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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Generation Zero by Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela, Andrew Dalhouse


Rating: WORTHY!

I had no idea what Generation Zero was about having no exposure to it before (it's very much a young-adult version of X-Men, although it has no affiliation with the Marvel property as far as I know). Along came this graphic novel which sounded appealing and I was pleased to have the chance to review an ARC. So thanks to the publisher! Note that this is a work of fiction, and not to be confused with the New Zealand youth organization focused on the much-needed weaning of our society from fossil fuels!

It turns out, as the blurb tells us, that Generation Zero is a group for kids who were experimented on by private military contractors in Project Rising Spirit, aimed at producing 'psychic soldiers'. Well, they apparently succeeded. The blurb tells us the soldiers won their freedom. How that happened I don't know. I find it hard to believe that the government would let them go so easily, but maybe it wasn't easy. Anyway, now they have a new mission: helping teens in need.

No one feels more in need than Keisha Sherman. Her boyfriend just died in a highly suspect car accident in the too-good-to-be-true town of Rook, Michigan, heart of a new and suspiciously rapid tech boom. Keisha never was your regular teen. Sporting a rad look and hanging with the out-crowd, she appeals to Generation Zero through her computer because she knows her boyfriend was onto something suspicious going on in this town, and that;s why he died. She discovers that Generation Zero is not so mythical. She's advised to destroy the computer she used to contact them (why this must be done isn't explained!), and get on with her life. Pretty soon, new students start showing up at her school, and they make the out-crowd look normal.

These students are evidently Generation Zero: Animalia (shape-shifter), Cloud (a mind scrambler), Cronus (the gorup leader), Gamete, Telic, and the Zygos twins. These guys, plus one other shadowy sort, and Keisha and are going to make a difference. As long as the suspiciously compliant adults in the town, including Keisha's own father, who is a cop, don't trip up their plans. Note that there are other members of Generation Zero which aren't featured in this graphic novel.

I liked this for the characters, the artwork, which came in two styles, one for regular life, and one for this oddball sequence which depicted the world as people saw it, not as how it was. That was pretty cool. The drawing depicted people realistically, without the improbable and genderist proportions of super hero comics. Some were overweight, one of Keisha's friends was in a wheelchair There is no bad language and no overt sexuality although one scene shows a young couple in bed together, but they're just talking. I liked that the story wasn't afraid to be real all the way through. I liked that the main character, Keisha, was African American and female - not a common occurrence in far too many graphic novels - and that she had a younger brother who was a bit of a special needs kid.

But it's more than just getting the a realistic set of characters. There has a to be a story, otherwise it's just pretty pictures of interesting people, and this one felt good and plausible (in the framework of the story, of course!). So I recommend this. It hit the spot and I'd definitely be interested in pursuing the story.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Behind Story Volume 1 by Narae Ahn


Title: Behind Story Volume 1
Author: Narae Ahn (no website found)
Publisher: NETCOMICS
Rating: WARTY!

This story with a bizarre title, is told in three parts, each one from the perspective of one of the three main characters: Jinsuk, Taehee, and Yohan. The story is evidently Korean, and the problems for me were manifold. First of all none of the characters look Korean, so we have the odd depiction of very western looking characters with exotic Korean names. I know this is a common trope in Asian manga and anime, but to me it's insulting. If you're going to tell a story about your own people, make them look like and behave like your own people. I have no time for this selling-out of local ethnicity just so it might appeal to we stubbornly mono-cultural westerners. That's insulting.

Secondly, since this is rooted in Korean culture, it's hard to know what's really an honest reflection of that culture and what is instead merely a quirk of this particular story or this story teller. For example, in this story, there seems to be a motorcycle culture which is both obnoxious and deeply frowned upon. Whether this is true or not in real life, I have no idea, but as presented, it seemed quite bizarre to my western brain, especially since it has no real part in the story - at least not in this first volume of the story.

Yohan is supposedly part of this motorcycle culture, although other than the accident he has, we see none of that culture or of that life. The part of the blurb which mentions the accident is written badly and can make it appear that these two boys are both in a motorcycle accident - perhaps crashing into each other. The truth is that only Yohan is riding a motorcycle - Taehee is on foot. Yohan simply skids and comes off his bike. No one else is involved.

Taehee happens to witness this and physically carries Yohan to the hospital because he can't remember the emergency number to dial! In Korea, FYI, it's the USA number backwards! Whereas the US is 911, South Korea is 119. The fact that Taehee doesn't even know his own emergency number tells me that he's a really a dumb schmuck. The fact that the doesn't know not to move someone in these circumstances without medical advice confirms this. He could have crippled Yohan if he'd had a spinal injury.

This is how these two meet. Jinsuk is Yohan's teacher, who is having a highly inappropriate homosexual relationship with his student. No one seems to find any problem with this - although admittedly the two are conducting this in secret, they have having sex in the classroom with Yohan bent over the teacher's desk! It's really hard to tell whether Yohan is even consenting, not that - legally - he could be, but they are both idiots if they think their liaisons will not be discovered.

Taehee, who evidently has no idea of his own sexuality, finds himself drawn more and more to Yohan, although through the course of this entire volume, nothing actually happens in terms of their making any progress towards any kind of relationship, let alone a loving one.

The art work is fine - very clean and sparse line drawings but the dialog is awful, with frequent speech balloons containing nothing but an ellipsis. I understand that this is supposed to represent awkwardness between these two boys, but it really just looked stupid and was simply annoying to me. I also understand that this is a different culture and we cannot, nor should we expect to this culture to be western in any way, but if you're going to try to market a story (not that there really was much of a story) like this to a western culture, you really need to find ways to make it accessible, and I think the author and publisher failed to do this here.

