest lived of Henry's wives (that being Catalina), but she was the last to die.

Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins, which makes it darkly interesting that these were the two he accused of of adultery and treason, and beheaded. Catherine failed to produce an heir, and really was (more than likely) guilty of adultery. The treason charge was simple trumped-up so they could behead her. An act of parliament made it a treasonable offense for a new queen to fail to disclose to the king, within twenty days of the marriage, a previous affair, and evidently this was retroactive. Catherine was nineteen when she was beheaded.

Finally there arrived a queen who out-lived Henry while she was still queen. Catherine Parr was almost twice her predecessor's age and Henry was, at this point, perhaps marrying for comfort having given up on everything else. Catherine also married almost as many times as Henry did - four in all, including her last one in secret, just six months after Henry died. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

After Henry's death, Edward 6th, his son by Jane Seymour, came to the throne at the age of nine, but he died in his mid-teens, the very kind of thing of which Henry had been afraid, having had only one male heir. Edward nominated Lady Jane Grey - the well known actor (just kidding again) as his heir. She was Henry 7th's granddaughter and was "queen" for nine days, but was overthrown by Mary, Henry 8th's daughter, and beheaded at the Tower of London. Mary became queen and slaughtered a protestant a week until she died, whereupon Elizabeth came to the throne, the third of Henry's children to rule England legitimately.

I recommend this book. it;s full of fascinating detail about Tudor life and court intrigue, and disturbing detail about how cheaply life was held five hundred years ago.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

One Hundred Eggs For Henrietta by Sally Huss


Title: One Hundred Eggs For Henrietta
Author: Sally Huss
Publisher: Huss Publishing (no website found)
Rating: WORTHY!

I was rather late with my valentine children's novel review this year, so I decided to whisk this one out more quickly to beat the Easter deadline....

Some might argue that this children's story has rather cannibalistic overtones to it, with it featuring a chicken collecting eggs for the Easter egg hunt. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire! It ignores the fact that those eggs are in fact potential baby chickens! However, if the eggs aren't fertilized, they're going nowhere, so let's pretend that's the case. I'm not so hard-boiled, so it certainly made my conscience feel better. Not to crow about it, but I also feel that we don't have to bear this yoke, since there was no rooster in sight.

Obviously this was a women's collective. Collective? Get it? Never mind...and Henrietta, who is clearly in the catbird seat here, is rushing around like, like, well, like a headless chicken, trying to gather enough eggs for the children's Easter egg hunt, and she has a problem. Suddenly her quota has been doubled, the egg-timer is running, and she's at a loss for how to get all her eggs into one basket! If I had an egg for every time that's happened to me, I'd have to shell out to buy more.

Henrietta is merciless, approaching every chicken until she can see the whites of their eggs, demanding ever more, and hoping none of her co-workers are feathering their own nest with the profits, but she's still not feeling sunny-side up. What's to be done? Fortunately her brain isn't fried, and she remembers that birds of a feather flock together. She scrambles to approach the swans and the ducks, who prove they aren't bird-brains and provide a good eggs ample.

This is all well and good, but if Henrietta doesn't want to end up with egg on her face, she has to get these eggs painted - all one hundred of them. Fortunately, rather than sit around rabbiting on about her problems, she takes action, and approaches the local lagomorph cooperative. They happily agree to paint the eggs for her. Furrah!

To keep things purring along, the help of the local felines is sought, to avoid a cat-astrophe. As I'm sure you've gathered, by egging-on everybody, Henrietta managed to get her ninety nine eggs...wait a minute, who provided the hundredth egg? Hum, that would be a spoiler, but the clue is in the minute! I loved this story. The bunnies were particularly bunn-a-licious and Henrietta, the best chicken in a century, is a sterling example of how to avoid fowling-out. It's good to know that the chickens are not afraid to cross that road when they come to it!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

When the Anger Ogre Visits by Andrée Salom


Title: When the Anger Ogre Visits
Author/Editor: Andrée Salom
Publisher: Wisdom
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 reward aplenty!

Illustrated by Ivette Salom.

Here's a real charmer - the book, that is, not the anger ogre! The colored drawings are powerful, especially the one of the ogre, and I love the way it shrinks and becomes more pleasant as the 'disarmament steps' are followed.

Anger is so perfectly natural that it’s often not even noticed when it rears its ugly head, so it’s not so much that it arises that's the problem, as it is how you greet it when it gets here! This book is designed to offer solutions that are fun and easy to practice, and can really make the difference between situation I'm managing, and Man, I'm raging!

