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

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/


Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton


Rating: WARTY!

I got this as a wish granted on Net Galley - for which I thank the publisher. I'm not normally a fan of novels that obsess over looks and fashion, because those things are as shallow as the people who focus on them to the exclusion of all else, but this one was more of a dystopian novel where beauty was a magical power given to some to bestow onto others. In fact, it was almost a weapon.

This interested me initially, but by the time I was about three-fifths through the novel, I became thoroughly disappointed as I learned this was essentially no different from any other of the LCD young adult novels I've read and the author was in fact betraying her own premise. Instead of being different, the novel was just the same, and employed the same tropes and clichés, as all the other poor YA novels, the most egregious of which was the triangle between the first person narrator, a 'bad' boy, and a 'good' boy, and it was truly nauseating to read.

In very general terms, the novel was set in a quite well-realized world, with some beautiful writing and elegant descriptive prose, but the more I read, the more this was sadly let-down by some glaring holes in the logic, and some truly nonsensical and clunky inventions. The novel was also far too long. This was caused by a rambling tone in which everything took forever to get underway. This wasn't so bad in the early pages, but the more I read, the less I wanted to be swamped with yet more descriptive prose as another page went by with literally nothing happening unless you count strutting, and preening and posing as events.

Additionally, there is only so much mystery and so many unanswered questions you can heap upon your reader before your reader starts to suffocate, and you need to start offering answers - or at least look like you're about to do so - but by sixty percent in, there continued to be questions, and not an answer in sight. This was deeply disappointing and made me feel, since this is the start of a series, that no real answers would be forthcoming until the final volume of the trilogy or whatever this ends up being.

At one point early in the reading, I'd been prepared to suggest that there's a raft of YA writers who seriously need to read a few books like this before they write any more of their own, but I changed my mind quite quickly. I know this is an ARC, and so is unaccountably sent out for review with no guarantees and insufficient vetting, but this author has a masters, and some of the issues I came across made me despair for our education system. And they had nothing to do with it being an "uncorrected proof" and everything to do with being poor writing or poor word choices by someone who should know better.

While I readily acknowledge that language is a dynamic thing, especially in this era of sound-bites and texting, I think there are some things which didn't ought to change so readily! How many times have I read an author (particularly in YA writing) using 'bicep' (as this one does) when the term is biceps? There is no excuse for this, not even the ever-convenient UPE (uncorrected proof excuse).!

Chaise longue is dyslexically rendered into 'chaise lounge'. Now I have come to grudgingly accept this as an Americanism which isn't going away, and normally I would just roll my eyes and read on, but here, in a novel which is explicitly set in a heavily French-accented milieu, I found it inexplicable that the author should resort to the lazy Americanism instead of the French original!

In another instance combining poor writing and bad French, I read what was supposedly a note from Camellia's mother in which she instructed her in the use of a magic mirror (more on the 'borrowing' habits of the author later!), "Prick your beautiful little finger and drop the blood onto the handle, and it will show you what you need to see. I love you, ma petit."

The first problem with this is that it read so false to me to suggest that Camellia's mom would write "beautiful little finger". It was quite literally sickening to read, and it felt completely unrealistic. Maybe there are some idiot moms who would write such flowery prose like this while trying to convey something of vital importance to their daughter, but it made me laugh because it was so bad.

It was not as bad as the wrong-gender French in a novel set in a French-flavored world. 'Petit' is masculine. It goes with mon as in: mon petit. The phrase the author needed here (since the message was addressed to her daughter) was the feminine: 'ma petite'.

I've never seen fleur-de-lis rendered as fleur-delis, which makes it sound like the name of a sandwich shop! After consulting this same novel in Bluefire Reader though, I discovered that it had been rendered correctly as fleur-de-lis, and it was Amazon's crappy Kindle app which had randomly deleted hyphens (and spaces, I discovered as I read on), so this was not the author's fault at all, except in that she and the publisher had placed far too much faith in Amazon not to mangle their hard work. Amazon had, with its usual disregard for literature, once again let them down. This is merely one reason why I have neither time nor patience for Amazon, and partly why I quit posting reviews on Goodreads, Amazon's unholy-owned tributary.

The story itself began as an interesting one. In the fictional Kingdom of Orléans, a tiny subset of young females, known as Belles have special powers known as Arcana. In this story, the Belles, only six of them, are considered sisters even though they are unrelated, and they all adopt the same last name: Beauregard. The first names of the other five are: Ambrosia, Edelweiss, Hana, Padma, and Valeria. I saw a writing opportunity here which was badly wasted. More on this later.

Camellia is the sixth girl and the first person narrator. She bears the name of a flower, but it's an Asian flower, so why she had that name in a French-influenced novel, I do not know. She does go by Camille, but this name, storied as it is in history and literature, has nothing to do with the name of the flower (which is after a guy named Kamel! LOL!). This is why names are important, so this whole naming thing was a bit confused in this novel.

This was one of many things which started tripping-up the world-building for me. To me, names mean things and far too many authors ignore that in their blinkered rush to choose either a trope name, or an overly-exotic name for their character. In this case I wondered if the author had chosen the name like I would do, to represent something, since Camellia is known for the tea which can be made from the leaves, and the oil which can be pressed from its seeds. I guess I'll never know! For me though, I could not hear that name without thinking of a camel which, and this is just a wild guess, is probably not what the author had intended.

