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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Rating: WARTY!

This was a wildly optimistic audio book experiment given that I'd already tried Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and DNF'd it because it was an unmitigated disaster. I found myself forced to adopt the same approach here because this was simply not getting it done. Essentially it's a bit of a rip-off of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan which was published in 2006 and is a much better read.

Rowell seems to be an uninventive writer who loves to tell rather than show, and who seems to think that stereotypes are daring. No, they're really not, but they do win awards evidently, which is probably why I'll never win one. The first problem is that the basic story is antique: a boy and a girl hate each other, but fall in love? Been there done that to death.

The second problem with this is that it's written as dual narratives which suck. The only kind thing I can say about that was that at least it wasn't in first person. The third problem is that the author doesn't even pretend she can write such a novel about modern youth, so she sets this in the eighties so she can write it about her own youth. Yawn.

The chapters are all called either 'Eleanor' or 'Park' and each is read by one of the two readers: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra, and they lay out the perspective from the PoV of each main character so the author can tell you rather than show you what's happening. They meet on a school bus which is populated with stereotypes: jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, and so on. It's painfully tedious; there's nothing new, and I cannot commend it. I'm permanently off reading anything further by this author.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Invincible Iron Man by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Kate Niemczyk, Taki Soma, Kiichi Mizushima, Marte Gracia, Israel Silva


Rating: WORTHY!

So I read the second volume of the Ironheart graphic novel - this is the one featuring a female (a young female - she's only fifteen, but already a brilliant student at MIT). I had some minor issues with this volume. It's supposed to be about this girl who is replacing Ironman, so I was disappointed to discover that the title made no mention whatsoever of Ironheart!

The first volume at least had the title as "Invincible Iron Man Ironheart" which was bad enough (it made no sense for one thing), but volume two excludes the Ironheart bit altogether, like the comic isn't even about her! WTF, Marvel? There really is no point in promoting a female super hero if all you're going to do with her is render her as an appendage of the previous male hero to hold that title. It defeats the purpose, you know? For goodness sake let her fly solo. And don't treat your readers like idiots who would have no clue that Ironheart is a female incarnation of Iron Man without you spelling it out on the cover - because clearly you have no faith in the cover illustrations accomplishing that aim! LOL!

That aside, the overall story wasn't too bad, although it lapsed a bit here and there. Tony Stark's AI presence is nothing but an annoyance to me. If it was amusing, that would be something, but it isn't, and having so many types of speech balloon (one for Riri suited-up, one for her out of suit, one for Tony, one for Friday?) means it's a mess. Clean it up!

At one point I actually wondered if I'd be able to give this a favorable rating, but then it picked up and it saved itself enough that I'm willing to pursue this at least as far as volume three. One of my problems with it, and this applies to more than this one comic, is Marvel's lack of imagination in creating new villains. DC is just as bad. Let's resurrect the Joker again why don't we? Never mind how many times we killed him off, let's really keep digging back into the ancient past and bring out the same villains over and over instead of going to the trouble of using our imagination and creativity. Barf. The Joker is a joke. The Riddler is ridiculous. Catwoman is a pussy and the Penguin is for the birds. Find a new shtick!

This volume did change it up a bit in that the two main villains were females, but they were female versions (in effect) of male villains. Instead of the endlessly returning Doctor Doom, we got a female clone: a psychotic despot who was queen of Latveria of all places. Seriously? Get a new shtick, Marvel. At least, as temporary queen of Latveria, after defeating this idiot non-entity of a villain, Ironheart shone. Later Ironheart went up against Lady Octopus (and to her credit made fun of her title - this was one of the things which amused me and brought the novel back into my favor.

I'm happy to say that despite the lack of any female writing input, the art wasn't appallingly genderist, perhaps due to the presence of Kate Niemczyk and Taki Soma on the team, but it's still not enough. I am still hoping for better, but for now this isn't too bad.


Invincible Iron Man Ironheart by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Marte Gracia


Rating: WORTHY!

I tend not to read many super hero comics because they often rub me up the wrong way and the poses the artists put the characters into all-too-often seem utterly unnatural when they're not uninventive, and the sexualization, particularly of females is not acceptable to me. Plus the dialog is a bit lame - especially when the heroes are exchanging smart-ass remarks in the middle of a fight. It's thoroughly unrealistic - even given the premise that superheroes exist - so it's not my cup of gamma ray-infused kryptonite, but once in a while I do read one for better or for worse. This one was for better as it happens, although there is still much to be done here.

