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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Waking Land by Callie Bates


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher - and thank them for an ebook copy which was nicely formatted! Far too often the ebook is a second thought after the print version, and the formatting suffers, but that was not the case here.

That's where the joy ended though, because then I had to read it. You know you're in trouble with a novel when you're only ten percent in and you're asking yourself how much more you really have to read before you can DNF it and say you gave it a fair chance!
The novel started with a prologue, a thing which I never read. They're antiquated and contribute literally nothing to a story except to kill a few more trees in the print version. Maybe authors who write prologues and epilogues hate trees? The thing is that this whole business of Elanna being kidnapped and held hostage made zero sense, except in that it did herald a lot of other plot points which made no sense either! Maybe I should have read the prologue and then DNF'd it at that point?

The thing is that if I'd known going into this, that it was to be a first person YA trilogy full of cliché and trope, I would never have asked to read it, but Net Galley offered not a whisper. Such books ought to be required to carry a warning sticker. From the blurb, it had sounded like it would be an engrossing and entertaining read. Sic Transit Gloria Blurbi!

I'm very rarely a fan of first person, and unfortunately that voice is chronically over-used in YA stories. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many writers herd themselves like sheep into such a constricting voice, and one which simultaneously makes their character look so dysfunctionally self-important that it is, unless handled well, thoroughly nauseating to read.

Nor are YA trilogies any more welcome in my reading list. They're typically unimaginative, rambling, trope-filled, derivative, and bloated by their very nature. I long for a YA writer who is willing to step outside the trope and think outside the box, but they are a very rare and much-treasured commodity these days, as everyone else rushes-in like lambs to the dip, where more angelic bovines are far too wise to tread. It's all in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and it's sad; truly sad.

This novel initially had intrigued me because of the Earth magic. It's what attracted me most of all, but we were largely denied any exploration of that in the portion I read, and what we did get was accidental or incidental. This was one of the problems. Elanna has this magic, and has known of it since childhood, but she has suppressed it.

To be fair, there are reasons for this, but the fact that she's scared of it and never explores it (except for one too-brief incident we're shown right at the beginning of the novel) made me dislike her. What kind of a dullard do you have to be to have such delightful and powerful magic, and not want to at least tinker with it in private, and learn something about it? The fact that Elanna didn't, not only made her inauthentic, it also made her thoroughly boring and cowardly. There's a huge difference between teasing your readers, and denying them a story that feels real.

Elanna Valtai (often called Lady Elanna for reasons which are not clear - and which felt employed only to give her a cachet she has not earned) was taken hostage at gunpoint (pistol-point more accurately) at the tender age of five, by a conquering king who, over the last fourteen years, she has grown to love as a father. This made little sense, but Elanna is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She was more like a spork with blunted tines, and consequently neither one thing nor the other. She's fascinated by botany and so, when the king is poisoned, she becomes the prime suspect with improbable rapidity, and is forced to flee.

To me, this made zero sense. The one-dimensionally hateful and cardboard princess, who is now queen, has no reason whatsoever to fear Elanna. She considers her too low to even take seriously, so why bother framing her? We're offered no honest motivation for this at all. At this point the story was no different from the trope high-school story of the girl who is bullied.

Elanna is paradoxically presented as a charming and easy-going woman who everyone likes on the one hand, and on the other, a crudely rustic figure of fun who has no place in court and who is disliked by everyone, having no friends at all! Again, it made no sense that she would have literally no one. It felt like the author was following a rigid plot without actually giving any thought to how realistic or practical this world was that she was creating. If the king is so great, then why doesn't he put a stop to the bullying? The fact that Elanna never once questions this is yet another example of how stupid she truly is.

As I mentioned, despite being repeatedly given the appellation 'Lady', Elanna is never shown to be one. I have no problem with a character being portrayed as having emotions and sensitivity. I think we need more male characters like that in fact, but as usual in YA, the author overdoes this with their main character, so instead of showing her to be a reasonably empathetic young woman raised to be nobility, not a princess, but at least with some spine, she comes across as a weak, limp, and as a weepy, clueless little girl. It was pathetic to read about her.

Once she realizes she's going to be blamed for the king's death, and instead of taking control of her destiny and facing down the charges, which would have actually made for a much more engaging story, Elanna betrays her entire upbringing, and runs away like a scared little girl. Worse than this, she's manhandled by her love interest (and yes, it was ham-fistedly and loudly telegraphed as soon as he appeared in the story), so immediately, all control over her life is removed, and she becomes the toy and plaything of a complete oaf of a man named, inevitably "Lord", as in 'Lord and Master' no doubt as we see her weakly complying with his every demand.

Not only that, she takes the usual abusive and utterly sick YA route of falling for this patronizing and condescending dick like she's an air-headed thirteen-year-old. This is entirely the wrong message to send to young girls, and the fact that so many female YA authors do this so consistently is as scary as it is dangerous. People who talk about a rape culture seem ignorant of this facet of it, in which women are taught, in story after story, that's it's not only okay for a guy to take control over your life, but that you should go along with it mindlessly, and even fall in love with him no matter how he treats you; then we look askance at those women who end-up in abusive relationships.

The saddest thing about this is that all the hots she has for this man take place when she is quite literally fleeing for her life. What kind of a pathetic, misguided specimen do you have to be, to be having hot flashes for a guy when your very life in in peril? It made zero sense and cheapened the whole thing. It was so badly done that it ruined all hope of an intelligent or realistic romantic relationship.

For me, it did nothing but keep reminding me that I was reading a poorly written YA novel into which romance had been jammed for no other reason than that the author and/or publisher determined it was a requirement rather than that it might naturally and organically grow out of a realistic relationship. It suggests that the author either doesn't trust her characters, or she doesn't trust her writing skills, and it sends the wrong message yet again: that all women are Disney princesses who are useless without a man to be a father figure as well as (sickly!) a lover. It says that no young woman can stand on her own two feet - she always needs a studly guy to validate her and shore her up. I call horseshit on that one.

I've read this story so many times that it turns my stomach. The author might change character names, and set them in a new locale, and even give then magic, but it's the same story. They're exactly the same characters going through exactly the same empty motions over and over again. Can YA authors not come up with something new for once? Really? It's pathetic how unimaginative and uninventive YA authors are. Here's a choice quote: "Don’t they realize I’m a scholar as well as a lady of fashion?" What?! Where the hell did that come from?

There are a few, a precious few, a band of sisters, out there who honestly do get it, and who write great stories. They get that this isn't the Victorian era, and that weepy, lovelorn princesses are not only obnoxious, but they are antiquated and inappropriate. They do these stories right: making them fresh and original, but the rest of those authors are doing nothing short of writing cookie-cutter "Harlequin" romances for teens, chasing the easy buck, and that's all there is to it. This is one such story, it saddens me to report. And it could have been so much better.

So, while fleeing on horseback with a group of riders, the wind whistling through her hair, Elanna conducts a whispered conversation with her BFF, who is pretentiously named Victoire. It's described as a "whisper-shout", yet everyone seems able to hear it over the wind and the pounding horse's hooves! At one point they're told, like naughty children talking in the classroom: "That is enough, all of you! No more talk. Do you want to put us all in danger?" Seriously? They're racing through the dead of night on horses with hooves slamming into the ground, and this idiot is worried someone might overhear them talking? Who, exactly, is listening? This is another example of the story not being thought through.

The sad truth is that a lot of the writing leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. We get that Elanna is afflicted deeply with the wilts and the vapors over J-Han, We don't need to be gobsmacked every few paragraphs with yet another account of how she's is hanging on his every breath and touch, and the heat of his body. It's painfully obvious who the murderer is, so there's no mystery there. We know Elanna is going to win in the end and get jiggy with J-Han, so what's the point of reading this again?

Instadore how do I hate thee? Let me count the brays! Well, for one, she has to share a horse with him, yet there's not a word of his sweating or stinking of horses. Seriously? Just how pathetic do you want her to appear to us? Elanna doesn't notice any of his smells, which were rife in that era, even in a fantasy land, but she does notice mundane things like the color scheme in the house she visits - things which seem very odd to have been taken note of by a scared woman who has never paid attention to furniture before, and who is fleeing pursuers who want to put her through a sham trial and then kill her. At the same time, for a botanist, she notices almost nothing of nature! Again, it's not thought through.