On the brighter side, the first person voice wasn't awfully bad in this novel for which the author has my sincerest thanks. I've read some truly horrendously-written first person voice novels. Why authors, particularly in the YA world, are so sheep-like in their addiction to this voice is a mystery to me since it's so limiting and so fake. I guess I'm just going to have to quit reading any YA novel told in first person if I am to escape it.

Anyway, each of these six girls has within her some sort of ill-defined blood-power, which evidently resides in proteins they get from leeches, which begs the question as to why anyone cannot slap a leech on themselves and get the power. We're told the girls are born to be Belles, but we never learn how or why that is so, or why there are so few of them. And why only girls? Maybe this comes to light in a future volume. Although it's denied that these girls perform magic, this is exactly what they do, employing blood-magic to transform people's physical appearance.

This began a host of unanswered questions notwithstanding the world-building and in the end, the weight of all these loose threads began to drag the story down for me. For example, on the one hand science seems to be quite advanced in this nation (they know what proteins are), but there's no electricity to be had. We're supposed to believe that Belles are celebrated and revered almost to the point of being gods, but on the other hand, they're universally treated like slaves. The belles are supposed to be experts in how to mold people, literally, into personifications of gorgeous, yet these people treat them like dirt and order them around, telling them what to do instead of allowing the Belles to do their job. None of this made any sense at all to me.

These powers they have come in three "flavors" or forms: age, aura, and manner, but later there's a hint, which may be just a rumor, that there is a fourth form. This hidden fourth power is straight out of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy.

These powers enable the girls to physically transform other citizens who are known as 'gris' (the French word for gray), and who are dismissed as plain and even ugly, into what is considered the epitome of beauty. The ideas here seem perhaps to have been borrowed from the citizens of Panem, as depicted in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, but whereas the extravagant beauty (so-called!) in Panem was merely a backdrop, here it takes center stage. There are other ideas borrowed from Hunger Games such as the 'post-balloons' which deliver items much like the parachutes delivered gifts to the competitors in Collins's trilogy.

Camellia is one of the six finalists for a position at the royal court. It's her lifelong dream since her mom held that same position, which lasts, inexplicably, only for a year. She travels with her competing 'sisters', who while they sometimes fight and snipe at each other, are like family, but only one of these Belles can take the coveted royal position.

We know it's going to be Camellia, since she's the one narrating the story in first person and you can't tell the reader what's going on if that first person narrator isn't present - unless you want to admit your poor choice of voice and switch to third person periodically, or have major info-dumps to bring the main character up to date about things which happen out of her ken. Thus the weakness of this voice.

What made me truly start feeling nauseous in this novel though, was the introduction of your standard love triangle. I had, when I began reading this, not only hoped, but also genuinely believed that here was an author who was above this sort of cheap shot. Consider my disappointment then when I saw her launch with gay abandon into proving that even she had no qualms about descending to the level of hack YA writers when it comes to asserting that every woman desperately needs to be validated by, in this case, not one man, but two.

The reason I found this so totally obnoxious here is that the whole basis of this book, so I'd been led to understand, was that it was ultimately to be an indictment of the shallowness of the beauty and fashion industries which are an appalling bane on the lives of women, and particularly young women, everywhere. These women are told that unless they're rail-thin and gorgeous, they're pretty much useless and have nothing to look forward to. That's what fashion and cosmetics are all about: telling you that your face is ugly and must be disguised if not covered with a beauty mask, and your clothes are trash and must be replaced regularly with these which we will happily sell to you, assuming you can lose enough weight to fit into them.

The sad fact is that nowhere did I see any evidence of any indictment. Even if that is still to come though, say in volume two or three, or even if it curiously took place upon the very page after I quit reading this novel, my question is: how is it to the benefit of young women (talking of getting the skinny) to rail at the cosmetic industry on the one hand whilst simultaneously undermining their independence by asserting confidently that your YA female is utterly worthless unless some guy adores her? It was sick quite frankly, hypocritical at best, and a sorry betrayal of women everywhere at worst, because here. the author is telling us that Camellia is so comprehensively useless that she needs male validation.

These purveyors of barefoot, pregnant, and in the bitchin' kitchen were Rémy the studly, upright bodyguard, and Auguste, the standard trope YA bad boy. As for Rémy, there was no reason whatsoever for his existence. There's no threat to Camellia, unless you consider someone putting old rose petals in her bathroom to actually endanger her life. So why does she need a permanent 24/7 personal bodyguard - except of course to put her into close proximity to one third of the triangle?

This was done so clunkily that it was truly pathetic. I mean it was farcical in the extreme. Poor Rémy never even gets to sleep - I am not kidding - he's on the job all day and night every day and every night. It was absurd. And how did his sisters ever get into the palace? Do they have a 'bring your sister to work day' for palace guards? The writing had gone from sublime to substandard at this point.

Auguste was even less explicable than was Rémy. As is tediously trope in this lower class of novel, Auguste shows up out of the blue, putting Camellia in danger, having no respect whatsoever for her, and being far too 'chummy' and familiar. In what is the vomit-inducing trope for these novels, she does not reject him out of hand as anyone in her position actually would were the story true to its roots and framework. Instead, she gets the hots for him immediately. Evidently the camel is in estrous. All-bluster continues to stalk the camel - and yes, that's exactly what it is, but the author wants us somehow to think this is playful flirting and courtship. Well there's a humongous bot-fly in that stodgy ointment: he's one of the three suitors for the princess.

Yes, there are guys in real life like Auguste, so this was not the problem. The problem was Camellia's reacting like a bitch in heat to his advances. It was her complete lack of not only morals and propriety, but her total disregard for others. Despite the fact that she knows he's Sofia's suitor, she sees absolutely nothing wrong, neither in his behavior nor in her own! If this tells me anything about her, it's that she's a moron and certainly not someone worth knowing. much less reading a whole series about.