This one threatened to annoy me from the cover alone because despite it being about Iron Man's replacement (in this comic world Iron Man is dead - at least as much as any super hero or villain is ever dead in these things), the female who is taking over still doesn't get top billing, although her 'real' name curiously appears on the cover at the bottom of the page. Normally I pay little attention to covers because the author has little or nothing to do with them and the artist typically hasn't even read the novel, as judged by how irrelevant or clueless the cover art is, but in graphic novels it's different: the cover does matter.

J Scott Campbell's risible (if it were not so serious) 2016 cover that caused such a controversy when it was revealed is almost as inexcusable as his being in total brain-dead denial about what an inappropriate cover it was. Marvel seems to have learned a lesson from that, but there are more they still need to learn - like hiring an artist who is a black woman maybe to draw Ironheart instead of yet another white dude? Was Nilah Magruder not available? Yona Harvey? Anyone? Ferrous Jewels?! There have to be scores of young black female artists who would love a shot at this. Afua Richardson? Taneka Stotts? It's important - it just needs to become important to the comic book corporations: not important to say, but important to actually do!

And what's with the name Ironheart? It was the name of a Japanese soft-porn knock-off of Iron Man and the content was certainly not appropriate to link to a fifteen-year-old black woman who's set to become a hero. What was wrong with Iron Girl? Was it ever considered? Tony Stark is cleared to be an Iron Man, but Riri isn't cleared to be a girl? Well, I guess not according to J Scott Campbell she isn't!

The story shows Riri - who is purportedly a genius, creating her own suit and starting out as a self-made woman, finally being mentored by Tony Stark's AI, and befriending Pepper Potts who is also a super hero now. The story was upbeat, fun and enjoyable, but there's much more to this incarnation of the Iron Hero. I enjoyed this comic and felt that Riri had a voice worth hearing, but maybe others will disagree. Pre-orders for this comic series slowly fell after issue one. I can't help but wonder if this was because the female wasn't quite so sexualized after that outcry or maybe it was something else. Maybe the writing isn't there. Maybe the plotting isn't, but I intend to read more of this story and see where it goes. I commend this issue at least.


Quantum Mechanics by Jeff Weigel


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was one of the most entertaining graphic novels I've read in a while. Free-wheeling, fast moving, full of heart and invention, and original story, engrossing, and not a human in sight! I don't know if it's aimed at younger readers, but I found it perfectly fine and I'm definitely not a younger reader, but it will serve them too, especially girls who already really know they can do anything, but perhaps need an occasional bit of encouragement to keep them reminded so they don't get remaindered! I'm always an advocate of US writers getting away from the idea that the 'US is the only country worth writing about'. It;s such a trope and this story isn't only outside the US, it's quite literally out of this world.

It's about these two alien girls, one of whom is orphaned. The other lives close by with her mom and dad. Dad is a mechanic and they live on an asteroid surrounded by a mess of defunct spacecraft. The two girls are always trying to fix up something they can fly and all-too-often lack the pristine parts they need to do the work properly, leaving them with less than desirable results, but they're optimistic and inventive, and they never give up.

Into this sweet life comes an old acquaintance of their dad's asking for help in repairing his spacecraft - the Quasar Torrent - a request dad flatly refuses. His daughter decides this is a nifty way to make some cash and buy new parts for their own projects, so Rox and Zam offer to fix the problem only to discover, when the work is done, that they're no longer on the asteroid and are now part of a pirate crew in space - kidnapped!

As their tenure aboard as resident mechanics continues, and they fix all sorts of problems and befriend the easy-going crew, they realize there's more to this pirate life than they'd thought, and they also realize their captain isn't a nice guy at all. Plus, there are stowaways aboard!

Zam and Rox manage to juggle all these issues while keeping their sense of humor and upping their skill set, and a great story with a sweet ending is the result. The story is intelligent and fun, and the artwork is wonderful. I fully commend this as a worthy read (with a great title!)


Monday, September 3, 2018

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WORTHY!

Last volume! A worthy read. Scott finally confronts Gideon, who is much less of a mystery figure in the book than he is in the movie. Ramona has vanished and Scott is so stupid that he thinks she has gone to Gideon despite clear indications to the contrary. Unlike in the movie, she never does go off with Gideon and is entrapped by him only in her mind. Also unlike the movie, and I'm sorry for this, Knives Chau never does become a ninja maiden and fight against Gideon alongside Scott. I think the movie makers made a wise choice in that departure because that scene was awesome.

