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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu


Rating: WORTHY!

Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old who has been raised all her life in a Christian cult. I'd argue that all religions are cults, but some are far worse than others. The author apparently rooted this story in what is known as the "Quiver-Full" cult which is merely, from what I can tell, a religious movement that sees children as a blessing from their god and so wants 'their women' to have as many children as possible to the forfeiture of everything else in life.

Whether there are any of the coercive/oppressive elements in that cult that are depicted here, I can't say since I know very little about it, but since (as I understand it) the author did work with some escapees from the cult, then I'm quite willing to take her word for it, knowing how oppressive religion can truly be when it gets its way, and goes unchallenged and unregulated.

Rachel's family is very large, and her mother just had a miscarriage and is not handling it well, feeling like she's a failure for not increasing the tally of her offspring. She retreats to her bed for some considerable time, leaving Rachel, as the oldest unmarried daughter, to step in and assume mom's role in raising her siblings, cooking, cleaning, helping her father run his tree-trimming business, and helping her younger brothers and sisters with their schooling. This starts to wear on her and make her a bit resentful even as she tries to put it into the perspective in which she's been raised: that she's a woman and this is her duty.

Rachel has led a very sheltered existence, although she was not sheltered from the appalling mental abuse. She knows little of the real world, having been taught only that it's a godless, sinful place, so she is very naïve and backward when it comes to life outside her claustrophobic community, even as she shows herself to be a smart and curious young woman.

She's a believer though, and she tries to meet all the expectations put upon her by the Calvary Christian Church: thinking pure thoughts, dressing modestly, obeying parents, being always cheerful, praying, Bible reading, and on and on. The more she feels put upon though, the less she feels like this is what she wants in life, and it scares her that very soon she's going to be married-off to someone and expected to churn out children.

Her only respite from this oppression is her access to her father's computer, ostensibly so she can help him with his accounts, his work schedule, and maintain his website, but really so she can also look up things to educate herself. This is where her 'downfall' begins, because she's aware of a young woman named Lauren who left the community, and is now shunned by it, yet Lauren came back to this small town where Rachel lives. She did not rejoin the religious community however, and Rachel is curious about her.

She starts to focus on Lauren more and more, wondering what happened to her, and why she came back yet did not come back to the fold, and pondering if she might have answers to Rachel's ever-growing list of questions about her own life. Rachel discovers that Lauren has a web site and begins reading her story, eventually emailing her and beginning a hesitant dialog.

Despite her academic smarts, Rachel isn't that smart in other things, and eventually she's found out. Threatened with the horrifying prospect of being sent to the brutal 'Journey of Faith' brainwashing isolation camp, Rachel decides to leave the community, and her escape is made possible by Lauren who immediately comes to her aid. Lauren puts Rachel up in her modest apartment - sleeping on the couch - and Rachel tries to get her life in order.

I did not like the debut novel this author wrote, so I was a bit skeptical of this one, but it sounded interesting. Even as I began reading it, I wasn't sure I would finish it, but it drew me in, and I ended up liking it, despite some issues with it so overall, I recommend it as a worthy read.


Friday, October 6, 2017

The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. It sounded interesting from the blurb: a girl who idolizes Ingrid Bergman growing up in the era of McCarthyism, and from a cloying Catholic background, discovers, hey, guess what? No body is perfect!

Things start coming apart in her perfect life when her idiot parents decide she's subject to bad influences at her prestigious Hollywood school and hypocritically send her to a Catholic girl's school where she's going to be brainwashed that there's a loving, long-suffering god who quite cheerfully condemns people who piss him off to hellish suffering for all eternity. Yep.

Her father is a Hollywood publicist who happens to be in charge of Bergman's account, so when it comes to light that she's having an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and later is having a child by him, the witch-hunt starts, aided and abetted by this same Catholic church which on the one had teaches people to love their neighbor and turn the other cheek, but on the other slaps people it dislikes in the face with a tirade of abuse, recrimination, and rejection. They still do this today. Hypocrites.

The truth is that this 'scandal lasted only four years and Bergman was working for Hollywood studios again. Just four year after that she was presenting an academy award in Hollywood, so this 'end of the world' scenario in which Jessica - the first person narrator - is wallowing is a bit overdone.

Worse than that, it makes Jessica look like a moron that she is so slow to see consequences of actions and how things will play out, despite spending some considerable time with her new best friend at the Catholic school, who knows precisely how things will pan out and spends their friendship trying to educate Jessica, who never seems to learn to shed her blinkers.

I started out not being sure, then starting to like it, then going off it, then warming to it, then completely going off it at about the halfway point when it became clear that Jessica was an idiot and showed no sign of improvement. It;s yet another first person fail, and worse than this, the story is framed as a flashback so the entire story is a flashback apart form current day (that is current day int he story) bookends. I do no like first person, and I do not like flashbacks, so this was a double fail for me, although Erin Spencer did a decent job reading it.

There were some serious writing issues for a seasoned author or a professional editor to let slip by. I read at one point that Jessica was perusing an "Article entitled..." No! There was no entitlement here. The article was titled not entitled! At another point she wrote: "verdant green lawn." Since 'verdant' means green grass, it's tautologous and a good author should know this. 'Verdant lawn' works, as does 'green lawn', but not both! The part of the story where Jessica is required to see Sister Theresa, the head of her school, is larded with heavy-handed foreshadowing. I expect better form an experienced writer.

Jessica wasn't really a likeable person. I read at one point: "he was a year younger and an inch shorter" which made her sound arrogant, elitist, and bigoted. How appalling is it that she should think like this? Too appalling for me. I didn't want to read any more about her, because I didn't care how her life turned out.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks


Rating: WORTHY!

This comic was available online for a short time while it was being created, but now you can only get it from a store or as I did, from my excellent local library. I saw it on the shelf recently, and was immediately attracted to it.

The title was what drew me in. I think it was great and when I looked inside, the story looked pretty entertaining, and it turned out to be exactly that: pretty to look at, and entertaining. It was a fast and fun read, and although there were some issues with the execution, I consider this a worthy read.

Main character Maggie is about to start high school after being home-schooled all her life to this point. Her mom, who schooled her, has up and left the family. This was one issue with the story - there didn't seem to be any real explanation as to why mom left - she just left, everyone accepted it, and no one seems to have any ongoing problem with it. That was weird and underdeveloped, and it made for a noticeable hole in this story. It was one of several. Maggie's dad is the local police chief in this small town (which begs the question as to how it manages to support a large high school!), and his only real involvement in the story is that he has to get his hair cut for his new job.

Taking of weird though, I read one negative review which seemed to be based solely on the odd questions asked of Maggie when she started high school by someone who had no idea what home schooling was all about and so was asking really dumb and ignorant questions. Having been home-schooled herself, this reviewer then made the same mistake the fictional character made, but approaching the issue ignorantly. She took this personally and ranted on and on about it! She simply did not get is that this was fictional - that it was not a prescription for behavior, or a how-to manual! It's simply a fictional tale which feature, briefly, some dumb kid asking dumb questions.

What the reviewer didn't get was that there are, in real life, dumb people who ask dumb questions, or ignorant people who ask inappropriate questions in their ignorance - people whose mind isn't broad enough to encompass something outside of the cozy rut they are in. In downgrading a novel for depicting real life, this reviewer showed that she, too, is in the same kind of blinkered rut that the fictional character had occupied. I found this amusing and those criticisms invalid.