Despite the fact that she could get fired for associating with him, Camellia is so profoundly stupid that she just swallows everything Auguste says. She purposefully flirts with him when she's not endlessly describing what are evidently Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterflies stomping around in her stomach.

The biggest fail though was that on one occasion, the stalwart Rémy was right there with her, her bodyguard, yet he did nothing whatsoever to break-up her flirting with Auguste. He's guarding her because of dead roses, yet here is a guy hitting on her right in front of him - a guy he doesn't know, and one who could be concealing a knife, yet he says not a word. That's how completely useless he is. even if the guy was not a threat to her life, he is a threat to her career and reputation. Rémy cares nothing for that? The name derives from a Latin word meaning oar, so it's hardly surprising Camellia's up the creek without a paddle.

Auguste is quite literally nothing save overly familiar and worse, controlling, and comes with not a single thing to recommend him as a viable suitor for Camellia, let alone for Sofia, yet never once does a single thought enter her pretty little head that what she is doing is not only mean to Sofia, but also self-destructive to her own career aspirations. Never once does any thought along these lines enter her empty head! That's how clueless a character she truly is, so maybe I was wrong: maybe she's one of the tiny minority of co-dependent women who actually do need a couple of guys to validate her.

This is entirely the wrong lesson to teach young women: that your ideal lover is a guy who has no respect for women, who never balks at risking Camellia's job or reputation, or at getting her into trouble, who is controlling, and who has no respect for the fact that he is potentially betrothed to Camellia's employer, The fact that this author is, on the one hand supposedly calling-out the cosmetics industry, yet on the other, is actively undermining the independence and self-determination of women is a disgrace, and I have no desire whatsoever to read any more of this novel or to read anything else by this author. I cannot recommend this by any measure.

If the author had been serious about her writing, and really wanted to make a go of this, then what she ought to have done is kept it to a single volume, told it in third person, and switched between the perspectives of all six Belles. That, right there, would have been a story worth reading, but instead all we got was a silly little palace love triangle about a vacuous girl, and it's a story that has already been done to death a billion times over.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Generation Zero Volume 2: Heroscape by Fred Van Lente, Diego Bernard, Javier Pulido


Rating: WARTY!

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

In my review of the first volume in this series, Generation Zero done by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, and Andrew Dalhouse, which I reviewed favorably, I concluded, "There has a to be a story, otherwise it's just pretty pictures" and I'm sorry to say this second volume fell into that trap. There was a story after a fashion, but it was so confused and confusing to me that I could barely follow what was happening.

It didn't help that even on a decently-sized tablet computer, the text was rather small, and impossible to read when it was shown as white on pale green, so I didn't even try reading those portions. The odd thing was that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything for skipping them. I will welcome the day when graphic novel writers recognize that you cannot continue to short-change the ebook format unless you want to irritate your readers at best, and piss them off so much that they refuse to read any more of your material in future, at worst.

Generation Zero is a group for kids who were experimented on by private military contractors in Project Rising Spirit, aimed at producing 'psychic soldiers'. This never made sense to me and it wasn't explained why kids were chosen rather than trained soldiers for this experiment, but I was willing to let that go since most superheroes have highly improbably origin stories. Now the kids are free of that, they're intent upon fighting back.

The problem is that the story was all over the place and entirely unsatisfying because none of it made any sense to me and it never seemed like it was going anywhere. It was never clear what was happening or what the Gen 0 crew were trying to accomplish. There were several characters chewing up the scenery and achieving little else, include Black Sheep, who was a super villain posing as a superhero. She was so far out that she was really irrelevant even as she tried mindlessly to kick everyone's ass. To me, she was far more of a joke than ever she was a threat.

Overall, this story felt like the old cop-out story killer: it was all a dream! I liked volume one, but I could not get with volume two and I can't recommend this graphic novel series anymore.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Femme by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

After having a somewhat disappointing experience with another volume by this author, which I read in an advance review copy, I decided to try again with a print volume of an earlier novel which I found in my local lovable library. I'm sorry to report that this earlier effort was equally disappointing, so while I still have faith that this author has it in her to write a good story, I haven't seen it yet and I have now lost any interest in going looking for it any more!

The problems with this story were the same as her more recent one, which is not a good sign. Again, the characters were one-dimensional and juvenile, if not outright spastic, for their age. The main character, telling this story in first person unfortunately, was only marginally smarter than the one in the more recent book, which means the main characters are getting dumber, not smarter! This isn’t a good sign.

The story here is that a student named Sofie Nussbaum who we’re told, not shown, is smart (as in like reading poetry equals smart, for example), is head-over heels for her boyfriend Paul, and then inexplicably does a 180 and becomes gay. I am by no means saying that a woman cannot arrive at the knowledge that she's not hetero after all, any more than someone who has been interested in only her own gender cannot end up loving a guy. It's a two-way street full of traffic in both directions. Sexual preference is very fluid and even gender is becoming a lot more so lately now that people are a lot freer to be who they really are.

It was the way this story was presented which made it lack credibility. For the one character, it was telegraphed way too loudly, while for the other, it wasn't demonstrated at all! And I get that this is a sort of special needs book - more of which anon - but that's no excuse to write down to your reader, no matter what reading level they're at.