Whatever it was, I simply could not appreciate the story. In some parts it was hard to follow, in other parts it was dumb. Motivations were foggy at best, and downright obscure at other times, and the characters were neither likable nor relatable. I can't recommend it.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Those Girls by Lauren Saft


Title: Those Girls
Author: Lauren Saft
Publisher: Hachette
Rating: WARTY!

Those Girls isn't a very original title; there are several others with this title or a variation on it, so make sure you check for authorship before you pick one of those girls to buy. For me, I won't be buying, because it failed to entertain me at all and I can't recommend it. I expected better from a master of fine arts, but what I got was more like something written by a mistress than a master. It was published by Little, Brown Books for young readers (now owned by Hachette), but I in no way would ever recommend a book like this for a young reader - or anyone else.

One good indicator of whether you liked a novel or not is that it stays with you when you've read it - or it fails to. It wasn't very long ago at all that I read this, yet I barely remember it as I write this review. I do recall a lot of words which came to mind as I read it, though: words like "disappointment" and "poor" and "incredible" - that last one unfortunately in a very negative sense. It's never a good sign if a novel is so lacking in distinction that it floats away as soon as you've closed the cover, and this one floated more like the Titanic.

From a purely technical PoV the writing was not bad, and by that I mean that there were no gross spelling or grammatical errors, so if you set your sights low enough you might enjoy this. There were some amusingly mis-worded sentences, however, such as when one of the three main characters is purty-ing herself up in the car as her friend drives, and we read, "She pulled her silky blonde hair into a ponytail, opened her mouth and applied eye-liner in my rear view mirror..."!

There are at least two kinds of wrong here. She's applying eye-liner to her mouth? Interesting! Who knows? Teens do crazy stuff, so maybe she was. It just sounded wrong to me, but then I'm neither teen nor female. I just play one on TV. No, of course I'm kidding! My only other question is did she apply the eye-liner to the rear-view mirror or to her mouth? Or did she actually apply it around her eyes and the sentence was just badly written?

But those faux pas are no big deal. They're amusing, and we've all written something like that and read it back later and wondered what the heck we were thinking! It's what makes writing fun no matter which side of the page you're on.

The problem wasn't with the technical writing, it was with the entire story itself. I can forgive some poor grammar and spelling, and even some poor writing if I get a really good story, but I can't forgive a really poor story. If this author "masterfully conveys what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl," then I'd hate to read one which tosses it on your table without even wiping the Formica first, because that's what this felt like.

I do believe there are some people like those girls, but I cannot honestly believe that sixteen year old girls in general are anything like this. If they are, then I despair for them and for our future.

The story is of three rather clueless and vacuous teens. At first I thought they were seventeen; now I think they were sixteen, but even so, their behavior was juvenile, and all three of them needed to seriously get a life. Even at sixteen you need to be looking at what the heck you're going to do after graduation. Hopefully it's college but if not, you still need a career plan.

Not a single one of these girls had a single thing go through their mind that wasn't either a bitchy thought or an obsessive thought about boys or sex. I am not kidding. Not a one of them had any interests, hobbies, or pastimes - not even relatively frivolous ones like dancing in clubs. I mean they literally had zero interests - they were that shallow. Not a one of them had any occupation - and yes, I know they were spoiled-brat rich kids, but you'd think that one or two of them might like to get some job experience and an independent source of income. The sole exception was Alex's joining a band. More about that anon.

Now I know that too many teenagers are very narrowly-focused for the most part, but no teen worth reading about is as narrowly-focused as these three were. Amy Heckerling made a very amusing and successful movie about a clueless teenage girl, but this novel wasn't that movie by a long script. The novel wasn't funny at all. It was sad, and not in a happy way. I charge the girls with multiple counts of gross cluelessness - about their lives, about their families, about their boyfriends, but worst of all, about each other.

They were tunnel-vision, seeing everything through a telescope turned on themselves blinkered. And it was boring. Not a single one of them showed any sign, throughout the entire novel, of growing up, or of realizing how shallow they were, or of changing for the better, or of even thinking that anything was really wrong. I can't empathize with people like that. I can't like them. I sure don't want to read about them, but I actually read this to the end hoping something good would come out of it. It didn't. It needs to be re-titled Those Clowns.

Why did I pick it up?

I picked it up for the sole reason that the blurb mentioned that Alex was secretly in a band, That's what I was interested in - a sixteen year old girl with something to say and a voice to say it with. I got none of that. The thing with the band was for all practical purposes irrelevant and immaterial to the story. It went nowhere. It played no meaningful part in the story. I felt robbed with this bait-and-switch in the blurb, but this is what happens when you let Big Publishing&Trade; effectively own your work. You get misleading blurbs, and a cover which says - and very loudly too - don't worry what's in this girl's head, just take a look at her hot bod. That's all she's worth. Ironically, it's the perfect cover for this story. We're told of Alex that she's "...secretly in love with the boy next door.." but she's too clueless to know she's in love. That's how dumb she is, and she never wises-up.

None of the girls is smart enough to realize that all they know is a tiny insignificant part of the world, and until they get out there and really explore it, they will remain clueless, ignorant and unadventurous as they are. Alex is clueless, Mollie is ignorant of the fact that she's in a co-dependent relationship, and Veronica, the one who appears most adventurous of all, is held fast in her lifestyle by a cheap and gaudy leash of her own making. They act far more like thirteen than ever they do sixteen, and they have the mentality to match. Spin the bottle? Truth or dare? seriously?