Maggie has several brothers, two of which are twins who seem to be fighting with each other more than ever before, since one of them seems to be seeking some sort of independence or differentiation from his twin, whereas the other seems fine with the way things are. She has an older brother who keeps a watchful eye on her, but in general, her brothers leave her to find her own way through high school, just as they had to when they started school.

Maggie's biggest problem though, is that she's led a very sheltered life and knows no one at this school except for her brothers, whom she now sees have all kinds of friends, including many female ones. She soon partners up with a female friend of her own named Lucy who has a partially-shaven head (for fashion, not from some medical condition). Lucy has a brother, Alastair, and the two are very close (and very close shaven), but Alastair seems not to be liked by Maggie's own brothers. This is made out to be rooted in some big bad secret: that Alastair is a bad person, but this was another plot problem: when the reveal comes, it's really nothing at all, so this set-up fell flat.

The third issue was the ghost. Maggie sees this ghost of a woman in the cemetery, and the ghost comes and looks at her face to face, but it never says a thing to her no matter what she says to it. Maggie cannot figure out what it wants, and that's how the story ends: the ghost drifts off down a cemetery pathway and disappears, and we never do find out what it wanted or why it was haunting Maggie. This was a disaster.

That aside though, the story itself was fun overall, and interesting, and it featured a lot of idiosyncratic activity and events which amused me greatly. So overall, and despite three big issues, this writer/illustrator of this black and white line-drawing comic still managed to make me rate this as a worthy read! See? It can be done!


Mis(h)adra by Iasmin Omar Ata


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Based on her own experiences as someone who endures epilepsy, this graphic novel tells the story of Isaac, an Arab-American student struggling with trying to get a college education while coping with the disruptive effect of epilepsy in his life. He's not doing very well, but he has an underlying current of hope, which keeps him moving towards a brighter future - and not one that's made bright merely from a pre-seizure aura.

The story is intriguingly done through the use of visual metaphor (as well as in the text), and often in the very graphic form of scimitars all directed at poor Isaac. The despair and exhaustion he suffers from constantly being at risk of a seizure, and from his inability to get even his own father to believe him when he talks about his problem, is palpable in this story. It's almost despairing and exhausting to read it.

At times you want to shake him out of his lethargy and inertia, but at the same time you realize this is such a knee-jerk response that you want to slap yourself. It's at that crux that you realize how debilitating this is; it's not that Isaac is stupid, or lazy, or incompetent, it's that this illness has such a crippling hold on him that he's all-but paralyzed by it.

Most of us tend to associate seizures with flashing lights as depicted in the Michael Crichton novel The Andromeda Strain but this is an ignorant view which completely neglects the serious role that less specific preconditions such as tiredness and stress, inter alia, play in triggering a seizure - and the danger of harboring a narrow definition of 'seizure' is also brought to light. A friend of Isaac's lectures him about letting his friends help instead of shutting them out, and this straight-talk marks a turning point in his life.

This was a moving story, a fiction, but based on real truths, and it was illustrated with startling colors and bold depictions. I liked it and I recommend it, and I would definitely look for future novels from this author.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

Jane Austen is batting a .6 with me at this stage. I really liked Pride and Prejudice, not so much Emma or Sense and Sensibility, but then I enjoyed Lady Susan and I loved Northanger Abbey! What a lot of people do not seem to get about this novel is that Jane wrote it when she was just 28, and still very much a playful youngster in many ways. It was her first real novel that we know of, but it was put aside as she worked on others. Though she began re-writing it later in life when she was more than a decade older, she died before she could finish it.

The story revolves around Catherine Morland, in her late teens, and fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Bath (evidently one of Austen's favorite locales) by the Allen family. It's there that she meets two men, the thoroughly detestable James Thorpe, and the delightful Henry Tilney. While Thorpe pursues the naïvely oblivious Catherine, she finds herself very interested in Henry and his sister Eleanor.

In parallel, James has a sister Isabella. They are the children of Mrs Allen's school friend Mrs Thorpe, and Catherine feels quite happy to be befriended by Isabella who seems to be interested in Catherine's brother John - that is until she discovers he has no money when she, like Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility, transfers her affection to the older brother - in this case, of Henry Tilney. Captain Tilney, not to be confused with his father, General Tilney, is only interested in bedding Isabella, who is in the final analysis every bit the ingénue that Catherine is. Once he's had his wicked way with the girl, she is of no further interest to him whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Catherine manages to get an invitation to Northanger, the Tilney residence. Catherine is a huge fan of Gothic novels, and Ann Radcliffe's potboiler, The Mysteries of Udolpho is mentioned often. Arriving at Northanger, she is expecting a haunted castle with secret passages, but everything turns out to be mundane - the locked chest contains nothing more exciting than a shopping list, and General Tilney did not murder his wife.

Henry Tilney is a lot less miffed with Catherine in the book than he was depicted as being in the 2007 movie starring the exquisite Felicity Jones and the exemplary JJ Feild, but as also in the movie, the novel depicts a lighter, happier time with General Tilney absent, but when he returns, he makes Eleanor kick Catherine out the next morning to travel home the seventy miles alone, which was shocking and even scandalous for the time, but by this time Catherine has matured enough that she's equal to the burden.

It turns out that the thoroughly James Thorpe (much roe so in the novel than in the movie), who had been unreasonably assuming Catherine would marry him, only to be set straight by her, has lied to General Tilney about her, and whereas the latter had been led initially to believe that she was all-but an heiress, he now believes her to be pretty much a pauper and a liar.

Henry bless him, defies his father and makes sure that Catherine knows (as does Darcy with Lizzie!), that his affections have not changed which (as was the case with Lizzie). This pleases Catherine immensely. Despite initially cutting-off his son, General Tilney later relents, especially when he realizes that Catherine has been misrepresented by Thorpe.

There are a lot of parallels in this book with the later-written Pride and Prejudice. You can see them in the dissolute soldier (Captain Tiney v. Wickham), the rich suitor (Tilney v Darcy), the break and remake between the two lovers, the frivolous young girls (Isabella v. Lydia) and so on. Maybe Northanger Abbey is, in a way, a dry-run for the later and better loved novel, but I think that Northanger Abbey stands on its own. I liked it because it seems to reveal a younger and more delightfully playful author than do her later works. I dearly wish there had been more novels from Austen from this era. She could have shown today's YA authors a thing or two, but I shall be content with this on treasure.


Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, John Green


Rating: WORTHY!

There seem to be an awful lot of reviewers (even positive ones) who simply didn't get this book. It was a parody, and on top of that, it was gorgeously illustrated and on top of that, it was funny.

The stories were off the wall, but were also played for serious effect even as humor came squeezing through at every tack. Frankly, this is something and I might have launched in all seriousness to get my kids going and make them think their dad is really losing it - as they accuse me of so often (especially after I released Baker Street), but these guys (Dave Roman writer, John Green - not the John Green who makes me barf - artist) actually produced it. It's about this teenage guy who can turn into a boat! It was pretty funny, and consistently so through every story.

This foreign exchange student comes to the school and her name is Nina Pinta Santa Maria. Teen Boat (his actual name) falls for her, but she only has eyes for the school jock, who is a jerk of course. Teen has a best friend, a girl named Joey, whom he takes completely for granted. He is so oblivious of her that it's truly funny rather than annoying, although it does make me wonder why she puts up with him.

But then Joey has a secret of her own which isn't revealed in this volume. One of my sons, who seems to have inherited my wife's power to divine these things long before I ever do, thinks she's secretly an iceberg, and I'm on board with that. She's definitely a cool character.

