Showing posts with label young-adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label young-adult. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater


Rating: WARTY!

It's my policy never to read books with pretentious words like 'Chronicles' or Cycle' or 'Saga' in their title, but this one slipped under my radar. It wasn't until I was almost finished with the novel that I realized it was part of 'The Raven Cycle'. Yuk! The thing is that while I did initially enjoy this particular volume, it was painfully slow, and when I discovered it was not even going to reach a conclusion, I began losing faith in it.

After I listened to the weak ending, I could no longer support it positively. If the author had moved things along, she could have included the entire four book 'cycle' in one volume, I suspect, made a great story out of it, and saved trees into the bargain.

As for me, I will serve the word! I'm not going to indulge the rip-off attitude of 'why write one novel when you can spin it into three or four?' which seems to pervade the fiction world these days. This is nothing but a conspiracy among publishers to milk money from suckers, and I refuse to be a part of it, which is why I personally will never write a series. Yes, there are one or two series out there which are worth the reading, but in my opinion they are as rare as a series should be. Not everything needs to be a trilogy. And yes, YA authors, I'm talking to you!

This story is about a young woman with the curious name of Blue Sargent, who isn’t a psychic, while her two eccentric aunts and her mother all are. Father is of course absent from her life, because god forbid we should have a YA character who has both parents in the picture and an otherwise normal life!

We meet Blue when she's out by a derelict church (sitting on a ley line of course) watching the ghosts go by. Blue can’t see them, but she has the ability to amplify signals for her psychic mom to pick up. It’s never explained why they need to go there to see these ghosts which technically aren’t ghosts, but premonitions of those people who will die in the coming year.

Blue never sees anything until this year when she sees this one ghostly guy. When she confronts him and asks who he is, he answers "Gansey." Later, of course she meets him and her mother warns her off him. Blue is instructed that he will die if she kisses him! Who knew Blue was really Poison Ivy?!

She meets him later of course, along with his three close friends. They're all students of the prestigious and snobbish Aglionby school. I only know that's spelled right because it's on the back cover. I listened to this on audio read by Will Patton, one of my favorite actors, and who did a great job. On audio though, it sounded like Aglin-B, like Zyclon-B - one of the gases used in the death camps by Nazis in World War Two, so I could not take that name seriously as a school! Sorry! My imagination gets out of hand often which, as a writer, is actually a good thing!

Anyway, the first of these friends is the unimaginatively-named Ronan, who is such a cliché that I did not like his character at all. I am so tired of USA authors writing about Irish characters and Ireland with such a condescending and unimaginative tone. Ronan is a stereotypical Irish boy who fights - physically - with his domineering brother who is unimaginatively named Declan.

Adam is a retiring, impoverished boy who has to work other jobs to finance his time at the school, and whose father is a brutal jerk. Noah is even more retiring than Adam and there's a reason for this, we learn towards the end of the novel. Richard Gansey is obsessed with tracing ley lines, and even more obsessed with finding the body of a Welshman. So why look in Virginia instead of in Cymru?

Owain Glyn Dŵr, often anglicized as Owen Glendower, but pronounced more like Oh-wayne Glin Duhr, was the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, who came off poorly in his uprising against the English (early 15th century), and spent his twilight years in obscurity. Because of this, legends have grown up around him, including the one that he's not dead but sleeping, like King Arthur, who was actually more of a tribal leader than a king, and who will sleep until his nation needs him, whereupon he will awaken.

Well, that was categorically disproved when Arthur failed to wake up for either of the two World Wars, so I think we can retire that legend! I mean, honestly, of what use will a medieval tribal leader wearing a leather jerkin and carrying a spear be in modern warfare? Will he toss his spear at a Raptor drone?

The asinine conceit of this story is that Glyn Dŵr went to the Americas, despite those not being discovered (or more accurately, rediscovered) until almost a century after he died. Yes, the Vikings knew of the Americas, but it’s unlikely that this information would have found its way to Glyn Dŵr and even if it had, what incentive did he have to abandon his family and move there? None! Although I did develop a theory that Ronan is really Glyn Dŵr in disguise.

This is a problem with readers in the USA: far too many of them are so lamentably and irrevocably provincial that they seem quite loathe to embrace any story that's not set in their homeland. This is why Hollywood lifts so many foreign movies and recasts them in the USA, even if the recasting makes little sense to the story, so this whole Glyn Dŵr angle is nonsensical. You would think someone of Steifvater's stature would have the guts to step away from trope and safety and and set her own course, but I guess she's as unimaginative and chicken as far too many other YA authors.

Anyway, these five (Gansey & co, and Blue) discover a place on a ley line in the forest where time seems mixed up and where a body lies. Here's where the story went downhill because it became obvious all of a sudden who the murder was and what his relationship with the boys and (I believe) also with Blue was. I don't normally catch things like that so it had to be very obvious if even I saw it!

So they story moved slowly, wasn't exactly a mystery, and Blue was a little too subdued and passive for my taste for a female lead. I confess I did enjoy parts of the story as far as it went, but overall, I cannot commend it as a worthy read, and it was certainly not something I'm interested in pursuing into another volume.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D Sonnier


Rating: WARTY!

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

Errata:
"...she watched as her family prepare to leave the house." This really needed to have used 'prepared' rather than 'prepare'.
"When do you think they'll finally drag you into the family business, brother dear?" Arabella smiled. "Oh, I think not." John barked with laughter." The second speech doesn't follow from the first! If the 'when' was omitted from the first speech, it would make more sense.
"We've combed the library and its' not inconsiderable resources" no apostrophe is required on 'its'

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

I am not a huge fan of steampunk, but then this really isn't a steampunk story even though it superficially professes to be a mashup of witchcraft and steampunk. That juxtaposition is what interested me in the novel as it happens, but I had too many writing issues with it to love it, despite it starting out very strongly for me.

My blog is more about the writing of novels than the reading of them, but I explore writing through discussing my reading experiences and assessing the book accordingly, and this one felt very much like a book feels when an American writer tries to write a Victorian novel without really knowing the Victorian period very well - at least as it was experienced in Britain. An example of such an Americanism was "She'll be furious is what she'll be." That's a common format - repeating the same person and verb at the end as you've used at the start, but I don't see a well-bred Victorian family employing it in Britain!

I don't profess to be an expert by any means, but since there exist very many books from that period, fiction and otherwise, my advice to writers is to read a lot of them so you get a feel for the vernacular in use back then. That aside, I did enjoy reading this to start with. Unfortunately, it had too many issues, by far the worst of which was the disturbingly weak and bland female main character.

I adore books with strong females - and by that I do not mean they can arm-wrestle a guy to the ground (although that could be a trait they have!). No, I mean women who are self-possessed and self-motivated and who do not wilt every other paragraph. I don't care if they start out weak and grow strong or if they're strong from the off. I do care if they never grow, and never change no matter what provocation or incentive they have, and that was this character's problem.

I know it was set in Victorian times when women were all-too-often deemed weak and delicate, and some actually were, just as some are today, but there were some amazing women who lived in that era (the queen for one example) and who made their mark: such as Ada Lovelace, Annie Besant, Eleanor Coade, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Gaskell, Emmeline Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale, Isabella Bird, Marianne North, Millicent Fawcett. Dido Belle was another although she came long before the Victorian era. Radclyffe Hall was another although she came later.