Another oddity is that Elanna seems to have perfect, if selective, recall! Despite being gone since she was a very young child, she had no problem understanding her native language, which she last heard - and spoke - when she was merely five years old. We read, "Hugh has switched into speaking Caerisian, which the Count of Ganz evidently understands, and my ears are too tired to deny they know the words, as well." Now I won't try to argue that she would have forgotten her native tongue completely, but at the very least, she would have been extremely rusty in it, and not know many of the words spoken by adults, since she never learned those as a child, yet she appears to have a completely unencumbered grasp of it.

Again, this is not thought through. It's especially bad when it's compared with the time when Elanna goes back to her childhood home. She recalls nothing of that at all! So we're expected to believe that she has a perfect (and adult!) grasp of a language she has neither spoken nor heard in well over a decade since she was barely beyond being a toddler, yet she recalls literally nothing of her childhood home? It's simply not credible.

Her respite at the house is short, because they are quickly - and unaccountably - discovered by the palace guard. How the guards knew exactly where they were goes unexplained, but even that isn't as inexplicable as why Elanna, who was desperate to escape her initial captors with her friend, fails to take Victoire with her! She decides to find the "lay of the land" by herself, first. It's just a house! What's to know? They need to get out, get a couple of horses, and leave.

It's really that simple, yet this limp dishrag of a friend leaves Victoire behind, so that when the palace guard arrives, Victoire is abandoned upstairs. Elanna whines about getting her out, but instead of growing a pair and insisting on rescuing her best friend, which would have made for some great drama, and would have given Elanna some street cred, she's portrayed as spinelessly complying with Lord Almighty J-Han's dick-tates. Once again what we're shown is that she's his property now, not her own. Once again this is entirely the wrong message to send. I truly detested Elanna by this point in the story.

While fleeing for her life, Elanna observes, "I won't be made to use my magic - the magic that puts me in mortal danger" Excuse me? She's already in mortal danger! She's already been declared a witch and a murderer, and had that broadcast across the land. How could she be in any more danger? This is exactly what I mean about Elanna being a profoundly stupid woman, and the last thing I need to read is one more YA novel extolling the 'virtues' of stupidity, in a female main character.

The sad thing is that it never stops in this novel! At one point Elanna reveals that "I know how terrifying it is to walk into a room full of strangers." This is a woman who was raised in a position of nobility, taught to expect deference from everyone. Never before have we been given any indication that she suffers terrors at walking into a room, and now suddenly she knows? Again it makes no sense.

The root problem here is that this novel offers nothing new, which begs the question as to why it was even written! The romance is cliché, the bullying is cliché, the main character is a walking, YA female lead, cliché. At one point very early in the novel, shortly after the studly J-Han arrives to take Elanna into his possession, I read this: "He swings me around, making the world spin, and then we go inside together, my cold hand tucked into his big warm one" so immediately the process of infantilization has begun right there, and this main character is now no more than a weak child in the hands of a trope, strong, manly man. This is one of the biggest problems with YA - the girl becomes a toy for the boy, a plaything, a piece of property, to do with as he wishes, and the girl goes right along with it. Elanna is one of the most stupid, vacuous, compliantly empty characters I've ever encountered. The more I read about her the less I wanted to read about her.

So when did I quite reading exactly? It was right on the cusp of thirty percent in, when I read of a character's eyes that they were "flecked with gold." I cannot even number the times I've read this exact phrase in a YA novel. What the obsession is with gold-flecks in a character's eyes completely escape me, but it's been done ten trillion times if it's been done once, and if I'd read this any earlier, I probably would have quit right then. Admittedly, the phrase is usually employed to describe the male love interest of the female MC, and in this case it wasn't, but does that make it okay to copy? No! That description needs to be summarily banned from YA literature.

It should be needless to say at this point, but I will clarify it anyway: I cannot recommend this story, because it's really just a clone of far too many others that I have also been unable to recommend for the same reasons. I don't care if she gets better as the trilogy goes along. I really don't, because for me she's already a failure, and if it takes her three books to grow a pair, then that's two books too long. The problem with trilogies is that the first book typically only ever is a prologue, and I don't read prologues. Novels like this one have been steadily nudging me to the point where I'm ready to forsake reading YA stories altogether, which would be sad, because once in a while there's a real gem to be found among the base rock.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr


Rating: WARTY!

This audio book was a full-cast production, although it's more aptly described as a full body-cast production since if I'd bought it, I would have felt stiffed. It's based on the novel which itself is rooted in a true story. The true story which occurred in 1914, was not done justice at all, which is a sad thing to say about a novel set in a prison!

None of this made me feel this was worth listening to. At times it was positively obnoxious, and the musical interludes rather spoiled it, than added to it for me. This is a problem for me - when they put music into audio books. I can see, in this case, some motivation for it, but the author's original novel - unless it came issued with a CD or something! - had no music in it, so this goes beyond whatever the author had imagined - assuming she didn't originally imagine it being produced in this form when she wrote it.

Far too many audiobooks have music included and it ruins it for me, particularly when the book isn't about music at all, and therefore the music is completely random and totally inappropriate since it has, I'm guessing, little or nothing to do with any authorial input. This is why I never want to go with Big Publishing&Trade, because you lose all rights to your work even as, legally speaking, they remain with you. You don't get to say who publishes the audio book, or whether or not it has music and what that music is like. You don't get to choose the cover, which is why this book has a cover which is totally inappropriate to the content, making it look like the novel was about a risqué fifties jazz singer! That's not for me; I'd rather sell none than sell out.

Sooo, onto the story! Libby Dodge is 16, and in Sherborn women's prison for reasons I never did find out since I DNF'd this. Maybe we never did learn, or maybe I just missed it. Sherbourn was a real prison and they did put on a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Other than that, the work is fiction, although one or two real names are used for the people involved. The novel tells of the arrival of Mrs. Wilkinson, the new cleric on site, who starts in with this progressive treatment of prisoners, much to the chagrin of the warden. In real life, this warden later did become more benign and progressive in her own outlook.

There is a truly uplifting story (the real one) to which this book is an insult. I can't define it any better than that. It just never resonated - never clicked - with me and I couldn't get into it. I didn't like it, so I can't recommend it. The singing was obnoxious at times, so this was one issue.

Some of the characterizations were so amateur and pathetic that they really distracted from the book itself. I think a story about the warden would have made for a better read, but it's not what we got, and what we did get wasn't good enough. It seemed to be a problem with allowing other people to take charge of your creation and run with it. Instead of running, they fell flat on their faces in their shabby shorts, and not only because they had such poor material in which to run in the first place.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay by Emily Janice Card, the problem with this 'Da Vinci Code' wannabe audiobook was that it was, once again, first person, which made for a tedious listen, since it's all about the main character all the time - hey look at me! Hey, see what I'm doing now! Hey check out my obsession with cute guys! With first person voice you are trapped inside this character and nothing at all can happen in your story unless she's present to witness it. Or unless we get an even more tedious info-dump from someone else about what happened when our narrator wasn't present. Frankly I would have preferred it if this story had not had her present at all.

The problem with doing this is that if you're going to write a mystery or a thriller about some ancient cipher, then you really need to focus on that and stop taking frequent detours through this girl's obsession with guys and endless whining about her broken family. It sucked and that's why I ditched this novel. It was a tedious story to have to wade through, even when all I was doing was listening. The "Lumen Dei" society was straight out of Dan Brown, and just as dumb. This book could have been half the size and told the same story. Pages went by with nothing of interest taking place. Where was the editor?! This just goes to prove that going the Big Publishing™ route doesn't guarantee you a readable book.

The Voynich manuscript is a real document dating to the early fifteenth century. It's a 240-some page volume written in a code which no-one has been able to decipher. This suggests, of course, that it's really a hoax, like the Turin Shroud, but it's a document ripe for having fiction worked around it.

In this fiction, the main character is drafted in to help translate Latin letters written by a young woman who is connected, somehow, with the manuscript. The fact that it was highly unlikely many young women would be able to even speak Latin, much less write it back then doesn't get in the way of the story. I can readily accept that there were special and talented women back then as there are in any age, but in this case you really need to make me feel there's a reason why this particular juvenile was so exceptional, and this story did not. Having said that, I did DNF it, so maybe this was addressed later and I missed it.

So the translation begins, but at one point the main character whose name I've blessedly forgotten, purloins one of the letters which is particularly intriguing to her. That same night, her professor is found unconscious, the safe open, and all of the papers they were working on stolen! How convenient. There's no explanation as to why the villains - who had easy access to the documents - did not steal them earlier.

Obviously the one the MC stole herself is the key to everything, but rather than ponder that, or anything else, she takes us away from the intrigue to once again focus on the boys in her life. La-di-dah, fiddle-di-dee. Her voice was so boring and off-track that I could not bring myself to pursue this story any further. I can't recommend this, based on the part I could stand to listen to.