Much of the story wasn't thought through. The main character was supposedly of limited means, yet she has everything she ever wanted, including clothes galore and so much make-up that it was all-but falling off the shelves. The telling that she was relatively poor and the showing that she had more than anyone who actually was poor would ever have made the story false and the character along with it.

For example, she's not well-off, but can drop everything and take off for a trip to the USA? The story was set in Canada, so it was a only drive over the border, but it's not exactly cost-free to spend several days driving and eating out! And there was no mention of her getting a passport, which she was unlikely to have already had if she were poor with little prospect of leaving the town in which she lived, let alone traveling internationally!

I think the problem here is that the novel was far too short to contain the story the author wanted to tell, which resulted in everything having a sadly cursory treatment instead of being related to the reader intelligently and naturally. It didn’t work. Why the author confines herself to such small books is a mystery to me, but this book is tiny. With dimensions of 4.25" (10.8cm) by 7" (17.8cm), it’s smaller than the usual paperback size, while the margins are quite broad (1/2" -1.3cm- on the long side, and almost one inch -2.5cm- top and bottom) and the text is spaced maybe 1.5 lines.

The book was 175 pages (of which I gave up after 150 out of sheer disappointment and frustration). If it had been single-spaced and the margins made narrower, and a standard paperback format used, this would have made a much slimmer volume and saved a few trees in the print version. The author unfortunately doesn't have any say in how the book is formatted. That's all on the publisher, which is why I self-publish.

As to the content, it was pretty much the same as the other volume I read by this author, which is to say that there was zero depth to any of it. Characters are undeveloped, and abruptly change their feelings, and in this case, even orientation on a dime and so did not occur naturally, organically, or believably.

All of the main characters were manic depressives, flying off the handle for no reason, changing as abruptly as the wind, and going from loving to vindictive on a whim and it simply wasn't credible. Whereas the main character's change of orientation was telegraphed, the feelings of her love interest, Clea, were completely obscure, so the relationship seemed completely one-sided as it was in the other book I read! It was overdone on the one character and not done at all on the other. There was zero indication from her PoV, which is a dire failing for first person novels, which is one reason why I detest them so, but this bias made Clea's attraction (it's far too early to call it love) for Sofie a complete blank.

Frankly, this book read like it had been written by a pre-teen. I know it's a so-called 'Hi-Lo' novel - one written for younger readers who have low interest in reading and high interest in romance - but this felt like it insulted such people rather than being intent upon seriously drawing them in. It’s like the author is confusing low interest in reading with low IQ, and the two are not the same at all. I wish this author would write a longer book, and take her time with it, establishing solid, believable ordinary characters, and then letting them tell the story instead of dictating to them how it should go and having the whole thing fall apart under its own weight instead of soaring elegantly. You're not going to generate any interest in reading by writing boring or silly books. JK Rowling understood this. Why does this author not?

Again, as with the ARC I read, there was a point at which the book became very choppy and devolved into a series of vignettes rather than facilitating a flowing story which naturally sweeps the reader along with it. I cannot recommend this one.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher


Rating: WARTY!

I should have followed my very first instinct which was to put this book back on the shelf. I just could not get into it at all. I got maybe twenty percent in before I gave it up as a bad job. Life's too short. The audiobook reader, Kim Mai Guest (a guest reader?!) was actually pretty good. Except for this one dumb voice she did, which I hope I'll never hear again, I'd listen to a different book read by her, but the story itself was bloated and confused, and the 'big reveal' was telegraphed from the beginning - the prisoner who has lost his memory is, I'm guessing, the prince who supposedly died. Boring!

You know I've often wondered how these readers of the books for the audio version feel about the books they read. Do they hate some of them, but can't say because it might jeopardize their prospects of being hired again? As readers only for our own personal entertainment, we can ditch a book that gets boring, but if you're hired to read a book, you have to stay with it until it's done satisfactorily. That, to me, would be torture!

So the story here is that Incarceron is a living prison. I don't know what that means - where it's actually some kind of living thing, or merely an advanced AI. It would seem to be the latter, and it appears to have taken pity on Finn, the flat and whiney male protagonist, by freeing him from his cell, but all this leads to his imprisonment in a larger and unprotected environment which is still a prison, so how is this doing him a favor? Finn initially wakes (we're told in an info-dump) to find his memory lost and himself incarcerated in a cell that appears to have no door. He gets food handed twice a day through a slot, and his 'waste products' are removed the same way.

One day a door which had been invisible in the wall opens and he gets out into a seemingly endless, straight, white tubular corridor. He follows it in one direction until he's too tired to walk. When he wakes, there is food right by him, so maybe Incarceron is helping him, but the description which started out quite interestingly, got lost in bad writing, as he whines (endlessly) about his wandering for days unsure if he was even moving

His evacuation of waste products seems to cease at this point, because he could tell if he was back-tracking by finding evidence where he'd previously urinated or defecated, yet none of this is covered, nor does the writer explain how he knew he was going in the same direction every day since he apparently left not even those markers. What if he got turned around in his sleep and went back the next day over the same ground he covered the day before? We'll never know because this author evidently never even considered this.

It was at this point that I quit reading, out of a complete lack of interest in any of the characters. There was the inevitable female counterpart to the male (because gays and transgenders never do end up in dystopian stories for some reason, I guess they're smarter than the cis population....). She was the warden's daughter and she was on some quest or other that I simply could not for the life of me make heads or tails of. There was some mysterious Lord (or course) who was evil evidently because he was overweight. There were robot rats which spied on people, even on the warden's daughter. Why rats? Why not drones? None of this made any sense at all and it feels like such a huge relief that I do not have to follow this story anymore!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Love is Love by Mette Bach


Rating: WARTY!