The novel began strongly, but then slowly and inexorably went downhill. The main character was so weepy and showed no sign of growing a backbone, so around seventy percent in I couldn't stand to read about her any more. I did a search for the word 'sobbed' in this novel, and it showed up ten different times and each time it was the main character who was doing the sobbing! This was throughout the novel. I don't mind a girl (or a guy for that matter) breaking down once in a while, but this girl was doing it habitually, at the drop of a hat. It was nauseating to keep reading it. Parts of the novel were really great, but she was such a lackluster and limp woman who had showed no sign of ever growing, and I lost all interest in her and her story.

People have on occasion chided me for DNF-ing a novel, but I see no point in forcing oneself to read something that simply doesn't get the job done. Life is far too short. Their argument that maybe things will turn around is weak and I've disproven it repeatedly. If the novel isn't getting it done by the time you're twenty percent in, you should quit right then. I almost quit around the half-way point, but decided to struggle on in hopes that it would improve because there had been parts I really enjoyed, but it did not improve. It steadily grew worse, and meanwhile I'd wasted more of my time pursuing it! I do not subscribe to the sunk cost fallacy; quitting is a smarter move than continuing to invest effort in something not worthy of your time.

The story is of the Sortileges, the leading witch family in Britain, and one which is highly-regarded beyond the immediate shores of the so-called Sceptered Isle. The Family is a large one - seven daughters and two sons. In this world, the daughters take precedence, because they are witches, and men take a back seat, contrary to 'mundane' society (read: muggles!) where it is of course the reverse, as real life history shows.

The main character is Arabella, a name I can't think of without being reminded of the rather catchy song from the old Peter Sellers movie based on a stage play: There's a Girl in My Soup (which I recommend for light-hearted fun and a few witty remarks, but you have to be something of an anglophile to get the best from it). The song runs along the lines of: "Arabella, Cinderella, what did she do? She turned into a pumpkin at the stroke of two! You know she should have done it way back at midnight. Why, oh why, can she never get it right!"

The biggest problem with Arabella, the trope seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, is that she wept constantly and never once stood up for herself. It was too much. Once in a while under stress, or from a major setback perhaps, it would have been fine, but it was every few pages and for the slightest of reasons.

That song I mentioned is particularly appropriate here, because Arabella can't get it right. She's a squib, to put it in Harry Potter terms. This is trope for this kind of story: the magical person with no magic who in the end turns out to be especially magical. It's a bit tired, and this particular story - the initially undiscovered mastery machinery - has been done before in The Star Thief by Lindsey Becker, a story which I really did enjoy.

The family is invited to a demonstration of a new calculating machine along the lines of Babbage's difference engine, but whereas his machine was a small one controlled by turning a crank the requisite number of times to do the calculation, Mr Westerfield's machine is quite the behemoth and runs on steam. Note that Babbage never built his final machine - only a smaller model of it because the government lost patience with him and stopped funding it.

The reason we know it works is that the machine was actually built in the 1980's in Australia using Babbage's original drawings and the machining techniques available in Babbage's time. The engine worked as specified. The name of Westerfield's machine looked like it was simply chosen because it had some superficial resonance with 'difference engine' but Babbage chose his name for a valid reason. I didn't get the impression that 'distinction engine' had any rationale behind it at all, so it stood out as an odd choice.

During the demo, Arabella discovers she can literally see the work in progress in the form of a glow in the machine's mechanisms, and she discovers that she can operate it using only thought. This is how she learns she actually does have a power, and it's also what brings her into conflict with Westerfield, although his antagonistic reaction to her is way over the top and her weasel reaction to him is, honestly, pathetic.

There was one part of the machine which Arabella cannot see any glow in, and it seemed obvious why this was so. Unfortunately, it made Arabella look a bit on the dumb side that she did not figure this out quickly, but the reason I mention this event is that there were a couple of writing issues with it.

The first of these is when the dignitaries are addressed to call the meeting to order and the guy says, "Ladies and gentlemen, members of Parliament, and noble witches," but he has the order wrong. If the witches are indeed as important as they're portrayed in this story, then they ought to addressed first. This is still the way it's done - prejudiced as it may be - with the monarchy, peerage, and nobility coming first, as in "My Lords, ladies, and gentlemen," for example.

It seems to me the witches would have been insulted to have been placed last, but no one says a word about it! This issue is further highlighted later in the story when Arabella's older brother John comes to tea and I read, "Arabella served tea and inquired after their father's health." Wait - in a witch family, the female serves tea? Shouldn't it be the other way around? I think the author means that she poured the tea, not served it, which a maid would have done, but even so, it undermined the earlier statements to the effect that women in witch families always took precedence.

The other issue I had in this section of the book was with the naming of the leading witch's daughters. One of the sons is called John, the other, Henry, both of which were very popular names back then and fitted right into the story, but not a single one of the daughters was given a name anywhere close to the usual names for girls in that time! Now you can argue that this is a different world, and these are witches, but if this is so, then how come the author doesn't mention it?

If one had been named Morgan, as in Morgan le Fay, or Jennet, as in Jennet Preston, or Mary, as in Mary Trembles, that would have worked, but none of the girls' names here invoked what you might consider to be a suitable name for a witch based on the names of those who were (of course insanely) deemed to be witches historically. Just FYI, the girls were named: Vivienne, Rowena, Jessamine, Josephine, Arabella, Amelia, and Elizabeth.

Apart from that latter one, these are quite simply not names that Victorian parents gave to their daughters, so this stood out like a sore thumb. Maybe the author chose them for a reason. To me, names matter a lot, and I always try to give my main characters meaningful names, such as Janine Majeski in Seasoning or Cora Graigh in Saurus. Cora's name pretty much told her entire story, if you knew what to look for, but if that wasn't the case in this novel, and they were merely names that sounded good to the author, then this rather betrayed the deeper story. At least that's how I felt about it!

The timeline of the novel is a little off. As set by the date of the great exhibition at Crystal Palace, the story takes place in 1851, but it conflates two periods of history which never coincided. The Irish potato famine was largely over by 1851, and the suffragette movement set English society alight toward the end of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, but it was barely an ember in 1851. Crystal palace is now better known as a soccer team than an exhibition, but that's the only part of this story's background that did take place in 1851!

The novel seems to be intended as a steampunk story - which is by definition an obfuscation of the timeline - so perhaps this conflation can be covered under that, but in another such conflation, at one point the author has the sisters playing croquet. The earliest record of croquet is 1856. That doesn't mean it could not have been around earlier, but it didn't become popular until the 1860s a decade after this story is set, so it seems hardly like this mundane game would have been played by Arabella's witch family in 1851, especially since the family snobbishly had no truck with the 'common people' (and Arabella saw no problem with this - another reason not to like her). In short, everything just felt off.

At one point I read John saying, "Arabella Helene Sortilege, I'm surprised to hear you lecturing me about respect when you've obviously snuck out of the house..." I had two issues with this. First of all 'snuck' is an Americanism, and while it may be used in Britain today (a lot of Americanisms are) it would never have left the lips of a person of breeding in 1851! Additionally, an older brother in England back then was hardly likely to use her full name. He would be much more likely to use a pet name - something from their childhood. There were other such lapses, such as "John leaned his elbows on the table" - no! Not in a well-bred family he didn't!