The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge


Rating: WARTY!

This is a steampunk wannabe with far more punk than steam. It was read fairly decently by Katie MacNichol, but this is another audiobook experiment of mine that failed. I made it about a third the way through it, but when it became clear there was a tediously trope triangle forming. The main character, Aoife (it's pronounced Efa which sounds too much like heifer which didn't help in this context) is a girl linked to two guys: her faithful friend Cal and bad boy Dean. I felt so nauseated that I could not continue. The embarrassing lack of imagination exhibited by YA authors in creating relationships is truly stunning. It's the only real viral threat in this novel!

Almost worse than that, this is book one of a series. There's nothing on the cover to indicate that. Personally I think there should be a large warning on the front - like on cigarette packs. This one looked like a stand-alone, and this is irritating. If I'd known it was a series I would more than likely have skipped it. As it was, I wasted time listening to this when I could have been listening to other things!

Nor was it steampunk. It was like the author couldn't decide what the hell she wanted to write and threw everything in. It could as easily have been set in regular Victorian age and been exactly the same story, so the steampunk contributed nothing at all. I felt like it was added in a rather desperate attempt to attract more readers. But there is very little steampunk here.

I've read some good steampunk books, but in the end they all fail if examined too closely because their world doesn't work. Clockwork can only continue for so long without being rewound. Who is going around doing all the winding? LOL! No one ever addresses this. In my experience most steampunk writers are enamored of the genre but have no idea how to write a compelling or engaging story in it. This is why we do not actually live in a steampunk world, because steam and clockwork shrunk into the shadows thrown by the brilliant light of electricity.

In the unintentional humor department, more than once, the author wrote "Cal sighed" evidently in ignorance of the fact that there's an educational institution, the California Institute of Science, which is routinely referred to as Cal-Sci. This is very likely just me, but this made me laugh out loud every time I heard it, given that this was supposed to be a novel about Aoife and her dedication to science.

This novel is set in a city, unimaginatively named Lovecraft, where we have your usual trope dystopian ridiculous societal rules that would never have arisen naturally. There are people named Proctors who are in charge and who are absurdly and inexplicably draconian in their rule. They use clockwork ravens to spy on people, which to me was so laughable, I could never take it seriously. I know how an electric eye works. How does a clockwork one work? How does a steam one work? How do the ravens navigate and find their way back to their owners?

Clearly the author realized that steampunk wasn't going to cut it by itself, since we also have witchcraft and sorcery, and as well, there is a virus loose named necrovirus, which people believe is responsible for a pandemic of insanity which inexplicably and nonsensically attacks people at age sixteen and turns them into some sort of a flesh-eating animal. There is evidently neither police force nor military in Lovecraft to fight off these beasts, hwih makes zero sense. Aoife, of course comes from a family with a history of insanity and she is, of course about to turn sixteen. Yawn.

There is nothing about the age of sixteen which makes any significant changes in a person's body - not like puberty makes changes, for example, and puberty isn't tied to a specific birthday. This made the virus a joke to me, too. Even if I offer my immediate conviction: that this 'virus' didn't actually exist and that this was witchcraft at play here, sending a message to people to get them to rebel against the Proctors (but failing for some reason), it still didn't explain why sixteen was the chosen age. My guess was that Aoife would be the first to understand this message, but it's only a guess, and I really didn't care enough about her or anyone else in this novel to bother reading on to find out. I can't recommend this based on what I listened to.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock


Rating: WORTHY!

This amazingly-named novel, from an author I now intend to read more of, is about a teen-aged girl in a religious cult (not an evil one, just a misguided one as they all ultimately are). Starbird has grown up leading a rather sheltered life, but she gets the chance to go out into the world and this is her story.

All of the characters have bizarre names. Starbird's brother is called Douglas Fir. Apparently the cult went through eras of selecting names from particular inspirational sources, so the founding members are all named after planets in our solar system. The leader is called Earth, and the name is always capitalized, but he's disappeared. He went out on some sabbatical, and no one heard from him since.

Starbird ends-up working with a girl named Venus Lake (daughter of Venus Ocean) in a restaurant owned by the cult. Venus is not a founding member but since her mother, who was a founder, died in childbirth, they gave her name to her daughter. Yes, it's that kind of weird. It was really hard to get into for the first couple of pages, but then it started making sense and I really liked it, which is a good feeling form a new novel by an author I was not familiar with. It's the best part of a novel, right? Before you've become disappointed in it and ditch or, or worse, before you read it avidly and then are disappointed that it's over! LOL! The manic world of novel addicts.

That;s not to say it was perfect. I had a problem with, in the space of 6 pages in chapter 9, meeting two guys and two girls. In each case the guy is described in terms of his hair, while in each case the girl is described in terms of how pretty or attractive she is. Fortunately, this was the only instance of this I encountered, so I let it slide, but this business of typing females by how pretty they are has to stop. I'm getting so tired of it that I'm ready to start rating novels based solely on that, if it's indulged in to absurd lengths, regardless of how well-written or otherwise the novel is.

Women have other qualities and the people who should perhaps most realize this are female writers, yet so many of them sell-out their characters with this genderist bullshit that it's nauseating. As I said, the author went on to show admirably how these women had other qualities and she backed-off on the skin-deep garbage, so I let it slide this time.

I can understand it if a character, in the novel reduces a woman to her looks alone; this happens in real life, but these descriptions came directly from the author, not from one of the characters. In each case the woman is reduced to her looks and in doing this, the author is very much announcing that women who are not considered attractive need not apply, because when it comes to women, looks are all that matter. I don't subscribe to that and I wish that a lot fewer female authors did, particularly in the YA genre.

That caveat aside, and because it was so limited in this novel, I do consider this a worthy read.


The Cute Girl network by Greg Means, MK Reed, Joe Flood


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the last of three graphic novels I'll be reviewing this weekend. This one ca,me form my excellent local library and I think it's my favorite of the three. The story is of Jane and Jack. It's illustrated with black and white line drawings by Flood. I was a little disappointed that writers Means and Reed didn't go the whole hog and name her Jill, since she introduces herself with a tumble.
It's not down a hill, but nothing is perfect, right?

Skateboarder Jane has been in town for about a month when she wipes out in front of Jack's soup cart. He supplies a free ice tea (in a bottle!) for her to soothe her injured coccyx. As the two interact more, they end up on a date and start liking each other, even though she's feisty as all hell and he is highly-prone to complete disasters.

Two of Jane's vampire romance-obsessed roommates freak-out when they learn she's dating Jack. Actually the vampire romance thing is pretty much a story all in itself, and I appreciated that; however, suddenly Jane finds herself introduced to the Cute Girls Network (not to be confused with the cukegirls network) - a loose alliance of women who dish out the skinny on guys you should avoid like the plague. Jane hears several embarrassingly gauche stories of Jack's history of bad conduct, but despite these dire warnings, she decides to stay the course.

The story is cutely illustrated and amusingly written, and it tells a fascinating and unusual story. I really liked the character Jane. She was definitely my kind of fictional girl. Jack was hilarious, as were the various roommates of both main characters. This was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel did not work for me. It had some real potential, but it felt far too dissipated - like it was trying to drive in so many different directions at once that it went nowhere - and it took its sweet time doing it, too! I had to give up reading it about eighty percent in because it had become such a chore to read. It was far too dismal and never even seemed like it was interested in going anywhere. In the end I really didn't care what had happened to the mother and wife of this family. I really didn't.

The novel starts at almost a year from the point where "Billie" Flanagan went hiking and was never seen again - unless you count one lone hiking boot as a sighting. Her daughter, Olive and her husband, Jonathan, are barely holding it together. Olive starts seeing visions of her mother and after the first of these is so convinced her mom is right there, that she runs into a wall trying to get to her, and all but knocks herself out. I started pretty quickly hoping she would do it again and end up in a coma so I didn't have to deal with her any more.

Jonathan was no better. He never saw his daughter when mom was alive because he worked all hours. This begs the question as to who was raising Olive since mom was evidently always gone as well. Once mom was gone for good, Jonathan quit his job to spend time with Olive, but then he had no money, so they were living hand to mouth.

He got an advance to write a memoir of Billie, but we were never given a single reason why anyone would want to read it or why any publishing company would be remotely interested in a memoir about a woman who was very effectively a non-entity. The advance has been spent, and there's no prospect of more until the memoir is finished, but he's never depicted as actually working on it. In short, he's a truly lousy dad.