This book smartly offers simple things to think - when it’s hard to think coherently. It suggests simple things to do when you think you know exactly what you should do. It's told sweetly in verse, which is hard to get angry about, even at the worst of times!

Every child needs a good system in place for coping, whether it’s with anger or any other kind of strong emotion, and this is a really good place to start.


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.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Outshine by Nola Decker


Title: Outshine
Author: Nola Decker
Publisher: 7 Sparks Press (no website found)
Rating: worthy!


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

erratum: p50 "Last night she stayed wake watching..." "stayed awake" maybe?

Oh, what do we do about a novel which gets 85% of it right, but in the last fifteen percent, really goes seriously down hill? I was all ready to rate this as a worthy read. I'd even put up the first draft of this review and had it set-up that way, but I hadn't finished the novel! Let this be a lesson to all we who review! Now I have to seriously think about how much this last fifteen percent undermines every good thought I'd had in reading the first 85%!

This novel began very strongly. It felt to me like the one which makes it worth wading through a dozen other average or even crappy novels in order to reach such a novel. I don't know where Nola Decker came from; I'd never heard of her, but she is without doubt a writer to watch. No, strike that! The heck with watching: Nola Decker is a writer to read! This story really grabbed my imagination from page one, and it refused to let go. I love stories like this! At least I did for some four-fifths of it!

Unfortunately, that's not to say it was perfect, but which novels are? There are some flaws in it, but that there are flaws is not the issue. The issue is whether the story is a good and engaging one 9in general it was), whether it's original (it is), whether it has something to say (it does, particularly if you want to know how to really write a YA 'romance'. No writer is perfect, and this novel comes close to delivering perfection from its originality to its well-drawn characters. Is that enough to rate it a worthy read?

Gabe and Jessa have known each other since childhood, but they're not friends. In fact, Gabe isn't friends with anyone, and especially not his spoiled-rotten kid brother Watson, because it's too painful. Gabe's problem is that he knows, just knows when you're lying. It makes him so ill that he refers to it as his 'allergy'.

He can't stand to be around people, since people tend to lie to a greater or lesser degree all the time, and even 'harmless' white lies aren't harmless to Gabe. He has it so bad that he can't even lie to himself, and sometimes he can't keep his mouth shut when he feels a lie - feels it like rusty stakes in his mouth or needles under his skin - being told by someone else, and this has caused disruption and embarrassment on more than one occasion.

Jessa is one of the hot girls in school: immaculately dressed in designer clothes and heels, perfectly manicured and made-up, but she's a complete lie. Inside, Jessa is the tomboy of all tomboys, and turbo-charged at that. One day, skipping class to go for a nail-job down-town, she was cutting through an alley when four guys who evidently knew about her 'power', showed up to abduct her. She almost literally kicked the crap out of them. It felt good to her, too, after hiding her skills for so long under a "girlie" exterior. Now she's looking forward to finally getting a date with Watson (even without her nails having been done!), but Watts has suddenly, with neither warning nor explanation, disappeared.

Jessa sees a connection between the disappearance and her own experience, and she realizes that, unfortunately, she needs Gabe's help to find out what's going on with Watts going off. She thinks he was abducted by the same guys who made the mistake of trying to tackle her, and the more the two of them look into it, the more it looks like she was right.

Here's an observation which has nothing to do with the actual writing itself; it's more to do with the mechanics of presenting what's written via various media. I started reading this on Adobe Reader, where it looked fine, and then I tried it on my antique Kindle (since Adobe Reader isn't portable - not for me anyway!), where it also looked fine for the most part until I reached the end of chapter 11; that's when my Kindle went bankrupt!

The Kindle is rather small, and doesn't make for a great reading experience (I'm very much a print book guy. Sorry, trees!). In order to make it more like reading a book, I keep the text sized quite small and read it in landscape mode. When I reached the end of chapter 11, I swiped to the last screen and the text size was suddenly in a font three times larger than the text on the previous screen or on the next screen! Weird!

This same thing happened in chapter 23, where the whole last paragraph was three times larger on that last screen of the chapter! I have no idea why it did this, or whether or not it's tied to how this novel was formatted, or to some kink in the Kindle, but while it is odd and a bit annoying, it's nothing to do with the story-telling itself, so it's not an issue there. I'm just passing it on FYI.