Teen Boat runs for class president, falls in love with a Gondola, crashes into a gas tanker on his driving test, and has a run in with pirates, and therein a sequel lies! One which I shall track down ASAP and hopefully find it on sail..... If not, I may well end-up on the dock before the judge and be propelled with a stern warning into the brig for failing to bow! If looks could keel!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Erratum: "A had on Xander's knee" about 79% in should read, I think, "A Hand on Xander's knee".

This was one of the most engaging and beautifully-written novels I've ever read. I was sucked in from the start and swept along with it effortlessly. There were times that I hated to have to stop reading to get back to real life because this was more interesting! But you know it was better that way because this novel was such a tease in so many ways that by denying myself the chance to read it all in one go, I felt I shared a little something with the two main characters.

Skylar Stone is the proverbial 'born with a silver spoon in his mouth' (except that it's more complex than that), and that spoon was a very cold and uncomfortable one. Nevertheless he pressed on in life and was doing well, being both extremely popular and much sought-after as an escort to various functions by campus coeds, but he's living solely to please his father, the chill, efficient, lawyer who wants Skylar, essentially, to become a clone of him, and join his law firm - after he gets accepted to Yale Law college and graduates, of course. Therein lies the problem, because Skylar isn't scoring well on his LSAT test papers and is being tutored with little good result. His heart just isn't in it, but he's in denial about that so desperate is he to keep his father happy.

The aptly-named Xander Fairchild, on the other hand, or more accurately, on the same hand, since he's also alienated from his parents but for different reasons, is almost the polar opposite of Skylar, because he is the eponymous recluse, cantankerous and unaccommodating. He wants to do the bare minimum when it comes to interacting with others, but he has to put on an art show to graduate. The two meet almost accidentally but not quite and slowly, both come to realize they both need each other to finish their senior year projects.

This need, at first purely utilitarian, and at first resented intensely and predictably by Xander, develops into something much more personal over time as they discover that there is something more going on here than helping each other out. They're also each helping to meet a need in the other, and it;s one that one of them resented and the other barely recognized he had.

This romance comes about as the most teasing and taunting of slow-burns, and it's a real pleasure to read because you're never quite sure what will happen next. I could list more than a few YA writers who need to read this and learn from it about how real relationships begin, develop, and grow to fruition.

Note that while this author likes happy endings, she certainly doesn't like ones loaded with sugar, so if you've been getting force-fed a debilitating diet of too much sugar and fat with your reads lately, this healthy nutritional blend of wholesome writing and fiber-filled characters should please you immensely. It did me. I recommend it unreservedly. I will be looking for more novels by this author (and secretly hoping she might be contemplating writing one about one of the characters featured in this one: Zelda! I just know they have a story to tell!).


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mind Games by Kiersten White


Rating: WARTY!

I made it through only two chapters of this. I picked it up from the library based indirectly on the recommendation of a Goodreads 'friend'. It's not the book that was recommended, but it is by the same author, so I thought I'd get a preview of her work.

This book was dual first person, which means that it's twice as bad as a regular first person voice book, and both voices: the psychic girl and her blind younger sister who is held in captive, thereby keeping her older sister in servitude, sounded both the same, and neither was remotely interesting.

I simply did not care what they were about or what would happen to them, and so I ditched it. Life is far too short to waste on a poorly written series, or an idiotic YA trilogy, or on any single book which doesn't grip you from the off, when there is so much else to read, all different (hopefully) and amongst which are undoubtedly some gems to treasure!


A Jot of Blood by Katherine Bayless


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Don't confuse this author's name with that of dancer Katherine Bailess!

If I'd really been paying attention and properly noted that this was the start of a series (The Coventry Years), I probably would not have requested to review it. I am not a fan of series. Once in a while one comes along that is worth pursuing and I had hoped this would be one, but in general series are very derivative, unimaginative, and often tediously and unnecessarily drawn-out, as this was. Plus it's in first person because, as you must know, it's quite illegal in North America to write a YA novel in any other voice....

I was initially curious about this though, which is why I requested it, but my curiosity was squelched at only five percent in, when I wanted to ditch this thing because of the tired YA clichés with which it was larded. By fifteen percent it was honestly nauseating me because I have read this same sad, stupefyingly simplistic story a score of times, and this author had brought nothing new to it.

It's like there is a certain category of YA author which is devoted to cloning every other YA author, and that's not for me. Maybe there are readers who like that kind of thing, but if there are, I feel bad for them for being in such a rut. I look for the authors who prefer the read less traveled, and who try to bring something original and unique to their audience. OTOH, if you want the same old, warmed-over fare you already were force-fed in the last YA novel you picked up, then this might be for you.

The cloning (such as using Vampire Academy's 'strigoi' liberally, for example), the trope, such as the incipient love triangle, the instadore in Lire's pathetic mooning over Cal, and the truly pathetic main character herself really turned me off. I made it to the end of chapter ten, which was 47% in, and could not bear the thought of reading any further, let alone going through a whole series of this.

It's supposed to be about upper high school kids, but it felt like reading a lower middle-grade story, because these people were so immature and petty. The main character - with the highly unlikely name of Clotilde Devon - goes by 'Lire' for reasons I never understood. The nickname is pronounced 'Leer'. I can understand that.

The Goodreads blurb read, in part, "Adolescence is hard enough, but add magic to the mix and things have a way of getting complicated in a hurry. Even at Coventry Academy, one of the best schools in the world for the magically inclined, some 'gifts' mean nothing but trouble." I didn't get how this was supposed to be the best school. There was nothing in the first fifty percent of the story to indicate that.

Quite the contrary; it seemed like any ordinary high school, but with far more bullying than any ordinary high school would have. The oddest thing though, was that it was so ordinary. Unlike at Hogwarts for example, there were no magical lessons taught here - not even how to control or use your particular skill. That seemed extraordinarily strange (and not Stephen Strange!) to me, so where the 'add magic to the mix' came in is a complete mystery. There was none practiced here.

One reviewer who reviewed this negatively said that "Cal wasn't a typical twilight werewolf", but he was. There was literally nothing new here at all. Cal is your typical trope werewolf and Zach is your typical standard-issue buddy (but more obnoxious). Let's call them what they are: Clone-Wolf and Yuk. Neither of them were remotely interesting except in how obnoxious they were, immediately and repeatedly calling Lire 'princess' for no apparent reason, and randomly tugging on her ponytail again and again for no apparent reason. Lire is such a passive, wet rag that she had can find absolutely no objection to this treatment whatsoever.

Of course Cal is obnoxious towards Lire so she immediately falls for him, and from that point onward, quite literally every other page has an observation from Lire on how muscular he is, how attractive he is, or how good he looks in this outfit or that, or how he couldn't possibly be interested in her. Oh my but how attractive is he? How muscular! How cut and ripped and [insert other destructive adjective perversely intended to indicate perfection] he is! Here's an example: "My heart fluttered, and I immediately wanted to kick myself for it. I wasn't a damsel in distress. I could take care of myself." No, she can't. She's proven this repeatedly by this point, so she's not even honest with herself. Maybe her nickname is really 'Liar'?

This is the asinine love triangle we're presented with, even though there's absolutely no reason whatsoever for Clone-Wolf and Yuk to pal up with her. Of course they do, not because it was going to naturally happen, but because the author insists that it has to happen no matter what.

The bullying in this school is so extreme as to be completely absurd If this had been a parody, it would have been funny, but as it his, quite literally everyone in the school (except for newcomers Clone and Yuk of course) detests Lire. I am not kidding you. She's a complete pariah and she lets us know this routinely, and in first person voice! Frankly, I would have shunned her because she was so nauseatingly whiny, Who cares if she's a clairvoyant? Shes actually more like a bifocal-voyant because she can only whine endlessly about her treatment, or drool endlessly over cal. That's it. That's her entire repertoire.