Why I think it should be put down.

All of "those girls" are painfully stupid. The are borderline alcoholics, and they routinely have unprotected sex without a thought for the sexual history of their partner. They have a pedophile teacher in their school which not a one of them even considers reporting to the authorities. All of them smoke heavily and indulge regularly in drugs, like those lifestyles are completely risk-free. And none of their behavior has any real consequences or teaches them a single thing. On addition to this, there's chronic slut-shaming going on throughout the novel even between the three supposed friends. There is nothing appealing about any of these characters and nothing interesting about their loser life story. I cannot recommend this at all.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Braden's Story by Mason Dodd


Title: Braden's Story
Author: Mason Dodd
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WORTHY!

Braden is thirteen and being hit with the growing realization that he's gay. His family, highly religious and very fundamentalist, isn't going to like this one bit. This story details how Braden comes to terms with his true nature and his feelings, and how he copes or fails to do so, with the reactions of others. I started out liking the story, but quickly grew tired of the writing style and the endless grammatical and spelling errors, some of which I list on my blog. No matter how much I might want to support books like this one, I cannot in good faith recommend this particular story.

The errors, in what is a story badly in need of an editor, were numerous. In addition, there were other issues, such as the fact that these are very religious folk, yet the language the younger ones employ seems highly unlikely at best, and their disrespect for adults isn't believable given their background. Just be warned that if you're tempted to pick this up thinking it's a religious or spiritual book, it's really not!

Some of these problems with this book could have been caught with a good spell-checker while others, such as the use of 'alter' in place of 'altar', and 'apart' in place of 'a part', can only be caught by a good editor or better beta readers.

Errata:
"...But is there someone your are interested in, or...?
"...felt that I was apart of something important" should be "...felt that I was a part of something important"
"... wedding alter..." should be "... wedding altar..." or preferably just "altar".
"... get those handless stuck on..." should be "... get those handles stuck on..."
"But is there someone your are interested in, or." Should be " But is there someone you are interested in, or.". I didn't get the hanging 'or' at the end, but after reading this form of speech used frequently, I decided that this was simply a figure of speech.
"Okay, you weren't listing in Mr. Miller's class at all." should be "Okay, you weren't listening in Mr. Miller's class at all."
"...to discuss the situation with Tom and is acceptance of gays..."
"...Mum was cooking in the kitchen when I got home..." Unintentionally humorous - Braden's family are cannibals - and incestuous ones, too!
"...how does that fit inline with..." should be "...how does that fit in line with..." (the lack of a space in "inline" changes the meaning)

Here's one example of the inconsistent use of bad language:

His goddamn smile, it was so cute and had this effect on me. I know, I know, it was only a goshdang smile...

This was a thought expressed by the narrator, who has been raised in a highly religious family, so it's hardly likely he would say "goddamn" and just plain weird that he says that and immediately follows it with "goshdang" so it didn't sound authentic to me at all. I know that even religious people cuss, and this isn't confined to adults, but the language felt unnatural for the context, and it was way overdone, as though the author was using it purely for its shock value rather than because it was the natural argot of these characters.

I don't care if people cuss in stories, because they cuss in real life, so in general terms it's inauthentic not to have them use bad language from time to time, but it needs to be authentic to the situation in which it's used, or to the people into whose mouths these words are placed.

There really are people who come down hard on gays and gay marriage, acting under the religious delusion that being gay is a sinful choice which calls for a cure. They're morons. Throughout history, human attempts at "curing" nature have been consistently disastrous, and this one will be too. People who delight in having anal sex with their wife or girlfriend irrationally think there is something wrong with two guys enjoying the same thing with each other. People who preach 'love thy neighbor' out of one side of their mouth have no problem stirring up resentment and hatred against people who only want to be allowed to love and marry one another. It's not only hypocritical, it's sick.

The problem for the big three monotheistic religions in accommodating this however, lies in the ignorant words of old men who specifically prohibited homosexual relations in the Old (men) Testament - only between men, however! The OT has nothing to say about lesbianism! People mistakenly think that Queen Victoria did not believe that lesbianism existed, which is why it never was made illegal in England, but this belief is a myth. It was never mentioned in Victorian statutes for the same reason it was never mentioned in the OT. Old white men couldn't have cared tuppence about women's sexuality. It wasn't even considered that they had any. Only male homosexuality threatened these geezers, and why on Earth would women be attracted to each other when there were so many manly men around?!

So the problem for those who adhere to these religions is that the Bible does expressly prohibit it. This means they either have to dispense with the blind edicts of ignorant old men, or they have to dispense with homosexuals, and they're far too cowardly and insecure to do the former, so it's gays who suffer.

Some of the other things which these young teens were depicted as saying were bizarre too. At one point for example, Mia, who is Braden's best friend, says to him "Gimme a break, Bray Bray" which sounded so babyish that it brought me right out of suspension of disbelief. These teens are also using bad language in church when they're sitting close-by grown-ups, which struck me as stupid and unrealistic.

I didn't have a problem with the religious people cussing, but for kids to use such bad language within earshot of their parents and family friends struck me as very unrealistic and spoke poorly of the kids' judgment. This was a bad impression to give because it fuels an argument that Braden's sexuality was also an example of poor judgment rather than his nature, which is nonsensical, but it's a serious mistake to write in a way which puts ammunition into the hands of your detractors, even if that ammo is a pile of duds.