There's one more such incident. Amelia's boyfriend Harlan (again not a name likely to be found in 1850's Britain) says to Amelia: "join the Sisterhood today, chickadee...." No! Just no! The chickadee is a North American bird. It's unknown in Britain and unlikely to have even been heard of by most Brits back then. The closest thing to it is a tit, but he could hardly have described Amelia as 'my little tit' - although that would have been amusing had the guy been set up as socially inept. But no! A better choice would have been linnet. This is a British bird and was used as an endearment when talking of young women, back then. That was something I could let go, but then for inexplicable reasons, Arabella's mom starts referring to her using the same term, and honestly? It just sounded stupid.

Technically, the book is well-written in terms of grammar, spelling and such, but the formatting is odd. There is an extra carriage return between paragraphs which is a no-no for professional publishing and means that the book takes up far more space if it runs to a print edition than it would otherwise. My advice is to save a few trees in your print version using a thing called paragraph spacing (along with a smaller font and narrower margins). In the ebook, this doesn't matter so much except that a longer book uses more energy to transmit, so it's always wiser to keep it shorter if you can.

So for this large variety of reasons, I cannot rate this novel as a worthy read, but I am interested in this writer. I think she has imagination and talent, and I would definitely read the next thing she writes - assuming it's a genre that I have an interest in of course! I have zero interest in reading a Harlequin-style romance by any author for example, no matter how much I love them! So even though I cannot commend this one, I wish the author success in her endeavors. We need fresh young voices and she's in an excellent position to become one of them.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Good Demon by Jimmy Cajoleas


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Errata:
“...tinny screen light” - perhaps should be 'tiny screen light'?
"...shown a pure white light..." should be 'shone a pure white light' - this is the problem with pronouncing the word 'shone' as 'shown' rather than as 'shonn'!
“I mean the whole dum lot of them” - 'dumb lot'?!

I wanted to read this because it reminds me in small ways of my own Nature of the Beast, although the two stories are very different. I liked this one just as much as I like my own!

Clarabella once had a demon whom she called 'Her' and referred to as 'She'. Given the power which is typically assigned to knowing the name of an entity in stories like this, I concluded early that Clare's lack of a name for her demon might be significant as the story played out. I was wrong! That was the hallmark of this story - it kept me guessing! There is no doubt though, that when She and Clare were united, they were pretty much in love with one another. They talked like the closest of friends, and were of course always together.

She looked out for Clare's welfare fiercely. It was because of this ferocious protection (She could take over Clare's body at any time) that they were finally 'outed' and separated. Ever since then, Clare has been miserable and determined to get back together with Her, and it appears that She was counting on this. She left cryptic guidelines for how this reunion could be achieved. Why they were cryptic, I do not know. There seems to have been no valid reason for it, but it’s fun to see how Clare discovers these and goes about interpreting them.

Throughout the story - which I read avidly - I could not help but wonder about this demon. Was this truly an inter-spiritual love affair, or was the demon playing a devious long-range game? If you think you know, it probably just meets the author wrong-footed you again!

Having interpreted Her wishes, Clare finally finds herself in a position to make a deal to get Her back, but the wish-granter demands a price, of course. Clare quite gullibly agrees, misled into thinking that the boon will be a mere trinket, but it occurred to me that She was far more devious than Clare ever would have expected - and for once, I correctly discerned what the boon would be. So then the question became: is Clare so desperate to be reunited that she will quite literally pay any price?

That successful interpretation was pretty impressive for me, because I'm usually completely wrong when I try to prognosticate about such things in novels - and also in World Cup soccer it turns out! LOL! When the women's World Cup comes up next year, be sure to ask me for my predictions, and then be sure to bet in a diametrically opposed manner to whatever I say, and you may well become rich! Or maybe my inverse predictions only work in men's soccer? I make no guarantees!

Anyway, this book was a very worthy read, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "and the best burger in Los Angeles" this book tells the story of Abby, who is working a summer part time internship at a fashion store called Lemonberry not far from where she lives. Normally the store takes on only one intern, but the manager, Maggie, is expecting a busy summer and so takes on two this year, and therein lies the problem - the intern often gets to stay on at the store as a paid employee (how that works given that they;re already staffed isn't gone into), so it means that Abby in in competition with Jordana Perez, on whom she soon discovers, she's crushing.

If you don't like cute, you won't like this because this is a very cute relationship. But that said, it's also quite stereotypical. I've read too many YA novels where there's the girl and the bad boy, and while this is an LGBTQIA story, Jordi is definitely the trope bad boy, short-haitred, dressed in black, in complete contrast to Abby who wears bright colors, often with a fruit motif. It turns out that Jordi isn't as bad as she's painted, so there is an out, but it still seemed a bit been-there-done-that to me: Abby the femme with Jordi the butch. It's right there in the names! it would have been nice had they been named against stereotype, and the fact these these contrasts between them were never really explored was a minor problem for me.

Another contrast is that Abby is overweight and Jordi is far from it. Some reviewers have outright described her as fat, but I don't like to use that word, especially in a case where we never really get an idea of exactly what body type Abby has. Ultimately, it's not important what body a person has if they're healthy and are getting some exercise, but it felt like a bit of a betrayal in that Abby seems far too comfortable in herself for the real world, and we never really get any feeling that she's had a hard time for her body.

It would be nice if that was everyone's case, it really would, but it's not, so this felt a bit unrealistic to me especially set as it was in a teen/high-school environment. Literally everyone accepted her and no one ever had a remark about her? And this is when she's hanging around with jocks because her best friend is dating one? It seemed a bit too sunshine and rainbows, especially in an era of a shameful presidency where crassness and crudity and rampant misogyny, homophobia, and racism is positively encouraged. The book was published only this year, so yes, the author knew, and I was sorry she didn't do more with that.

That said, I really loved Abby for her humor and wit, and for her observations of life around her and even for being scatterbrained at times. Her relationship with her best friend Maliah was a solid one, and even what she develops with this new guy during the course of the story - one of the jocks, named Jackson, or Jax for short. He was pretty cool despite being a dick on occasion, and be warned there is an ulterior motive!

Abby seems to be fine with how she is, but there seems to be a lot of reference to her body in spite of this. She mentions it quite a lot in contrast to her profession that she's happy with how she is, and this isn't gone into either. Nor is her mother's shameful behavior towards her which seems inexplicable and particularly with regard to the kind of person Abby grew up to be.

Abby got her internship because she is a blogger with a lot to say about fashion for plus-sized women. Jordi got the job because of her photography and it's this which causes some grief later in the story - a plot point I found to be a little on the thin side which is ironic give the subject of the story! Once she and Abby begin dating, Jordi starts takign lots of pictures of Abby, and Abby never objects or questions to what use these might be put, not even when she realizes that Jordi likes to show the world how she sees it, and that she has an upcoming show at a local public display area.

Warning bells should have rung in Abby's head, which is sad, because they don't and this makes her look a lot less astute about trends and signs than she's been shown to be to that point. I'm not usually good at picking these things out, but even I could see exactly what was coming from a mile away.

The blurb tells us that "...when Jordi's photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role." Yes, Abby is the star of Jordi's show. This is not a spoiler because it's no surprise whatsoever. This is followed by the truly dumb, trademark question that utterly moronic blurb-writers cannot seem to keep themselves from asking: "Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?" Hell no! The world will explode in a nuclear holocaust! Hell no! She's met a hot Internet celeb, and fallen in love, throwing Jordi over. Hell no, Abby is so offended by Jordi's pictorial that she's scared straight and starts dating Jax. Seriously? Of course Abby and Jordi will end up together - it's that kind of story. Duhh!