The story chapters are interspersed with "excerpts" from this memoir, but I have zero interest in story-halting flashbacks, because well, they halt the story, so I read none of the excerpts. I can't say I ever felt like I needed to go back and read them, which begs the obvious question as to why they were even there in the first place.

Olive's visions were so unrevealing of anything of value that the point of them was a mystery to me. They were all so vague and useless that they became simply annoying in short order. Any sympathy I had for her over her lousy parents was quickly smothered by her endless needy self-importance and habit of constantly and tediously regurgitating her situation for everyone and anyone who would listen.

There's talk that she might have a brain lesion which could explain the visions; then there's talk that maybe that's not the case; then there's talk that the pills she's given are stopping the visions, so maybe they were caused by the lesion, but one of these visions came before she hit her head. Seriously? Which is it? It was never explained and I couldn't stand to keep reading this stuff in the hope that maybe some straight-talk would come out of this story in the last twenty percent when there's been zero evidence of it in the first eighty!

I honestly did not care about any of these people at all, and I really could not have cared less about what had happened to Billie. The blurb (and I know this isn't on the writer, but the publisher) says of Billie that she's "a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom" and I have to ask yet again, what the fuck her 'beauty' has to do with anything? Would it have been somehow less of a tragedy had she been plain or even ugly? Would this family's loss have been easier? "Yeah, mom's vanished without a trace, but she was an ugly bitch, so who cares? Let's move on!" No, I don't think so.

Seriously, I am so tired of women being reduced to 'a pretty skin', like they haven't a damned thing to offer other than their beauty or lack of it. That sexist blurb writer should be fired for that blurb. If the novel had been about a man who disappeared, would the blurb have harped on how handsome he was? No! You're damned right it wouldn't. 2017 and we're still mired in this swamp: that a woman better equal beauty or she equals nothing.

I left this observation until last because it has nothing to do with my judgment of this novel. Normally, I pay little attention to the covers because they have nothing to do with the writer, unless the writer self-publishes. It's what's between those covers which interests me, yet you can't ignore the blurb because this is our lead-in to whether a particular novel might be of interest.

That said, I also have to bring the writer to book on this same score, because she also reduces women - particularly Billie - to skin-depth on far too many occasions:

  • "Billie was beautiful..."
  • "...Billie's mother would have been beautiful too..."
  • ...her mom was the most beautiful, most creative, the most interesting..." - note how beauty is listed first since it's quite evidently the most important thing about her!
  • "...being beautiful and strong..." - being a beautiful woman is more important than being a strong woman!
  • "...being married to a beautiful woman is that other people are going to notice that she is beautiful..."
  • "And while Billie was more beautiful..."
  • "You're a beautiful woman."
  • "...His beautiful wife.."
  • "...Olive's beautiful mother..."
  • "Billie, tanned, glowing, and beautiful..."
  • "This beautiful girl from nowhere..."
So maybe the blurb writer took their cue from the interior after all? Not that they shouldn't have known better. What's just as bad though, is that Olive is compared with this ridiculous standard, and negatively so: "...she's not beautiful, like her mother...", and "She is not conventionally beautiful...." This is sick. I'm sorry, but it is.

If the novel had been about runway models or women competing for a role in a movie or a TV show, then I could see how beauty would play into it. It would still be wrong, but it's the way Hollywood is; however, that doesn't mean that writers have to buy into it so readily. It's diseased writing to keep harping on this for page after page. It's a form of abuse. People who do this have no idea how much damage they do to women the world over by repeating this insane mantra that all that's important is looks, and if you ain't got 'em you ain't got nothin' worth having. Bullshit.

This novel ought really to be condemned on that alone, but sick as this world is, negatively reviewing a book for that would fall on deaf ears. As it was, this novel condemned itself in too many other ways.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Perennials by Mandy Berman


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel didn't work for me. The blurb did, which is to say that it did its job and lured me in, but it was, as usual, misleading. If I'd known Kirkus had praised it, I would have definitely skipped it, because Kirkus pretty much praises everything, which means their reviews are completely worthless, but I didn't and the blurb sounded good, so I bought into it. The story is presented as a summer camp story, but in fact this particular story could have been set in a variety of other venues and still been essentially the same story, so I never saw the advantage of the camp setting except maybe as a nostalgia lure for readers. There really was nothing about the camp which was essential to the story being told, and the camp suffered by being merely one more "character" which became lost in the mass of people ambling among the pages.

This is also presented as a story of two people meeting as young adults after knowing each other as children. There's a giant jump from their early teens when they are at camp, to their life after their college freshman year, but it's misleading, because the two have never been apart in any meaningful sense, so there really was no drama to it, and no sense of anything changing or fulminating. I think it would have made for a better story to have followed them through their first year in college. Largely the same kind of events could have transpired in such a story, and it would have felt more organic and more real.

Even as it was, the story would have been a more entertaining if we could have focused on the relationship between these two girls, but they were quickly pushed very much into the background by the plethora of other characters who were quickly ushered in and out. Instead of a coherent story we got a potpourri of people, and this messy patchwork never let the reader get to know a single one of them properly. It was like looking at snapshots in a photo album at an orphanage. You know there's a bunch of stories there worth the telling, but you can't grasp any one of them from the narrow, static glimpses you get into these lives. The collage overwhelms the power of the story, which gets lost: all the actors became minor characters, and there are so many of them that it's impossible to actually care about anyone.

So the story is that Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to meet every summer at Camp Marigold. That's the extended prologue, although it isn't called a prologue. For me it could have been dispensed with altogether. The main story begins when both girls come back to Marigold, but this time as counselors. We're told that their relationship is more complicated, but I saw no evidence of this. The bottom line is that Rachel is a jerk and Fiona is a whiner. For these "sins", both are punished towards the end of the story, but the 'punishment' didn't match the 'crime', so that was a fail for me, and neither of these people was entertaining or interesting, or had anything new or worthwhile to offer. Yes, there are two tragic events. I guess the blurb writer doesn't count drunken rape as tragic. I'd have to disagree on that one. Either that or the blurb-writer never actually read the story before describing it to us.

I never went to summer camp, which is why I have found several such stories to be interesting, but this one was not, and at least one aspect of it struck me as highly improbable. The camp Fiona and Rachel attend is not that spectacular. It's supposed to cater to rich kids, but it's a rather shabby and resource-lacking little concern, so this made very little sense to me. It also lacked credibility in that for reasons unexplained, the camp seemed to be a huge magnet for international camp counselors! I found that hard to believe. Like I said, I've never attended a camps, so maybe camps really are like this. I have no problem accepting that foreign counselors might want to come to US camps. What I found beyond credibility was that so many of them would want to come to this particular one!

So overall, not a worthy read for me. I can't recommend this one.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

This volume concludes the trilogy and is set a year after the previous one, when Gemma is about to come out to society. She's still at the Spence Academy, but finds she has lost her power to enter the realms at will. When she finally does get in she discovers the Pippa has been building a little queendom for herself and has changed significantly, now bordering on megalomaniacal evil. Pippa is unable to cross to the afterlife because she has become so embedded in the realms by this time.

Feeling like her life is slipping out of her control, Gemma decides she has no choice but to follow every clue and discover what is really going on here since her mother was so utterly useless in helping her. After rambling around London following rather tedious clues, Gemma enters the realms again and visits the Winterlands in hopes of finding the so-called Tree of All Souls. When they touch the tree they get visions, and Gemma's is of Eugenia Spence telling her about this mysterious girl in lavender she keeps seeing. Evidently, the girl has a dagger which is somehow a threat to the Winterlands.

Felicity and Ann are becoming increasingly frustrated with Gemma's refusal to allow them back into the realms, and they discover that they don't need her because there's an alternate way to get there. When Felicity encounters the very dangerous Pippa, the latter tries to talk her into eating the realm berries which will maker her visit to the realms permanent so she can always be with Pippa - who's true love was evidently Felicity all along.

In a big showdown at the end, Kartik sacrifices himself to save Gemma who then does what we all thought she'd done in volume two which was to give her power back to the realms, robbing herself of power and sealing the two worlds from each other. She then retreats to the Americas which is what all young girls do when they have no power, of course!

Some issues with this last volume, but overall, I recommend it as a fitting finale to the trilogy. It's a worthy read, despite a few problems here and there (mostly there).


Rebel Angels by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Now we're two months along from the end of the first novel, and we learn that Kartik has been ordered by the anti-Order known as the Rakshana, to induce Gemma to perform a certain piece of magic and to then kill her. Gemma must go into the realms, and "bind" the magic therein, in the name of the "Eastern Star".