There was a lot of texting described, too which felt way overdone to me. Invariably, depicting texts fails in YA stories. It seems like the writer is trying far too hard to be hip and 'authentically teen', and it just makes me want to skip it, especially since the bulk of it really conveys nothing of value and does little to move the story. A simple brief sentence describing the text is far more effective than a whole paragraph of text-onics.

There was a certain naiveté to this story. It felt a bit like reading fan fiction, or reading a first draft by a young author, and usually this will turn me off a story. In the case, the simplistic tone actually tended to lend it some authenticity. First person PoV stories are usually appallingly unrealistic. I am not remotely a first person fan. Far from rendering the story more immediate and accessible, it typically makes it seem irritatingly false and self-centered to me. This one wasn't, but the value of this was lost amidst all the other issues.

The novel was pretty much completely lacking in any really descriptive prose. It was mostly about movement between one place and another, and the conversations which took place between the teens - chats which were in serious danger of losing the reader because very few of the speeches were ascribed to a specific speaker. It was mostly a list of spoken text with insufficient attribution to give the reader a decent idea of who was saying what. There was almost nothing to set atmosphere or to describe the surroundings, not even sketchily. It made the story seem rootless in many ways, like it wasn't actually happening in real life but in some ghostly existence divorced from the real world, which is also a mistake for a novel of this type, which really begs to be solidly grounded in reality.

In the final analysis, I can't recommend this, but if you happen to like it, there is a companion novel titled Aaron's story. I can't say if these two are tied together in any way.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara by JB Cantwell


Title: Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara
Author: JB Cantwell
Publisher: JB Cantwell
Rating: WARTY!

How can I not review a novel with part of my own name in the title? Aster Wood is a person, not a little forest. Coming from a long line of trees myself, I can appreciate that. Star Wood? Isn't that like Star Lord?! Not really! This novel is your bog-standard disadvantaged teen gets trained by man in the know, magically acquires magical powers, and goes on a quest over several volumes thereby proving how incompetent he is that he couldn't get it done in one volume.

So this novel is about young Aster, who isn't relishing spending his summer with grandma out at her remote farm. Why her mom parks him there is a bit of a mystery. We get a vague hand-wave at the fact that she's working, but this doesn't necessitate Aster being abandoned in the remote countryside - especially when that countryside has been ravaged, evidently by acid rain.

Yes this is another young adult dystopian story where Earth is on its last legs and some lowly youthful hero manages to find a magical (or perhaps a sci-fi) way to save everyone. In this case, Aster is poking around in his grandma's attic and finds a magic paper which somehow transports him to a different planet where the land is green and productive.

Curiously enough he runs right into an old guy living there who was expecting Aster's grandfather, Brendan to show up, but Brendan died long ago - before Aster was even born. From this guy, Kiron, Aster learns that there are many planets joined together with this wormhole system (or whatever it is), but Earth is a lot further away than the "triad" planets, so he's rather surprised to see Aster show up.

If this is indeed travel by wormhole, why the distance would matter is a mystery, but it was not one which engaged me or made me want to read beyond the first few chapters. There was nothing where - nothing new,nothing really original, no twists on unoriginal material and really nothing to get to grips with. I had no interest in finishing what quickly became a boring and repetitive story, let alone going on to follow this same boredom through multiple repetitive sequels.

The pretentious writing didn't help: "What are the names of these men of whom you speak" Seriously? No one speaks like that. No one ever spoke like that. I don't get this "Almarian" either. The place is called Almara, so why not Almaran? I don't get the Floridian from Florida either, but that's just a pet peeve. In another instance, I read "...looking between the stone and I expectantly" which actually should be "...looking between the stone and me expectantly". Very few people actually speak like that, either, and especially not young people, so it makes it sound weird to write that in a first person PoV novel. It ruins suspension of disbelief to constantly be reminded that you're reading a story instead of feeling completely immersed in it.

Some of the writing was just downright odd too, such as the dog named Crane running on ahead, where we read, "Crane bounded down the path up ahead." Bounding down and up ahead do not make good bedfellows. The real problem here was that this story was nothing but fantasy and I don't mean that in a complimentary manner, either. I can't recommend it.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham


Title: Scarlett Undercover
Author: Jennifer Latham
Publisher: Little, Brown
Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“Funny” on page 67 is missing a closing quote.

The last message on Jennifer Latham's website (as of this posting) is that she's here in Austin! Yeay! The website gives no clue as to where she is exactly, however; then I'm not a fan boy so I wouldn't go anyway, but I could have at least told you guys! Maybe it's hidden away on her website, but I sure don't have time to search for it.

Now this is an intriguing novel she's given to us. Scarlett is a smart (so we're told) and precocious 16 year old who graduated high school two years early, but has yet to take up college life. Judged by her bio (which we get about half-way through the novel), she hasn't always been so smart, but a good-hearted cop (or is he?) set her back on the straight and narrow, and that's how she got into the private detective business. In the meantime, she lives off...I have no idea who or what she lives off. Her parents are dead and she lives - nominally - with her older sister.

She seems to do very little with her life save for taking Muay Thai lessons, and those only half-heartedly. She holds down no job as far as I can see, unless you count the "job" of unpaid, part-time detective. Her new case is a nine-year-old girl who reports that her older brother is acting weird lately! Scarlett is inclined to take this report with a pinch or two of salt until she starts looking into it. An examination of the kid's room while he's not around, leads Scarlett to the discovery of a series of mysterious patterns scratched onto the back of his bedroom door.