The character interactions were much warmer and more realistic (and still amusing) in this volume and in volume five, and it made for a deeper and better story. Again, Kim Pine was outstanding. Again Ramona wasn't quite and scintillating as she was in the movie. It felt like some things were not wrapped up here, but that didn't really spoil it. Anyway, after moping over Ramona for the first half of the book, Scott decides to confront Gideon at the opening of his new club and the inevitable battle begins. Scott is killed, but he has gained for himself another life during his previous episodes, and comes back to life, better than ever.

Ramona and Scott don't go off into the sunset at the end, but they do go off into the subspace world which works even better. I commend this as a worthy read.


Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the penultimate volume of the Scott Pilgrim hexalogy and after having not really liked the middle two so much, I'm happy to report that the trailing bookend pair were pretty good. They were a little bit different and had more soul to them, and they were more entertaining. The artwork as usual was as usual.

In volume five, he faces off against the Japanese twins, who keep sending robots to attack him. This is completely different from the movie, and is actually more entertaining. The movie was a bit repetitive itself in this regard because the battle with the twins was really nothing more than an amplified version of his battle with Todd Ingram, whereas in the book, it's necessarily more extended and more inventive.

Also, the intriguing Kim really starts coming into her own, not least of which is for noticing - and photographing - the fact that Ramona has a glow, which I was sorry to learn never actually was explained. Anyway, that aside, I commend volume five as a worthy read.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbairn


Rating: WARTY!

On to volume four, which was just as much of a disappointment as volume three, and for the same reasons: one note story, nothing fresh on the table, repetition of the motifs from previous stories.

Thee was a mild improvement which came from this short section where Knives's dad comes after Scott with a sword and ends up killing off one of the exes which is left entirely out of the movie, but that was about it. Everything else was humdrum. Even Ramona! Even that section was a bit stereotyping in that her Asian father is portrayed as a sword-weilding vengeance seeker.

I was thinking about this Ramona issue, too, and I think one of my problems with this was that Ramona was portrayed so perfectly by Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the movie that the graphic novel version of her looks rather threadbare in comparison. She has her moments but she cannot hold any sort of decent candle to the movie Ramona.

Another problem I had with this was that it was more exploitative than previous volumes: a lot of female characters were drawn seemingly for purely carnal purposes than I recall from the earlier outings, including Knives, whom we're told is still seventeen. It's like on the one hand the author wants to represent her as an innocent child in need of protection, but on the other he has no problem depicting her in a bikini on a beach for no purpose other than to show her ass (which appears more than once in this volume).

So, I was not impressed with this one either, and I cannot commend it.


Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Nathan Fairbirn


Rating: WARTY!

Now it's my sad duty to report on two failures by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Volumes three and four of this series. Starting with volume three. This is one reason why I dislike series as a general rule because they are frequently so derivative and lazy and it's hard to be genuinely creative when all you;re really doing is telling the same old story over and over again which is all too often what series end up doing.

I came to this by way of the movie which I'd been in two minds about watching for some time, but I discussed it with myself and we came to an agreement: I wouldn't spoil the movie if I agreed to give it a fair shot. I watched the movie with my kids and it was hilarious, so then I decided to go to the source and read the graphic novels.

There are six and I didn't realize that the movie encompassed all of them. Given what had happened with the first volume, it quickly became evident that some serious departures from the books must have occurred over the remaining five volumes and sure enough, this was the case. I was hoping this meant more fun, but starting with volume two, the graphic novels and the movie parted ways increasingly while still telling the same overall story.

The problem was that while the movie told a cogent and succinct story, the graphic novels were all over the place and I could see why much of it had been cut out of the movie. I could also see that if you really liked the graphic novels, and then moved on to the movie, you might not like it so well, or vice-versa.

I positively reviewed the first two volumes. Volume one was like watching the movie - which had been taken almost frame for frame and word for word from the comic. Volume two departed somewhat but was still a worthy read. After that it has gone downhill, based on my experience of volumes three and four, I'm sorry to report. It would seem like there's not a lot new that can be added given that the author has locked Scott into fighting every one of Ramona's evil exes.