The Net Galley blurb tells us: "The contents of this book include one surly werewolf, a snarky invisible prankster, and enough indelicate language to make a succubus blush." Really? Indelicate language? No there's none, unless you class "fricking" as indelicate. In short, it's totally unrealistic, No kid in this entire school actually swears, which I took as more evidence that it was aimed at a middle-grade audience.

The writing is often as obnoxious as the characters. There's fat-shaming at merely 2% in: "He'd been three years older and a big fat jerk." Maybe that wasn't meant to be literal, but it was also entirely unnecessary. Lire is supposed to be attending an elite academy and this is the best she can to to express herself? That remedial English level of expression was common. Lire was obnoxious in coming up with an abusive name, on the spot, for anyone she did not like, often in the form of a truly juvenile Mr Mcfartypants (that wasn't one but it's of precisely the same mentality - again, it's middle-grade material). Lire even chortles at one point! No, I am not kidding.

The French! Periodically we got a French lesson with the French phrase followed immediately by the English translation (for example: "Bon, tu m'as compris. Alors, tiens, elles sont à toi." Good, you get me. So, here, they are yours). It was tedious, and especially so for those of us who understand enough French to get the sense of the phrase. Even those who do not, do not need it monotonously and literally spelled out every single time. There are better ways of handling this, and this author seriously needs to find them.

The writing was bad in other ways, such as when I read this: "Total invisibility, including their shadow." Seriously? There are different ways of being invisible, of course, but in a paranormal novel lie this, where it quite literally meant that the character was invisible, of course there's no shadow! How can there be a shadow when there's nothing to block the light? Clearly this concept was sorely lacking some thinking-through.

Another example of poor writing was this: "The car rocked as Dad executed a three-point U-turn. What the...frick (to employ an indelicate word from the book!) is a three-point U-turn? It's either a U-turn or it's a three point turn. It's not both.

Oh, and Lire's two paramours can move at super-speed. This is their secret power. She leaves the cafeteria shortly after they do, all-but sprints to her class, and they still get there before her, and early enough to cause trouble before she arrives. Again, it's not thought through.

This was the problem with this whole book when you get down to it. It could have had the makings of a good story but to get there from here, you'd need to make a 3 point U-turn - the three points being to ditch Lire, Clone, and Yuk. And lose the first person voice. Or give it to a character who would be worth listening to, and who was a whole lot less whiny. Amanda, for example. Now there was an interesting character although the author did a lousy job of giving her any rationale for her behavior.

As it is, this novel is not a worthy read and I cannot recommend it.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn


Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"I didn't want to your friend..." To be or not to be?! That is the question! I think it should have been "to be your friend."

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

I really wanted to like this book but I could not. It was so negatively-written and it went on and on for so very long, with an unremitting aura of sadness and defeat about it, that I do not think it appropriate for the middle-grade audience for which it appears to have been written. It seems more like a young-adult novel, but it's not a good recommendation even for that group. I think if it had been about half- or two-thirds the length, and had some upbeats added here and there to leaven a dour, unremitting funereal drumbeat of poison and tragedy, it would have been much improved. As it was, it made the 1998 movie Heathers look like a Care Bears story, and that is really too much.

There were two main characters: Annie and Elsie, and there was very little to like about either of them. Annie was glommed onto by Elsie when she changed her school. Elsie is thoroughly unlikable from start to finish and her behavior seems to make little sense at times. Se literally had no saving graces whatsoever.

We get hints here and there of a sad past, but this is never shared with the reader, which I think was a mistake since it left us with no choice but to assume that Elsie was simply a liar on top of all her other defects, but even had it been true, and even had it been a thoroughly tragic past, it would have failed to make her any more likable because she was more caricature than character.

Annie was a different kettle of go-fish and was portrayed as the victim (and not in a good way) throughout this whole story. She never learned anything, never changed, never grew, and never improved. She did not make things happen; she had things happen to her and did not even react to them except to let them carry her away in the Elsie tide, and she never even tried to swim against the current. Such a helpless maiden-in-distress was she that she had to be rescued in the end in a way which was telegraphed from way ahead of the event. She was such a limp worthless character that it was impossible to like her either.

The story is one of relentless bullying, brutality and cruelty, and all of this is from the hands of these young girls, who seem wholly out of character for the era in which they are depicted. Rosie and her allies detest Elsie, and it's not unjustified. They start hating Annie because Elsie has 'captured' her first, but when Annie sees how awful Elsie is, she sides with the other girls, and rightly so. I'm sorry, but it's impossible to feel any sort of sympathy for Elsie.

The sad thing is that despite all this abuse going on, not one single adult ever steps up to enforce discipline, not even Annie's parents. The adults are so bland and vaguely constructed that there is no difference between any of them and for all they contribute, they could have been dispensed with completely and the story would have remained largely unchanged.

What happens is that, since this is set in the 1918-1919 era of the flu pandemic, Elsie dies, and comes back to haunt Annie, making her do vengeful things which eventually land her in a home that is one step shy of an asylum. Elsie follows her there, making her situation worse, but no matter what Annie does, Elie's behavior never changes. It makes no sense! Not that Annie really does anything save whine about her lot in life, and since this is written in first person, it makes for a very tedious read. I kept on reading in hopes of a turn-around or at least an improvement, but there was none to be found here.

Annie is a completely unmotivated character who is blown about in Elsie's wind. At the risk of a spoiler, she is not the only one affected by Elsie, but we learn of this only in a passing sentence or two at the end. I think the story would have been immeasurably improved if the other stories had been told, but this monotonous focus on Annie and Elsie, which essentially goes nowhere for three hundred pages, is too much. Everything is resolved in the end, but there is no build up to it. It takes place literally in the space of a half-dozen pages at the end and so is rather abrupt. perhaps the author herself grew tired of how this was dragging itself out?

There was a good story to be told here, but we did no get it. The author found the root of this story in something her own mother, who lived through the pandemic, told her about how she and some friends would 'pay their respects' at wakes (which were held in family homes back then) so they could grab some free drinks and food, but they were scared out of this behavior when they attended one at which they soon learned that the deceased's body was that of a schoolmate of theirs: a girl they did not know had died. There is a different, interesting story right there to tell, but again that's not the one we got.

Everything is spaced out in this book, including the text and margins. If the margins had been smaller, and the lines of print slightly closer together the book could have been maybe fifty or more pages shorter and a few trees saved. Again, that's not what we got. Once more I have to beg a publisher to consider what they are doing to the trees when they format a book as liberally as this. There are better ways. In an ebook, which is what I got for this review, there are no trees harmed, of course, but a longer book still takes more transmission time over the Internet and that requires the use of more energy, so again, a longer book is less kind to the environment.

I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this read.






Sunday, August 27, 2017

But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was a complete fail for me. It was not even a hot mess - it was a cold and poorly congealed mess which had no plot. The blurb tells us that "Eden is the only person who can get through to Jasmine, but is she brave enough to face a world that’s bigger and more magical than she ever would have allowed?"