Book blurb writers must have a truly abyssal view of their readers' intellect to pose imbecilic questions like that. And they're so frequent, especially in chick lit. What does that say about how publishers view their readership?

Abby's reaction to Jordi putting her into the spotlight seemed disingenuous to me, and it completely betrays the relationship far more than Abby whines that Jordi has betrayed her. Grow a pair Abby! Her reaction is far too dramatic and written solely for the purpose of breaking them up so they can have a tearful reunion later, and this smacked of amateurishness to me. It read t this point more like fanfic than ever it did a professionally published novel.

This is the part of the book that I did not like and which seemed much more unrealistic than any other part. Some people have called out Jordi in their reviews, for her behavior, but she's behaving true to character. It's Abby who is willing to betray Jordi and her supposed love for this woman, over a thing like this which could easily have been resolved instead of discussing it with her. This relationship is doomed, trust me!

I think it would have been a better ending to have had Abby realize that she had overreacted, and had her go to reconcile with Jordi only to find that Jordi refuses, because Abby had betrayed her by showing such a ready willingness to completely ditch her and turn her back on her over a simple misunderstanding. That's how I would have ended this one.

I have to say a word about the fashion element too! On the one hand this book shows Abby as being very stylish and dressy, and on a budget too (although Abby never actually seems short of money, Where she gets it all goes unexplained). I have no problem with Abby wanting to be stylish and having an eye for it. She can be anything she wants. Even the anorexic, self-indulgent, fatuous and shallow world of fashion is waking up - begrudgingly and far too slowly - to the fact that people come in other sizes than Bulemic Zero.

But it bothered me that Abby (and the author) had nothing much to say on this topic. Just saying. It's this and the magazines, and Hollywood, and TV which contrive to make women feel ugly and poorly dressed, and unsexy and worthless, and it's shameful. This is why I have no tolerance for the fashion world. Its sole purpose is to make women feel inadequate and out of date, and thereby inveigle them into endlessly dieting and spending money they don't have on the endlessly updating latest fashions, and it's criminal, misogynistic, and disgusting. Women have enough to contend with in the academic ad business worlds without piling this on.

Once again I find myself having to talk about biceps! As in when Amy Spalding wrote: “...wrapped up in Trevor’s bicep.” Seriously, unless you’re an anatomist or a surgeon, there’s no such thing as a bicep. The bulge you see on the inside of the upper arm is the biceps, plural, because there’s more than one which combine to make the visible part. You’d have to deflesh the arm to actually see a bicep. Did Trevor’s girlfriend tear the flesh off her boyfriend’s arm? I doubt it. Does main character Abby have X-ray vision? Not that she tells us. Does yet another YA author not know what she’s talking about? More than probably.

But all of that said, this book was cute and for the most part told a story I really liked and enjoyed. I just think that the predictable break-up was far too predictable and for the most predictable of reasons, and this betrayed the story. Plus I am not a huge fan of predictable! A little bit predictable yes, because it's comforting, and we can use a lot of that under this presidency, but not so glaringly so! That said I commend the novel as a worthy read overall.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

This book consists of a series of sections showing the different ways that girls can be strong, from overcoming personal handicaps (so called) to being a good friend, excelling in some activity or other, and so on. There are pictures galore of girls who are strong, of all ages, ethnicities, interests, and social classes, and each has something pithy and engaging to say.

The sections include:

  • Wild is strong
  • Kind is strong
  • Resilient is Strong
  • Fearless is Strong
  • Independent is strong

This is a powerful and dangerous book and never has it been more important than in an era where we have a weak president who won his office on a minority vote against a strong female opponent. It would make a great gift for any young girl, especially one who might be going through a tough time. I recommend this as a great ego booster and confidence builder, and a team builder, too - to show your young girl she's not alone and she won't fail.

Mae Vol 1 by Gene Ha


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Some of us amateur reviewers don't get to pick the cherry off the top. Once in a while we get lucky, but often, we're reduced to going after the Read Now offers on Net Galley, and this was one of those. It's always a bit 'potluck' in the Read Now bleachers, but every once in a while a gem comes along and this is what I found here. Although it seemed to borrow a bit (there were elements of CS Lewis (the portal to another world), Doctor Who (the many headed robot and the arachnid girl) and even Star Wars (some of the creatures were rather reminiscent of the appalling Ewoks), but that aside it was a fun and original story with a kick-ass female times two, and I typically enjoy that kind of story.

As the blurb has it, Mae is missing her older sister who disappeared several years ago and all Abbie has is memories. Now Abbie's back, from inner space, she's just standing there with that ferocious look upon her face! She is telling fairy tales, and she is making poor Mae wail, but it turns out that Abbie isn't lying as Mae learns, up close and personal, when some of these creatures come over from the parallel work and start going after Mae.

Inevitably the sisters travel back to the other side where everything Abbie told her sister is confirmed, and Mae in turn confirms that she's just as awesome as her sister when it comes to being a strong, decisive, inventive, and imaginative young woman despite the odds. The artwork was really intriguing to me because it had elements of computer-generation and hand painting, so I am not sure how it was done, but I really liked it. I also like the script which was snappy and kept the story moving, but wasn't overly wise-ass or juvenile, and the female characters were portrayed as real females, not as pneumatic adolescent male fantasies, which was a big plus for me. This is a great fantasy, I enjoyed it very much and I look forward to the next volume.


Skin & Earth HC by Lights


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have to say I was not impressed by this new-age-y comic from a singer who is evidently well-established, but of whom I'd never heard before. The story supposedly is supported by a dedicated soundtrack (a 14-track corresponding album) and there were 3D bar codes in the comic in various place which you were supposed to be able to scan with your phone and then go listen to (as I understood it), but every one that I scanned went to the same place, which was some sort of news page which offered no prospect of music that I could see - and I was not about to read through all the material in search of a song or two that ought to have been up front and center.

After the third time of going to the same web page from a different bar code, I gave up on this, forced to conclude that it was some sort of a bait and switch to get you reading somebody's web site! I got this review copy in electronic form, but there's no clickable link for the e-version! That seemed a bit antique to me. For that matter they could have included the songs right there in the e-version! But comic books are all about the print version, make no mistake, I guess comic book writers really don't like trees very much!

The comic itself wasn't any better. The artwork was fine enough, but the story was non-existent. As far as I could tell, it was supposed to be about a journey of self-discovery - a girl looking for hope in a hopeless world we're told, but if that's really the way you think, then you're already doomed.

Besides, the journey was far too boring and I gave up on it about halfway through. I think some writers view their own lives as way more interesting than they actually are, and can't wait to lay their personal story on as many others as they can. You could argue that this is what writers (prose, poetry or songs) do as their stock in trade, but I'd disagree.

If that is what you're going to do though, you'd better make the journey interesting. It can't just be a pictorial diary of your random thoughts which is what this felt like. I just read this one a short while ago and I literally cannot remember a single thing about it now. Obviously, it made no impression on me whatsoever! I wish the author all the best in her career, but I can't recommend this aspect of it.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Final Draft by Riley Redgate


Rating: WORTHY!

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

“...but the team here are great people...” this was spoken by Mr Madison, an English teacher Seriously?! 'Team' is singular.

Laila Piedra, like me, is very much into writing, but she's better looking! She secretes herself away in her room with her laptop and creates sci-fi worlds of adventure and derring-do. But daring isn't something Laila ever does herself. She'd rather have a quiet life: no partying, no boyfriend, no extra-curricular activities. She's all about writing, and meeting with her high-school senior year English teacher, Mr Madison, on lunchbreaks to discuss her stories. Apparently he has very little of a life too, and you have to wonder why he's misleading Laila so much in his advice. He seems so full of praise, but later a professional author disagrees with him.