Scarlett's "love" interest has the unfortunate name of Decker, and he equally unfortunately sports the young adult cliché of having gold flecks in his eyes. Seriously? He works part time in his mom's greasy-spoon restaurant, but the interesting thing here isn't the gold flecks; it's the fact that Decker is Jewish, whereas Scarlett is Muslim. They have more in common than you might think, as this story slowly reveals.

Given this knowledge of her origins, how the heck Scarlett ever got her name is a bit of a mystery. At first i thought she was Arabic, then I thought that maybe she's African American, then maybe she's Indian. The novel never says and ultimately it's not important except in that finally, we have a majorly kick-ass non-Anglo-Saxon protestant female main character. Why is it so hard for you female authors to come up with these characters?!!! Kudos to Jennifer Latham for introducing us to this one!

Decker informs Scarlett that the pattern which she's convinced she's seen before, but can't bring to mind, is called Solomon's Knot (although it's actually a link, not a knot). It's not only in her mosque, it's also in his synagogue, but neither place is where she's seen it. Decker's mom, who also waits at this restaurant which she runs, turned very nearly to stone when Scarlett showed her the image. She refused to discuss it and wouldn't say why. When Scarlett investigates, she gets drawn into an ancient web of danger and mystery that has her fighting - sometimes literally - to stay ahead of.

In addition to an interesting mystery, Scarlett seems to have picked up not one, but two tails, since she took this case. She managed to give both of these girls the slip (and not the kind you wear), but what the heck is she going to do when she meets a guy on a bridge, who is himself the size of a bridge and wanting to take her down hard?

As I mentioned, I have to wonder where Scarlett gets her money from. She takes taxis, eats breakfast and leaves ten dollars on the table, hands out five dollars to a homeless person. She has an office! Maybe she lives off her dead parent's insurance money? Her sister is a doctor doing a residency, which means she works long hours, is always tired, hardly home, and gets paid diddly for all this, so we know the money isn't coming from her, so this access to endless cash is a big plot hole, but that aside, I can't find any fault in this novel.

I do find fault in the cover. The flimsy child-model on it in now way, shape, or form even remotely represents the outstanding girl depicted inside. Why they ever let jackasses do the cover who quite evidently have never even read the novel is a complete mystery to me. It's the price you pay, however, for going the route of Big Publishing™. The cover is out of the author's hands, and while I don't blame her for this disaster, I do feel awful for her that she got saddled with a trashy cover like this for the superior novel she's written.

Please do completely ignore the cover when considering reading this one! I never judge a novel by the cover. it's a colossal mistake. This novel is beautifully told, expertly paced, has major action, danger, intrigue, and narrow escapes, all of which are believable, and it has a romance that's done to perfection - i.e. this is not a romance novel masquerading as a PI novel like one I reviewed quite recently, it's a serious private eye story with a pleasant - for once - dash of romance. It's told - perhaps tongue in cheek - with the best private dick story-telling technique (which I think some reviewers simply didn't get), and the romance is a minor side-shoot which neither dominates nor ruins the story. I praise Jennifer Latham for that and assure you she is a writer to watch.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Every Day by David Levithan


Title: Every Day
Author: Every Day by David Levithan
Publisher:
Rating: WORTHY!

Read poorly by Alex McKenna.

I liked Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist which was co-written by this author, although I liked the movie better, but when I began listening to David Levithan's Every Day, I really had to wonder whether I would like it or not. I didn't in the end. It's first person PoV which is bad enough. It's narrated by a girl who sounds so young and clueless, but then the character is apparently sixteen, so I guess it's appropriate, but that doesn't make the voice any less obnoxious. I just didn't like it.

I'm not a fan of first person and this story was bordering precipitously on making me nauseous before it had even really got under way. The reader's voice sounded like everything in life was something of a surprise to her. Her voice had this tone like she couldn't even take herself seriously or that maybe she was joking and hoping you wouldn't figure it out before she reached the punch-line. her voice ended every sentence with a muted back-of-the-throat growl which was nauseating in it's metronomic routine, and made me think of nothing other than a little nasty dog which is still trying to decide if it can get away with biting you.

The premise is that this sixteen year old being (I don't know if it's male or female or even if it's human!) wakes up each morning in a different body, spends one day in it, and then moves on. The being appears to be human as far as I can tell, but I'm not sure. Perhaps it's a god or a ghost! On the morning the story begins, she (I'll call it she because of the narrator's voice) wakes up in Justin's body. He is also sixteen years old and in high school. Why everything - gender, skin color, etc, evidently can vary, but age apparently cannot was a bit of a mystery.

The narrator, who was nameless, seemed far too worldly for her age, although she had been around a bit and not in a promiscuous way, but in other ways she seemed absurdly naïve and juvenile. In the early part of the story, she apparently was oblivious to the fact at she was jumping genders. Nothing was mentioned of how she felt about that, or what adventures she had enjoying all these bodies of both genders it was like it was completely immaterial to her and I simply didn't buy that at all. Yes, maybe she became used to it when she was younger, but to offer absolutely no comments, observations, or reminiscences was just poor writing.

At school she (in Justin's body) runs into his girlfriend and takes a liking to her which she deduces Justin didn't really share. He was pretty much just employing Rhiannon as a utility. The narrator started to like her and contrary to her normal behavior - to not get involved - decided to cut class and spend the afternoon at the beach with this somewhat estranged girlfriend, even though it's the tail end of the summer and starting to get chilly.