I hate blurbs that ask the question which everyone in the entire universe, even non-sentient species, already knows the answer to: will she succeed in reclaiming her love? Of course she will. Will he get his man? Of course he will. Can the kid escape the evil villain's clutches? Of course the kid can. Why ask such dumb questions? Publishers in general just don't seem to get it: they continue to insult potential readers with lousy covers that have nothing to do with the story and with dumb questions in the blurbs. The flowers were not even roses. Publishers need to insist that the cover designer actually reads the freaking book before they start work. Please, publishers: treat us with some respect. We do not have to read your book. There are literally millions out there to read, so please be honest about the book, use a cover that actually has something to do with the story, and don't ask ridiculously juvenile questions in the blurb. It's tiresome, and we deserve better than that.

Questions like that tell me that whoever wrote the blurb thinks that potential readers of this story are gullible at best, and complete dumb-asses at worst. This is the very last book I shall ever request that has such a question in the blurb; I don't care how attractive a read it sounds. I shall avoid such books on pure principle in future, but funnily enough, that wasn't even the biggest problem with this blurb!

This book is the second in a loosely-connected series. I did not know this at the time I requested it, otherwise I would have bypassed it completely. I am not a series fan, but fortunately this read as a stand-alone. The only reason I went against my better judgment and requested it is that I discounted the "Hey dumb-ass listen to this!" blurb because I thought there would be a worthwhile underlying story: 17-year-old Eden Jones, herself fresh out of a short coma, is the only hope of reaching Jasmine, aka Jaz, aka Vasquez, as Eden names her, after the kick-ass woman in the Aliens movie.

I though it would make for a great story to have one ex-coma victim trying to reach another even if there were some supernatural elements, but the author all-but completely abandoned that idea in the pointless pursuit of yet another juvenile YA absurdist "love" story. Eden could have been such a strong character, but instead of that we got, once again, a female author of a YA story turning her lead female into a limp wet rag of a love-struck juvenile chasing Joe, Jasmin's best friend, like a bitch in heat. I've seen this exact same story a score of times before and it always makes me nauseous and it make me ditch the novel immediately as I did this one. Can YA authors not find anything original to say? If not, quit writing.

The saddest thing about this is that no one actually cared about Jasmin, a character who had been built up in Eden's mind at least, to be heroic, bad-ass, and worth learning more about. The more we learned about her the more interested I became, but Eden and Joe abandoned her in short order, so they could flirt and kiss, and smoke cigarettes. Yeah. Smoking In a YA novel. Smoking is bad for you and for those around you, and I know people do it in real life, but that does not mean that we, as writers, need to give it cachet.

And while all this was going on, Jasmin was about to have the plug pulled on her, yet nowhere do we see any sense or compassion or urgency from Eden or worse, from Joe. They came across as shallow and selfish. He refuses to let them pull the plug, but he seems completely unmotivated when it comes to even exploring, let alone finding a way out of this for Jasmin. She was completely subjugated to their own juvenile "romance".

At that point I began skimming the book to see if the blurb had lied completely and it pretty much had. It was once again bait and switch, because I skimmed a whole bunch more pages after the halfway point, and all the two of them did was talk about contacting Jasmin, visit a psychic, smoke cigarettes, and flirt and kiss. No. Just no. These people were boring and simply not worth reading about. There was nothing new here, nothing different, nothing worth pursuing. I cannot recommend it.


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd


Rating: WARTY!

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

Other than the language being rather too modern, there was nothing overtly wrong with the technical writing of this story other than the usual issues with Amazon's crappy Kindle app mangling the formatting. Publishers need to quit using Kindle format and go with Nook format or with PDF. I detest Microsoft but even Word format is better than Kindle.

My problem with it was the introduction of a farcical and completely fictional relationship with a slave. That sounds racist on the face of it and I certainly do not feel qualified to compete with the President on that score, but this story was set in 1739 in South Carolina (just five hundred miles from the source of presidential shame!), so hopefully you can see the problems arising already.

The problem isn’t even the relationship with the slave per se, but the fact that this story is about a real-life person who had no such relationship. To put it baldly, the author is lying to us about what this woman did. I know, all authors of fiction are liars! It’s at the very heart of what such writers do, but here, there is no reason at all to justify willfully entering this pitfall, and there are clear and valid reasons to avoid it.

Elizabeth Lucas, who went by Eliza, and later by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, was a far-sighted, pioneering, and successful businesswoman who succeeded when it was almost entirely unknown for a woman, and especially not a teenager, to be in charge of not one, but three plantations, let alone flourish in those circumstances.

Eliza did marry someone she loved, yet this author cheapens even that real romance by putting it on the back burner while she turns her main character into a sleazy stalker, chasing a guy named (when she knew him as a child) Benoit Fortune, and then by Ben Cromwell as a grown man. The "relationship" ends not when Eliza starts acting in character, but only when the author kills off Ben (based on a real historical event when a slave drowns after a boat sinks).

This whole affair simply defies credibility not only from what this author herself writes, but from what I’ve read about the real Eliza. To suggest that she would have behaved in this way towards any man - regardless of who he was and whether he was black or white or anywhere in between - is farcical. Way to besmirch an upstanding woman with a storied list of accomplishments!

It beggars belief that a female author would do this to a female character, but it happens all the time in YA literature, and here it is again. In making this grave mistake, the author cheapens a very real life which needs no ornamentation to be outstanding, yet in true tradition amongst young adult authors, we have yet another main female character being hobbled in fiction with the asinine "need" to be validated by a man. Eliza Lucas deserves a far better tribute than to have her entire life wiped out like this and that’s why I do not consider this novel to be a worthy read.

The story is arguably racist too, since of the three people who betray Eliza (yet more fiction it has to be said), two of them are black, and both of those were deliberately invented as far as I could tell, purely for the sake of having them betray Eliza!

The real life Eliza was sixteen when her father (in the British Army and with ambitions of becoming governor) returned to Antigua, where Eliza was born. Since Eliza’s mother was rather sickly (in more ways than one as depicted here), and since he had no older male children, he left the rest of his family behind in South Carolina, with Eliza in charge of his holdings, and she did a sterling job.

When other planters were focused on rice (this was before cotton became a staple - ironically it was the year Eliza died, 1793, that the cotton gin was invented and cotton replaced both rice and indigo as the 'slave crop' of choice), Eliza recalled the indigo plants of her childhood years. Obtaining seeds (and later producing her own seed crop) and experimenting over the next several years, she and her enslaved workers succeeded in showing that indigo could be produced at a profit. From there on out, production and sales sky-rocketed. Until those cotton-pickin' bales killed it all.

Eliza married her neighbor Charles Pinckney when his own wife died, not caring that he was several years older than she. This was the real romance, and they raised children together, descendants of whom live on today. That’s the real story and why the author felt that real and true story lacking, to the point where she needed to screw it up 'Mandingo style' remains a mystery. I’d recommend reading a biography rather than this disrespectful, sensationalist, and insulting fiction which I cannot recommend.


Friday, August 4, 2017

My Dead Girlfriend: Vol 1 by Eric Wight


Rating: WORTHY!

Another graphic novel with a weird-ass title! How could I not?!

In this one, Finney Bleak's outlook on life is...well...bleak. All of his relatives died unusual deaths and usually early ones, so he feels he has nothing to look forward to, especially when he's abandoned by mom in a cemetery of all places. He's raised by ghosts who already have ghost daughters named April, May, and June, and of course he attends high-ghoul. While surviving Salamander Mugwart (one of the local witches named Glindas), and growing healthily with the aid of ghost mom & dad, Finney eventually falls for a girl named Jenny Wraith, but she fails to show up for their second date!

Finney thinks she didn't like him. He doesn't learn that she was on her way to see him when she fell down a well and died. He discovers this much later when ghost Jenny shows up at his cemetery, announcing she has been his guardian angel for some time. Now wants to resume their relationship rather than see him take off with another girl!

