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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Rating: WORTHY!

The compiled results of a web comic, Nimona is possibly the best graphic novel I've ever read. It's certainly up there in the top five. I was quite blown away by it, for the artwork, the humor, the plot and the story. It's brilliant! Noelle Stevenson is of Lumberjanes fame. I reviewed a volume of that unfavorably back in May, 2016. I'm happy to positively review something else she has done!

Nimona comes off as a young and ambitious girl who is ready to get her feet wet in the world of villainy. She volunteers to work with the evil Ballister Blackheart in his endeavors against his old friend, now arch-nemesis, Goldenloin, but in the course of this story, the question arises as to who is really a villain here and who is the golden hero.

Lord Blackheart isn't interested in having an assistant, but when he discovers that Nimona is a shape-shifter - and can shift into any shape - animal or person, he realizes she might have some value as a hench-man...woman...wench? The problem is that he has a code of conduct to which she evidently doesn't seem very interested in adhering. She's all for havoc and chaos, whereas his villainy is less brutal and more structured.

Nevertheless, they learn to work together and they discover the government is hoarding jaderoot, which is a deadly poisonous material and very dangerous to work with, even in small quantities. But how is Blackheart to get word out about the government's villainy in hoarding large quantities of a mateirla they themselves had banned, especially when he's a well-known villain himself? Maybe Nimona can help with that!

I dearly loved this story, and I consider it well worth the eighteen dollar asking price in the hardback print version I read. I recommend it highly.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson


Rating: WORTHY!

I twice had mixed feelings about this novel, but both times in the end, it came through for me, and so I have no choice but to rate it a worthy read! That's my kind of author, despite the fact that she won a Newbery for some other novel she wrote. I started out int he first few chapters wondering if I could drop this at a quarter the way through, but as soon as Lyddie left her rural background and headed for the city, it picked-up and never stopped from there on out. That was when I began enjoying it.

This is the story of a young girl who lives on a farm with her mother and her younger siblings, but their father has left them and offers no hope that he's coming back. Their mother is weak and worn out, so it would seem that it's all up to Lyddie Worthen (come on - if she'd been named Worthy it could hardly be any closer!). She almost despairs when her mother announces that the family must be split-up in order to pay off the debt that's owed. Mother and the youngest are going to stay with relatives, but Lyddie and Charlie, despite their tender age, are to be let out as servants in order to start working down the crushing debt.

The paltry little farm will stand idle and Lyddie hates that. She isn't happy with her lot either although Charlie, in a luckier situation, flourishes. Lyddie hears about the money that's to be made up in Lowell, Massachusetts, working in the yarn-spinning factories, and she jumps ship.

The life in the factory pays well (by Lyddie's previous standards), but the work is long, long, long, and the conditions are awful. Get used to this folks because this is where the The Business President is aiming to take us all in the next four years. Lyddie struggles at first, but eventually becomes the best loom operator in the whole factory. It's piece-work which means that the workers have no peace, because they have to meet a quota and unfortunately, saving is slow and problems abound.

Some girls are talking of agitation for better conditions, and all the while the factory makes greater demands - running the looms faster, reducing pay and raising quotas. The horrible condition inside the factory are best exemplified in the BBC TV serialization of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South which stars Richard Armitage of The Hobbit fame. Several scenes in this show display in graphic detail how god-awful working conditions in a spinning factory were back then.

Lyddie has no time for agitation. She focuses on working hard, and being the best, so she can run four looms and make more money, but even as she almost literally slaves away, her family and farm situation deteriorate bit by bit. The ending seemed obvious and I was getting ready to down-rate it because it looked like this author was going to perform a YA weak, dependent, girl atrocity on her main character, but once again she turned it around and sent Lyddie in a different direction: one which returned control to Lyddie, and one of which I fully approved. It was this that really won me over, because the girl had not given-up. She had merely refocused her goal and went for it with a control-taking dedication which I admired and approved of. I fully recommend this read.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Princesses Don't Become Engineers by Aya Ling


Rating: WARTY!

I'd hoped to have something better to offer you on Bessie Coleman day. I had been hoping I could review a refreshing novel with a strong female character, but unfortunately, I cannot. Yes, it was going to be this novel, but no, this novel which so promisingly started out, started doubt and then went so far downhill so fast that I almost got whiplash from it.

I'm not a fan of series and this novel is part of a somewhat disconnected trilogy, in that the stories are about different people in the same world, but there's a lot of crossover. The other two are Princesses Don't Get Fat and Princesses Don't Fight in Skirts, neither of which I've read. I'm unable to rate this one positively because of some serious issues I have with it, and while I confess I was initially interested in reading the '...Fat' novel purely out of curiosity since it's not a topic you usually find in books such as these, I changed my mind after learning more about it, and being increasingly disappointed in this one to the point where I DNF'd it at around 75%.

That said, the reason I chose to read this one is that it sounded like it might take a different path from your usual princess story, but in the end it didn't, so why would the '...Fat' novel be any different? I don't know, and I certainly have no faith that it would be. The engineering and steam-punk elements were quite obviously nothing more than sugary frosting adorning a doomed attempt to disguise on the usual stodgy "beautiful girlie princess meets strong, handsome, manly man and falls in love" cake. Those tales are not for me and are the very reason why I wrote Femarine. I had hoped that this one would be in the same vein as Femarine and was very disappointed when I discovered it would not be so.

This novel appears to take place late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, but there are anachronistic problems. Note that this is an alternate reality novel, which has huge similarities to our own reality, but which is also set in a fantasy world. No dates are given, so it's hard to place it on any kind of intelligent timeline as compared with our own. Roller skates were invented (to our knowledge) in the mid-eighteenth century, but were not widely known until early nineteenth, so would skates have been part of the vernacular? Probably not. The wheelchair was in use by the late eighteenth century, yet this story has Princess Elaine inventing it. The same applies to the parachute, which she invents.

She also invents the wristwatch, which didn't show up until the mid-nineteenth century in our timeline, but the real problem with this is that the premise for it failed. According to the story, Princess Elaine was inspired to think of a watch for the wrist because a guy who had been overwhelmed by her beauty (more on that shortly) had dropped his pocket watch and it broke. The problem is that pocket watches routinely have chains attached, so it's hardly likely, no matter how startled by her 'stunning beauty' he was, that it would have ended up on the floor.

None of this would be an issue had Elaine been frequently shown tinkering and inventing from the beginning, but she was not. She was shown only with a penchant for escaping out of her window, which was amusing, but hardly inventive. The stream of inventions which are ascribed to her was becoming ridiculous by about sixty-percent through the book. Not a one of them was original in the sense that it had never arisen in our timeline.

All of this inventiveness consisted of simply ascribing something to her which already exists on our world, and most of it was very simple - so simple that it did not take a genius to invent it. In fact, it was actually derivative, not inventive: all she did was add wheels to a chair, add a strap to a watch, and so on. Straps and wheels, chairs and watches already existed, she just proposed a "novel" use for them.

The printing press was invented in the fifteenth century, yet she invents this, too! And exactly how she does it is rather conveniently glossed over. She's supposed to copy out a text twenty times as a punishment, and handwriting is specifically mentioned, yet she thinks she can get away with inventing a printing press and printing twenty copies. The fact that she would have had to typeset the entire work beforehand (or represent the text in some other way) is completely ignored, as is the fact that if she did it by typesetting, she would have had to create the individual characters, too! In only three days! So her inventiveness and her inventions felt amateurish at best and cynical at worst.

Either way they were very klutzy, and we're never shown anything in the way of how she develops her thought processes or where the ideas originate. They just suddenly spring up magically, already completely formed and bubbling out of her head, like Aphrodite ejaculating from the foam of Uranus's sinking genitals.

The printing machine ("You asked the carpenter to make an automatic printing machine that you designed yourself?") was an oddity not only because it was not automatic, but because one of the princess's goals was to present an invention at the quadrennial engineering exhibition, and her printing press should have qualified easily, yet no one ever mentions it even as a potential candidate for exhibition. Instead, she obsesses on building a flying machine for the next exhibition, four years on. It seems that this was done solely to allow her to mature those four years, but it leaves a huge hole in her story. Meanwhile the printing press has spread like wildfire and made books available to the masses. It made no sense at all that she had no recognition of any sort for this.

Another anachronism was that, given how advanced some of these discoveries were (steam-power, for example was in wide use), why there would be would-be knights still training with lances and swords? Where were the firearms? Again it felt like the story had been thrown together without any real idea of what kind of world this was, and it made it seem amateur, piecemeal, and disorganized.