Unfortunately for Kartik's plan, it's Xmas and Gemma goes to London to finally meet her family. Her brother Tom is supposed to pick her up, but Gemma cannot find him and she believes she's being stalked by someone from the Rakshana. Rather brazenly, she accosts a nearby young man (of course), Simon Middleton, and feigns acquaintanceship with him. Middleton is from a wealthy family and is quite taken with Gemma, so he invites her family to dine with him.

It turns out that Middleton was very conveniently at Eton, a very manly college, with her brother. Moving around London, Gemma also runs into Hester Moore, who is known to Gemma because she used to teach art at Spence, and who now conveniently lives in London. Hester's replacement at Spence, Miss McCleethy, is the one who Gemma believes is really Circe.

While on the topic of complete, utter, and highly suspicious convenience, Gemma's brother works at Bethlem Royal Hospital a psychiatric institution (although that's not how it was known back then) from which we derive the word bedlam. Conveniently, one of Tom's patients is Nell Hawkins. When Gemma is conveniently with her one day, she conveniently rambles on about "The Temple" which is the very thing Kartik had requested that Gemma seek out in the realms! it turns out that Nell was once also conveniently a student at a school at which McCleethy once taught.

We learn here why Felicity requested power as her wish from the realms - when a girl called Polly comes to stay with them, Felicity warns her severely to lock her doors and not let Felicity's uncle into her room. Gemma's father is a drug addict and is not well, eventually winding up in a health facility.

In the finale to this volume, Gemma determines the real identity of Circe, and defeats her in open battle. She discovers the true meaning of the temple, which is quite messianic, and in discovering this, she finds she can distribute the magic democratically across the realms so it resides in no one person's hands.

Eminently readable and listenable, this novel was a bit too convenient in many places, but despite that, made for a worthy read. I recommend this as part of this complete series!


A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray


Rating: WORTHY!

Gemma Doyle is a girl in her mid-teens who is rather less than thrilled with her lot with life with her mother in India. She dreams of going back to her native England where her father resides, and taking up the society life to which she believes she's entitled.

Gemma should be careful what she wishes for, because when her wish comes true, it’s at the cost of the tragic death of her mother. One day, out in the hot and dusty market place in Mumbai, Gemma's mother is approached by a man accompanied by a boy who is conveniently Gemma's age. The man relates a cryptic message to Gemma's mother, and her mum then demands that Gemma return home immediately. Gemma becomes so frustrated with her mother's secrecy that she runs away, and gets herself lost. She's visited by a horrible vision of her mother committing suicide, and when she finally makes her way to where her mother is, she discovers that her vision was true: her mother is dead, and subsequently Gemma is being hastily packed off to England, to be sequestered at the elite Spence Academy.

Gemma starts out by being the lonely newbie because of her derided Indian background, but when she discovers the snottiest girl in school, Felicity, in a compromising situation, Gemma finds herself elevated to the top notch of clique-dom. Finally, she's where she wanted to be. She begins to form a close relationship with Felicity and her two friends, Pippa and Ann. Gemma also learns that Kartik, the boy she saw with the man in Mumbai, is now in England! He warns her that she is in danger, and must close herself off to what happened to her mother if she wishes to remain safe.

Gemma increasingly has visions and one of these leads her to a cave in the school grounds, where she finds a 25-year-old diary written by Mary Dowd, a girl of Gemma's age, who also was a student at Spence. Gemma identifies with Mary because May also had visions which she shared with her friend Sarah Rees-Toome.

Gemma reads the diary and discovers that Mary was associated with a society known as the Order, initiates of which were able to open a portal to other realms. They could use this power to ease the passage of souls, and the power gave them prophetic insight and the power to create illusions. The four new friends create their own "Order", meeting in the cave.

As they read more of the diary and investigate the history of Spence, they discover that the two girls from a quarter century ago died in a fire at Spence along with the principal of the school.

Finally Gemma & Co travel to the realms which are weird, beautiful and wonderful. They do not travel there bodily but spiritually, leaving their bodies behind in the real world. Gemma is able to meet with her mother there, but predictably her mother is unnecessarily mysterious. She does, however, warn Gemma not to take magic from the realms into the everyday world because it would let them fall foul of Circe, who seeks this power and wishes to take over the realms. The magic of the realms allows them to have a wish granted. Ann, who is plain, requests beauty. Felicity, who feels abused, asks for power. Gemma wants insights into her self, and finally, Pippa seeks true love.

The girls begin a routine of secret night-time meetings in the cave when they visit the realms. Gemma discovers that her mother was Mary Dowd, who obviously she did not die in the fire but escaped and changed her name. She also learns that Sarah is Circe.

Gemma is the only one who can control the portal, and during one visit, Pippa is separated from them and is left behind as the others flee an evil power seeking them in the realms. Back in the real world, Pippa is now having a seizure. Gemma returns to the realms to retrieve Pippa, but Pippa has met her true Love there and refuses to return to real life and the arranged marriage which awaits her there. When Gemma returns to her own world, Pippa is dead.

I've also listened to the audio book version of this, narrated by Jo Wyatt, and I recommend that version, too. She does a thoroughly amazing job of narration and voices. I've had good success with Libba Bray, and although this is a series (a trilogy specifically) which I usually detest, this one turned out to be eminently engaging. I recommend it.


Across the Universe by Beth Revis


Rating: WARTY!

This was yet another take-a-chance audiobook from the library. It sounded good from the blurb, but was less than satisfactory when I got into it. It's the start of a series, because why write one book when you can drag it out and bilk your readers for a trilogy or more? It was also first person voice, which is a voice I'm growing to thoroughly detest, especially in YA novels. It's so unrealistic and whiny, and self-obsessed. This was made worse by the author admitting she made a huge mistake in choosing first person, because has then has to tell it in two different first person voices, which is laughable to me. The first voice was this young girl Amy (how young wasn't specified but she seemed like she was a very juvenile sixteen maybe?). She and her parents are being cryogenically frozen for a three-hundred-year trip.

Apparently the crew which is putting them under has never heard of sedatives, so the procedure is brutal, but what really bothers Amy is that she overhears one of the crew mention that it's 301 years instead of the original 300, and Amy all but freaks out over this. She idiotically seems to think this extra year in journey time means she could have spent another year on Earth with her boyfriend. how she gets that from learning that the journey itself - not the start of the journey, but the journey itself - is being extended by a year is completely out of left field. She's quite obviously a moron, so I lost all interest in her.

This was farcical, but not as sad as the fact that the author is evidently quite clueless as to how big the universe actually is. Three hundred years, even if you could go at the speed of light, which you absolutely cannot, wouldn't even get you out of our galaxy, let alone 'across the universe'. Three hundred years gets you three-thousands of one percent the way across our galaxy. That's how huge it is. Across the universe, my asteroid.

From other reviews I've read, science is not the author's strong point. I'm not saying you have to be a scientist to write a sci-fi book! In fact I prefer it if you're not, but you can't write dumb things and not expect those with even a modicum of basic science not to be kicked out of suspension of disbelief by them.

Even my kids know that an object in space keeps moving in the same direction and at the same velocity as it began with unless it gets caught in some planet's or star's gravitational field, or hit by another object. Things don't slow down just because their engine is turned off. This author needs to learn that as much as she needs to learn that (with few exceptions) one gene doesn't equal one trait. Gene groups or networks are what give us our traits and they are often complex and interact with and affect one another, so if she's going to continue this series I recommend some basic physics and genetics courses. Or at least read a good non-fiction book on each topic.

The idea is of course that these people going out there to populate a different planet. The girl is put under and apparently doesn't lose consciousness. She spends her time dreaming of her left-behind boyfriend Justin. That's how vacuous she is. And no, if you're frozen, you don't dream, which depends on biochemical reactions in your brain, which wouldn't be happening if you're deep frozen. The other guy, known only by the absurdly juvenile title of 'Elder' is some kid who sounds like he's ten years old. He's training under Eldest (I kid you not) to run this vessel (which is of course the spacecraft that Amy is on). Obviously the two meet, save each other and fall deeply in love in record time. Barf.

The Elder portion of the novel was so ridiculous and puerile that I took to skipping it and listening only to Amy's chapters, but as I said, she's a vacuous moron and I quickly lost interest in her. It seemed obvious that this journey was going to be a complete lie, and only Elder and Amy were going to be able to save the world (or spacecraft, in this case), so where's the suspense? In the cliff-hanger ending to this first volume? I can live without it. How you're going to stretch this tedious drivel to a series is the only mystery here, but why would the author or publisher care, as long as they can find suckers tu buy it?