Due to an injury, Mr Madison was forced to take time off school and substitute teacher came in. This woman was a Ukrainian ex-pat who had a successful writing career. Even given that she was a friend of the principal's, it seemed a bit of a stretch that someone of her purported stature would step in to teach. This oddity was explained later in the novel, but even accepting that, it made little sense that her approach to teaching was so minimalist that she essentially didn't teach at all. Instead, she merely had her students continue their writing projects and then marked them scathingly.

Despite Laila's skill and the endless positive, evidently criticism-free encouragement of Mr Madison, Laila's first score from Nadiya Nazarenko was a 32%. Everyone else scored less, and no one was given any real advice about what was wrong or how to improve it. No-one read their work in class either, so it felt unnaturally like a super-secret, under-the-table event; like everyone was ashamed of what they wrote, or their work was too scandalous to ever see the light of day. Worse, Laila never questioned Mr Madison's bona fides given that he was all 100% and the Nazarenko consistently less. That rang hollowly - that Laila never questioned anything.

Frankly she was a bit too passive for my taste, but then I seem condemned to prefer the side-kick characters in young adult and even middle-grade novels rather than the main one. Her sidekick is Hannah, and Hannah fascinated me.

Laila's desperate desire to impress the substitute flings the young writer into dangerous territory, visiting bars with a fake ID, and risking arrest by the police at a fight. Never once does she consider she's being foolish in pursuit of a ridiculous goal. It felt odd, too, that when a school hottie guy befriended her, she didn't try to talk him out of fighting her own friend, a guy who was dating his ex. That was an interesting little story.

The novel could have easily gone downhill several times for me, it didn't, fortunately for this review! It kept me hanging in there, sometimes by a slim thread, and even as I wondered about some of the writing choices the author was making. What made it worthwhile in the end was Laila's outcome, which I had seen coming for a while but was never quite sure if the author would actually take me there - despite having a pretty awesome name for an author: Riley Redgate! I mean come on! That's almost as good as Teenage Negasonic Warhead. You know Riley Redgate's middle name is Negasonic, right? Well, it might be!

Meanwhile, back in Realityville, I have to say that it was such a nice gift that she did do this, that I felt a bit miffed when there wasn't more of it. The novel ended somewhat abruptly with Laila's future seemingly left rather hanging. I don't know if this was a conscious choice or if the author plans on continuing this story in a second volume. It's difficult to see where that would go given the powerful ending this one had (before the abrupt bit!), but I might be tempted to read such a sequel even though I'm not a fan of series, trilogies, and the like. As for this particular volume, I consider overall, that it's a worthy read, and I recommend it.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter


Rating: WARTY!

If this novel had been written by an unknown and submitted as is, it would never have got published. The only reason it did get published is because it was written by a celebrity. The author is an actor who currently plays Jessica Jones in the Marvel TV series of the same name, and in that show I adore her, but a writer she's not. Not yet. She may become one if she can quit writing YA trope and cliché and find a topic that's not been done to death. And have an editor who's not afraid to say no to a celebrity.

This follows the done-to-death trope of the prodigal son (or in this case, daughter with the unimaginatively bland name of Abby Williams) returning home to confront "demons". Barf. Yawn. Barf some more. Yawn a bit. Ho-hum. So anyway, the main character returns to her even more unimaginatively named small town of Barrens, Indiana where she grew up (or maybe not) and where a conglomerate named Optimal Plastics appears to be responsible for polluting the water and causing people to get sick. We're told the town is now booming, but we're never told why a huge corporation would put its roots down in a lifeless hick town nowhere near major artery roads or airports in the first place. At least not in the part I listened to.

Abby is an environmental lawyer living in Chicago and apparently lives a life of drunkenness and debauchery there. You would think someone with that portfolio would be able to confront the girl who bullied her in high-school and now acts like they were old friends, but this character is such a limp rag that she doesn't say squat. Let me just make it clear that I would never want Abby Williams to represent me in court!

It was when Abby discovers that the house she's renting has a neigh-bore who is a single dad with a precocious young daughter that my nausea rose far too high to continue. It didn't help that Abby had lost all interest in pursuing the chemical company even by this point, and had become instead obsessed with tracking down this girl, Kaycee Mitchell, she knew in high-school who had since gone off the grid. Abby was not a likable character, and I honestly didn't give a damn about her or anything else in this story. I could not care less what happened to the missing girl, because I've been given no reason to care more.

From reading other reviews out there I understand that the author knows nothing about Indiana, thinking it a football state when it's a basketball state (even I, who has almost zero interest in fatuous and ultimately pointless sporting events, knew that!), and she misnames the state university and invents a toll road where none exists. It's so easy these days to research a place on the Internet, in Wikipedia, and even go look at it on Google maps, that there's no excuse for getting things like this wrong. It's sloppy and lazy.

The asinine blurb (for which I don't blame the author) promised "tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense," but the only word in that whole phrase which applies here is 'slow'. I pulled this off the library shelf solely because it was written by Krysten Ritter. I thought it would be well worth reading, or rather listening to but it wasn't, even though reader Karissa Vacker did a decent job.

The best thing that can be said about this novel is that it's short, but apparently, according to some reviews I read, it could have been shorter still if the endless repetition had been cut out, and I believe them far more than ever I'd believe a blurb writer! I cannot recommend this based on the part I could stand to listen to. A bonfire is a great place for a novel like this.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Invisibility by David Levithan, Andrea Cremer


Rating: WARTY!

I liked Levithan's Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist which he co-wrote with Rachel Cohn, but I did not like his Everyday, and now I find myself parting ways from him again with this crap.

Like in Nick & Nora, each author is writing a first person perspective, the one for the guy in the story, the other for the girl. It wasn't likable. I tend to really dislike first person voice with few exceptions, and I feel that when you multiply it, it just makes it worse, but that's not the worst problem for me with this story. The worst problem is how unrealistic it is, even if I grant that a boy can be literally invisible. The problem is that this boy shows absolutely no interest whatsoever in his world and doesn't even think of getting up to the adventures and mischief any red-blooded boy would think of if he were literally invisible as this boy is. He's so profoundly and irremediably boring.

The kick to the story is of course that this girl moves into an apartment just along the hall from his, and she can see him, but when they meet, it's set up like he tiptoes past her to go to his apartment. He claims he can't get in because he has to retrieve his key and he doesn't want her to see a key floating in the air apparently, but it's already been established that when he puts his clothes on, they also become invisible, and immediately after he puts food in his mouth, it also becomes invisible, so why wouldn't the key? For that matter, why wouldn't he simply carry the key with him? The boy's an idiot.

If Levithan had said the guy couldn't enter because he didn't want her to see a door open and close by itself, that would be one thing, but he didn't! Even that could have been written-off as someone looking out of their apartment and then closing the door, and I would have bought that. I can't buy the stupid and thoughtless scenario I was presented with here.

The girl is written just as dumbly, because she drops her keys and the boy doesn't offer to help because he doesn't think she can see him, but she can, and she chews him out for not helping her instead of doing what any self-possessed person would, which is put her bags down, get the keys, open the door, pick her bags up, and go inside! In short, she's also an idiot who would rather play the helpless maiden in distress than get on with things under her own steam. What she does is the precise equivalent of the old saw of a woman dropping a handkerchief to get a guy's attention! It was pathetic. She's precisely the opposite of a strong female character and I have no time for female characters like this one.