I don't want to give away any big spoilers since this is a brand-new novel, but in order to review this and describe some problems I had with the plotting, I have to reveals a few details. There were two parts of this novel where credibility really went right out the window. The first was relatively minor, but there were issues in the last fifteen percent that were major. It turns out that Gabe and Jessa are not the way they are by pure chance - there's a lot more going on here, and to her credit, the author skilfully un-peels this story like an onion. Despite that, some of the upcoming plot points are telegraphed rather loudly, so that even I figured it out beforehand. Other parts are much more subtle.

Anyway, in process of unfolding this tale, there's a point at which someone supposedly calls the police, and this someone later turns out to be working for the bad guys, yet both main characters continue to trust that this traitor actually called the police! This issue becomes even worse later, because it's referenced by one of the police officers. This made even less sense to me, unless this university town quite literally has only two police officers. The problem with this whole thing is that it suggests that the two main characters don't have a whole heck of a lot going on behind their forehead, which isn't the best way to depict them! So I was disappointed there.

Aside from a weakness here and there, and the plot holes I mentioned, the story was solid and well-written - very well written. I was impressed, for example, by the relationship between Gabe and Jessa. It was done better than about 70% of YA romances where it's all, "Hi, nice to meet you! Oh God I am so in love with you already!", which is shamefully pathetic and speaks really badly of far too many YA novelists.

Nola Decker isn't one of those people. She knows how to write believable characters, and how to issue them with credible behaviors and motivate them rationally based on their back-story. This novel, as fantastical as it is, is for the most part very credible within its own framework. Yes, occasionally the dialog (in particular, where the bad guys monologue about their world domination plans like evil super-villains!) is a bit eye-roll-inducing, but overall there isn't anything which outright condemns the novel, and there is so very much to recommend it.

Jessa in particular has become one of my favorite kick-ass female heroes. She's actually a bit reminiscent of Spider-Man in some ways, particularly the symbiont-infected one in Spider-Man 3, because she not only has incredible power, and essentially wants to do the right thing, she also has some serious issues to contend with in the form of her own genetic urge to hurt people, and also in the form of her impossible relationships with Gabe and Watts. I felt so bad for her.

There was a weakness which is common to all YA novels in that the authors for some reason will have their characters display all manner of questionable behaviors, but they will never have them kill anyone! This particular flaw occurs several times in this novel, where Gabe and Jessa have the leader of the bad guys (or some of his minions at one point) at their mercy, and yet they let them live, and worse, in effect let them go free, meaning that these people are now free to do as they please,including continuing causing trouble, and even killing other young people!

That was insane in my opinion. Of course, if she'd done that, this would never have been able to run to a series, now would it? Since this blog is primarily about writing, here's a question for writers to consider: how much are you willing betray the quality of your writing for the sake of stretching a one-volume story into a trilogy? The answer should be: "Not at all". Jessa has two golden chances to kill the leader of the bad guys and she fails both times. hence volume two.

What bothered me about this is that we're not talking here about wanton killing or gratuitous violence. We're talking about stopping the bad guys, something which Jessa harps on repeatedly, yet when she had the chance to quite literally stop him cold, she turned her back on it. These are guys who have repeatedly shown themselves to be merciless killers, and to be controllers and manipulators. They plan on continuing abducting or executing other teens dependent upon their value to 'the cause', yet when Gabe says "No, don't kill him!" Jessa loses all her independence and self-motivation, and falls completely into line. This does nothing but cause them ever more grief down the line. For me this was a betrayal of Jessa as a character. Neither did it make any sense in context.

I wouldn't advocate novels where the 'good guys' are shown mercilessly killing others for no good or valid reason, but I honestly cannot get on board with this pussy-footing around dispatching bad guys who are downright evil, and who are clearly never going to change their minds, and never reform their behaviors.

I can see why not having your main characters kill someone in a young teens novel might make sense, but this novel is clearly for older teens and young adults, and this limp attitude which Gabe and Jessa repeatedly exhibit towards some very dangerous and downright evil people seriously undermined the import of the story and the integrity of the two main characters for me. We have PG-13 movies where death is depicted without sentimentality, so what's up with novels aimed at an age-range which is more mature than that?!

Here's another plot hole, as long as we're on that topic: there's a point where Jessa and Gabe have escaped the bad guys (and failed to kill them!) and they're driving back and forth on this one stretch of road because they can't agree on whether they should get back to their home town asap, or go and recover Jessa's car. In the end they decide to recover the car. The sole reason for finally choosing this action is because there's medication in the car which they can use to keep their prisoner under control, so this they do - but then they fail to administer the med and the prisoner busts loose!