Initially, he thinks there can be nothing between a body and his incorporeal love, but when she leads him in (cor!) real love, he gets with the program! Great story, interesting graphics, and a fun read. I recommend it. Note that despite being titled Volume 1 A Tryst of Fate, there are no other volumes - kind of like Mel Brooks's History of the World, Pt 1.




Thursday, August 3, 2017

Girls & Panzer by Ryohichi Saitaniya


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Greg Moore, this was another quirky graphic novel from Japan, which has elements in common with Tank Girl. I couldn't not pick this up from the library shelf with a title like this! Japanese schoolgirls in their sailor outfits driving humongous and obsolete tanks from World War Two?! Competing against other schools in an all-out war? No injuries??

It was weird but oddly compelling. Miho Nishizumi is a new transfer student to Ooarai All-Girls High School. She had departed a previous school where she was involved in "tankery" as this activity is amusingly referred to. She had a falling out with her older sister and left on somewhat bitter terms. She evidently is looking for a quiet academic life, but she's denied it! Her new school is reinstituting its tankery program, and because of her experience, Miho is drafted into putting together a tankery team for an upcoming national contest.

With some oddball teammates, and a limited selection of tanks, Miho has her work cut out for her, but she wins through in the end. The story was amusing, but I'm not sure if I want to pursue it beyond this volume. I think there is only so many tank battles I can stand to watch, especially since it was rather confusing at times. The bulk of this graphic novel was black and white line drawings, and the characters looked very much alike, so there was very little in the way of distinction not only between the two teams but also between the members on the same team, and parts of this were hard to follow, for me at least.

Overall, though, I consider this to be a worthy read. It was fun and feisty, and I will perhaps dip into another volume at some point. What's not to like about girls with tanks?!


A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an interesting story about a school bully and a deaf girl. Shoya's problem is boredom, but instead of finding benign ways to deal with it, he resorts to destructive ones - picking on other children and doing dangerous stunts like jumping off bridges. Shoko is a girl who is deaf, and consequently her speech is impaired. She is new to Shoya's school, and she communicates by writing in a notebook, and encouraging others to use it to write questions to her.

Shoya immediately starts picking on her because she is such an easy target for him, especially since she has such an accepting and friendly disposition, and she never retaliates. His behavior is abominable, but the thing is that very few people in the class treat Shoko with respect and consideration, not even other girls. Shoya's behavior is the worst though, and even as his friend start deserting him and abandoning their juvenile practices as they mature and pursue academic interests more studiously, he never does.

Inevitably, Shoya goes too far and Shoko quits the school. Several years later, they meet again. This meeting is where the story begins. All the rest is flashback, and since this is a series, the story is never resolved in this one volume. On the one hand this is why I detest series as a general rule, and why I dislike flashbacks. On the other, this series - at least this introductory volume of it, was not so bad. The art was a bit too manga for my taste, but on the whole, not bad, and the writing was enjoyable, but all this can ever be is a prologue. I detest prologues!

So while I may or may not pursue this series, I did enjoy this one volume despite my reservations about such efforts, so I recommend it, and I may well get into volume two as time and opportunity permit.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fated by Alyson Noël


Rating: WARTY!

This YA novel should have been titled Ill-fated. It was at least different in that it's about a young female who is on a film shoot in Morocco instead of your usual bratty, or ditzy or sappy high school student and her ridiculous love triangle with the sweet best friend and the new bad boy. Barf. I appreciated that, but the problem is that it soon deteriorated into a clone of every other young adult first person female character novel. Are there no female authors out there writing YA female characters that can actually think for themselves and come up with something original?

I know there are a few - people who are not mindlessly copying very other YA writer and coming out with vomit-inducing bullshit like this:

I shove through the crowd, knocking into girls and bouncing off boys, until one in particular catches me, steadies me.
I feel so secure, so at home in his arms.
I melt against his chest-lift my gaze to meet his. Gasping when I stare into a pair of icy blue eyes banded by brilliant flecks of gold

Yes, it was first person. That's a negative for me ninety nine times out of ten.

But there it is! The inevitable gold flecks in the eyes. If I've read this description of the main male character in a YA novel once, I've read it ten billion, trillion, quadrillion times. That, right there, that alone should be sufficient reason these days to negatively rate a YA novel, and I think from now on I shall make it an automatic negative review for any book I read that contains this asinine cliché of a trope.

And I haven't even started yet on the appallingly abusive habit of these female writers have of rendering their female characters as mere appendages of some manly male lead.

What is wrong with these authors? Do they not have a brain, or do they have one and simply chose to turn it off when they write? Or are they so desperate to sell a book and so lacking in standards that even though they know perfectly well how pathetic it is, they compulsively write a clone of every other YA writer's book - and make series and trilogies out of them because this is what Big Publishing™ demands these days? Just how spineless and incompetent are these YA cloning authors?

Maybe the problem isn't the writers except in that the writers are pandering to a sad readership whose standards are so low they'll read anything from the YA landfill? I read in another reviewer's assessment that at one point, "...despite Daire's protests, Dace is kissing her and has his hands up her shirt. Is this really okay?" I have to tell you that no, it is not okay. It is NEVER okay. Believe it or not, Dace is supposed to be the good guy, and it's an awful abuse of young women to write trash like this.

Alyson Noël and her publisher need to publicly apologize for putting this crap out on the market unless they can demonstrate some important and overriding purpose for it. Again, this alone is sufficient reason to rate this book as garbage - like I needed another one! What's that, four strikes against it already? Reading comments like that one in other reviews makes me glad I ditched both this book and also this author DNF. I'm done reading her inexcusable, sloppily-written, stereotypical, trope-laden, clichéd crap.

I know there are a few good YA writers because I've read the work of some of them. My question is: why are they so very hard to find? Why are so many YA writers such pathetic plagiarists that such a limited number of them can come up with original ideas and original characters and the rest have to essentially steal - or perhaps more charitably, share - their characters in a bland pool with every other female YA writer in a trashy, first-person voice, limp, clingy, female desperately in need of salvation and validation by the gold-flecked male in novels which are indistinguishable from one another because they all tell the same story with barely a twist here and there to differentiate them?

This story begins with Daire Santos. Yes, 'dare' - could it be any more pathetic? She seems to be of Latinx roots, yet exhibits little of them not only in her name but in her entire personality. She experiences a horrible vision of bad things happening. She evidently passes out from this and wakes up to find herself restrained in a bed, with mother there and a doctor on the way because they all think she's had some sort of a psychotic episode. She's quickly bundled-off to stay with her grandmother, Paloma, since Daire-to-be-the-same finds that the least objectionable alternative to being sent to a psychiatric institution, which is her mother Jennika's only other offer. Yes, Jennika - no Latin influence there either.

Here's a third reason: the idea of a modern female character - especially one who has the confidence of hanging around with actors (I had thought Daire herself was an actor originally, but apparently she was only there because her mother is a make-up artist in the movie business) - revisiting the historical but obsolete "traditional female role" of screaming and hysteria, is growing old fast, which is ironic, because the story didn't move fast at all. It's lethargic.

Almost literally nothing happens in this entire volume from what I've seen myself, and from what I've read of others' reviews. And why should it? This isn't a novel. At best it's a prologue; at worst, a preface or an author's note. I don't do prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions or any of that time-wasting (and tree-slaughtering) 'front-matter' crap.