One example of poor planning was when Princess Elaine learns of Titanium, and decides it's exactly what she needs for lightweight tanks for her flying machine. Aluminum, which is also known in her world, is far lighter than titanium, far easier to work, and just as suited to making tanks as is titanium. It's in wide use in our world for SCUBA tanks. If Elaine had been anything of an engineer, she would have known these things, and not had to have discovered Titanium by accident from seeing it used as armor by the tournament competitors.

So the story itself was bad in many parts, but worse, there was a shockingly poor use of English. I don't mind the occasional author gaff - we all make them. I find them in my reviews on occasion when I have cause to revisit one, but there was a lot of them here, and many of them could have been caught with a spell-checker and some careful reading of the final copy before it was published. There really is little excuse for this.

Here are some examples:

  • "...the right course of action is to take it up to the king, not resolving to pranks." - should be 'not resorting to pranks'.
  • "...why are we supposed to learn those vocabulary when no one knows about them?" - should be 'that vocabulary'.
  • "She's in the kitchens noe" - should be 'in the kitchens now'.
  • "Francis Wesley, who would and probably already had, delight in reporting every single of her failure" - the mixed verb tense could have been easily fixed by re-wording.
  • "Elaine pulled apart the curtains of her window and stared outside. Outside, Valeria was taking Baby Charles for a walk." Repetitive 'outside' could have been avoided.
  • "Hasn't Samuel taught you that you must show, not tell?" Author, heal thyself! There's far too much tell about Elaine's engineering desires, and no show to speak of!
  • "Elaine sailed into the Dome as though she were on roller skates" One doesn't sail on roller skates, one glides!
  • "There was a pot of oil burning by the door. She lighted a fire in the pot" - if it was already burning, no lighting was needed!

  • "...plus three inches taller. Add the bun on top of her head and she was five inches taller than her usual height. No wonder the servants seemed to have shrunk." This doesn't work! Wearing three inch heels would make the servants appear subjectively three inches shorter, but the two inch bun of hair on top of her head would add no further height to her eye-level, and three inches is hardly sufficient to make the servants all seem to have shrunk.

  • "Own tried to elbow Alfred out of the way." Should be character name 'Owen', not 'own'

  • "...her dodging skills remained as sharp as evet" - should be 'ever'!

  • "...the cylinder was promptly finished..." and "Elaine carried it off...," - note the singular references here, but later we have "two titanium cylinders..." Where did the second one come from?!

The biggest sin, for me, was the nauseating obsession with beauty in this novel. The novel is supposed to be setting out to show that Princess Elaine was more than your usual ridiculous Disney princess, or a pretty royal façade, but the author constantly tripped herself up in this regard by repeatedly drawing our attention to the shallow and the skin-deep. I don't mind a character being described as beautiful as long as she has other qualities, but to obsess on it in the narrative (which is not the same as having a character mention it - although that can be overdone, too) is just stupid and abusive to women everywhere.

If your novel is about runway models or actors, then I can see how looks might play a part, but to make this one of the major focuses of the novel is appalling, especially when the novel is supposed to be about her other traits and skills as evidenced by the choice of title. The only thing you're achieving by doing this, is to instruct your readers that you are a shallow author who values beauty and nothing else in a woman, and by extension, that if your reader isn't beautiful, then she'd better get with the program otherwise she'll be worthless for the sole reason that there's no other trait a woman can have which can compare with beauty. Seriously? I'm not going to reward appallingly abusive behavior like that with a positive review, and female authors who routinely write like this ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, as should this author.

It's not so bad in the early stages, where the princess is only twelve, but as the story goes on, the constant references to how beautiful she is are truly stomach-churning. And hypocritical. Here's what the author says, just over half-way through the novel: "...most people still hadn't seen past her face. They valued her beauty more than her work." Well who is to blame for this? The Princess's admirers, so-called, or the fact that it's the author who has repeatedly bitch-slapped the reader with the princess's sheer beauty - not her smarts or her engineering skills, or any other trait, but her beauty? The overriding importance of beauty not just in the princess but in all young women of nobility is pounded into us from the start of the novel.

Here are some examples:

  • It was unquestionable that the Linderall princess was the most beautiful woman in the Academy
  • Despite a lack of regard for her appearance, [the princess] was still remarkably beautiful.
  • "Your Highness is the most beautiful girl throughout the kingdom."
  • "While her beauty certainly didn't measure up to Elaine's..."

Here's a particularly shameful one:

Elaine grimaced. Part of her was flattered, but since she was used to have people fawn over her beauty, she still genuinely regarded the attention a nuisance. She liked to be admired, but not by strangers. "Well, Her Highness is sixteen already! And she's the most beautiful girl in the world!"
That's not only a grammatical issue, wherein it should read 'used to having', not 'used to have', but also makes her main character look like a female Narcissus. She liked to be admired? How does this even fit the character who has shut herself away in a laboratory for months? The same sad shallowness applies to male characters, too. The phrase "how tall and strong he was" put in an ugly appearance in one form or another more than once. It was as though, if a guy isn't tall and strong, then he's a piece of shit. I'm sorry, but I don't subscribe to that blinkered garbage for men any more than I buy beauty as the sole measure of a woman, especially in a novel which purports to offer a princess with something more about her.

Princess Elaine wasn't always the nicest of people, either. For example, at one point she's approaching André, her unrequited love interest, to congratulate him on his inevitable win at the tournament, when a redheaded girl rushes past her and congratulates him, kissing him on the cheek. Elaine dismisses her with this thought: "that redheaded chit' which seemed especially mean.

Elaine has no idea who this girl is. It could be his best friend, his sister or cousin, or a colleague at the academy, yet she has these inappropriately hostile thoughts right from the off. She didn't seem like a nice person at that point, but perhaps her sour attitude came from the fact that even at sixteen, her servants and her family still conspired to infantilize her, with her brother calling her 'Pumpkin,' and her maid referring to her as 'Little Princess'. It's abusive and annoying. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a young adult novel and not a middle-grade one because it sure seemed like middle-grade even after the princess grew up.

The princess's schooling at the university bore no relation to what university was like in the nineteenth century. It seemed to be based on a twenty-first century high-school model which made it sound ridiculously juvenile. There was too much of this amateur approach, which detracted from the parts of the story I did like - such as the princess's rebelliousness.

The oddest thing about the school was that not a single person showed any deference to Elaine. Don't get me wrong here. I feel that this is how it ought to be! I have no tolerance for upper class privilege, but this story was about that very thing, so in the milieu of the story, while she was a princess royal, people were not only talking to her like she was a commoner, they were treating her like one. Even the teachers had no respect! They called her by her name instead of addressing her as 'Your Highness'. Again, I'm all for that, but in the context of this story, it felt ridiculous and amateur. The story felt more like fan-fiction than ever it did a professional novel.

In addition to that, Elaine is repeatedly shown as spoiled, inconsiderate, lazy, and privileged without a thought for people less well off than herself. This is startling because André is not privileged. If she cared for him so much, then why would she not spare a thought for others like him? Again, she's not a nice girl.

This whole affair with André felt odd. Usually the problem in these YA princess romps is that the love isn't love, it's what I call instadore, and it fails because it's not real and doesn't even feel like it might be real. In the case of André it was slightly different: there was a long time for them to get to know each other - four years to be precise, but this entire period is skipped over by the author, so we experience nothing of their interaction with each other apart from two brief, too brief interactions very early on. What this means is that this "love" felt just as bad as if it had been instadore, because it had no history for us to follow and it made Elaine look immature and stupid.

Based on this observations, and despite liking this novel in the beginning, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read. In the end, it would seem the engineering idea was really no more than a flimsy veneer on top of a story that does nothing to buck tradition. The very reason I gave up on this in disgust at 75% was that the author started channeling Austen and not in a good way - it was Austen at her most maudlin worst.

In an exact parallel to the portion of Sense and Sensibility where Willoughby happens upon Marianne after her injury and speeds her home on his horse in the pouring rain, Elaine gets injured in the pouring rain and is carried by André who was evidently stalking her. She immediately starts sneezing, like rain gives people cold viruses and the virus peaks instantly!

I would have had no objection if someone had ignorantly remarked "You'll catch your death of cold" because there are stupid people. What I don't have time for is stupid authors. For an author to actually subscribe to the brain-dead notion that getting soaked in a rain shower gives you instaflu is monumental horseshit and a disgrace for a writer to buy into. This kind of moronic writing is par for the course in the majority of asinine YA "romance" novels though, I have to admit.