Do I want to read a story about two idiots and instadore? Hell no. The whole story struck me as short-sighted, artificial, and poorly thought-through. It was obviously a catastrophe waiting to happen, and not in a fun way. I couldn't stand to read any more of it!


North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley


Rating: WARTY!

This was a print book I picked up because the premise sounded like it might offer something different from your usual YA trash of the helpless beautiful maiden in distress rescued by a boy - as though women are utterly useless and need to be rescued all the time. In the end it turned out to be precisely that, and I had to DNF it because it was so badly written, and yet another first person voice fiasco.

Terra Cooper (yes, that's her idiotic name) has everything a YA girl could want: blond hair and an enviable body, also a jock boyfriend, but we're told she has a flawed face. Her family is, predictably in YA, also flawed. Her father refuses to pay for her to go to the small college of her choice, trying to force her to go to the overly large college which is only three hours away where he can still control her. Terra wants to be further from him than that but is apparently too stupid to understand that her father wouldn't agree, and instead, seek a student loan or a scholarship. In short, she's a moron. But none of this really matters because Terra's only real problem is her obsession with the 'port wine' stain on her face, which lasers don't seem to have been able to remove.

Naturally a woman as hopeless as this needs to be rescued by a "handsome but quirky Goth boy." Clearly the novel is supposed to teach lessons about skin-deep and self-determination, but the amount of obsessing over the port-wine in the few pages I could stand to read told me this was going nowhere interesting or good, and also that the novel was going to be completely untrue to its premise. And the cartographic references were way the hell overdone even in the short portion I read.

That wasn't even the worse part (and no, it's not that I actually paid for this with my own money, either!). The worst part was why a woman who'd had this stain on her face her whole life would be obsessed with it now rather than so used to it that she rarely gave it any thought. It was entirely unrealistic. If this obsession was indeed the case, then this girl has bigger problems than which college she goes to, or a control-freak father, and she needs serious psychiatric help. I doubt a handsome Goth boy is up to the task.

The novel was pedantic and boring, predictable and asinine. I do not recommend it.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Crystal Key by Robert William Gronewold


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was overall decently well-written from a technical perspective and it started out quite engaging, but as I read on, I found it more and more slipping into the worn-out mold of young adult fiction: the perky best friend who is either gay or a female. In this case it was a female named Margo who was obsessed, of course, with fashion. There was the trope of the girl (in this case the oddly-named Felicity Bough) finding her new and great magical power and then being thrown into the threat or clutches of evil. There was the tiresome love-triangle with the reliable trustworthy boy-next-door versus the so-gritty-he's-really-animated-sandpaper bad boy who rescues her. That's what actually turned me off the story. Not so much the ultra-predictable bad boy as the fact that this girl who was initially shown to be so strong, was rescued and thereby was rendered into nothing more than a simpering acolyte of the thoroughly nauseating bad boy.

Evidently like other reviewers, I initially thought this was a graphic novel. It is not. It's a ~400 page tome of pure text, which is way too long. The story revolves around a world which is evidently ours but projected into a future where evil has become so pervasive that even the sun has gone out. What keeps the planet alive are these inexplicable well-springs of light which fountain-up from various places on the planet, But, just like in The Never-Ending Story movie, the dark is encroaching upon the planet piece-by-piece and no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it.

This world is predictably exactly like the USA, except for the magic and the asinine transportation, which seems (for no reason I was given in the fifty percent of this novel that I read) to be based on animals. Cars are tigers and stallions, buses are bears, cargo transportation is elephants, and so on. I was rather surprised not to see the cat bus from the anime Totoro. These are not real animals, but machines named after them and which apparently have some animal traits, but the description was so vague as to leave these things a mystery. They do evidently have wheels, so I didn't get the animal reference at all. None of this made any sense to me; it wasn't entertaining or amusing. Quite the opposite: it increasingly became an irritant in short order.

Someone at Chapterhouse Publishing needed to read this because there were multiple problems with the text. In general it was not awful by any means, and spelling and grammar were fine as a general rule, but there were some bizarre oddities which ought to have been caught by an editor if not by the author himself. For example, on page 48 I read "...then is shot down and dived...." I assume the author meant, 'then it shot down'. A little later I encountered, "...verdant shade of green" on page 73. Verdant actually means green, so this is a tautology. On page 117, I read "...plain stone brick wall...." It's either brick or it's stone; the two are not the same. This is maybe a case where the author started out using one and changed to the other, but forgot to delete the one they were trading out for the other. We've all done that!

On page 128 there was a mistake of using clamored instead of clambered as in "...clamored over the old blocks....' Clamor is to make a noise, whereas clamber is to climb over. I suppose one could say that clambering over the rocks was causing a clamor, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense to do that. On the next page I read, "...who knew what something bigger could do." which ended in a period instead of a question mark. I encountered a common error on page 134, where I read "She tread quietly...." The past tense of tread is 'trod', not tread, and certainly not 'treaded' which I've actually read in more than one novel.

On page 153, I read, "...two large trees that created the top of the hill" I don't get what that's supposed to mean. The trees don't create the top of the hill; they might sit atop it or surmount it. They might even furnish it, but they don't create it. In a part of the novel where Felicity is sitting in a machine I read "...two throttles sat upright ready for steering." Nope! Throttles control speed. They don't control steering, unless the direction is also controlled by the thrust, but since this was a land vehicle, not a water or space vessel, that seemed unlikely, especially since Felicity didn't know how to drive it. Finally on page 156, I read, "I'm hungry too," this speech was followed by the word 'returned' I think it was intended to be 'he returned', as in he spoke back to her. I'm guessing by how often I was discovering these that they didn't end on that page, but that's what I found in as far as I wanted to read in this novel.

In terms of overall formatting, I once again find myself having to beg authors and publishers to have some consideration for trees. This book had very wide margins on all four edges, constituting, by my rough estimate, some twenty-five percent of the page. If the book is issued only in electronic format, this isn't such an issue (although longer novels eat up more energy to transmit over the Internet), but for a book that might go to a long print run, serious consideration needs to be given to how many trees you're going to slaughter in this era of runaway climate change. No one wants to read a novel where the text is jammed together over the entire page, but if the margins had been even slightly less generous, the book would have been shorter and eaten up less paper.

Chapter one didn't actually begin until page fifteen and it ended on page 400. Some of those fifteen pages could have been also dispensed with, instead of rigidly and blindly conforming to antiquated publishing rules created when no one gave a damn about trees and climate change. I found it ironic that the encroaching evil upon which this author discourses is actually upon us (albeit in a different form from the one he writes of), and yet publishers and authors perpetuate their blithe (or blithering) blindness to it.

If these story had been shorter, less 'maiden in distress', and the bad boy third leg of the tired love triangle been dispensed with, this would have been a lot better. In faith, methinks it too low for a high praise, too long for a short praise and too little inventive for an imaginative praise. Only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it is unhandsome; and being no other but as it is, I cannot recommend it.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Marvel's Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail that I found at the library. It was not what I hoped for at all. Black Widow is very much a comic book character, but she was really brought to life for my by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel movies. She's going to have appeared in more of them than Samuel Jackson by the time she's done! The problem is that this novel isn't really about Black Widow. Instead, it's Ava Orlova (which you might find funny when you realize that reader Julia Whelan pronounces that last name as 'all over'!). It's about her and Alex Manor, not about Natasha. She appears, but pretty much as a minor character, so the book is rather a bait and switch deal and it's really not well written for someone who is supposed to be a best-selling author.