If it's worth reading, then it's worth including in chapter one or later. No, this is a series, so what incentive can the author possibly have to deliver you a decent story in volume one? She can't afford to give you anything, because she has pad this to the max, and to drag it out for god only knows how many volumes before she'll quit taking your money several times over for something that she should have had the common decency to take only once.

The novel became bogged down in several ways and for many non-reasons. One was in the 'traditional native medicine' rip-off: dream catchers, native folklore, herbal remedies and so on. The reason 'alternative medicine' isn't just 'medicine' is because it doesn't work! If it's found to work, then it becomes 'medicine' and you can get it prescribed at any hospital or doctor's office if you're deemed to need it!

No, there is no conspiracy to keep these 'secret' folk remedies out of the hands of the public. The pharmaceutical corporations are far too avaricious and profit-oriented to ignore anything they can make money on, so I'm not a fan of that kind of woo, unless it really makes for a good story, and this one wasn't going anywhere on that insulting, cultural-stereotype-hobbled, tacky tack.

There seemed to be a curious obsession with naming all young male characters with four letter names (and I can see the value in that in some stories!), but here the names seemed to all have a letter 'A' as the second letter, and an 'E' as the final letter, so we met Vane, Cade, and Dace, and so on (Cade and Dace are the good-evil twins, while Vane - and to be honest, I can't speak to the spelling since this was a audiobook - was Daire's actor 'friend'). It was weird, although I do admit to finding some amusement in the fact that Vane was the star in this movie they were making. For all I know, maybe his name was actually spelled as 'Vain'!

The audiobook I listened to was read by Brittany Pressley, who was perfect for this title, but the opposite of the kind of voice I want to hear reading stories. The contrast between her nasal whine and the charmingly listenable voices of other readers I've heard lately, such as Mary Robinette Kowal, and Amy Landon is dramatic. You have to hear those voices to fully appreciate how bad this one was, and my guess is that precious few of the people who enjoy this crap would ever sully themselves with a quality reading to even grasp that there even is a difference in the first place, let alone appreciate it.

So in short? No! Just no!


Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein


Rating: WARTY!

In this, the last Robert Heinlein novel I shall probably ever read, Podkayne Fries, an eight-year-old Martian girl (15 in Earth years), fantasizes about visiting Earth even though she doesn't see how it can sustain life. She battles with her younger, trouble-making brother who smuggles a nuclear bomb onto their transport, she gets kidnapped and escapes. In the original she was killed saving a child from a bomb blast, but Heinlein caved to Big Publishing™ despite being an established author by then, and changed the ending so she was injured, but lived.

Spineless is the term for that, and yet one more reason to never go with Big Publishing™ because I don't believe for a minute they would not put this same kind of pressure on an author today, especially if that author wasn't as well established as Heinlein was. Well, not me. Screw that. I'd rather never sell a novel than let a publishing conglomerate tell me how to write my novels.

If the novel had been brilliant, I might have had some nice things to say about it, but it frankly sucked. It was mire din antiquity. Yes, the novel was written in the early sixties, a decade which doesn't remotely deserve the proud boasts it has garnered for itself, but it sounded far more like the early fifties, and there was zero in this novel to make it sci-fi.

The exact-same story could have been written as Podkayne of America, with the US replacing Mars and Europe or Africa replacing Earth, and ships or airplanes replacing spacecraft, and everything else remaining the same, and it would not have needed to be told any differently. Sci-fi? Bullshit! There was nothing remotely science-y or futuristic in it and it was so condescending and fatherly as to be embarrassing.

The best thing about it was the girl who was reading it, Emily Janice Card, who did a really good job with antiquated material. I'd listen to her read something different, but I cannot recommend this musty, moth-eaten fabrication.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Glow by Megan E Bryant


Rating: WORTHY!

Megan Bryant seems to be something of a polymath in the novel world, not stuck-in-a-rut with any one audience or genre, but covering a variety of topics and age ranges, so I could identify with her somewhat on that score! I haven't read anything of hers before, but this young adult outing interested me, and I thank the publisher for a chance to read an advance review copy.

Glow is about this college student named - embarrassingly, she thinks - Jubilee, but who goes by Julie. Julie is a wannabe student, but she was forced to forgo her planned freshman year because her mother ran into some serious debts and Julie's college fund was sucked dry when she paid them off. On a scavenger shopping trip with her well-off friend, who seems to have more money than sense, Julie accidentally happens upon this cheap, but original painting at a second-hand store. The art speaks to her and it's cheap(!), so she buys it at the knock-down price.

At home that night, the painting almost knocks her down when she discovers that there's a second painting hidden beneath the first, and it's one which can only be seen when the lights are off, because it glows in the dark. She finds a second painting by the same artist, and that too, has the same feature. The image it shows though, is grotesque and disturbing, so she becomes obsessed with finding out who the artist is and what the hidden pictures mean.

Just as there are two paintings incorporated in each canvas, there are two stories in this novel. I liked the symmetry of that. The second story alternates with the first, and provides answers to questions asked in it. It takes place via letters written by a young woman in 1917 to her boyfriend who was in Europe fighting World War One.

It becomes obvious to the reader long before it does to Julie, just what has happened here, since it's pretty clear from these letters. The girl who painted the pictures was showing the world what the painting watch faces using radioactive materials would do to people. I actually figure out exactly who it was too, something I'm not normally able to do!

The people depicted in the paintings were those who became known as the 'radium girls' - people who became sick from exposure to radioactive materials long before anyone really knew, or cared, how dangerous these horrors we have exposed in our world truly are. Wikipedia contains the very photograph of the factory which gets a visit in the novel (a visit which technically could not have occurred, but I let that slide, too!).

The fact is that no story is perfect (not even mine, LOL!), and while this one had one or two issues, none of them was sufficient to make me dislike the story which I consider to be important. The first problem or me in a novel like this is first person voice. I have no idea why so many authors, particularly in the young-adult world, are so addicted to it, but it is a weak and problematic voice and in my opinion should be used only in extremis! Some authors can carry it though, and this author is evidently one of them, I'm happy to report, because it wasn't at all obnoxious, so that objection was assuaged here.

Another format I'm not enamored of is the epistolary one, and that's also employed here, but again this author brought it in as a way to introduce a second first person voice. While for me, two first person voices are usually two too many, I did appreciate the way she snuck this in under the radar (under most people's radars!) by having the letters be the medium by which the second voice was delivered. Superficially it worked, and again it was not nauseating for me to read. I was also glad it wasn't done with flashbacks which I also detest, but to me all of these methods are potential liabilities for a writer because they do serious harm to the realism and credibility of the story.

No one who is telling you a story of their personal adventure can recall every detail and relate it, including verbatim conversations, and this is one reason I dislike this particular voice so much: it's far too inauthentic for my taste. This was a problem in the epistolary portions because the writer didn't sound at all like someone who was writing in 1917! The language and tone were all wrong and the detailed conversations were too much, but as I said, it wasn't obnoxious, and fortunately, I enjoyed the story enough that I was willing to let this slide. You see? I told you you can get away with a lot of sins in a novel if you tell me a good story, and this author did.

There was romance, but again this author managed it well, and so she did not piss me off there, either! It's like she knew just how far to push things with me without tripping any triggers! I was tempted to think she reads my blog, but that's really too much of a stretch!

I have to say that the texting didn't work though. To be honest, I think this was more a result of Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app failing to reproduce the author's original layout, that ever it was the author's fault. We should, as a writing and publishing community, flatly refuse to publish any books in Kindle format until Amazon makes it as good as the Nook or PDF format, but that's just me.