As I indicated, the story was nauseating as this sixteen-year-old narrator relates things as though she's whatever age David Levithan is, with all these flowery existential and philosophical observations. It felt like reading a John Greene novel, which I've vowed I will never do again. Nor will I read any more David Levithan if they're like this. I am not a fan of writers who blurt out the most mundane pablum as though it's something which one ever conceived before.

It immediately looked like the narrator - whoever or whatever he, or she or it is - would end up with Rhiannon at the closing of the story. That was my wild guess, but it's exactly what happened. This a very short novel, only 7 disks, so I originally decided I could give it a try-out and maybe even finish it, even though it didn't immediately grab me. I failed. It really was tedious to have to listen to this everyday boring nonsense being related like it was a revelation, and it was especially tiresome to have to listen to it in Alex McKenna's grating voice. I cannot recommend this.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation) by Sue Stauffacher

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Title: Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation)
Author: Sue Stauffacher
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This book was hilarious and I recommend it whole-heartedly. Yes, there was a more-than-minor character named Jack Taylor, which would normally cause me to jack this in, but he wasn't the main character so I was willing, in this one instance, to tolerate him in the small doses where he was present. I loved Cassidy's attitude to life, and her relationship with her sister.

The story here is that Cassidy's great grandmother has died and in her will she condemned (that's what it feels like to Cassidy) the poor girl to attend etiquette school two days a week during one month of her summer holiday. Cassidy bristles and rebels at this.

This story went from joy to joy. I completely adored the author's tone and voice - even though it was first person. Normally that's a voice I don't appreciate, but once in a while an author makes it work, and this is a sterling example of how to do it. The text is full of sly assessments, and astute and amusing remarks such as this observation from Cassidy: "I knew better than to say anything about the value of my time. Adults and kids have never seen eye to eye on that subject."

I don't know what it was, but Cassidy won me over from the off, and she kept on winning me over, although I have to admit, Livvy ran her a close thing. Cassidy was perhaps a bit more mature than you'd expect for her age, but I was willing to forgive her that in the same way I forgave Bill Watterson for the same thing in his totally awesome Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

Cassidy is a smart, adventurous, curious, and self-possessed girl of eleven who is fearless and confident. She's not a bad person by any means, but her aggressive approach to life tends to land her in water that's decidedly, shall I say, too temperature-challenged for her taste? You can imagine then, the difficulties inherent in any attempt to teach her etiquette. It's precisely this ocean of endeavor upon which the author has chosen to launch Cassidy Corcoran.

Here's another joyous quotation: "Miss Melton-Mowry decided to ignore me. It's a normal developmental stage for every one of my teachers." And another from a conversation Cassidy has with another attendee of the etiquette class when they discover they have an acquaintance in common:

"What's the polite-conversation word for smart aleck?"
"High energy...original mind...future politician?" I replied, quoting my report cards from memory.

And one more for good measure:

"Nice to meet you, Dr. Bean."
"And you, Cassidy. Your reputation precedes you."
"That's usually how it works."

I'm not going to tell you how this goes, because it's a journey that you have to take for yourself - with Cassidy as your guide. Be prepared for a strenuous outing, though: it goes from height to height, but it's awesome terrain. I am totally on board with this and looking out for other books by this author now.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Well's End by Seth Fishman


Title: The Well's End
Author: Seth Fishman
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WARTY!

Read a bit painfully by Katie Schorr.

I have to say up front that I've grown to detest novels that are told in the first person PoV because they all-too-often sound so self-obsessed: "Hey pay attention to me! I'm more important than anything! Lookit MEEEE! Lookit what I'm doing! Lissen to what I'm thinking!". They just really irritate me unless they're done really well, but typically, especially in YA stories, they aren’t.

This was one of the irritating ones, I'm sorry to say, and it wasn't helped by Katie Schorr's reading. She has a good voice, so I'm sure she'd be appropriate for some novels, but in this case it was just really annoying, especially to hear this voice, which sounded like it wasn't YA, read a first person story about a YA character who is endlessly rambling on about herself and her swim meets and boys.

The worst part about it was her completely flat reading - it was like listening to someone announcing flight cancellations at an airport, or the next stop on your train journey: no inflection, not a trace of emotion. Worse than that, the underlying story was boring as hell. Do I care about the minutiae of her life? Not unless it bears on the story. This was like listening to a thirteen-year-old talk about her school day thirty times in a row - the same day. It was awful. It just sounded wrong and boring.

There was an intrigue here, which made me force myself to keep listening initially, but it was almost immediately subjugated to the boring litany of the tedious details of Mia's thoroughly-uninteresting life. Mia is the main Character and her dad works in some secret government activity, literally underground. He drives down into a tunnel where there are doors almost like airlock doors - where only one set is opened at any one time. Mia has no idea what's in there and her dad rightly isn’t telling.

The well of the title appears, at least initially, to be one which mia fell down when she was four. The story is one of these metaphorical ones where the well becomes Mia's insulated life, from which she eventually escapes (at least that was the initial diagnosis). It might as well have been called The Womb's End or something. I'm not a fan of stories like this, but I admit I was intrigued by what her dad does and why a pushy news reporter was so obsessed with finding out. That I would have liked to have heard about, but the writer was just too obsessed with rolling out boring-as-all-hell high-school trivia to have any time to tell that infinitely more interesting story.