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

This is another short "love" story in a similar vein to Same Love which I reviewed positively a day or so ago, but I was not able to give this the same rating for a variety of reasons. I liked the idea behind the story, and I appreciated the diversity it exhibited, but it felt far too trite, simplistic and shallow, and the characters far too caricatured for me to rate it as a worthy read.

I'm not a cover-lover, so I normally don't talk about book covers because they have nothing to do with the book's content and my reviews are about writing, not about bells and whistles, or glitz, or bait and switch. That said, I have a couple of observations about this cover. The first is that the person depicted in the cover image is gorgeous in the ambiguity and androgyny they represent, and I loved it for that. I'd like to read a story about that character, fictional or otherwise! The second observation is actually the problem: this cover has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anybody or anything in this entire book! So why was this cover used?!

I know that authors (unless they self-publish) have no say in the cover they get stuck with. I'm truly sorry about that, but this is a price you pay when you go the traditional publishing route, so this cover problem isn't a factor in my review. This is just an observation. I don't know how publishers can get it so wrong so often, and I'm forced to speculate on motive here, because whatever that is, it's certainly nothing to do with what the author is saying or trying to do with what they wrote!

I just wish publishers were more sensitive to a book's content than they all-too-often prove themselves to be when they slap a random cover on it. I know some people, particularly YA fans, get orgasmic over covers, but mature readers (and by that I don't mean old, nor do I exclude YA readers) do not. While many of them may appreciate a well-done cover, the bottom line there is that they're all about content. I'd rather have a lousy cover with a brilliant story than ever I would a gorgeous cover with a poor story. Reference The Beatles 'white album' (so-called) for sustaining argument!

As far as content is concerned, I was frequently disappointed in the story-telling, and this is where the real problems lay with this work. It was too simplistic, and the main character, Emmy, was not a likeable one (nor did she look anything like the character on the cover, so no match there). She wasn't strong, nor did she become strong. She showed zero growth, which is sad because she was sickeningly immature. Instead of a girl turning into a young woman with purpose and drive, all we got was an unchanging, needy, whiny, and self-pitying mess.

The worst part about all of this was that she knew exactly what her problems were, but never once did she exhibit the strength to try changing herself, or even evince signs of some development of a will to change. She was a weak and uninteresting character who did not remotely deserve the reward she got. There was no justice in this book, and this was a problem.

I don't typically care about genre any more than I care about gender. A person is a person, and a main character is a main character, but what this book most reminded me of is a genre of novels that I do detest, which is the one where the woman runs away from a bad relationship back to her home town where she meets the love of her life. I despise that kind of a story, and while this novel was not quite that bad, it had a lot of the hallmarks of such a story.

Emmy is so desperate to be popular that we meet her blowing the school hot guy, Ty, in some disgusting stairwell one night, just in hopes that from this she will become popular. How that thinking ever made sense is a mystery. All it told me was that she was profoundly stupid. I didn't mind that. I can work with that, because my hope was that she would wise-up and grow a pair, but she never did.

Emmy is 'overweight'. That's never actually defined, but that's not necessarily a problem, especially not in a society where anorexic actors and models are perversely considered the standard of beauty. 'Overweight' is not a problem unless you're unhealthy with it, and Emmy is, because she's overweight from binging on junk food for emotional comfort.

She knows this perfectly well, but never once does she even consider stopping the rot. Instead, she hangs around like a maiden trussed to a tree, awaiting her shining knight to come shield her from the dragon of life. This is why I did not like her. Throughout this whole story she never initiated a single thing; she was never the actor, always the one acted upon, and her inertia, passivity and complete lack of metaphorical balls was sickening to read about.

The Saint George in this story is Jude the somewhat obscure, the artist formerly known as Judy, who is a guy who was unfortunately born in a woman's body. Again, he looked nothing like the character on the cover, so no match there, either. Other than that, we never really get to know him.

Jude is living as a guy but has had no surgery yet. He's trying to save money for it, but is of limited means, so it's taking a while. He's a barista, and Emmy meets him when she visits his establishment with her cousin, Paige, whose parents Emmy is now staying with in Vancouver, having fled Winnipeg fit to be Ty-ed. Paige also looks nothing like the character on the cover, and she's such a caricature and a non-entity, it made me wonder why she was even in the story at all.

The story-telling effectively ends here, and instead of a flowing tale, what we get is a series of vignettes from this point onward. Emmy, who writes poetry that we never get to read, is all but forced onto the stage at the coffee shop on poetry night. She's laughed off the stage, but we never learn if the laughter was at her, or in enjoyment of the poem she read. We're left to surmise it was at her, but this incident never goes anywhere else. She never comes roaring back. Instead, her poetry drops out of sight after this. In the same vein, she starts cycling, but paradoxically goes nowhere. The poetry felt like it ought to have been an overture to her regaining some confidence, and the cycling a lead-in to her getting fit, but the cycling disappears as well!

Another vanishing act is her father's notebooks. Her father is dead and her mother has married a guy Emmy doesn't like. Those issues are never resolved either, but in staying with her uncle, she discovers that he has one or two of her dad's notebooks from when he was Emmy's age. She takes possession of them, but she never reads them - or if she does, we're not party to it, so it's yet another dead end street. Her stay in Vancouver seems full of them.

Emmy begins fantasizing about Jude, gazing at him simperingly whenever he's around, and the attraction seems to be entirely physical - at least that's the most common part that's shared with us: that he looks like he ought to be on stage or on the big screen.