The problem with the crappy Kindle migration is that the texts were not spaced properly, and so it was hard to tell who was saying what! I am, probably needless to say, not a fan of writers reproducing phone texts in novels. It inevitably sounds fake.

I think that too many writers think it's 'edgy' or 'now' or something, to reproduce texts, but I'd much rather they simply delivered the gist of the conversation than tried to recreate an actual detailed text exchange, because it rarely works. I can see where there might be reasons for doing that, but as a general rule, reading other people's texts, even fictional ones, is seriously boring and I think it's lazy on the part of a writer to write like that.

Rather than read:

  • You up for breakfast?
  • :)
  • where shall we meet?
  • Breakfast Nook?
  • Sounds good 2 me
  • Time?
  • 8?
  • K
  • K
or something like that, I'd much rather read, "He texted me about breakfast and we arranged to meet at the Breakfast nook at eight." I don't need to read the verbatim text, and I sure don't need to read one larded with symbols and abbreviations! Not that this was the case here, thankfully, because this author has caught up with the fact that modern phones fill in text for you, so you don't need to employ "abrvs"!

'
I have to say that Julie came across as a bit slow in solving this problem given her academic background (as indeed was her friend Lauren), but sometimes people are simply slow, and they don't always arrive as quickly at what might seem to others to be an obvious conclusion as we might think they ought. Julie isn't a science whizz after all, otherwise she would never have said, "I know time didn’t stop - I know that’s not possible; the laws of physics forbid it." Actually it is possible: that's exactly what an event horizon is, around a black hole! But yeah, ok, for most ordinary purposes, it's true that time doesn't stop.

Julie's quite literal, and highly ill-advised toxic encounter with Luke, given what she'd just learned, was a bit odd to me, too. I expected better of her than that, and she seemed to be thinking only of herself, but I forgave that as a moment of madness, given the shock she'd just had. Even though the ending of the story seemed to leave some of the friction between Julie and her mom unresolved - or at least un-discussed (erm, kitchen appliances, anyone?), overall I liked the way the book ended, too. It was nicely wrapped up, overall.

The story of the radium girls has been told before in different ways, and more than once. In one instance it was told as an animated short released in 2007 by Jo Lawrence, and also titled Glow, but that one has no relation to this story as far as I know.

The thing is though, that I don't think you can over-tell a story like this because it's one more example of appalling corporate greed overriding the safety and welfare of employees, and this kind of crap is still going on today - although hopefully not with radioactive materials! it sure as hell is going on with noxious chemicals in China, particularly with people who are building the very electronic devices we in the west worship so devotedly and demand so cheaply.

Until we as a society learn and thoroughly internalize the tragic historical lessons of capitalistic avarice and callousness, we thoroughly deserve to keep being hit hard over the head for our stupidity and ignorance, and this book does that well. That and the fact that this a pretty decent story is why I consider it a worthy read and recommend it.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat


Rating: WARTY!

This one was in my local library and I thought it looked interesting - a graphic novel diary of a senior year in college. I never did a senior year in college so this sounded interesting to me, but in the end it wasn't very interesting at all. It was quite literally a day-to-day dear diary in graphic form, telling of student parties, getting drunk, rather manically feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders and not long after that, feeling life was great.

The problem was that there was nothing in this diary that was unusual. There were some things which were mildly amusing, but mostly not. Overall it was rather boring, like someone you don't know sits next to you on a long train ride and suddenly starts recounting the last year of her life. Yeah, like that.

I think as an artist Natalie Nourigat has real talent, Her black and white line drawings had power and expressiveness, so I'd be interested in reading something else by her (as long as it's not another dear diary!), but this just wasn't to my taste at all.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Adventures of Juice Box and Shame by Liv Hadden


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
“At least it seemed I’d peaked Cassie’s interest.” should be piqued, not peaked!
“I was just wearing black skinny jeans, white converse” Converse is a registered trade-mark, and while I don't think an author needs to add the little symbol (®) I do think Converse needs to be capitalized!

Note that this is from an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher.

This book is evidently part of a series, and generally speaking, I'm not a fan of series. I know they can be lucrative for both publishers and authors if they take off, but for me series are boring; they're derivative and un-challenging for both author and reader, so I have less respect for them. I’d rather read three different books than three variations on a theme! I didn’t realize this was a series when I took it on, but I am going to treat it as a standalone for the purpose of this review.

Liv Hadden is a fellow Austinite - kind of, since neither of us technically lives in Austin! - but I've never met her. I didn’t know she was a local when I was asked if I’d like to review this, so it's all above-board! I said yes, because it sounded interesting and fun, but I confess that initially I had the impression that this was maybe a graphic novel or a children's story because of the mention of Mo Malone as Illustrator, and it turned out not to be neither! Since there were absolutely no illustrating whatsoever going on in my copy of this book (excluding the cover), I can't speak to what Mo The Illustrator brought to the table! Maybe the print version has the illustrations. We amateur reviewers only get an ebook!

The book also turned out to be a bit of a confusing read for me to begin with, because it felt like I was reading a middle grade story, and then it got all serious, with blood and bullets. I also thought I was reading a story told by a young woman about her friendship with another young woman only to quickly realize that neither was a female!

So, it was quite a mind-trip going from the one perception to the other, times two! It took me a while to really get into the story because I had no idea what was going on. For many pages, I was wondering if it was a play these kids were in and suddenly we’d be back in the schoolroom, but no! Was it a bad dream? No! It took me a while to understand that this was for real and not a trick or some sort of illusion. I don’t know if that's what the author intended.

The lingo was distracting at first, because I was wondering if it was authentic, and if so, how the author knew it so well. I'm not one of these people who thinks authors should "write what they know" If we confined ourselves to that, it would be a very dull reading world, wouldn't it now?! No doubt John Grisham has been inside a courtroom, but I promise you Stephen King never was in a parallel world, and I guarantee you Suzanne Collins never fought for her life in a sudden death tournament. So I have no problem with authors writing what they don’t know as long as they make it believable. This author did.

I warmed to this as I read on, though! It’s a very short sixty-nine pages, but a lot happens. Li Nguyen, the guy who narrates the story, is known as Juice Box. His best friend is known as Shame. Juice narrates the story in first person which is not my favorite voice or anywhere near. It's far too limiting a voice to write in for one thing, and it gives only one perspective, and one which means that he narrator has got to be present no matter in what kind of a contrived manner, in order to tell the story! I think the voice contributed to my being slow to get into this, because I did not warm to Juice for the longest time, but eventually he got my interest.

I felt the story was a bit too short to explain some of the things in it: such as why Juice felt he was so tight with Shame, and why Shame was in so much trouble, and why Juice stood by him so sterlingly! There was a lot of conversation (and Converse Asians! LOL!), but very little world-building, although I did learn it was set in Baltimore!

On the other hand, it was really refreshing in many ways, which is one of the reasons I liked it. it was new and fresh and it was really nice to read about a Vietnamese crew instead of the usual African Americans we get stuck with in stories like these - like African Americans universally do nothing with their lives other than run in gangs!

So overall I recommend this for a different kind of a read and for a fresh voice. It's nice to know there are still writers out there who take the path less trodden! And especially that they're from the Austin area! Yes, now it can be told! We're going to outdo the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and become a major group in the Creative Writer's and Author's Paradise of the South! Or a bunch of CWAP for short....

Links for author an illustrator:
Liv Hadden:
Official Website: http://livhadden.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/livhadden
Twitter: https://twitter.com/livhadden
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livhadden/
Virtual Tour Page: http://www.rogercharlie.com/juiceboxvbt

Mo Malone:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mo__malone/