One big problem right off the bat was how this story began - with this business of Mia falling down this well. Even though she's now pretty much adult, she claims that the world is still obsessed with the well incident and that reporters are still beating a path to her door to talk about baby Mia and the well. I found this to be completely absurd.

Yes, a baby-in-a-well story is gripping, and very news-worthy as it happens, but after the child is freed, who cares any more? Can you remember the name of the last trapped child who was in the news? I can’t. I'm sure the family and close friends remember it well, but no one else does because it’s not news-worthy any more, so this rang truly false. It’s certainly not a news item a decade or two later, which is the conceit here, and it made the story inauthentic.

Plus the virus that ages you quickly made no sense - and it made less sense given that Mia was inexplicably thinking she could solve this problem by invading her father's electronics research facility. Electronics has nothing to do with biology, although there are places where they converge - but viruses? Maybe this was a computer virus that somehow attacks humans? Ridiculous! I didn't read that far, so I have no idea where this went. Maybe it made sense later, but I was too bored by it.

Also this is book one of the inevitable YA series, because why write one novel when you can split it into several and make people buy essentially the same story over and over again? other reviewers have warned of a cliff-hanger ending, so you don't even get a complete story here. I refuse to play that game.

So, to cut a boring story short which is exactly what I did! I quit listening to this. I cannot recommend it based on the portion I did hear, not when there are other stories which grip you from the beginning in an intelligent and mature fashion and simply refuse to let go.


Girl Defective by Simmone Howell


Title: Girl Defective
Author: Simmone Howell
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

I'm not sure why, but it always amuses me when the author (or perhaps the publisher) announces that the novel is a novel by having the words "A Novel" appear on the front cover as some editions of this one do. It's not really novel or meaningful. This is the kind of novel that tries too hard to be hip, where authors mistakenly think that if they set it in a book store or a record store it will automatically be literary and brilliant. No, Virginia, it won't. Nor will tossing in musical or literary references. For me personally I tend to despise such novels precisely because they do come with this pretension to being "literary".

Skylark and her somewhat developmentally-impaired kid bother Seagull (who goes by "Gully") live over a vinyl record store with their father. Mom isn't in the picture having ditched her family to pursue a career in music. Since dad won't have an on-line presence, nor will he countenance CDs in his store, it looks like the business is on the home straight to going out of, which begs the question as to why dad hired Luke to help in the store.

I know vinyl is making something of a comeback as a music delivery medium, but it's never actually going to come back in any meaningful sense, and for me, I'm glad because people have forgotten how bloody awful vinyl actually was and how it is an oil derivative ultimately, but that's by-the-by. But this did make me feel this novel was a bit anachronistic rather than realistic. Now if the story had been set in a place which, I dunno, runs an indy MP3 download service or something, that might have at least been a bit less pretentious and rather different. But then the author wouldn't have been able to slip in a host of pretentious references to obscure bands of yesteryear, would she?

Obviously Luke is really hired so Luke and Sky can get together, so it's a bit ham-fisted. The legend we're offered is that Luke's sister, Mia, died some time before, so maybe dad is taking pity on him, but aside from being annoyingly attracted to Luke, Sky is a rather confused young woman, confused by her flibbertigibbet of a friend, and by this Goth girl from school who she runs into at unexpected times which always looks like it might be going somewhere, but which never does. Also, what's going on with the police officer of whom Sky is suspicious, but who seems to have known dad for years? Well there's nothing going on because none of this goes nowhere - not anywhere you don't expect for this kind of a novel.

Normally I Love stories set in Australia, but this one was a complete fail with me. It started out interestingly enough, but it quickly became clear that all this author had to offer was a litany of character quirks. There was no real plot. Nothing happened unless you count Sky's incessant mooning over Luke as an event, which I sure don't. Gully was quirky for quirk's sake which was interesting for about five minutes.

It was pretty obvious who the mystery vandals were from quite early on, so there really was no mystery to solve unless it was the mystery of how this author thought that if you sprinkle enough character quirks into the mix you'll somehow magically have a plot or a story. The problem with that plan is that these characters were nowhere near interesting enough to carry a book-length story. I cannot recommend this.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

War Horse by Michael Morpugo


Title: War Horse
Author: Michael Morpugo
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: WARTY!

Read perfectly well by John Keating.

Welcome to the foal-ie Berserk! I listened to this audio book because it was a story which has become popular and was made into a movie, although how they got a two hour movie from what is essentially a short story (4 disk CD audio) I don’t know. I haven't seen the movie, but I imagine it’s full of tear-jerking violins and swelling orchestral romps. I have to say up front that I was not impressed with this novel.

I can see the appeal of anthopomorphizing animals for young children who are charmingly undiscriminating up through a certain age, but to write one evidently aimed at older children which makes the horse appear to have every faculty a human does is misguided at best, and nonsensical at worst, especially when written in the maudlin way this was written. I mean, let’s face it, there is no mystery here. There are no surprises in store. We know how it’s going to end before we start.

The representation of the horse was so unrealistic it was almost a parody and I found myself laughing frequently. I should say here that the reading by John Keating was excellent. He has a charming voice, but the voice can’t actually change poor material, so I am sorry his effort was so inadequately supported by what he had to read.

The basic story is set in the early years of the 20th century, and is about a horse which is bought by a caricature-ish bad-guy farmer, who has an equally caricatured good-guy son who actually grows up with the young horse, and of course has a magical bond with it. Dad sells off this horse to the army when World War One breaks out, and off goes "Joey" the horse to show what a stud he is on the front lines, followed by the son's promise that they'll meet again. Joey endures charging the enemy, hauling the wounded, and on and one until the war is over, and he reunites with the lad.