Arriving at Ellis Island by Dale Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

At a time when we have a president who seems dedicated to destroying all that the US stands for (apart from rampant capitalism, that is), I think it's important to remember the things it used to stand for: huddled masses yearning to be free, being an important one of them.

This children's book is part of a series titled 'Landmark Events in American History', and it discusses the history of Ellis island, the arrival point of many immigrants to the USA over the years. It was nice to read a book which covers all the bases and is written in an unflinching, yet child-friendly manner. This is an illustrated, but text-based book for older children, and there is a lot to be learned from it. It mentions American Indians (as the first immigrants) and African Americans (as involuntary immigrants during the shameful slavery era), and it does not hide from teaching about the abuses that immigrants underwent, and the struggle and fight they had to endure to finally get free and start a new life. I recommend this book.


Touched by Cyn Balog


Rating: WARTY!

This is the last Cyn Balog I'm ever going to read because it was sad - not a sad story, but because it was badly written and as I've lately come to expect from this author, predictable throughout. I knew on page 124 exactly how this three-hundred page novel would end, so what was the point of reading any further when the novel consisted, very much like the author's Starstruck story, of nothing more than a first person character constantly whining, whining, whining. It was nauseating.

It wouldn't have been so bad, had it been written in third person, although it would still have been obnoxious, but evidently this author cannot write in any other voice, either that or she's operating under the same absurd delusion that the majority of female YA write under: that it's illegal to write a YA novel in third person.

The main character, whose name honestly escapes me, so forgettable was he, has been 'touched' - and not in a Catholic priest way, but in a magical way. He can see the future, but predictably only in dribs and drabs. His mother has the gift (and in true YA novel and Cyn Balog novel fashion, only one parent is extant), and so does he.

In a sad and direct rip-off of the Nicolas Cage movie Next, he says he can only see a couple of minutes ahead unless he 'gets on script' when, if he follows his path to the letter, he can see a bright future far ahead. He can change his future, but if he slips from the predictive script, things can go very badly awry, as they do when the novel begins.

He's a lifeguard and a child drowns, but for some absurd reason he takes all the blame on his self, and for me this is where the novel started seriously going downhill. It was the beginning of a two-hundred page pity party, and one long, boring, endless whine of a story, as as I said, predictable as all hell. I did not like it and I do not recommend it. If this has been written by a new, first time writer, it would have rightly been rejected out of hand, but of course once you get your foot in the door with Big Publishing™ you can shovel out any trash you want it and it gets published. Yes, it's unfair but it's what we have to deal with, so deal! Keep writing, and keep indie publishing. It's the only choice we have!

As for this author, I'm done reading her oeuvre.


Starstruck by Cyn Balog


Rating: WARTY!

This one is my third Cyn Balog novel. I liked the first two, but ran into issues with this one. It's about this overweight girl, Gwendolyn Reilly, who is so limp she allows people (even her family and boyfriend) to call her 'Dough'. Her boyfriend, Philip Wishman idiotically gets to be called 'Wish'. Honestly? Gwen hasn't seen him in three or four years because his family moved away. He's about to return (why now isn't explained), but in the meantime she's put on weight, and he's grown California surfin' good looks. He's also magically a celebrity for no apparent reason because half the school goes to welcome him back at the airport. Why? No explanation. Gwen doesn't go because everyone else does.

Her behavior is inexcusable. She doesn't say a word to him in their emails or on the phone about having put on so much weight - she simply leaves it for him to find out and potentially be shocked by It, which makes her thoroughly dishonest. When he arrives and they finally meet - the next day at school - she won't even look him in the eyes and she mumbles excuses to get away from him. In short, she treats him like dirt. At this point I flatly did not like Gwen at all.

The novel would not have been so bad if it had not been so predictable. It seemed pretty obvious from the moment the oddball new guy (with the questionable past) turned-up to work in the donut shop her family owns, that Gwen would be breaking-up with her wish and falling right into the arms of her savior Christ-ian, because god forbid any woman stand on her own two feet and be without a man to validate her for any length of time. The alternative to that would be that she manages to make a go of things with Wish.

It's inevitably first person voice, which with a few rare exceptions, I hate. This voice serves here only to make Gwen's constant harping on her weight even more obnoxious than it would have been had it been third person. It's not remotely amusing to read, and it made for a trying slog. Girl, if it bothers you that much, then do something about it. Cyn Balog seems to specialize in stories about young women who are thoroughly lacking in self-confidence and motivation.

I decided I'd give this one a little longer to see if it turned around because the other two books I read by this author weren't bad at all. The problem is that this one is so (forgive me the term) larded with cliché as to be pathetic. Gwen is poor, everyone else on the island is rich. There are not overweight rich kids. There are no other "poor" kids. It's sad that the novel is this thin, but Balog's novels tend to be that way. They just not usually as bad as this one in my experience, and the experience here was a bad one. I did not like this book, and I do not recommend it.


Dead River by Cyn Balog


Rating: WORTHY!

This marks the start of three Cyn Balog books I got from the library, but it also marks the end of my interest in her, because the other two sucked. I really liked this author's Fairy Tale; it was quite different from your usual high-school romance novel and I appreciated it for that. This is the same thing - different from what you expect, and I think people will condemn it for that, which is their prerogative. For me, despite it having problems (as negative reviewers have no doubt discussed), I still like the book and consider it a worthy read.

The premise is Kiandra's visit to her cousin's family's log cabin in the woods by the river. Ki hasn't been anywhere near the river in a decade or so. Her over-protective father has kept her well away from it since her mother walked into the river and never was seen again. As soon as she arrives there with her boyfriend, Justin, her cousin, Angela, and this obnoxious guy her cousin invited along for no apparent reason, Ki starts hearing snatches of conversation when no one seems to be around.

This weekend is the weekend of the prom, and Ki really wanted to go, but Ki is about as weak as they come. Even though she's been dating Justin for three years, she couldn't put her foot down, and he's still not even remotely clued-in to the fact that she'd much rather go to the prom than go white-water rafting on Dead River.

You have to wonder what the two of them see in each other, but realistically viewed, this is how people end up. They start dating way too early in high-school before they have a clue what's what, and suddenly they're in a long-term relationship and don't know how to get out of it, or even if they want to because it's become kind of a rut and not one that's entirely unpleasant. Plus Ki has zero motivation as does Justin.

It's cold and wet and muddy out here and Ki is a bit of whiner, but she puts on a brave face and when they go out on the raft the next day she decides she's going to try and have fun, but things go wrong. She falls overboard and despite the best efforts of Justin to pull her back aboard, she's pulled under - quite literally. She comes around on a shore not too far from where they put in that morning. A guy named Trey has rescued her, and apparently healed her injured back. Suddenly she notices that he has a serious injury to his arm, which despite it bleeding out, doesn't seem to bother him. She realizes Trey is a ghost - the ghost of the very kid someone told a story about over the campfire the previous night.

From that point onwards, Ki can't not be interested in the river - or more to the point, she's obsessed with it, and with the east bank, which is where the dead supposedly live. This is nonsensical of course, because pretty much everyone lives on the east bank of some river (though it may be far away!). In Ki's case, Her mother might well be over there, waiting for her. Ki meets Jack - another ghost and he seems to have a quite different approach to death than does Trey. Who should Ki believe?

This is where the story got interesting for me, because of the way the world of the dead works in this place (unsurprisingly, given it's a water world, it relies heavily on Greek mythology as to how the dead pass over. Yes, if you look too closely, the world-building falls apart as it does in all of these horror stories, but if you're willing to overlook the fact that the fabric is rather threadbare in places, it's not too bad of a world the author creates here. It's a bit thin in some parts, and a bit repetitive in others, and it's disjointed in others. Some parts of it read like a first draft rather than a polished novel, but despite all of this, I liked the story and the atmosphere.

I think that a part of the problem was Ki's perspective. In true blind, sheep-mentality, YA fashion, it was told in first person by her and she really wasn't a very good narrator. I won't say she's unreliable because that's not the tack the author takes here, but she's very selfish, which accounts for how thinly the rest of the world is veneered when we see it from her perspective. I'm not a fan of first person at all, but in this case it was interesting to see up close her juvenile and sadly-blinkered view of the world. It makes me glad I'm not in high-school anymore dealing with people like that!

The ending reflects how very selfish and self-centered Ki is, too. She ends up with Trey. This isn't a spoiler because it's so obviously coming from the moment we first encounter him. There is no tension and no surprise here except in the fact that the author glosses over the same insurmountable problem that Stephenie Meyer cluelessly failed to address in Twilight: why would a several hundred year old vampire fall for a vacuous juvenile who must have been a baby relative to him?