Elaine's dash into the deadly 'flurain' was to collect her flying machine invention, which she;d left up on the roof, and which consists of two titanium cylinders for compressed air, a leather harness to strap it on, and an engine. What? An engine. That's what I thought you said. Excuse me, but what does the engine do? I have no idea, and apparently neither does the author. It doesn't compress air, because she had to land when the air tanks run low. There was no mention of propellers, so it;s not that. How the thing worked is a mystery. Why it needed an engine is a mystery. Where she got the compressed air is a mystery, but there it is: yet another cockeyed invention from someone we're told is a genius but who we;re shown is a rip-off artist at best, and a clueless time-waster at worst.

I don't buy it, and you shouldn't either. Spend your money on someone else's novel! This one is trashy and derivative, clueless and cheap, and I actively dis-recommend it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreadnought by April Daniels


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
"With Dreadnought's dead" Makes no sense. 'With Dreadnought's death', or 'With Dreadnought being dead' makes more sense.
Camouflage misspelled at start of chapter 14
Bicep on p115 needs to be biceps!
I wouldn't keep let mom bribe me p115 makes no sense. 'I wouldn't keep letting mom bribe me', maybe?

I'm not a fan of series in general because they tend to be bloated, repetitive, and derivative. I like my novels fresh, not warmed over from the previous volume in the series! Once in a while though, a series comes along that's worth reading, and though it's premature to say so after only one volume, this series, Nemesis, of which Dreadnought is volume one, might be one I can finally stomach! Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the author and the publisher.

Let me address some issues I had with it first. The story was in first person. I have no idea why authors are so addicted to this, but usually it sounds awful, self-obsessed, and totally unrealistic. Once in a while an author can carry it off, and in this case it wasn't bad until it got to about 80% of the way through when the big action finale began, and then it really showed what a poor choice this voice was. No one narrates like that when experiencing horrors or trying to figure out how to set wrongs right in emergency situations.

Yes, I would agree that the actions and thoughts of Dreadnought in some ways showed how new she was to this job, but in other ways it was steadfastly undermined that by how analytical and detailed she was in relating what was happening. Even accounting for the inexperience, for me it was almost completely lacking in credibility. It wasn't god-awfully bad, but the scenes needed to be tightened considerably. There was way too much fluff and filler, and with the first person voice it simply didn't feel realistic. Overall, the finale was not bad in terms of being a finale. It was just poorly executed, I thought.

It may seem strange to make this point with someone like Trump in office, but the extremes depicted in the novel, in terms of how people despised Danny, the mtf transgender girl who became the super hero Dreadnought, were too polarized. It’s like there was no one on the fence - they were either totally supportive or psychotically antagonistic and to me, this lacked credibility. I know there are many people hostile to the LGBTQIA community, and for the next four years, we're going to see them crawling out of the woodwork, emerging from the shadows, and slithering out from under rocks, I'm sorry to say, because they've been invited to do so by one of the most bigoted and insensitive public figures I've ever seen, and unfortunately, because of the complacency of registered voters, he's now in a position of way too much power for four years.

As far as this story is concerned, more nuance would have served it better. Danny's high-school friend, her dad, and the Graywych character at the super hero building came off more like caricatures than actual people, and this robbed them of their power, although Graywych's perspective was an interesting one, I grant. Instead of being threatening though, they were more like "representative' cardboard cut-outs, or placeholder set up to mark a particular perspective without making the perspective feel real.

That said, I really liked this story overall, and I loved how it brought the character into being with a history and a legacy already in place because of the way the mantle is passed on from one Dreadnought to another. Like Danny needed any more pressure! Danny is a girl, Danielle, as she'd like to be, born in a boy's body, Daniel as he was known.

She has felt trapped for seven or eight years, and is desperately counting the days until she's eighteen, and can get a job to save up for the surgery which will make her outward appearance match her inner self, or at least as close as modern medical science can render it. She did not ask for super powers, but once she gets them, and realizes that part of this transference grants some wishes to the recipient we quickly discover (like it was any surprise!) what her dearest wish was, and this is what she got.

Some reviewers, I've noticed have had issues with how 'beautiful' and 'curvaceous' she became, and I’d have an issue with it if that was all she became, but there was more to it and it’s wrong to focus on one aspect to the exclusion of others which turn out to be more important.

That said I would have preferred it if it had been toned-down, or if it was only Danny who considered she was 'beautiful'. This is for two reasons: one, because I'm tired of female super hero tropes where they're essentially nothing more than pneumatic Barbie doll clichés instead of real people, on the outside, and guys on the inside. Two: I think it would have made for a more powerful story and a more compelling character had Danny been just 'ordinary' looking, but was so thrilled to finally 'be a real girl' that she felt beautiful. But that's just me!

One problem here is that she wasn't really a girl, though, not biologically speaking. This part made little sense to me. She got the proportions and outward appearance of a girl, including a 'healthy cleavage,' but inside she was still XY, with no womb. There was no overt discussion of what her genitalia looked like exactly, just the hint that it was entirely female, so what I didn't get was why? Why did she have this limitation? If the mantle could confer femininity on her, why could it not go all the way?

I didn't buy the flim-flam we were given that it was too much for the mantle to confer. Men are really just mutant versions of women when you get right down to it, and there are direct parallels between a male and a female body. What's referred to as a penis in a male is nothing more than a distended clitoris. Men have an X chromosome, so if the changes somehow called for a man to be raised to the power of X to put him on par with a woman, then why couldn't the mantle achieve this? What couldn't the Prostatic utricle become a uterus? Was it because the man-tle was designed by a man?! You could argue that you would lose your transgender character if this had happened but I would disagree with you!

I like the way Danny came into her powers, and I speak not of the initial transference here, but her growth into them over the story, her reluctance to blindly throw in her lot with the Legion, and her willingness to learn everything the mantle could show her, and put it to good use. The other side of this coin is that it made little sense that she didn't stand up to her father earlier, but when you're beaten down so hard for so long, it's very hard to get back to your feet with any strength of conviction, so I was willing to let that go. I felt bad though when Danny's first thought on waking after Calamity's injury was not that of going to see how she was, but a lot of selfish thoughts about how much she was having to put up with herself. That felt like a real betrayal

I adored Calamity. This seems to be my lot on life whether I like the main character (as I did here) or not: I like the 'side-kick' more, although Calamity never was a sidekick, and even had the balls to call Dreadnought her sidekick at one point, which was both beautiful and funny. So enough rambling. Overall I really did like the story despite some issues. It's the first I've read of a series in a long, long time that has really stirred my interest and made me seriously want to come back for more. That's about the biggest compliment I can give it, and from me, it's a heck of a lot!


Friday, January 13, 2017

Delivering Yaehala by Annie Bellet


Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of two short stories by Annie Bellet that I will review today. Both get a worthy rating. They're also both available (at least as of this review) for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads. This author has quite the oeuvre, and some of her other materials are free, too.

This short-story-for-free idea seems to me to be a good one. Yes, you can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free.

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to her main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general, but I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time. These two are definitely worthy. I found it interesting that both of the stories told a similar tale: a young woman scavenging for a living, scarred, outcast, in danger, who ends up rescuing someone. Despite the underlying theme being the same, both stories were well-told and happily different.

This particular one is a fantasy tale set on a different world where unicorns and other exotic animals exist. Set iIn a land delightfully evocative of the Middle-East, a young woman named Alila, who is an outcast from her own people, is harvesting frankincense from trees which dangerously overhanging a precipitous drop. She spies a rider on a horse.

At first suspicious and fearful, Alila discovers that the rider is a princess royal, and a pregnant one at that, and in dire straits at that! She is apparently with a male child and this is why she is on the run. She's part of a harem, and the oldest member of the harem fears the younger woman's ascendancy if she provides the male heir which the older woman could not. Killing the pregnant Yaehala seems like the best solution. It feels like a twisted take on Henry the Eighth!

Against her better judgment, Alila takes it upon herself to escort the princess to the coast, where Yaehala's own people will take care of her until the child is born. At that point the threat to her life will transfer to the child, and she will be safe! The two bond as they ride together, pursued by the ruthless minions of the older, vindictive princess. I liked this story for how evocative it was of the world, and for the realism of the adventure even as the story was imbued with imaginative fantasy elements. Alila was never portrayed as Supergirl, but she was strong and resourceful and Yaehala's story was authentic.