Although some token attempts to broaden his appeal are made, they're too few and too shallow to be believable. Consequently, the elephant in the room here is not Emmy despite her lackluster attempts to convince us otherwise. The problem is the complete lack of any viable reason why Jude is interested in Emmy, because we're never offered a glimpse of any such reason. He just falls into line with her fantasies and is won effortlessly. She doesn't deserve him and we're never given any reason why she should.

I could see a great story here, but it's not the one we got, and the title was wrong. This was far too fast to be love. 'Infatuation is Lust' might have been a better title. I found myself more interested in Jude's sweet-hearted friend, Clarisse. A story about her might have been a lot more engrossing than this one was. I wish this author all the best; her heart is in the right place, but this particular story is one I can't get behind at all, and I'm sorry for that.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Same Love by Tony Correia


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Set in Canada, this was a short but sweet story that I fell in love with just from the blurb. The idea is that a young Christian guy, Adam Lethbridge, with religiously strict parents, is suspected of being homosexual - it's true, but the condemnation is based on the flimsiest of evidence - he was seen shopping in the mall with a "known gay"! Clearly this 'raving pooftah' needs to be saved from Hell, so he's promptly dispatched to a Christian summer camp to be 'deprogrammed', aka saved by Baby Jesu, but there he meets another guy, a Korean-Canadian named Paul, who is questioning his own sexuality, and the two fall for each other!

I thought that was hilarious, but the story isn't a romantic comedy by any means. There is humor in it, but it's a story which is told seriously and thoughtfully. I really enjoyed it.

There's nothing explicit in it - nothing more than a kiss and holding hands - so it's a safe read for anyone who is bothered by a lot of overt physical affection. The funniest thing about it was highlighted by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce many years ago: how do you punish homosexuals for breaking the law? Lock 'em up with a bunch of guys! The same thing happens here, and the lack of straight-thinking behind that kind of philosophy boggles the mind.

Of course this seems like it was always worse for men because the white male authorities behind this asinine approach to relationships were not only horrified by, but scared of homosexual men, while they never took homosexual women seriously. As queen Victoria was supposed to have said, "women simply don't do that sport of thing!" That doesn't mean women had it so much easier, by any means. In some ways they had it worse.

I confess I had a bit of a time getting into this at first because the story seemed so full of conversational prose and very little descriptive prose, but after Adam arrived at camp, the reading became very easy and comfortable. He's bunking with three other guys including Paul: a depressed guy named Martin, and a weirdo named Randall. The dynamic between these four was fascinating. Adam also meets Rhonda on the bus up to the mountain retreat. She's being sent to the camp to be have the 'slu't removed from her - and she and Adam bond quickly.

I loved that the author pointed out the hypocrisy and cluelessness in these approaches, although I would have loved it more had there been a complete deconstruction of Biblical teachings, but the thrust of this novel was not in that direction, so that was fine. The point was clearly made that there's a difference - and sometimes a huge one - between what's in the Bible and what people claim is in the Bible. I loved that bit!

Speaking of which, as is often the case in novel for me, one of the more minor characters was the most interesting. Rhonda intrigued me and was the outstanding character. I loved how feisty, confident, and outspoken she was, and would have liked to have read more about her, especially taking the camp religious teachers to task over their poor understanding of the bible, but of course the focus was on Adam and Paul, and his other roommates.

If there was a weak spot, for me it was Randall, who didn't quite ring true at times, but other than that, the story was great, well-written, instructive, and it had a beautiful ending. I recommend this one.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Things I Should Have Known by Claire Lazebnik


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was an awesome book by an author with a mouth-twisting last name - which happens to be the Arabic word (zebnik) for zebra as far as I know (but that's only as far as I know)! It's also a book where things could have gone sadly and badly wrong, but the author picked her way carefully through this maze and the result was amaze! For me she put a foot wrong on only a couple of occasions, missteps which I was happy to let slide because the rest of the novel was totally awesome.

Having read so many (far too many, in fact) YA novels which have timidly, like a lamb, followed the rest of the herd along the path most traveled (usually into bland oblivion or itchy annoyance), I live for novels like this, which strike out on their own path, tell their own story, and make it real.

The differences are clear from the start. Contrary to far too many YA novels, instead of starting out as the outcast and the underdog, Chloe Mitchell is a popular girl who is well-liked and dating the school's hottest guy (so she says), so that's a welcome reversal of the usual YA trope right there. In another departure, Chloe's sister, Ivy, is autistic, quite highly functioning, but nonetheless decidedly on the spectrum. What Chloe doesn't know to begin with though, is that the guy she most detests in school, David, also has an autistic sibling, Ethan, and he attends the same school Ivy does.

Chloe is truly torn between wanting to have a life for herself, and feeling responsible for Ivy, and facilitating her having a life, and she manages it well despite feeling put-upon and abused at times. It comes to pass that when Ivy expresses some interest in Ethan, Chloe decides maybe the two could date. Despite being four years younger than her sister, Chloe is very much the older sibling in this relationship, and she nudges Ivy along and arranges for them to meet at a yogurt shop downtown.

When she and Ivy show up, there is Ethan, and with him most unexpectedly, is David. Chloe is confused and annoyed at his presence until she discovers David is Ethan's brother, and has the same relationship with him that Chloe does with Ivy. Suddenly she not only has something in common with the guy she detests, but it's also something of vital importance.