We're promised in the blurb that we're getting "the untold story of Black Widow for the very first time," but blurbs lie! In an introductory portion, Natalia Romanova goes to assassinate her mentor Ivan Somodorov, and ends up rescuing Ana. She unaccountably promises to be there for Ana, but then avoids her for a decade. Meanwhile Ana seems to have been doped with something right before she was rescued, so maybe she has super powers, maybe not.

Ana begins falling for Alex, who she meets by accident, but feels drawn to since she'd dreamed of him without knowing who he was. Inevitably Ana and Natalia come into contact again, but by this time I was so tired of this limp story that I quit listening, and I returned it to the library to make someone else suffer it instead of me! Mwahaha! Ivan Somodorov has nothing on me when to comes to torture!

So everything I loved about the movie Black Widow was missing from this book. The action scenes were perfunctory and unimaginative, and the story was pretty pathetic. I can't recommend it.


We Are Okay by Nina LaCour


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this was a Kirkus starred review I would have avoided it like Ebola. Kirkus never met a novel they didn't like, which of course means their reviews are utterly useless, and I take a Kirkus seal of approval as a definite sign that I should bypass reading the novel, so those reviews are quite useful really! This was more of a snivel than a novel.

It's an LGBTQIA novel which is read uninterestingly by Jorjeana Marie, and it was a disastrous audiobook experiment. I listened to it (part of it!) a while back and I almost forgot I ever had it cross my radar. I was avoiding it rather like the main character avoids her issues, which amuses me, but the bottom line is that it was mind-numbingly boring. You know I often wish I could delete some of my less than thrilling memories, but it's not yet possible to do that outside of sci-fi. The more something irritates or depresses you, the harder it is to let it go, but this book very nearly was completely deleted from my mind which gives me hope! In theory at least, it has to be possible to forget things even worse than this!

If the author's intention in writing this was that we care about Marin, then it was a massive fail. She went about this in entirely the wrong manner. There are huge looming issues in her life, and yet all we get for page after page is tedious minutiae of everyday existence down to brushing teeth and washing dishes. Seriously? It was, at the basement level, the kind of laughable novel where a woman has a disaster in her life in the big city and little wuss that she is, runs back to her small home town where she miraculously finds he love of her life - except that this book didn't even offer that. I avoid novels of that pathetic genre.

Worse than this are the endless flashbacks which even I, who detests them, admit have their uses, but in a novel like this they are a true death knell. The novel is about mental illness and can probably cause the very thing it prattles on about. Depressingly enough begins with Marin, the main character, stuck in her dorm at college over winter break. She's all alone, we're supposed to believe - not a single other person anywhere around. She supposedly has a best friend with the unlikely name of Mabel, who is visiting over the break, and the blurb tells us that "Marin will be forced to face everything that's been left unsaid" but she does everything but that. It's unlikely that she would say nothing about any of this to someone who was indeed her best friend. I suppose she does talk eventually, but the story was such a waste of my time that I never reached that point. I had more rewarding things to do with my time.

I cannot recommend this based on what I listened to - which made so little impression on me that I immediately forgot most of it! And bno, she;s not okay, and neither is this novel. KO'd more like.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Terminally Illin' by Kaylin Andres, Jon Mojeski


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a beautifully drawn and colored, and very amusingly-written bittersweet story about Kaylin Marie Andres who was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in 2008 at only 23. Instead of succumbing to paralysis and mute acceptance, she chose to fight it tooth and nail with determination and humor, and not only went on with her fashion career, but also created a graphic novel to illustrate her fight with an amusing graphic story.

The book begins with her going for her first treatment and ends with the promise of a visit to a fantasy-land cancer fun park. There never was a sequel because Kaylin had to endure four major surgeries and attendant radiation treatments to four different areas of her body. And she died a year ago last November at the age of 31.

This book is probably one of the best memorials she could have because it was an awesome read and I highly recommend it. The last entry in her blog was five days before she died - on the day before she was due to fly back home for the last time. Hopefully this graphic novel will serve as a lasting inspiration to others.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a free (as opposed to fee!) short story published as a filler between this author's Steelheart, and book two in The Reckoners series, called Firefight. The story features David, aka Steelslayer, one of The Reckoners - the people who fight against the Epics, which are the super-non-heroes. The problem with gaining super-powers in this world is that once you use them, you go bad. No one knows why. The only way to use them and stay good is to gift them to others who can use them in your name.

In this story there is a brief introduction with David and another reckoner buying hotdogs, which is rather boring. I don't get this obsession with hotdogs, so it was meaningless to me. The author should have put it in a prolog so I would have known to ignore it! LOL! David and his friend are heading to the city gates where people are screened as they come into the city. The main reason is to catch people who simply want to start a life of crime in the clunkily-named Newcago, but also so The Reckoners can catch Epics and Epic sympathizers who might be trying to sneak in. Why the Epics wouldn't simply come over the walls goes unexplained.

Anyway, David is suspicious of this one guy who comes in, and he soon discovers this guy can split himself just like 'Multiple Man' in X-Men: The Last Stand, but like Michael Keaton's character in Multiplicity, the more he clones himself, the dumber he becomes. This made no sense. Why would the cloning affect only his brain? Why would it not make his body weaker too? Or his heart? Fortunately for this rating, this was addressed.

Once the guy has split into many clones, he starts yelling the same message from different parts of the city - that he will shoot some passer-by if David doesn't show up. We're told the clones have to rejoin in order for their independent memories of what they did to be re-united, but when David shoots the first of these, all the others immediately come running. How did they know?

It turned out that David's information on the Mitosis - the cloning guy - was partly misinformation and in the end it was due to that, that he was saved. Like I said, short story, but not bad! I consider it a worthy read - and it's free, so what do you have to lose?! I'm currently reading book 2. I'll report on it when I'm done.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Solomon's Ring by Mary Jennifer Payne


Rating: WARTY!

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

Erratum:
"Smith flexes a well-toned bicep" Once again YA authors, it's biceps! Unless you do happen to be speaking about only one of the two upper attachments of this muscle: the long head or the short head. I favor the long head myself....

The twin motif in novels, especially young adult novels, has been way overdone, so if you want to venture into it as a writer, you need to offer something truly different or inventive and unfortunately, this novel offered neither. To be perfectly fair, this was volume two in a series, and I have not read volume one, but this seemed like it stood alone fairly well if you were willing to accept that there was baggage from the past that you were not directly party to. But every new relationship is like that, right?!

My problem with it was the writing which felt very amateur. There was nothing technically wrong with it in terms of spelling errors or poor grammar and so on, but it just did not tell the tale well at all, and some of the story seemed so poorly thought-out that it felt like reading indifferent fan fiction.

If you're going to call-up children to do a job that would normally be done by adults, you'd better have a more solid reason for it than simply "Oh she's a special snowflake" and then get all coy about why it's so, and in book two no less. It's just an insult to your reader's intellect, or did you plan on writing only for dumb readers? It's a good question to ask yourself as and author: who are you talking to? And do you really want to talk down to them?