Volume three is entirely about Scott's run in with Ted Ingram, Envy's band-mate and boyfriend, aka The Vegan. There's also a lot of fluff tossed in which did not entertain me. The story continues with the flags added to characters, like telling us that Knives Chau is seventeen, or tallying up how much Scott won for beating an opponent, or what kind of an outfit he's wearing, or telling Ramona he loves her. These are things we already know and it was simply irritating to read those this time around. It wasn't inventive any more, and it brought nothing fresh to the table.

So the hot potato of volumes one and two was now a wrinkled, drying, sprouting and slightly smelly potato that cannot be improved, no even by frying, and overall I can't commend this as a worthy read. If you're addicted to the series or if you haven't seen the movie and want to find out how it play out, then go ahead by all means, but it left me disappointed.


Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun graphic novel in nicely-drawn grayscale, about this girl, Anya Borzakovskaya, a Russian émigré who lives with her kid brother and her mother, and is trying not to feel like the odd one out at this private school she attends, trying to play down her origins, losing her accent, trying to fit in. She even refuses her mother's сырники (syrniki, a sweet cheese fritter. I had to look that up after first translating the Russian!) because she thinks she's overweight. She really isn’t, but shamefully slick advertising has brainwashed far too many girls into thinking they are.

I couldn’t quite follow how she ended-up going home in the dark though a deserted field, but she did. And she fell into a well. Fortunately, all was well, because despite the depth of it, she landed at the bottom without breaking or spraining anything. The problem is that it’s a deserted area and there's no one around except these bones, which bring forth the ghost of the girl, Emily, who once owned the bones. This is Anya's ghost.

When Anya finally is discovered and gets out, Emily, whose ghost has been tied to her bones for ninety years, somehow manages to follow her. At first this freaks out Anya, but after she discovers that Emily is useful, she becomes somewhat less fraught with misgivings. Emily can’t be seen by anyone else, and so is able to crib answers from other students during a test and relay them to Anya, for example. Having spent a lot of her free time reading fashion magazines in Anya's bedroom, Emily is also able to advise Anya on how to dress to kill, and put on make-up for a party she wouldn’t normally have attended.

It would seem that all was well with this new relationship in Anya's life, but when Anya starts talking about putting the ghost to rest, Emily deflects the matter repeatedly. Anya is a strong female character though and pursues the quest unbeknownst to Emily, co-opting the aid of another Russian émigré, a boy whom Anya had had little time for until now. What she learns from her investigation is disturbing, leading to a disturbing confrontation with Emily.

I really enjoyed this story. It was in some ways reminiscent of others I've read or seen in movies, but nonetheless fresh and very entertaining. The artwork was sweet, sand the main character, Anya, was admirable and very cute. I definitely would read something else by this author, and especially if it featuring this same character.


Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves


Rating: WARTY!

After reading about a third of this I came to the conclusion that while librarians may be experts on the concept and management of books, this doesn't necessarily translate to the content of a book. For a novel written by a librarian, this book was lacking far too much. It made no sense, was poorly written, and was larded with cliché.

The story is your usual teen trope: a new girl in a new town having acceptance problems. The author throws in the supernatural, but instead of this making the story better, it made it far worse. It didn't help that said teen, Hanna, wasn't remotely likeable. She was living with her aunt, but decided to hit her aunt over the head with a bottle, and leave, thinking her aunt was more than likely dead, to move to small town Texas, where her mother lives. This was a good move since both of these women were quite evidently sociopaths at best, and belonged together.

Hanna hears her dead father talking to her until she starts back on her meds, having negotiated with her mom a two week stay of eviction to prove she can make friends in her new school. Thus far there had been nothing remotely plausible in this story, but that was about to improve. Soon there would be nothing conceivably plausible.

Despite the school being possessed by some parasite that resides in the windows and can turn a living being into glass while sucking the life force and all organic tissue from them, not one single person: not her mother, not her teachers, nor her classmates, tell her a single thing about what's going on, nor do they offer a single warning to her, or a single piece of advice on how to protect herself. I'm sorry but no. The author has made the typical YA writer's blinkered assumption that every single person is exactly the same, has the same feelings and motives and will treat a newcomer to the school in exactly the same cruel manner. I've come to expect this from your average female YA writer; I made the mistake of expecting more from a librarian.

Worse than this, this supernatural crap has been going on at this school for months, yet not a single alarm has been raised about kids dying or going missing. No one from out of town has any idea there's something seriously wrong with this town?