I'm not a fan of stories that have a woman's name in the title. They pretty much uniformly tend to be a waste of my reading time, but I do have a fondness for stories which sport a name on the cover which is not the name of the main character because I did this same thing with my "best seller" Femarine. I call it a best seller not because it actually is, but because it generated more interest than anything else I've written, and I am still trying to work-out why! But that's just me. This story, Yaehala, was a really enjoyable one, and has attracted my attention to this author. I will be pursuing the perusing of more stories from Annie Bellet!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in a rather less than ideal near future, this middle-grade to young adult work of fiction depicts the arrival of 'neuro' headsets which link a person's brain directly into the Internet purportedly enhancing usability and virtual reality significantly. Neuros are new, but catching on fast. The question is, how safe are they? This story reminded me a little bit of other books on this kind of topic, such as The Adolescence of P-1 by Thomas J Ryan, and also a little bit of This Perfect Day by Ira Levin.

Our main character, Sam Wilson, is of course a hacker who, like Dade Murphy in the movie Hackers, got into trouble for hacking computer systems. Unlike Zero Cool though, Sam actually gets hired by the government to work for them on cyber security. I like the way the author has Sam lured in via a trick so the government powers which are interested in him can be sure he really does have the right skills for the job. He finds himself working for an elite group of hackers who are the first line of defense when it comes to cyber security in the US.

Things take a turn for the disastrous when hackers start trying to probe nuclear power stations, and then the security team itself is attacked in a way somewhat reminiscent of the movie Surrogates which itself was taken from the comic books series, The Surrogates. Soon it becomes clear that something powerful and very nearly omniscient (rather like the computer in the movie Eagle Eye!) can track what they're doing and zero in on them almost before they know what they're doing themselves. Is this an elite group of hackers? Is it some super computer? What's behind it? I thought that what was behind it was inventive if a bit improbable and I really enjoyed the way this story panned out. I recommend it.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Pinch of Poison by Alyssa Maxwell


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher. I have to remark that A Pinch of Poison is not an original title. It's already been used by Claudia Bishop and Frances Lockridge, so I think the author could have chosen a more exclusive one!

This is a book I had some issues with and frankly I dithered (yes dithered, I shall have it no other way!) on how to rate this. To me a novel is either worth reading or it's not. Some I like better than others, but I can't say a novel is fourth fifths worth reading or two fifths a disaster! I look at the whole thing and it's either worth my time or it's not. On balance, this one was even though I had problems with it, which I shall discuss shortly.

Set in and around an English boarding school for the idle rich shortly after World War One, this novel has something in common with a novel I negatively reviewed in December 2016: Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. The difference between that disaster and this charmer is that this isn't first person, and it's competently written! Both novels are YA in the sense that the main characters are in that age range, but there the similarity ends.

This is much more like a book for grown-ups, and there's a world of difference between how this is written and how your typical YA novel is written. It would serve well many YA authors to read the Eulberg book and this one in comparison, in order to learn how to really write, and how to avoid chronic YA pitfalls (such as writing in first person, and going to extremes in your characterization), and how to actually create and develop realistic characters.

This is part of a series, and while I am not inclined to read any more of it since I'm not a series fan (unless they're particularly compelling!), I did enjoy this one, which is second in the series. I was pleased that you don't have to have read the first in the series in order to get into this one.

Lady Phoebe is the middle sister (the one I married as it happens! LOL!) in a wealthy family (an earldom). Her parents are dead, so her supervision is somewhat lacking. Despite that she comports herself well and is very mature (especially as compared with your typical YA girl!). We find her doing good in the form of collecting supplies for war veterans, but this is as far as her good deeds seem to extend, so this felt more like 'tell' than ever it did 'show'.

Admittedly we see her only in the context of this murder mystery, upon the resolution of which she has set her compass and is firmly and determinedly engaged, but it would have been nice to have seen her character rounded-out rather more than we got - to have shown us she was a decent sort rather than simply being told it, and then shown that she really was no better than anyone else of her class in life. As it was she came off a little bit as a one-note character. Yes she's helping war veterans, a subject which is revisited in this story commendably, but on the other hand, elsewhere in her life she seems to be rather callous towards those less well-off than herself.

Naturally, this is in some ways to be expected since it's set in post-Edwardian times. Note that there is no traditional name for the periods after the Edwardian. Britain seems to have become disillusioned with its monarchy after King Edward and gave up naming times after the reigning monarch. Of course, King George was on the throne, and 'Georgian' was already spoken for, so maybe this contributed to the downfall.

The British monarchy needs to come up with new names instead of recycling ones from previous eras! Having eight Henrys should have taught them that at least, particularly the last one who was a disgrace. The first Elizabeth - the first monarch to give her name to an era in Britain - set the pace, but her failure to generate an heir was also disastrous. Maybe that's why they didn't have another female monopolizing the throne for a couple of centuries afterwards?

So yes, people of the upper classes were appallingly ignorant of, and disdainful towards those of "lower stations" - and still are, I'm sorry to say, which is why I personally have no time at all for the not-so-nobility. I get that much, but this story was not written in the inter-war years. It's a modern story speaking of an historical period and I think it would have been a lot nicer to have depicted Phoebe actually practicing what the author has her preach. Unfortunately, she doesn't.

Lady Phoebe's crime-cracking partnership has only one other member: the lady's maid named Eva, who is an interesting character, and who doesn't get anywhere near enough air time. This is fine as far as it goes, and it makes for an interesting dynamic, reminiscent of a similar one in TE Kinsey's A Quiet Life In The Country which I positively reviewed back in November 2016. That relationship was much more equitable though.

Here, even as put-upon Eva is helping Phoebe, her own job is being neglected because of Phoebe's incessant demands, and Phoebe just doesn't seem to get this or care about it. Yes, she pays lip-service to it once in a while, but never actually does anything to help her. This made her come across as self-centered and selfish. This is not a trait you want to broadcast about your main character when she's supposed to be the good guy! We're constantly reminded of how selfish the older sister Julia, is, but frankly I saw no difference between Julia and Phoebe. I really didn't.

Eva is shared with everyone else in the house. If she was solely Phoebe's lady's maid I could see this working, but she 'belongs' to everyone. This doesn't prevent Phoebe from selfishly monopolizing Eva's time though, and putting her way behind with her work. Never once does Phoebe stop to think of what she's asking of or doing to Eva. I kept thinking that this story would have been more interesting if Lady Phoebe wasn't the detective and it was all Eva. That would have been much more difficult for an author to work, though, since Eva was so tied to the house work, and heavily subjugated to the demands of two mature sisters and a younger one as well, but some author might welcome such a challenge.

The murder is of the headmistress of the school - by poison - and Lady Phoebe is set on discovering the truth about it even as the police inspector wants to wrap up the case. She has a lot of work to do and I loved how the author had her patiently progressing through it, feeling like she was up against a brick wall, and then finding another way through with the ever-patient and long-suffering help of Eva, who was a charmer through and through. I loved her character.

I know that women of Phoebe's station were considered marriage prospects back then - like this was all women were good for, but this pairing of Eva with the police officer and Phoebe with Owen was a bit much for me. It's very reminiscent of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries with the pairing of the well-to-do Phryne Fisher and her paid companion Dot Williams with two male characters, Dot being paired with constable Hugh Collins. The upside of this is that this author is no YA hack and so she didn't make the chronic mistake of YA authors: instadore! The relationships are building slowly (over the series, it looks like) so that at least was welcome.

That said, I have to consider this a worthy read when viewed as an entity, since it did hold my interest. It felt like it ought to have been a shorter novel than it was. It felt like it was getting a little long in the tooth towards the end, and I liked the last twenty percent less than I did the first eighty, but overall, I consider this a worthy read, especially if you're into historical mysteries, so i recommend it.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales


Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another let's-give-it-a-try audiobook which turned out to be a mistake. It was read tiresomely by Rebecca Lowman. The first chapter was nothing save non-stop whining told in a nauseating first person voice by this clueless, whiny-ass brat of a girl named Elise Dembowski. She should have been named Dumb-Bitchski. Far from being (as the blurb lies) told in a "refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice," this novel was just the opposite.

The entire first chapter went on and on about how much of a social pariah Elise is, but never are we offered the slightest reason to explain why she's so disliked. After listening to this though, I knew perfectly well why no one liked her. Forget others warning people away from her. I wanted to warn people away from her! She was utterly clueless, insensitive to others, obnoxiously self-centered and self-important, and completely lacking in empathy. I saw no reason why anyone should like her. I sure didn't.

This is yet another in a vomit-inducing long line of first-person voice YA novels, and it was depressingly cookie-cutter. If it hadn't been in first person, that probably wouldn't have improved matters at all, but it might have made her less repellent. This was a DNF for me for several reasons, not least of which was the whining. The extremism in the apparently clueless author's claim that literally everyone in school shunned her was laughable. It simply was not remotely credible.