The stakes are higher when the story is a fantasy, especially a religious one, because if you're calling on humans to do a job that a god cannot do and angels cannot handle, then you'd better have a good reason for that too! I know the Bible has countless instances of humans being called on to do a job which God can't handle, but that's a sign of really poor fiction, not of a well-written classic. Just to put it out there - that these kids are needed to fight demons - and offer nothing to support that contention is either empty plotting or the cowardice of hiding behind scores of other poor writers who've employed precisely the same blinkered plot.

The twins had been separated (in volume one) one of them being thought dead, but she was just in Hades evidently, although it's not called that here. Here it has a cutesy hipster term that I prefer to forget. Anyway, her sister discovered where she was and rescued her and now they're back together, but demons are walking the Earth! Or at least the town where they live.

There is a curfew and there are power outages, and these two sixteen-year-olds are so dumb that they let themselves get talked into staying out until dark, which is apparently (and for reasons unexplained at least in the part I read) when demons are loose. Why the demons can't walk during the day is unexplained of course because this novel cowers behind trope. You're expected to swallow all these dumb 'rules', like not crossing running water and being allergic to iron, and so on because it's always done that way! Why would an author strive for originality and to up their game when they can take the road most traveled like everyone else does?

The demons are hunting one of the twins because she's your predictable YA special snowflake although no-one, predictably, will tell her why, not even her angelic best friend, predictably named Raphael. This is one of those tedious stories with all kinds of unnecessary secrecy and poor plotting. If a city was in that bad of a shape, the national guard would have been called out, but no! Everything is going along 'normally' despite the dire crisis, the curfew, and the murders in the streets. This made no sense whatsoever.

It made no sense that one of the twins would be armed with a bamboo pole to fight demons. We're told that bullets cannot kill these demons, but this made no sense either given that the demons were occupying frail human bodies. Why would decapitation work? How do you decapitate with a blunt bamboo pole anyway?

Even were I willing to grant all of that, especially given that I'd not read book one, I can't overlook that it made no sense that the police would not find something highly suspicious in a young, rather frail-looking girl magically decapitating an attacker with a bamboo pole! It made less sense that they would simply nod their heads and say "Oh, okay!" when told the bamboo pole had disappeared. Police are not dumb. They know a lot more than you do, yet far too many authors treat them like they're clueless clowns. For all the faults that police do have, I can't respect an author who depicts all of them as idiots.

It was at the point where Raphael was being all mysterious and for absolutely no reason whatsoever that I could not stand to read another world of this book. There are people no doubt who will whine that you cannot gauge a book after reading only ten percent of it, but that is an outright lie. A book either does it for you from the off, or it doesn't; it's either smartly-written or it isn't. A novel is with worth reading or it's not, and this one simply was not. Life is far too short to waste it on a book that does not launch for you right from the beginning.

This one seemed dedicated to employing great leaps of faith as a substitute for thoughtful writing and solid plotting, and it relied on so much hand-waving to cover plot holes that I could feel a chill from it. To me, that's a sign that you should whack it with a bamboo pole. Intelligent readers deserves a lot better than this. Other readers deserve what they get.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Superb by David F Walker, Sheena C Howard, Ray Anthony Height, Alitha Martinez, Eric Battle


Rating: WORTHY!

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

I didn't like the first one I read in this series. Normally that would be the end of it, but I read a second one without realizing until the end that it was part of the same series, and I liked it. I also liked this one, probably more than any of the previous ones. The artwork was really good, the characters realistic (as comic book super heroes go!), interesting, motivated, and believable, and the writing was very good. I noted a strong female influence not only in the writing, but also in the art, and this can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of a comic.

I really like the way so called minorities are front and center. Minorities are actually the majority of people on the planet, yet they're so poorly served in comics, TV and movies that it's criminal. It was nice to see that balance being redressed without going overboard. It was also nice to see a character with Down Syndrome (aka trisomy 21) included as a major player. The relationship between him (Jonah, aka "Cosmosis"!) and Kayla (aka Amina). and the awesome Abbie, was choice. It really made the story shine for me.

Each individual graphic novel in this set is a sort of origin story, but its not your usual origin tale; it's more of a development story, which to me is more interesting, especially this one. All of the graphic novels I've read so far run in parallel, but there is no repetition. Each story advances the whole, and the only tiresome bit was the last bit which is the same in each comic. Of course you can skip this once you've read it the first time, and it does mean you can start with any comic in the group without having to worry that you missed something because you didn't start with the 'right one'.

In this story Kayla, already aware of her powers and that she's not the only one with them, is trying to keep a low profile, especially since her parents work for the corporation which is trying to capture, intern, and experiment upon those with such powers. Jonah is less retiring. He breaks into the corporate facility to finds out what they're up to, and he barely escapes with his life. Kayla protects him and this is how the two of them team up with Abbie, who is Jonah's friend. Unfortunately, Kayla's desire to live a normal life is seriously compromised, and that's all I'm going to say!

On the negative side, I have to say that this shtick with the powers-that-be coming down hard on the mutants is really reaching saturation point. Marvel has repeatedly done it with X-Men, Inhumans, and Gifted, and it's been done in other graphic novels unrelated to the DC and Marvel stables, including one I reviewed negatively recently. Frankly, it's starting to be boring. It would be nice to see something different.

In terms of this comic, it's hard at this point, despite having read several of them, to see how the foresight corporation got so much power that it can openly act as a paramilitary force and hunt down these people. That felt a little bit much, but maybe it will be explained. Or maybe I missed it in that first volume I read because I was so disappointed in it!

That quibble aside though, I really liked this graphic novel and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Faith and the Future Force by Jody Houser, Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Ulises Arreola


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Now this is the kind of super-hero story I can really get with. I was thrilled by the first one in this series, so I was equally thrilled to have a chance to review another one and see how Faith is doing. She's doing fine and I'm keeping the Faith!

Once again, it's written by Jody Houser, who continues to sprinkle promos for Doctor Who (how can you not love a writer like that?!) as well as toss in other Sci-fi references. As I write this I am patiently counting down the days to the Doctor Who Christmas special, and the change over from the current Doctor who was not my favorite, to a new one who will, for the first time, be female! Squee!

On an unrelated topic, is it just me, or is anyone else amused by the superficial similarity between areola (the ring of color around a nipple, and the name of the colorist? Of course his name apparently derives from the Spanish for horse tack (or a part of horse tack, anyway!) not from coloration, but still! I love words!

This is a time-travel story featuring a time-traveling robot which is intent upon destroying the fabric of time itself. Consequently, we have with Faith being sought by some strange woman who is costumed like a super hero, but who evidently needs Faith's help (and that of a charming assortment of her super friends) to stop this machine. In that regard, it borrows a bit from Pixar's The Incredibles

What I liked about this is that it conveniently side-steps one objection I often find to time-travel stories, especially Doctor Who, who always seems to arrive in media res, which is: why not go back earlier and fix the problem before it starts? In which case there would be no show, so the Doctor always tosses out some patent nonsense about crossing his own time stream which of course he does time after time, especially in New York City where it's supposed to be all but impossible to visit. Hah! How many times has he been there now?

This story solves that problem because the robot is eating time, so they can't go back earlier - it doesn't exist! Double-hah! Faith aka Zephyr, is recruited by Timewalker (not Time Lord!) Neela Sethi several times, each time unaware that she's already been recruited and failed! Why does this keep-on getting repeated? Read it and find out! I recommend this one as a fun, sweet, entertaining, Segovially and Kitsonorously drawn, and areolistically-colored(!) story which is a very worthy read! Keep 'em coming you guys and I'll keep reading 'em!