This was a real clunker for me. I can see how people, young adults or otherwise, might make bad decisions if they're tired, or strung-out, or scared, but when they make a U-turn for a specific purpose, and then neglect to fulfill that purpose, and we're given no explanation for it, and no good reason (other than that the plot demands it!), then it really drops me out of suspension of disbelief.

But this was very tame when we compare it with the biggest clunker. This is the one which occurred in the last fifteen percent of this novel and which made me seriously reconsider if I still wanted to rate this the way I'd been thinking I would. This is where Gabe gets into a fight with his brother. Normally Gabe is as placid as they come, and it's Watts who has the violence and meanness genes, but Gabe has been pushed and pushed and pushed, and there is so much on the line that when Watts starts beating him up, and really punishing him, Gabe fights back and gives as good as he gets.

There are no adults around: no one to stop the fight (which struck me as odd), but someone calls the police, and when they arrive, they take Watts, who is hardly injured, to the ambulance to treat his "wounds" and they immediately arrest Gabe. All of this is done without the officers asking anyone - anyone at all - what happened here! They just blindly arrest Gabe, the acknowledged weakling of the family, as though he's the brute and the bully and Watts is his innocent victim! That made my jaw drop to the floor because it is absolutely nonsensical, and it carries zero credibility. How did this ever get past the beta readers and the editor? Nola Decker should ask me to be a beta reader, because these plot holes would never have got past me without a red flag being raised! Gabe, a minor, is hauled off to jail without his mother being notified, and without his injuries being treated.

I have to note that the final 15% of this novel is really badly written. And I know exactly what's going to happen in the sequel: they who are dead aren't really dead, and they who were enemies are now friends again. Make of that what you will! My problem is how to rate this. I can't rate it 'warty' because so much of it is so very good. In the end, it's for that reason: for the fact that most of it is really good when compared with the lousy standards of all-too-many YA novels, that I'm going to rate this a worthy read, in the hope (and the faith!) that an author with Nola Decker's very evident chops will get it right in the sequel. So let's look forward to that.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier






Title: Magic or Madness
Author: Justine Larbalestier
Publisher: Razorbill
Rating: WORTHY!

I fell in love with this novel right from the off, which is always a good sign as long as nothing goes south later, and it did not in this case. This is the second of Larbalestier's novels that I've read. The first was How to Ditch Your Fairy, and I rated that one a worthy read also. Is this the start of a relationship?! I have to say that this one was a bit annoying at first because the author/publisher chose to start each chapter with four or five words in a different and largely unintelligible font. There's no reason to annoy your readers like that, especially when you have so many other ways available to annoy and irritate them, but that's Big Publishing™ for you: a law unto itself.

The other thing is that there's this text divider symbol - like a sun with a smiley face in its center - employed in the text which is fine, except that it seems to appear randomly. Normally you'd use something like this to separate text in the same chapter which takes place at a somewhat later time, but in this case, these things seem to appear inexplicably at some indecipherable whim of the author's. Larbalestier seems intent in this novel upon randomly split text with these symbols, and with new chapters without much regard for the flow of what she's writing. I didn't experience this in How to Ditch Your Fairy. So this is slightly odd and somewhat frustrating, but it's not a deal buster for me.

This novel, which is the first in a trilogy (Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, Magic’s Child), is set in Australia, so some of the lingo might be obscure. If you're a Brit, especially one like me with an interest in the Land of Oz, you can understand the bulk of it, but there's a glossary at the end of the novel for anything which proves too odd to guess at. Why the glossary is there rather than at the start is a bit of a mystery, but on to the story. Reason ("Ree") is a young Caucasian/aboriginal girl who has spent nearly all her life on the run with her mother Sarafina.

This precipitates the start of this story where Ree is forced to live with her actual legal guardian (her grandmother) because Sarafina is confined to a psychiatric facility. For her entire life, Ree's had it inculcated in her that her grandmother is an evil witch (not figuratively, but quite literally) who sacrifices animals. Ree is fearful of even talking to or looking at her grandmother Esmeralda (Mere) much less accepting anything from her in the way of food or drink. I didn't buy into this characterization at all. It seemed pretty obvious from the outset that Mere is not the "bad guy" here, and that Sarafina has been less than completely honest with her daughter. Plus: nut-job! (And there's a good reason for that, as Larbalestier reveals towards the end).