It was even less credible that she could turn this around and become a renowned and cool DJ - like this is somehow a pinnacle of achievement. Seriously? If she'd gone to Africa and helped AIDs victims, or helped feed starving people in some third world nation, or even handed-out blankets to the homeless one cold night in her own town, that would have been turning things around. That would have been changing who she was since she was so self-centered before, but to cite DJ-ing as some sort of life-altering plateau of achievement and coolness? I'm sorry, but all that induces in me is the idea that the author is as out of touch as her character is.

You know a YA author is not getting it done when her youthful main character has precisely the same musical tastes as the much older author does, but the final insult is that this is yet another YA author who seems to think that teen girls need a guy to validate them, otherwise they're somehow incomplete. Get a clue. Get a life. Think before you write, and quit pulling your plots out of the dumpster for goodness sake. I'm done with this author. This song won't save your life; it will bore you to death.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher


Rating: WARTY!

This book was obnoxious, and I DNF'd it about a third of the way through it, because the main character, Logan, was totally ridiculous. If I'd known that Kirkus Reviews liked it, I would have avoided it like the plague. I don't think Kirkus ever met a book it didn't adore, so those reviews are utterly meaningless. If I'd known it had won an award, I would likewise have shunned it. Books which win medals and awards rarely meet my approval. They're far too pretentious and "literary" for my taste. This one wasn't really either, but it was still a disaster, well worthy of some literary medal or award. I'm unlikely to ever be offered one, but I promise you if I ever am, I shall flatly refuse it.

If this novel had been published thirty years ago, then some of it might have made a little sense (but still have been unforgivable), but to publish in 2009 and take the trope route main character Logan Witherspoon "just didn't know" is farcical. Any author who does this these days is clueless. The term 'gender dysphoria' was coined in the early seventies and while it took it's time entering the lexicon, other terms applicable to this situation were in wide use. Even people living in podunk towns know something of the LGBTQIA community, so Logan's extreme ignorance was a joke, and not even a funny one.

At any time there are always plenty of jerks and dicks who aren't fit to be anywhere near, let alone in the company of, the LGBTQIA community, but allowing this, Logan's complete ignorance about the topic simply wasn't believable. His 'extreme prejudice' reaction when he learned how Sage came to be the person she is was just plain stupid. It's not possible for the character we had been introduced to at the beginning of the novel to have become that extreme so precipitately by a third the way in, and even if we swallow his ejaculations for what they were, then it's simply not possible to believe that he could ever have erected himself from the sad depths in which he'd so comfortably wallowed. Logan was a dick, and that's all there is to him.

He was also a manic depressive going from high to low at a speed too fast to measure accurately with the technology we have today. Everything was extremes for him, and his behavior was entirely ridiculous and quite literally not credible. The way he behaved towards Sage was obnoxious, and his constant 'I' this and 'me' that made him seem even more self-obsessed and inflated than he would have been in third person. It was depressing to listen to his constant juvenile whining in an audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne, whose voice was way too John Green for my taste, which made the novel even worse.

Sage Hendricks wasn't much better, frankly. It's perfectly understandable that she'd be nervous at best and terrified at worst of her secret getting out, and to her credit she does try to steer Logan away from it, but at the same time, instead of adhering to their agreement to be friends, she proves something of a tease, and definitely leads him on. In some ways I can understand her behavior, but in other ways, it was inexcusable.

On the one hand, you have to allow that it's her business and no one else's, and if he truly cares for her he should accept her for whoever she is, but on the other, we don't yet live in a society where a mtf transgendered person is the equivalent of a biological female. Apart from the issue of pure acceptance (by society as well as by any given individual), there's also the issue of why people form relationships, and one reason is to have children. Clearly (until our medical profession advances dramatically), it's problematical to enter into a relationship with a guy when he doesn't have all the facts at his disposal. there are biological females who cannot have children either, so this situation is no different. If a couple are getting serious, then it's important to be completely honest with each other about what can be expected.

That said, this was another high school story and I cannot take high-school romance stories seriously for the most part. Or any YA romance for that matter. Very few of them are remotely realistic and most are so badly-written as to be a sorry joke. While there are some people in that age range who are commendably mature and who can realistically enter into a serious relationship with a reasonable expectation of it working out in the long term, most people the age of Sage are not sage and those like Logan are hollow at best and clueless at worst.

The rather tired premise for this story is really ripped off from Romeo and Juliet. Logan is pining over his lost love Rosaline, er Brenda (Brenda, really?), but then is suddenly overcome by his lust for new girls Sage. Admittedly, she plays a lot harder to get than does Juliet, whose morals I've always suspected, quite frankly. In this case, he's the Capulet and she's the mountebank. When she finally comes clean and reveals that she started out life with a Y chromosome in place of the other X, his reaction is laughable. The fact that he does take off like this, thinking the most horrid things about her, almost punching her, and using the most unforgivable names about her made me only realize that even if he were to come around later to her point of view, it would be such a pile of fiction that it wouldn't be worth the reading. That's when I gave up on this worthless piece of pretentious (I changed my mind!) trash of a book. And what's with the frigging title? Almost Perfect? Not by a long chromosome. And what's the betting that the cover model isn't remotely transgender?


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trolled by DK Bussell


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
p21 "as it the job was formerly known." an 'it' too many?
p32 "bicep" should be 'biceps'
p49 "Begging your counsel, my Queen," sounded very odd. Begging your forgiveness, maybe? Begging your consent?

Note that this is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. I like this publisher, and when I was asked if I would review this, I thought it was by the same author of a previous novel I'd read and liked, but this one isn't. It's apparently by a relative, and the story did not impress me for a variety of reasons. I am not a huge fan of fantasy, but this one at least sounded like it might be different, which is the reason I decided to read it. Unfortunately it wasn't different at all, and was heavily invested in your usual trope and cliché common to fantasies.

The twist here was supposed to be that modern young adults who were into Live-Action Role Playing (LARP) fantasy games passed through a magic portal into a real fantasy world, but this was not impressive, and was a fail for me. Plus it felt like the "white savior" story wherein a white person (usually a guy, but in this case a girl) offers salvation to a native population. I'm not impressed by such stories. There was one character in a wheelchair, which was commendable on the face of it, but the idea of maneuvering a wheelchair through a wild forest made the idea rather ridiculous. It would have been better had the character been on crutches or something like that.

In order to bring the fantasy, the author used the occasional odd phrase, such as: "The mighty buck's hooves pounded steady against the earth, his mane flowing like warm streaks of honey" which sounded strange, but whatever. The weirdest one was "As she watched the scorpion strafe from side-to-side her mind went back to Epping Forest." Unless the scorpion is shooting a machine gun or dropping bombs, then it's not strafing! One does not strafe from side to side!

Other parts of the story simply took me right out of suspension of disbelief, such as when I read: "He held up a fist and the signal echoed back through the ranks, bringing the remaining army of three-hundred trolls to a halt." My question here is why would trolls in a fantasy world use the same hand-gestures that modern military use (at least according to popular TV and film)? It made no sense to me, and it wasn't the only thing I had issues with. Another example was, "The scorpion returned the favour by slashing Terry across the head with his pincer, landing a cut just above his hairline." The issue here is why would the giant scorpion do that rather than simply take his head off? It's obviously because the author can't kill off this character, but it once again took me out of suspension of disbelief. There are ways to write scenes like this and give your essential character an escape from almost certain death, but it needs to be more realistic than this to work for me.

A similar case arose with the magical "home tree" - another trope, having elves live in trees. The tree was called Elderwood, and I read of it: "Elderwood had enough magic left in him to aid his allies' escape. As soon as they were at a safe distance he cast a spell through his roots that turned the soil beneath the enemy into quicksand, swallowing the trolls and dragging them into the suffocating mire." This was after the troll attack. My question here is, if Elderwood had this power, why didn't it get used as soon as the trolls attacked and have them taken out? Obviously, it was because there has to be some trope sword-fighting and blood-spilling here, but again, it jumped right out at me and interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

The idea of a strong female character always appeals to me, but to have some girl who has no interest in fantasy suddenly become the champion of the fantasy world makes no sense. No doubt at some point in this 'saga' she will turn out to have elf blood in her (how this cross-species fertilization is supposed to work is another mystery!), but even if she did, this is no guarantee she would be a great warrior!

As I indicated, this is intended to be a series, which to me is just another reason for me to avoid it! I'm not a fan of series. Although sometimes one comes along that is worthy of reading, in general, they tend to be derivative, repetitive, and uninventive. In short, they're boring and a lazy way to write. And because this is part of a series, it ended rather abruptly, the assumption being that the reader will continue on with volume two. I don't have the enthusiasm to do that, and for the reasons I've indicated, I can't recommend this as a worthy read, but I wish the author well with it. Maybe others will find it more entertaining than did I.


Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg


Rating: WARTY!

This book is, quite literally, a waste of paper and Scholastic ought to be ashamed of themselves for wantonly destroying trees like this. It's especially sorry - since the book is an edition intended for schools - that a publisher should set such a sterling example of disregard for the environment. Let me explain.

The book format is 5x8 inches, a total square area of forty square inches per page which is quite staggering when you think about it. The text occupies (if I'm generous with the margins) only 60% of this surface, and almost as bad, it's set at 1.5 line spacing, which means it occupies fifty percent more space than it needs. If you combine these factors, then this 230 plus page book could have been cut down to around one hundred fifty pages. This would not only have helped save trees, it would also have brought the price down by (very roughly) a dollar per book purely from it requiring less paper and shorter print runs (which also saves energy). This cost saving could have been directly passed on to the schools the book was sold to.

None of this is at the author's feet, but it does demonstrate yet one more very good reason why you should never trust Big Publishing&Trade;. Clearly they have no one's best interests at heart, not even their own, evidently! LOL! This is why I will never publish with those people

What I can lay at the author's feet isn't much better I'm sorry to report - especially at this time of year of an author whose last name (depending on how it's pronounced, is reminiscent of Christmas! This book is clearly a clone of Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice (a manga of which I reviewed back in July 2014). It's purportedly some kind of homage, but it's set in the USA in modern times, and it plays rather fast and loose with Austen's premises, so for me it felt more like avarice than ever it was homage.

The focus here is on an elite private girl's school named Longbourn, the sole sorry raison d'être of which appears to be the school senior prom, for which any girl who is anybody is expected to have a date, preferably with one of the wealthy boys from the nearby Pemberley Academy. Despite being brought into the twenty-first century, the book offers no more variety of people (in terms of race, for example) than does Austen's. In Austen's case it was understandable, but in the case of this modernization, it's inexcusable.

I thought the title amusing, but was less pleased with the book despite it not being quite as predictable as I'd feared. Lizzie Bennet was a scholarship student, and Will Darcy a very rich student at the other school. Jane was not her beloved older sister, but her best friend and roommate at the school where nearly all of the students treated her appallingly.

In some ways the translation was done quite well, but in others it was disastrous. The first mistake the author made was to abandon the example set by Jane Austen herself, and write the book in first person instead of third. Clearly the author hasn't the respect she pretends to have for Austen and chose the knee-jerk YA first person default, which made the book annoying at best, and lent a sense of self-importance to main character Lizzie Bennet that the character in Austen's world would never have assumed. It spoiled her.

Another unbelievable episode was George Wickham, who here was rendered a burglar, yet the family from whom he stole failed to press charges? There is no reason or rational explanation given for this. It made zero sense.

I found it amusing that Lizzie was highly antagonistic towards the wealthy, but was so hypocritical that her own sole measure of worth was skin-shallow beauty. That Jane was beautiful seemed to be the only quality she had according to Lizzie - that and being one of Lizzie's meager duo of friends at the school. Never did we learn a thing about Jane's intellect or her academic interests because it's first person you see! Lizzie obviously cares for no one but herself here, and she whines about her predicament constantly. It's a tedious read about a selfish brat who is more spoiled than the people she despises!

Talking of academic interests, and as in all bad high-school stories, the teaching staff was virtually non-existent in this novel, and again as in really bad school stories, bullying was so rife as to be running at parody levels. It was at this ridiculous point that I wanted to quit reading, because it was too silly for words. Two things alone kept me going. The first of these is the idiots who believe you can't review a book after reading only ten or twenty or fifty percent of it. Yes, you can. Deal with it, you critics of critics! If it's so awful that you cannot read it, that's a review right there and it's a reviewer's duty to warn others of such lousy writing. This book is a case in point.

The second reason is that I kept hoping that things would turn around and something would make this story stand out, but the ending was such a deflated affair that it made the novel worse, not better. The only thing that made it stand-out was what a waste of a decent idea it was. I should have quit at twenty percent. Fortunately, because of the wasting of paper, this book was a refreshingly quick read, and that's probably the best thing about it: the author doesn't make you suffer for very long for which I'm grateful!

Chapter 7 is a complete waste of paper. Lizzie spends the weekend at Charles Bingley's ski lodge with his sister, and with Will Darcy and Jane. The author's idea is to pair Lizzie up with Darcy to create another interaction, but it was so poorly executed that it was executed. The farcical premise for this is Lizzie's lack of The Canterbury Tales which she needs for a school assignment. Her plan is to go into town and buy a copy, and so of course Darcy offers to drive her. The thing is though, that it's available free on line! There are no grounds for her going into town and buying the book - except of course that the author was desperate to get the two of them together and could think of no better ruse than this. Badly done, Emma, er, Elizabeth, badly done! You could argue that these students were required to read from a specific edition, but the author never mentioned any such rule, which would have helped her case slightly, but is still a flimsy excuse.

Moving the story into a US private school system simply didn't work. It carried none of the be-all-and-end-all of rigid class marriage which Austen's original did. None of this was about marriage or future prospects, it was simply about bullying and the prom, and really, who the hell cares? The power which was vested in this prom was laughable, even by US standards, and the snottiness of the "upper crust" characters was ridiculous. Yes, I don't doubt for a New York minute that there are people like that, but to claim that every single student in the entire school thoroughly detested Lizzie with a vengeance was absolutely stupid, and totally unrealistic.

Note that the bullying didn't leave off at snide remarks and shunning: there was an active campaign involving physical abuse, which the invisible teachers did nothing to prevent, and which Lizzie openly facilitated by flatly refusing to 'snitch'. I have no idea why this business of not snitching is so widely employed in this ilk of story, but here it made Lizzie look like a spineless loser. Frankly, after reading about half of this, I felt like joining in on the side of the bullies, I disliked Lizzie so much.

You can find the real Jane Austen at www.janeausten.org if you want to read what she actually wrote. But this book isn't worth your time.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Vampire Academy Graphic Novel by Leigh Dragoon, Emma Viecelli


Rating: WORTHY!

For a graphic novel created by two female writers/illustrators, I found this to be rather more sexualized than it ought, particularly regarding main character Rose. Emma Viecelli's artwork aside though (and the art wasn't bad at all in general terms), the adaptation by the curiously-named Leigh Dragoon was faithful to Richelle Mead's original, and overall, the story was told well. As usual I could have done without the ridiculous and pathetic "romance" between Rose and the academy's pet gorilla, but other than that, I liked this adaptation and I recommend it for anyone who likes the original or who is interested in getting up to speed on the story without reading the original, which I reviewed back in May, 2014.

There was one bit of unintentional amusement, which is when Rose has one of her trips into Lissa's brain. The illustration clearly shows Lissa from a third party perspective, climbing up through the trapdoor into the attic where she meets Ozera, but the text confidently states: "And there I am seeing the world through Lissa's eyes." No, you don't see the world through Lissa's eyes looking directly at Lissa, unless she's in front of a mirror! Sometimes I wish writers were a little more intelligent than this - or artists, whoever is at fault here, but they're no worse than movie or TV depictions of such things which are routinely in third person perspective and which look utterly ridiculous because of it.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
At one point there's a woman described who is wearing a T-shirt with an inscription on it referring to a breed of dog. Now it's entirely possible given the appalling grasp of good English in this country that a T-shirt could be misspelled, but I'm not convinced this was intended by the author - if it had been, I feel something would have been said about it in the test. The misspelling is of the name of a dog breed: Pekingnese. It should be 'Pekingese'

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

This is the kind of novel which I don't normally like, because in a real sense, it's just an author's trip down memory lane, which is as boring to me as a memoir usually is. Such trips are very personal and not all that meaningful to others unless those readers led a similar lifestyle and are of a similar age - and grew up in the US. In this case, we get a lot of references to 80's culture, but either the author doesn't remember the era very well, or he hasn't properly researched it.

For example at one point, one of the characters is surveying magazines on a rack in a store while waiting for someone, and he mentions that there are articles on the trial of Bernard Goetz, who shot four passengers on a subway rain, and on Gary Hart suspending his presidential campaign because of the smell of scandal. Yes, Gary Hart ran in the 1984 campaign, but the scandal with Donna Rice was during the 1988 campaign, and the shooting by Bernard Goetz took place in late December 1984 after the November election. His trial was in 1986 (with a civil trial a decade later).

All of this took place in the novel during a boring and dumb sequence in which the young boys were trying to get their hands on a Playboy which featured Vanna White, but that edition came out in 1987, so the timeline is wrong if we're trying to encompass all three of these events. This definitely has to be 1987 based on the arrival of the IBM PS/2 computer, so the Goetz reference was the confusing part.