A lesser author might have left it at that, but this author doesn't. She keeps on ramping it up. Ivy, while enjoying, in her own way, her visits with Ethan. has much more interest in a girl at her school named Diana, and rather belatedly, Chloe realizes her sister is gay.

Here was the first misstep in the writing, for me, which is that Chloe then refocuses on finding Ivy a "young, gay woman with autism" which is wrong-headed. Ivy's partner needs to be someone who can be with Ivy and appreciate her for who she is. The partner is required to be neither 'young' nor autistic herself!

Chloe makes a lot of mistakes and typically learns from them, but she never seemed to learn from this one. That she was so wrong about Ivy's sexuality ought to have taught her that she should be more cautious in who she tried to "line up" for her sister in future.

Of course it's obvious what was going to happen, because this novel still has the trope of the girl falling for the guy she initially hates, but here's it's done sensitively and not at all like a Meg Ryan romantic comedy, which was very much appreciated.

The relationship between David and Chloe grows naturally and organically, and there's no miraculous transformation. The relationship is troubled and thorny, because David is, but it's easy to see how the two of them are learning to accommodate to each other's ofttimes uncomfortable shape and demeanor as they grow to know each other. That kind of maturity in a relationship is rare in YA novels which are all-too-often puke-inducing, instadore-laden disasters.

This brings me to the second misstep, which is that David, at one point, is described by Chloe as having yellow flecks in his eyes. This is the biggest, most annoying cliche in all of YA-dom. Usually it's gold flecks, but yellow is hardly any better. I despair of YA writers who employ this because I have read it so often it's nauseating, and it smacks of a complete lack of imagination and inventiveness on the part of the YA author.

In the unintentional humor department, I have to quote the opening few words from chapter six which are: "A little before seven" which I thought was hilarious because chapter six is indeed a little before seven. But that's just my truly, hopelessly warped mind. In the intentional humor department, of which there were many sly instances, this line was a standout: "The indoor tables are all occupied by unshaven guys writing movie dialogue on their MacBook Airs, so we sit outside." The novel takes place in LA, so this was perfect and made me LOL.

My two minor gripes aside, I truly loved this novel and I fully recommend it. It was a welcome breath of life in a YA world which has become glutted with the rotting corpses of an endless parade of YA clone novels marching lock-step towards oblivion. The formatting of the ebook needs some work, but I assume that will be taken care of before it's released. In case it isn't, this needs to be fixed: "wish she could stay in in high school forever." (An 'in' too many!). But other than that, this book was about as near to perfect as you can humanly get it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


Rating: WARTY!

Here's is my vow never to pick up another book which has such a pretentious title: The Sun is Also a Star? Yeah, and your ass is also a black hole. Deal with it.

These books typically win awards for which I have absolutely zero respect because the books winning those awards almost universally suck like a black hole. See how I worked a pretentious cosmic perspective into my review? Anyone can do it. 'The Sun Also Causes Causes Cancer' will be the title of my next novel, and I hope it wins one of these 'literary' awards for no other reason that then I can flatly turn it down and tell these clueless dicks what I think of these pretentious awards for pretentious novels. or maybe I'll accept it so I can give the money to a writing program that teaches prospective novelists how to avoid-like-the-plague writing trash like this?

This book was awful. I made it through only about 15 percent, it was so bad, and that was only because I was a captive audience in a car at the time. I didn't even get to the instadore. You know what I'd really like to read: a book like this, but which highlights how wrong illegal immigration is instead of very effectively brushing it under the carpet of "a better life in America" and trying to present it as some sunny, polished, life-affirming, noble existence. No, it's a crime!

Hey, guess what?! Jamaica is already a part of the Americas! Yes! They were already there and too stupid to know it! Nowhere is the criminal element (yes, it's a crime to enter a nation without proper permissions) touched on here. If it had been, I would have taken a somewhat different view, but it was not.

I get that they're hoping for a better life, all of us are, but these people in this novel were not children from some African war-torn nation. They were not some oppressed minority from China. They were not women being abused in some unenlightened Middle East nation. They were from Jamaica, mon, which has been undergoing an economic surge for over a decade. This novel was published last year, meaning the author either hasn't done her research, or she simply doesn't care to.

This doesn't mean they were comfortably-off by any means, but to write books like this is not only an insult (in this case) to Jamaica, but also an insult those who are in a country legally, having gone through the tedious processes, and filled out the endless paperwork, and been through the interviews, and become solid and productive 'citizens' even if they're technically not citizens.

Where are the award winning books about those people? Let's get away from this ennobling glamorization and mythology of the 'honorable' illegal immigrant and deal with it realistically (and I don't mean the way a certain business president thinks it should be dealt with either!).

Instead of that, what we have here is a badly-written story about immigrants who are not only illegal, but who are also living on stolen identities. And this author has them not in a holding cell, but living at home, and running around freely! The voices the story was told in were multiple, all of them badly-done by the multiple readers of the audiobook, and not a one of them sounding remotely interesting or realistic. I did not like, nor did I care for any of these characters, and like I said, that's after only fifteen percent. This book was garbage, period. I'm done with this author.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Zero Day by Jan Gangsei


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with any of the Zero Day's from Bobby Adair, David Baldacci, Mark Russinovich, or A Meredith Walters, all of which are series, this uninventively-named book one of yet another unwelcome YA series was a waste of my time. That said, I'd listen to a different book - by a different author - which is read by the same audiobook reader, because Andi Arndt actually did a decent job. It's a pity she didn't have better material to work with.