As Ree is planning escape routes from the house, much in the same way her mother did at an early age many years before, she encounters her next door neighbor, Tom, who has dreams of becoming a dress designer. Kudos to Larbalestier for not only breaking molds here, but for also not making Tom gay. The two bond quickly, because much in the same way that Ree can read people and situations, and has amazing counting skills, Tom is also gifted in evaluating his surroundings and picturing where people are in them. Whereas Ree sees things in numbers, particularly the Fibonacci numbers (a sequence you may recall from its use in The Da Vinci Code) or even your math class, Tom sees them in geometric shapes, pretty much like the designers of video games do. He pretty much tracks Ree climbing his favorite tree without even opening his eyes. He's really surprised to discover that Ree is much like himself. Yes, it would seem that Tom and Ree are going to be an item, but Larbalestier is smarter than that. At least I think she is!

Larbalestier dug herself into somewhat of a slippery hole by writing this in standard trope YA girl novel format. What’s up with that? Is it illegal to write a novel about a young girl unless it's told from first person PoV? I know it pretty much is in the US, but in Australia, too, they will clap you in irons and put you in the public stocks if you try to tell your story from third person?! No wonder they exported so many convicts to Australia from England. I’ll bet every one of them was a first person perspective novelist! Seriously, because she did this, Larbalestier has to awkwardly step out from that mode of narration into third person to describe Tom's perspective.

This problem is encountered repeatedly throughout this novel, and it's both really annoying and somewhat confusing. It's testimony to how much I liked the novel and especially Ree's strong character that I was willing to put up with this really ham-fisted way of telling this story. It screeched (yes, screeched) at me that I was reading a novel. Buh-bye suspension of disbelief; I think I can see it waving to me from that last bus out of town. Why can authors not divorce themselves from 1PoV for goodness sakes? Every novel does not have to be written that way, not even if it’s a YA novel about a girl, and not even if it’s dystopian! No, honestly! Get a grip authors for goodness sakes! Having got that out of my system, Larbalestier writes pretty well in general, if you can ignore the clunky changes in voice, and there's a lot of much-appreciated humor.

Tom's observation that "Reason did not climb like a girl" is a rather insulting and condescending claim - especially coming via a female writer. I've never know girls to be any different from boys in that regard, especially when they're Ree's age and younger. OTOH, it was Tom observing this, so perhaps we can excuse Larbalestier this time. Again, this is a problem with changing the narration voice repeatedly. That aside, Ree continues to defy not only expectations, but also her grandmother by hardly saying a word to her and by refusing to eat anything in the house. She also builds on her relationship with Tom. They visit a cemetery nearby and she discovers a disturbing trend in her family - the graves are mostly for women, and nearly all of them died young. Those who didn’t die young died in their early forties. Whatever she has, magical or not, it’s apparently some sort of curse! This is important for the ending of the novel.

Ree visits her mom in the hospital, and acting on her rather drugged-addled description finds what appears to be some confirmation, under the floor in the basement, that maybe her mom wasn't telling stretchers about grandma's witching activities and her evil mien. Pursuing her plan to escape, Ree finds a strange-looking key which apparently unlocks the back door, thereby opening up alternate escape routes. Not that she's exactly a prisoner! The problem with this key is that when she finally opens the door, she's not in Kansas, er Sydney, any more. Nope. Inside, looking out the window, it’s a hot Australian day, but using the key to pass through the doorway turns that into a freezing night in New York City! Ree has never seen snow and is at first oblivious to the chilling effect, finding everything odd and fascinating, particularly the snowflakes. It's nothing like the now familiar surroundings of Sydney.

The problem is that very soon, Ree realizes that she's wandered so far from the back door that she can no longer identify her grandmother's house amongst the cookie-cutter residences here. One would think her footprints in the snow would lead her right back there, especially if she's as smart as I’d been led to hope she is, but just as she realizes she's lost, we learn that there's someone in this new world watching her. Someone who's been waiting for Ree, expecting her to show up any time now….

The new character is Julietta, who goes by Jay-Tee, and who "works for" another person with the same abilities as Esmeralda. Even though Jay-Tee isn;t honest with Ree, the two bond, and when Jay-Tee's brother Danny shows up with some interesting news, it looks like Ree has found someone else to bond with, and maybe Tom has, in Jay-Tee. Just when you think this novel is over, with Ree safely home, she discovers something in her bedroom that shakes the delicate foundation she mistakenly thought she had under her feet at last.

I loved this story. I loved finding a resourceful, realistic, interesting, and strong female main character, and especially one who wasn't restricted to being white! I loved that naiveté is not confused with stupidity here. I loved that the novel was not forcibly set in the USA, because you know we can't possibly have an entertaining novel which isn't! I recommend this novel and I look forward to reading the two sequels.