The story would have been just as good with the Vanna White nonsense left out, and the with timeline touches of color omitted. Maybe some people will like that, but for me they were way overdone, and I could have also done without the constant references to music. It was like the author was showing off how much research he'd done, but we know how well that worked! Taht said, there was a point wher eosme of the music references had a purpose, but that was overdone as well, for me.

I say this because for me the story became interesting not because of all the endless, annoying timeline references, but in spite of them. To me they were distractions and irritations and the endless Vanna White obsession cheapened the story. The power of this novel came through the interaction of Mary Zelinsky - a commendably strong female figure, and an unusual one in a story like this - and main male character, Billy. Mary is one of the coolest characters I've read about in a book like this in a long time. I quickly reached a point where I was willing to positively review this based on her alone! LOL! The boys let down the story but she stood above all that and rescued it for me.

One thing which troubled me is how much access to endless ready cash these boys seemed to have and how profligate they were with it. Whenever they needed money they always had it, and lots of it, yet only one of them seemed to hail from wealthy circumstances. That felt unrealistic, but these things are offset by cool stuff, such as when Billy first meets Mary and notices that she has her nails painted with binary digits, reading 01111101010. The problem with this is that they go to eleven! Unless Mary has eleven fingers and thumbs, there's one too many digits! Or from a different perspective, one too few. Binary is based on multiples of two, so whereas decimal - the system we routinely use - goes up in multiples of ten when reading digits from right to left (the number 100 quite literally equals zero units, zero tens and one 'one hundred'), binary goes up in multiples of two, so 100 in binary would be zero units, zero twos, and one four, equaling four in decimal.

Eleven characters makes no sense in terms of translating the numbers to letters, all of which have an eight character code (or would have back then). At best it should be eight or sixteen, or if divided into groups of four, it should be eight or twelve. If she'd had a binary digits on each finger, this would have given the expected eight. As it was I couldn't translate it to any text (I had initially thought it might be her initials).

The decimal equivalent of the binary number we're given is 1,002, and you don't need the preceding zero, so maybe that's a typo. I guessed that it had something to do with Mary's mother - maybe she died on October 2nd? You'll have to read it to discover what those numbers really meant, and to discover that they were used in two ways. There's an old but amusing binary joke for which you have to keep in mind how the numbers are translated (multiples of two). It goes like this: there are only 10 kinds of people in the world - those who understand binary and those who don't!

Assuming the book is printed as it appeared in the ebook format, it's horribly wasteful of trees! It has seven pages to swipe past (or 21 screens, depending on whether you're reading on your phone or on a tablet), and most of this is not necessary. A lot of it is disgustingly gushing mini-reviews and recommendations, which to me are as pointless as they are nauseating. If you already have the book, what is the point of these? Why are they even there?

Does the publisher think that reviewers are so weak-willed that the opinion of others will sway them into liking a book they might have disliked otherwise? Maybe they appear only in the ARC, but to me they're a waste of time. I want to read this and decide for myself; I honestly don't care what others think, no matter who they are! But this is on the publisher, not the author, so it's not his fault. For me, it's yet another reason to self-publish.

The chapters are numbered with stretches of numbered BASIC programming code which is amusing and brings back some memories for me. When you're programming in that style, which is antique, you number the lines in tens not in units, so if you later realize that you missed something between lines ten and twenty, you can add it as line fifteen, and escape having to renumber every line. In terms of numbering chapters, this meant that chapter one for example, began with half-a-dozen lines of code numbered 10, 20, 30, etc., which was a bit of a cheat since it ought to have been numbered in the 100's.

All the other chapters were numbered appropriately - chapter two using 200 and above, chapter three using 300, and so on. I thought that was cute, although the programming syntax on each numbered line will be completely obscure to anyone who has no programming experience and perhaps to many who do if all they know is modern stuff like Java. Even Visual Basic and VB .NET are a different world from those older languages. It was fun though, and about the only memory lane portion of this book that I liked!

The story - finally, yes I'm getting to it! is that Billy has his own Commodore 64 computer which was all that and a bag of chips in its day, but he realizes that it's an amateur machine (and was half-way through its lifetime in 1987) when compared with the brand new PS/2 which boasted the power of IBM behind it. He's into programming games, and his school work is suffering because of it. When he learns, from Mary, of a competition in which he could win the IBM computer, he starts seriously working on his game, but his program is sluggish.

He turns to Mary for help and discovers that she is better than he is at programming, and she delightfully knows the names of some stellar female forebears from the earliest days of computing: Dona Bailey, Jean Bartik, Fran Bilas, Margaret Hamilton, Brenda Romero, Marlyn Wescoff, and Roberta Williams. The two begin working together and this is where the story really took-off for me. The time they share is quite wonderful, and you can see them growing towards each other. Call 'em software moments if you like!

These parts are written well, and make a refreshing break from the ridiculous instadore encounters typical of YA literature. This is only bordering on the young edge of YA and is more akin to middle-grade, but the romance is handled in a very mature and realistic fashion which is at times truly magical, such as the time when the lights go out in the back of her dad's store where they meet to program, and the two have a few moments in total darkness and close proximity. This was beautifully written.

Of course, you know there are going to be potholes in this road, and at one point the story got too dumb, and I feared I was going to have to rate it negatively, but after that part, it turned around again, and really settled back into a pleasing cadence. I liked the way life imitated art towards the end when Billy was trying to get back with a rather distant Mary.

She has a secret that juvenile Bill has been blind to, and her behavior is less than exemplary, but in the end, they both come to understand each other at a deeper level, and realize that there is more to them than juvenile attraction. I really liked the ending and it was this, and Mary as a character, which were what made me want to positively rate this story. I loved the way it worked out, and how well the Billy-Mary interactions were written. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Meet Kaya by Janet Shaw, Bill Farnsworth, Susan McAliley


Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of a series of short (around seventy pages), illustrated, "American Girls" books which tell stories of pioneer girls, American Indian girls, Victorian girls, and so on. In this case we're with Kaya, a Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) girl living in the American West in 1764. Kaya has several stories of her own, told in different volumes. This one has illustrations by Bill Farnsworth, and vignettes by Susan McAliley.

I think Kaya (full name Kaya'aton'my, short version pronounced Ky-YAAH) is a great role model for young girls who are struggling with the same kinds of issues she has, and let's face it, coming of age stories don't vary all that much (in very general terms), no matter which century you're in. Kaya is feisty, and a bit proud and boastful, but she's still finding her way in her world - a world which has not yet been ruined by predatory easterners plowing through everything which lay before them on their destructive trail westwards.

Kaya is proud of her horse and likes to run it, but when accepting a challenge from the boys in her band, she almost ends up injured and is censured for it. However, she recovers well at a later time when a friend's life is at stake. The story is realistic and fun. I don't buy into this "noble savage" mythology, or believe that American Indians of yesteryear lived in close harmony with nature, or expertly managed the land, or had any particular affinity with it. The truth is that they exploited it just as much as we do. The only difference is that their numbers were so small that they didn't over-exploit it as we do.

That said, this story presents Kaya and her people in a realistic light and tells a harmonic tale. The fiction is supplemented at the back with about eight pages of photographs and text discussing Nez Perce history and culture, and their modern world. All in all it's a great book, and I think I'm going to keep my eye open for others in this entertaining and educational series.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Glimmer by Tricia Cerrone


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Not to be confused with Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis, or Glimmer by Beth Kery, or Glimmer by Stacey Wallace Benefiel, or Glimmer by Evalyn Fulmer, or Glimmer by Annie Waters, or Glimmer by Melodie Ramone, or any of a dozen other glimmer books, this novel could have used a more distinctive, à propos, and individual title! Why not Black Swan? Well, Black Swan is also overdone, so why not Blue Swan? Titles are important. Memorable, distinctive titles are vitally important.

It's the start of a series and I am not a series fan, and it also is bogged down by an awful lot of YA trope yah? But it's also not written in first person voice for which I sincerely thank the author and vow to build a shrine in her name. See, you YA authors? You actually can write a viable YA story with a main female charcter in third person! Look and learn from this author! That said, this novel skated so closely to the thin ice of YA trope and cliché, that I would have rated it negatively if it had been in first person! That's how close it came!