I realized how much of a complete retread of every other YA s0-called "thriller" it was as soon as I read the description of the main character's love interest: he has rippling muscles, soft curls in his nape, and gold flecks in his eyes. I had to apologize the local library for barfing all over the audiobook. Why are there so lamentably few YA writers with the intelligence and inventiveness to go off the beaten track instead of beating us over the head with the same worn-out track every other YA writer has worn down into blandness?

Adele Webster was kidnapped at the age of eight, right out of the house where the governor, her father, was meeting with his chief of staff, and no one seems to think this is an inside job? Now, eight years later, she comes back as the daughter of a president.

The obvious question is why now, when the president is dealing with home-grown terrorism in the form of a group of potentially violent hackers calling themselves Cerberus, which everyone pronounces Sir Berrus. The original Greek is Kerberos, and it struck me that hackers of this sophistication would have been much more likely to have adopted the original name rather than the modern one. I'm guessing the author has no idea of the original Greek, mainly because she seems to have so little idea of anything else.

Addie, as she's consistently known, is accepted into the president's inner domain unbelievably quickly. She gives the Secret service a story and they pretty much swallow it, but why is she telling them when the search for her would be the FBI's domain? On the other hand, who would kidnap a governor's daughter in the blind belief that this same governor would inevitably become president just four years later, and his daughter would inevitably become a shill for the terrorists when they release her four years later still? The author clearly believes this isn't too far into fantasy land....

Addie describes the family which kidnapped her (she says!) as living 'off the grid'. This phrase has been in use since the mid-nineties or so, but this struck me as a phrase an eight-year-old girl would not use, and so as a sixteen-year-old who has not been exposed to any popular culture, is this a phrase Addie would have known? It's not even remarked upon, but I think the FBI would have caught this, and at least considered the unlikelihood of her use of it if the story she's telling is supposed to be true. But the author is blinkered to this as she is to too many things. Addie's rapid reinstatement and unsupervised and unmonitored entry into the White House is simply not credible.

Addie's childhood friend - the boy who was the last to see her before she was snatched - is Darrow Fergusson, the now grown son of the woman who is still chief of staff. He's asked by the National Security Advisor to spy on Addie. I'm sorry but no. The last person the NSA would ask to spy, much less tip-off that there is spying in the offing, is this girl's best friend from childhood, and whether they did or not, Darrow would have to be a complete moron not to report Addie's unexplained departure from her White House bedroom, via a window, down into the grounds on the first night he gets to meet her after her return. His character simply isn't credible.

The story was so poorly written and badly plotted that I DNF'd it right at those asinine gold flecks. I did listen tot he last disk on the way home though,m and it;s as poorly written as the rest of the novel. The entire last ten percent is utterly unbelievable, with a cliff-hanger ending, which I abhor, because it means that what I just wasted my time on something that was nothing more than a 368-page prologue, and I don't even read 368 word prologues. This book is objectionable, nasty, and detestable and I actively disrecommend it.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins


Rating: WORTHY!

After their victory in the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are sent on a 'victory tour' which is nothing but propaganda. Before they depart, President Snow himself visits Katniss for a threatening heart-to-heart. Snow is concerned that her actions in the games have inspired the districts to rebel, and it is now all on her to quell that rebellion by her behavior on the tour. Unfortunately for Snow, the first stop on their tour is District 11, the same district from which young Rue hailed, and to which Katniss sent a signal of solidarity upon Rue's death, a fate which she both witnessed and avenged.

After Katniss's speech, the crowd responds, starting with someone whistling the mockingjay riff, and everyone salutes Katniss. After the tour, they visit the capital and are again featured on Caesar Flickerman's show, where Peeta publically proposes to Katniss on air in an attempt to placate President Snow. But none of this prevents unrest in the districts which become more and more agitated, bordering on open rebellion.

Back in District 12, glad to be home and out of the limelight, Katniss takes time to herself in the woods around her home and encounters two people who are fleeing the authorities from District 8. They tell her that they believe that District 13 was not wiped out, and that people still live there - indeed, that it’s a clandestine sanctuary from the influence of the capital.

The next bombshell to drop is that the 75th Hunger games is a Quarter Quell - where something special happens: on this occasion, the contestants will not be selected by lottery, but will be the winners from all of the previous Hunger games. This means, of course, that both Katniss and Peeta will be competing for the second successive year! Katniss determines that she will do whatever it takes to insure that Peeta wins. Peeta determines that he will do whatever it takes to insure that Katniss wins.

The competition is set in a jungle environment this time, not in a forest, and it has been much more manipulated than it was previous year, and much more dangerous. As the games begins, Katniss and Peeta find themselves in an uneasy alliance with another victor, Finnick, and with his aging mentor, Mags. Mags dies, but their party is bolstered with the addition of Johanna, one of those competitors who was especially trained for the games by her district. They also link up with an old couple from District 3 Beetee and Wiress. The latter soon informs them that the arena is a circular, like a clock, and it's divided into sectors, each of which is triggered in succession once every hour, to provide obstacles and dangerous events for them to overcome.

These events soon rob them of Wiress, and Beetee reveals that the electrical discharges they've been experiencing can be harnessed and employed to destroy the encompassing fence, allowing them to escape the arena. Beetee fails to accomplish this, but Katniss manages it, although she's knocked out by the discharge, and she wakes to find herself being flown to freedom in District 13 along with Finnick and Abernathy. Peeta and Johanna were captured, she learns. Later, her friend gale joins her to let her know that he got her family out, but district 12 was bombed into ruins by the capital in retaliation for Katniss's continued flouting of the capital's rules.