There's also something seriously wrong with the majority of YA authors. A few of them are brilliant, but far too many of them seem to be incapable of creativity or imagination and end up taking the road of least effort, cloning everything everyone else has already written, and applying the same brain-dead ham-fisted techniques of authorship to it. YA is the most blundering, dead-end, mindless, derivative, festering swamp of unoriginality and cluelessness, rivalled only by chick-lit café and/or bakery 'sleuthing' genre (I flatly refuse to read any novel that carries the word 'sleuth' on the cover), and by the chick-lit 'poor spineless rejected girl flees back to her home town and meets Mr Ri-ight like that's going to happen, and he'll save her because he's a manly man and she's just a poor weak woman' garbage genre.

This particular example of all that's wrong with YA has the 'girl hating the guy that you know for a fact she's going to be swooning over in short order' trope. It has the 'no one tells her shit' trope; it has the 'throw the girl together with the guy she supposedly hates' trope. Frankly, it would be easier to list the tropes it doesn't have so I'll stop there. The thing which finally made me throw this book out before it made me throw my breakfast out of my stomach was when the girl and the guy were thrown together after she encountered the evil thing in the glass.

So this guy invites himself to her home afterwards, and she tells him he can't come in, but he pushes his way in anyway and she has no problem with that. At least now they both have the chance to sit down and finally discuss everything that's been going on, right? Nope. Not a word. He explains nothing and she's far too brain-dead to ask any intelligent questions. This novel SUCKED, period.


Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo


Rating: WORTHY!

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

Inappropriate as it may be, I fell in love with Louisiana Elefante when I read of her in this author's Raymie Nightingale which I also fell in love with back in April 2018 when I listened to it on audio and loved the amazingly-named Jamie Lamia's reading of it. So yeah, you can call me biased going into this one!

I snapped this one up as soon as I saw it on Net Galley, and did not regret it one bit! And this is despite the author's winning the Association for Library Service to Children's Newbery Medal (Twice!), which normally turns me right off both an author and her oeuvre. Good thing I didn't know about the Newbery before I read these books, right?! I hadn't read either of this author's Newbery winners (The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses prior to this, but afterwards I did read that latter novel and was predictably unimpressed with it!

I tend to side with Anita Silvey, John Beach, and Lucy Calkins on this Newbery medal, but maybe for different reasons. The medal is overwhelmingly genderist: two-thirds of both honorees and winners are female. You can argue that most children's writers are female, and even try to argue that since women are underrepresented in books in general, both as authors and recognition winners, this bias only helps to redress a sad imbalance, but that imbalance goes deeper.

If most children's authors are women (and it's surprisingly hard to get solid statistics on that!), then why are books for children so overwhelmingly about white boys? Something's rotten in the state of bookmark! But on a personal reading level, Newbery books have almost consistently bored the pants off me, fortunately not literally, but this is why I won't read 'em, and why (unlikely as it would be!) I'd turn down a Newbery if one was offered to me.

But I digress! I'm not a fan of series, unless they're particularly well done, and few are. They're more often a lazy and mercenary rip-off of the original novel, but this is a spin-off, not a series, which to me is a different thing altogether. Louisiana, one of the trio of 'Rancheros' in Raymie Nightingale, and I have to add, my favorite of the three, is on her own in this story with no support network of friends, only her aging, eccentric, and it has to be said, kleptomaniac grandmother. Her parents were the Flying Elefantes: renowned acrobats who died when Louisiana was very young. I guess this one time they failed to fly.

Ever since then, Louisiana has lived with her grandmother who is a bit bats, or maybe not. In this story, grandmother wakes Louisiana up at three in the morning to say they have to go, and they take-off down the highway with virtually no money, charming someone out of a can of gas here, and a treatment of her grandmother's bad teeth there, and so on. Louisiana has to sing at a funeral to pay for their motel room.

The story is slightly tongue-in-cheek and eccentric and highly entertaining. Louisiana's perspective on life is completely charming. I have been seeking out more by this author even as I read this particular one. Normally if a book is described as quirky, or words to that effect, or has 'wacky' characters in it, I avoid it like the plague, but this story is just my cup of tea. Louisiana is captivating and her thought-processes refreshing. She is at once innocent and wise, naïve and jaded, and the combination is irresistible. I commend this, even if it does end up winning a Newbery!


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D Sonnier


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Good Demon by Jimmy Cajoleas


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T Parker


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The sections include:

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

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

Mae Vol 1 by Gene Ha


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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


Skin & Earth HC by Lights


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, June 1, 2018

Final Draft by Riley Redgate


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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