As it is, there was enough going for it that I was willing to let the nauseating YA parts slide, and overall I consider it to be a worthy read. But because of the flirtation with the more nauseating parts of YA trope, I honestly cannot see myself pursuing the rest of this series, although I do wish the author every success with it. I just hope she doesn't ruin and cheapen her main character by turning her into a limp rag trope YA female when she started out so strongly. I saw signs that she was doing this toward the end of the novel, around the ninety percent mark, and so I truly fear for the main character, but not for the reasons the author wants me to!

So I wasn't sure I'd like this when I first began reading it, because I feared it might be another YA special snowflake story where the trope innocent young girl falls for the trope bad-boy from the street. I still fear that for the series, but as I read on in this particular volume, I grew more engaged. This is book one in the trope 'YA trilogy' (or series), and I can see an embryonic YA love triangle here, which is as sad as it's annoying. Actually, it's not even an embryo yet, more of a zygote, but it's there and it bothers me that we have yet another story where trope ostensibly strong, independent YA girl appears to be in need of rescue and support from trope bad boy or trope good boy, or worse: both.

The basic story is that of Sunday Cashus, a weird name which isn't even the real name of this sixteen-year-old girl who has lived in seclusion on a secretive military base virtually all her life. Her real name is Jocelyn, but this struck a false note since the name Jocelyn isn't even in the top forty for girls born in 1999. Could not a better name have been chosen? Yes, there are girls who don't get named popular names thank goodness, but they do tend to get names that are quite common. 'Jocelyn' just isn't on the board at all.

It seemed odd to me and out of place, but it's a minor issue and maybe the author has a good reason for it. I tend to put a lot of thought into my character names, and I try to make them appropriate to the story. Some of them are a tour de force and give clues to what's going to happen, so maybe this author is doing the same thing. Jocelyn used to be a boys name. It has German origins, so it goes with her last name, and it means 'one of the Goths' so who knows where that might lead?!

I preferred Sunnie though! She believes her family is dead, and that her uncle loves her and is taking care of her, but there's something off about everything, and it's a bit sad that it lakes Sunnie so long to realize it. I would have been happier if she had not put up with so much crap, but in her defense, she was isolated and had few touchstones to clue her in to how real life ought to be. That said, she was learning in school and studying foreign languages, so some of her innocence came across as a bit false and overdone. It's even more sad that her reality check comes not from her own examination of her life, but from her exposure to a boy of her own age who is brought into the "program' in which she is involved. On the other hand, she's led a very sheltered life, so her naiveté is understandable in some ways.

She believes she's getting medical treatment from the military in return for training and improving her "skills." These skills are rather of the Bionic Woman variety although Sunnie's skills come not from bionic implants, but from (she believes) experimental chemotherapy employed to treat her cancer. As time passes though, she learns that she doesn't have cancer after all, and that's not all that's been kept from her. Angry and frustrated, she begins pushing boundaries that she has never questioned before, and this is where the story became interesting to me. It made me believe (and hope!) that maybe there was more to Sunnie than a trope YA female protagonist.

I think one of the things which turned me off this story to begin with was the constant jumping from one new set of characters to another. It made it really hard to keep track of who was who and what the heck they had to do with what I'd read immediately before. I felt that could have been approached in a less choppy and annoying fashion, but once I got past those early pages, the reading became much more of a pleasure than it had been an irritation. The chapters are short and move pretty quickly, so it's overall an easy read and the reading went by quickly.

For the most part it was technically well-written, but I found a few textual problems, such as when Sunnie is taking a swab sample from herself. I read: "Sunnie obeyed, putting on gloves, taking the swab from the box..." Why does she put on gloves to swab herself? They don't want her to contaminate herself?! It made little sense. It felt like the author was writing this without really thinking about it because donning gloves is what she's seen people do on TV and maybe in real life. But specifying gloves wasn't required. It could have been simply related that Sunnie took a swab without saying if she wore gloves or not! It's worth keeping in mind when you're a writer!

'Whom' put in an inappropriate appearance here. For me, 'whom' can go in the trash can. I know authors feel like they have to use it so they sound educated, but it's antiquated. I can see it in the text, where as a reader, I just lightly skate over it, but it also appears in people's speech, and no one says 'whom' anymore, unless they're particularly pretentious. So I read, "Harvest from whom?" and "But I’m not sure by whom exactly," and it read false and made me realize I was reading a novel. It took me out of that world and back into reality. Skip the 'whom'!

At one point I read, "Said out loud, it actually sounded funnier that it was." when it should have read 'than it was" I know how these things happen! No spell-checker will catch them. The only way to get 'em is to re-read the text and that's when your eyes begin glazing over! We've all been there. Another instance was this: "...she repelled down the vertical bank to the river first." Unless the river bank is forcing her away from it, she's not being repelled, she's rappelling! One final example is "...she lied down." I rather suspect she laid down or she lay down. it;s very confusing, but 'lie' is a present tense verb so you don't use lied unless you've been lying! LOL! One last one: "...then sprang off a large jutting rock jettisoning herself through the air." Jettisoning is wrong. Projecting? Launching? Definitely not jettisoning. But there were very few of this kind of error, and I'm sure they'll be fixed in the final copy.

What of trope and cliché? Well, it's sentences like this that turn me off YA stories: "She closed her eyes and told herself not to think about the dark hair that fell over his forehead, or the gentle strength he’d used as he caught her." This is merely one example of Sunnie being out of character. Yes, she's a young woman and yes, she'd be curious about boys, especially since she's met none, but for her to turn from a tough cookie, independent and self-sufficient, into a limp rag in a boys arms is frankly pathetic.

Plus these are hardly things people think about in stressful or emergency situations, and far too many YA authors simply don't get this, in their blind, desperate hell-bent rush to include a romance. Forget the romance. Focus on the story. If the romance is going to happen it will, and it doesn't need any help from you! If it's not going to happen, you're going to ruin your story by forcing it on the characters. And forget the triangle. Two guys and one girl make the girl look like a duplicitous flibbertigibbet. Triangles never make a girl look heroic. Give the characters some self-respect for goodness sake!

The problem here, from a writing perspective is that Sunnie has no reason to trust any guy, much less get the wilts and the vapors whenever one looks at her. This felt to me like a betrayal of the woman she had become. She actually should have behaved more like a guy here, given her upbringing, her lack of socialization with young women, and her military training. Instead she suddenly became more like a thirteen year-old girl watching a rock star on TV. It was sad, and it was a betrayal of everything the author had done for her character to this point. I felt bad for Sunnie. At this point, she looked like she was being manipulated by the author in far more insidious ways than ever the military was manipulating her in the story! Here's an example: "No guy could resist a girl with big, blue eyes fighting for her life and begging for protection." This is the militarily trained girl begging for protection? And what if she had brown eyes, is she SoL?!

I'm so tired of reading of YA female characters who desperately need validation from a guy. Are there no YA authors out there who are willing to step away from the herd and write something new and different, and independent and original? It was my frustration with this which made me write Femarine. Fortunately, this tacky tack was very limited in this particular novel which is why I was willing to let it slide and not influence my overall rating, but it's also the reason I don't want to read more of this series, because I can see this just getting worse, and I liked Sunnie. I really did. I don't want to end up hating her, which I feel I will do if I pursue this series.

This business of telling instead of showing was a bit overdone. When Sunnie gets a new handler, we're told how awful she is when we should have been shown. It would have been better-written had this been made into an issue with the new woman, given that were being told, not shown, that she us cold and officious.. The character Graeme could have been omitted from the story altogether and it would not have suffered for it. He seemed like he was only there to complete the third leg of the triangle. His Porsche was far too 'Inspector Gadget' and made the story seem ridiculous at that point. I was really glad when it wrecked! Sunnie's escape was too long in coming, so was nice to see her explode into action, but it felt like this volume was one long prologue, which was funny, because this volume also had a prologue. I have no idea what that said since I routinely skip all prologues. It will be really funny if volume two has a prologue. LOL!

There were some cases of 'it's been done', such as when I read, “They really should invent a rubber that doesn’t wear out so easily.” Well, they did! It was used in the boots astronauts wore when walking on the moon. I find it hard to believe that such a well-funded military operation as this one did not have access to that!

But as I said, these are relatively minor considerations in this particular story. They will be amplified for better or for worse in a series, but I don't have to worry about that! So my rating is that this is a worthy read if you can overlook the YA tropes. I liked it. I liked the main character for her openness and thoughtfulness. I sincerely hope she doesn't go downhill in volume two and beyond! But for this volume, I recommend it. I'd ditch the two guys, though. Neither of them were worthy of Sunnie. Seth was a bit of a manipulative jerk who has no respect for personal space or for a young woman who is compromised and not street smart. Graeme was just a joke and not a funny one. The ending dragged on a bit too much and was entirely predictable, but as i said, not bad and worth reading.