Yeah, he'd no doubt want to jump her bones, but why would he have any other interest in her? Fall in love? Ain't gonna happen. The same problem arises here since Trey died in 1936, and has been living in ghost world ever since. In short, he's over eighty years old and would have zero interest in a child, yet Balog portrays him as being just like a teen. Nope. That's garbage. Yes, he's portrayed as innocent in the ways of women, but it still doesn't work because that doesn't do anything to un-age him! He'd be courting her mom (or even her grandmother) before he'd ever be interested in hitting on Ki for anything other than sex.

So that was pathetic, but that aside, I liked the way this novel flowed - like a rock-strewn river, heading for a crash down a steep waterfall. I'm not even sure why I liked it. Normally I would trash a novel like this, but something in it spoke to me, so maybe it was very personal, so I recommend it with the above-mentioned caveats.


The Awakening by Lisa M Lilly


Rating: WARTY!

Unfortunately, this is volume one of the inevitable "Awakening" series, which I have no intention of following, even though this volume wasn't entirely disastrous. The fact is that I'm allergic to most series! Why writers suffer this inexplicable chronic verbosity these days and cannot seem to confine themselves to the covers of one book to tell a story is a complete mystery to me. Well not quite complete. Obviously it's mercenary and driven by publishers (and writers) wanting to milk a story for all they can, even when the udder is running dry or turning out sour milk, and the hell with the readers.

I mean, why sell your readers one pair of covers when you can milk them for three or more? Three is where this series is at as of this writing, but I'm done with this one volume. Series are by definition derivative and uninventive and that's not me, especially if they're rather uninspired and a bit lackluster, as this one was. If I'd realized that it was part of a series I would probably have decided against getting this at all. As it happens, this story wasn't so bad that I immediately wanted to ditch it, but it had problems which did not inspire me to pursue it.

In some ways I can understand it, in an era where Amazon seems determined to make all writers charge the same price for a three-hundred page novel that iTunes charges for a thee minute song. Running to a series seems like the only way for most writers to make any money, but to me it's still a cheat - an easy and lazy out. I do like a well-written good v. evil story, but unfortunately they're so few in number that they're hard to find. I didn't find one here.

This story features Tara Spencer, a mature young adult, who discovers she's pregnant, yet she's never had sex. Her boyfriend. Jeremy, ditches her because 'she's been unfaithful'. Apparently he doesn't know her very well, and he's a hypocrite anyway because he's already having an affair on the side since Tara wouldn't have sex with him! I honestly don't get Tara. She was raised Catholic but it didn't take. She's at least doubting, and at best lapsed. I say at best, because I'm not a believer. I think religion is nonsensical and organized religion is predatory and coercive. It has nothing to do with the love of any god. Like a book series, organized religion is all about making money.

So Tara is evidently either the new virgin Mary or she's the mother of the antichrist, but since she's not really a Catholic any more, this business of her remaining a virgin, while there's nothing wrong with it at all, felt to me like it wasn't justified very well by the author, and especially so since her supposed forbear Miriam (commonly known as Mary in the West) was not actually a virgin. The Hebrew word used to describe her means 'young woman' - there's a separate word for virgin, but this is never used in connection with Mary. The virgin lie is nothing more than a ruse employed in a long history of Catholicism's abuse and oppression of women and the twisting of belief for its own mercenary ends.

The sad thing from Tara's PoV is that the only person who believes her is some oddball guy named Cyril Woods (I disown all relationship to this guy. I'll explain later!), who is a believer and is resolved to protect her. At first she doesn't trust him, but he proves as good as his word and Tara is left with no choice but to turn to him since she's getting zero support from anyone else, not her best friend (who happens to be Jeremy's sister) and not her parents, although her older brother is on her side, as is her doctor, Dr. Lei.

One sad thing about this story is how little the author knows about religion or about nursing - as in taking care of the ill, not feeding babies. When Tara faints and is in the hospital, we read, "Dr. Lei, white coat open over her gray pin-striped pants suit, stopped in around nine. She told Tara she was on an IV with nutrition and hydration and took Tara's pulse." No, the nurses would be doing this - orientating the patient and filling her in on her treatment plan. Doctors don't do this, and they sure don't come in and take the patient's pulse! They read the nurses notes. Often the nurses are telling the doctors what to do, if they're new interns, for example.

Dr Lei isn't an intern, of course, she's a seasoned doctor and she'd know that wandering in and taking her patient's pulse isn't going to tell her anything. She would have read the patient's 'chart' (file) before she went into the room, so this is just the kind of thing a writer puts into a story when they really have no idea what doctors and nurses do, and are too lazy to research it. It might pass by most people, but to me it was a glaring lack of fidelity, with nurses once again being criminally under-served by a writer.

My other main issue with this was the religious one. I said religion is nonsensical, but this kind of story, while fiction, is so true to life that it's laughable. The Bible predicts (and the prediction long ago ran out) the arrival of this "Antichrist" and foretells what will happen, yet every story about the Antichrist has the believers trying to short-circuit this Biblically ordained series of events in direct contradiction of their god's wishes! LOL! They're always trying to kill the mother or kill the child in direct contravention of the sixth commandment - you shall not murder.

The sad thing is that organized religion has so little control over its adherents that this is exactly what fanatical Christians would do in real life. It's not only a measure of how delusional and misguided they are, it's also one of how shockingly little faith they truly have in their god. The fact is that they're making it up as they go, as has always been done in all religions, and there are virtually no modern Christians who honestly follow Jesus. They follow Paul who has more effectively derailed the Jesus movement than anyone before or since. These people are Paulians, not Christians.

If they truly were Christians, they would follow Judaism! LOL! Jesus never was a Christian. He was a Jew. He followed the Judaic religion, and he stated quite clearly that he had not come to change one jot or tittle of the law. It was Paul, the fanatic who had some serious mental issues, who did all of that, and everyone fell for it. Jesus (if you believe he existed - I don't - not in the way Christians believe) also stated that he came only for the children of the House of Israel, so he'd have no interest whatsoever in gentiles, which makes this story false from the start: why would the Antichrist appear in the USA? And why now?

Nearly all modern writers, particularly in the US, and even more particularly in the young adult genre do this kind of thing routinely because they can't imagine any story of worth taking place outside of their own back yard, so blinkered are they. Nor do they explain why this appearance is taking place in this particular year or with this particular individual. It's a sad and provincial tunnel-vision which creates farces like this, and I have little respect for such writers even when the story isn't a disaster. No, if the Antichrist were not pure fiction, he (it's almost never a she in the three big monotheistic religions) would appear in Israel. Personally I'm rooting for the Antichrist because I detest the way organized religion is going! LOL!

The novel took a decided turn for the worst when this guy Cyril says to Tara, "...that you've had the strength of character to stay a virgin despite a sex-saturated world," like this is some sort of badge of honor. Excuse me? No, if a woman wants to have sex (and she's not dumb about it) then she's perfectly entitled to. It has nothing whatsoever to do with strength of character, because the obverse of that view is that if she had sex it would mean she was weak and easily manipulated. It offers her no voice in her own sexuality. It's her choice, dipshit, not yours!

The fact that Tara has nothing to say about this patriarchal attitude of this patronizing busybody lessened her in my view, too, especially since she's not so subtly starting to get the hots for him. It was then that I realized that if this was the way this book is going - weak woman rescued by shining knight and falling hopelessly in love with him, then I really didn't want to read any more of it because that story has been done to death, and making her pregnant with the Messiah/Antichrist doesn't accomplish a thing by way of improvement!

When are book blurb writers going to treat people with respect? The blurb for this one asks, tediously, " Will Tara find answers before it's too late?" How pathetic is that? I detest book blurbs that ask this stupid question. Of course she will! Is she going to fail to find answers? No! Is the writer going to kill off this character? I'd respect her if she did, but no, that's not going to happen - not when there's a potentially lucrative series in prospect! Quit putting dumbass questions in your blurbs, morons! And for the record, I disrecommend this novel.


Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin


Rating: WARTY!

Zona Lowell is fifteen and is halfway through her second year of high-school, which in Canada and the USA is known, sophomorically as the sophomore year. It's derived from a combo of the Greek words for wise and foolish! LOL! That pretty much sums up Zona. Why it has a Greek name and the other three years have regular English names can only be put down to pretension.

I have to ask where this girl's name comes from. Maybe the author thinks it's Greek, but it's not. In Serbian and Spanish, it means 'zone', so why a girl with an American father and a Greek mother would have a name unconnected with either lineage is a mystery. In Hebrew, it's worse: it means whore. That's not a great choice for a girl's name - not when there are so many wonderful Greek names (and of other nationalities, too).

For me it didn't work, and that sentiment pretty much sums up this whole novel. I made it a third of the way through, and it was so predictable that it was tedious to read. The author quite evidently downloaded a plot-point list from Trope (tripe?) Central and stuck to it rigidly. Can YA authors not have original ideas? On the whole they seem quite incapable, but I know for a fact one or two of them do, since I recently read an excellent story set in high-school, and a romance at that, and I loved it - so it's not impossible. I can only conclude these writers are lazy and/or unimaginative.

How shall I trope thee? Let me count the ways:

  • ☑ Story is in first person because it's understood by the YA writing community that it's illegal to write a YA novel in third?
  • ☑ Mid-teen girl, parentless, or half parentless?
  • ☑ Girl has had very close female bestie for several years?
  • ☑ Girl has very close male bestie who is gay?
  • ☑ Girl has low self-esteem? (She's even named Lowell! LOL!)
  • ☑ Girl thinks breasts are too small?
  • ☑ Girl thinks she's not that great looking?
  • ☑ Author thinks 'pretty' is actually a character trait?
  • ☑ Author thinks 'pretty' is the most important character trait?
  • ☑ Girl gets to go on trip abroad so it has to be France, Greece, or Italy since there is nowhere else?
  • ☑ Story ends on positive note because you can't write a YA novel that has a tragic ending?
  • ☑ Story makes frequent comparisons between two nations, and US is made to look trashy, violent, boring, and heartless?
  • ☑ Author thinks jazzing-up the text with boring inserts is cool?
  • ☑ Author thinks Greece is way south of NYC and therefore significantly warmer?

Lowell's year is smashed in two by her father who drops the bombshell on her that he's going to Greece for six months to write a story and she's coming with him. Mom isn't in the picture having conveniently died shortly after Zona was born. The Greek half of the family washed its hands of Zona and her father since they were not even in favor of the marriage, let alone any births and deaths. Now her dad suddenly wants to reconnect. He's older than most fathers of fifteen year olds, but not at death's door, so the premise was a bit weak, especially when the Greek side had been so overwhelmingly negative, so this premise failed for me.

It failed worse in that Zona is shown to cave to her father's precipitous demands far too quickly. I lost all respect for her at that point, but I'd already lost a lot of respect for the story-telling, so it mattered little by then. One big annoyance was the absurd newspaper clipping inserts. I'm sure the author thought this was cute and inventive, but the news articles - simply reporting everyday events in Zona's life, were monotonous and I started skipping them completely after reading the first two. I didn't miss them.

They were especially poor given that they were often not contained on one page, but overlapped to the second page. The problem with that, is that in order to facilitate reading, the story ran down column one, then down two, as it should, but on the second page, the story reverted to column one again, and finished in column two. They had to do this because of poor planning in fitting the articles onto one page, but the articles were so tedious they should have just omitted them altogether.

So, the story was poor one, with nothing new to offer. Going to Greece? How original! Why not try someplace completely different for a change? Child missing a parent or two? Yawn. Child supposedly unnaturally smart (but in practice really dumb) and has low opinion of herself? Been done a trillion billion times. Token gay best friend? Seriously? I ought to be commended for even getting as far into as I did. Could the kid not have both parents? Could the girl herself not be gay? Could the trip have been to Serbia or Chile or South Africa, or something instead of (yawn) Greece?

Could the girl not have stayed at a friend's home, and we followed her adventures there? Could the girl not have precipitously followed her father and the story been about her journey there rather than the destination? Apparently not when this author is at the helm, because she had a rigid checklist to follow in order to keep her name in good standing at the YA Club, and she was in no way going to deviate from it for anything, not even for the absurd purpose of telling an interesting story which is new and different from the rest of the flock. I am never reading another of her efforts. She has Big Publishing™ behind her, so you know there's no way she's ever going to be original.


Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc by Tony Lee, Sam Hart


Rating: WARTY!

This was a very disappointing graphic novel which I got from my wonderful local library about the woman the French know as La Pucelle d'Orléans. I think a woman like Jeanne d'Arc deserves a better memorial than this one because, deluded as she was, she did make her mark on history. This novel doesn't. It basically tells the same tale as everyone else does, so what's the point? The illustrations are indifferent and there was really nothing there to inspire me, which is sad given that Jeanne was said to have inspired an army to win a war!

Rising from an obscure childhood to become and legend and now, one of the nine secondary saints of France is quite an achievement, although it took five hundred years, all told. The problem is that the authors don't offer anything other than what you can read in Wikipedia - which for all I know might well be where they took their 'plot'. But apart from purely fictional and very trite conversations, they offer nothing more - just a by-rote, pedantic retelling of the facts, including several information dumps and much folklore unverified as fact.

I'll give just one example of how pathetic the invented dialog is. At one point the English drop a rock on Jeanne's head. She's in process of storming their castle when it happens. This evidently was a real event and she survived it. I suspect the real rock was a lot smaller than the one depicted in this novel, but in this story, evidently rather peeved, she says, "They throw stones at a girl? Show them what you think of that! To arms!" which is as pathetic as you can get and makes her look like a moron.

She's dressed as a soldier. She has short hair and she's waging war on the English dressed as a regular male warrior, and now she thinks she should be entitled to special treatment because she's a girl? I'm sorry but that line alone makes this novel total trash. The writer should be ashamed of himself for even thinking of writing it. I seriously doubt the real Jeanne said anything like that.

Michael, who is a Jewish archangel who supposedly communicates with her, is depicted as a long-haired muscular blond with white wings! In short, not a Judaic angel, but more like a Norse god named Thor. Pathetic. For this reason and others, this story doesn't seem organic. It doesn't seem life-like. It's more like reading a history book than ever it is a work which gives us the opportunity to enjoy and celebrate a living, thriving person exhibiting bravery you can rarely find in modern YA stories, and offering inspiration, and adventure.

That said it would be hard to repeat her story in any age (or in these days nation) other than one bogged down in religious strait-jackets and blind belief in ridiculous fairy tales. Only in such a world could someone so totally fool others in to believing they had a direct line to a god!

This would have made a much better tale had it been explored with a new light - that of a young deluded girl being elevated by men into a figure of inspiration when it served them, and discarding her callously when she was no longer of use, but that tale has yet to be told in this format, to my knowledge. I think this version cruelly under-serves her.

Another approach would have been to have shown how useless God is: in that he cannot do a thing for himself, always having to rely on mere mortal, weak humans to do his work for him, and then failing them repeatedly. I mean, is he an all-powerful god or merely another insane being no better than the Devil, whispering things in people's ears to make them do his absurd and contradictory bidding purely for his own entertainment?

I'm not a believer at all, but let's just pretend there is a god who for reasons unknown, wishes half a century later to reverse Agincourt, where the English soundly beat the French on their home turf, and who now wants the French to beat the English on that same turf. There's actually a whole other story right there about a schizophrenic god who doesn't know what he wants, but I don't want to pursue that here.

Set aside any quibbles about why this god even cares who owns France, when he's always been the "God of Israel," not anywhere else, and then not even the God of all of Israel, but a mountain god - a god of the hill tribes. Instead let's pretend he actually cares. If it's that important, then why pick an obscure girl from nowheresville? Why not pick the pope?

Better yet, why not do his dirty work himself, and de-materialize the English army? Instead, we're expected to believe that this purportedly all-powerful god cannot do the job and is forced to pick an illiterate and highly superstitious child, and force her to try and change history before abandoning her to misery and suffering. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and in effect means that this god murdered that child.

And for what? The war did not end with her. France did not become whole immediately because of her. Indeed, even after it became whole, it later fell to the English after Napoleon's depredations. Where was this god then? Where was his messenger then? France again fell to the Nazis, and in the worst way. Where was this god then? Where was the messenger then? What was the point? Why only one messenger in a suspiciously superstitious and ignorant time and then no more? Does this god not take a long view?! Or is the real story not that he's so petty and short-sighted, but that there really is no god other than what we sad and ignorant humans invent to delude ourselves with, and to satisfy our own petty needs of the moment?

It makes even less sense that he would then allow his savior to be burned, but he does have a history of throwing his Messiahs to the wolves, doesn't he? Even if he is real, he's not a god I want anything to do with. There's a far better story to be told about Jeanne than ever we've been given by those blinkered people who merely retell the historical plot points without any feeling or heart and add nothing new in the telling. I can't recommend this one at all.