I skipped the third disk out of boredom, so I can't speak to events there, but the ending was so trite as to be sickening. I cannot in good faith recommend this story unless you're deeply into totally artificial tear-jerkers.


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Doorknob Society by MJ Fletcher


Title: The Doorknob Society
Author: MJ Fletcher
Publisher: Draft2Digital
Rating: WARTY!

This is another classic example of a book cover design fail. The title is right there: the DOORKNOB Society, yet what takes center stage? Yep - the keys! Sometimes you have to wonder. Other times you have to really wonder....

This is obviously a rip-off of Harry Potter, and I know a lot of novels are these days, but usually they’re not quite so baldly derivative. When I was a kid, there was this phrase people used to indicate snobbery or something a cut above the rest, or somehow better than usual. It was rather in the mode of “dressed up like a dog’s dinner” but this merely involved adding “with knobs on” to some statement – like a drawer isn’t really useful or complete until it has the knobs fitted (kitchen storage designers I’m looking at you). I couldn’t help but think about that as I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Knobs, er, The Doorknob Society.

Sure, the author had done a reversal – making Harry into a girl (as Rowling had evidently considered, at one point, but in her case she stayed with the original gender), but she still goes to a special ed. School, and there are still four houses and on and on. Boring. That wasn’t even the worst part of this for me. The worst part was the appallingly clichéd “love” interest, in the form of a studly, muscled guy with a chiseled jaw – that’s what he was described as (the chiseled, not the studly!). It’s pathetic. Can authors not think for themselves and come up with something different?

It was at that point, right after that specific description, that I quit reading this. The novel had not been that great to begin with (and sentences like “I’m a legacy my parents went there.” didn't help, but that was the final straw for me. If a novel can't make a reasonable effort at getting away from the herd, or at the very least, at some originality, then why should I offer a reasonable attempt at reading it? Life is too short.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Adamant by Emma L Adams


Title: Adamant
Author: Emma L Adams
Publisher: <Emma L Adams
Rating: WORTHY!

This is book one of the ‘Alliance’ series. Maybe I’m just more finicky than most, but in my experience, series tend not to be that great. I see them as one really long novel, of which the first volume is the prologue (and I don’t do prologues!) and the rest of them very long and unfortunately rather repetitive chapters. It not only strikes me as tedious, but also as lazy in a way because rather than invent something new, the writer simply reuses the previous volume as a template for the next.

Of course, there are exceptions! There are some series which are wonderful, so it really depends on how the writer writes it. Having said that I further have to report that this is a first person PoV novel – my least favorite voice. I detest it because it’s very rarely done well, and it spoils the story for me. It limits what can be told, because everything has to be filtered through the mouth of the main character, for one thing. On top of that it’s become a complete and utter cliché in YA novels – particularly those featuring a female main protagonist.

I know that authors think that 1PoV gives the story immediacy, but if a writer is forced to tell it in first person merely to achieve that, then they’re doing it wrong! Besides, it actually loses immediacy because we know from the start that nothing truly bad can happen to the character because the character is telling the story! They’re obviously going to survive, and none of their pain and peril can have been very traumatic otherwise how could they recall all those details?! In fact, how do they recall them anyway?! There goes all hope for drama and peril. There goes immediacy! There goes credibility!

Having said all that, I have to report that this author impressed me on both counts. She wrote the first volume in a series and had not one, but two first person PoVs and I actually liked it! It's quite a feat for an author to get away with that in my reading experience! As a writer myself, I love words and what they can be made to do, and it's for this reason that I derived what’s probably a disproportionately large amount of amusement from an author named Adams who titles her novel Adamant. But that’s probably just me!

Down to details! This is a universe where a system of tunnels or passages connects multiple worlds. An Alliance has sprung up to police these worlds and prevent illegal transition between them, but there’s a rebel faction which smuggles people between worlds, and one of the two main characters is a part of that,having been smuggled herself a long time ago. The work is dangerous because in addition to being caught by the Alliance, there’s also the risk of running into strange alien “monsters” in the passages, as this girl does. She goes by the storied first name of Ada and the mutinous last name of Fletcher! I love an author who can put great names to their characters, and I think those two particular names were chosen wisely in Ada's case.

The chapters alternate between Ada and Kay Walker, on opposite sides of the legal fence. Ada is helping illegals to come to Earth to escape problems on their home world whereas Kay is a new graduate working for the alliance. Their first encounter is a very fleeting one as Kay sees Ada running fast from a storage area, from which Ada’s just lifted some bags of bloodstone – an alien substance useful for disguising illegals. And for other purposes as you shall discover if you read this!

Since this is a blog about writing, I love to bring up writing issues. Here’s a really good one. On page 6 Ada employs the phrase, “…ensure nobody but them…”. Now technically that should be “…ensure nobody but they…”, but since this is a first person PoV story, can we arguably ascribe this to the character’s personal vernacular? I think it depends upon what else the character’s been saying. This is only the second page of the story (it begins on page five for some reason), and the very top of the page as well, so we don’t have much to go on. While the main character’s speech patterns up until that point don’t suggest that she’d employ this particular phrase, it is a common form of speech, so it didn't jump out at me as being wrong - just as being interesting from a writer's PoV and worth keeping an eye on if you're writing yourself.

There's not only sci-fi here, but also magic. It's not supposed to work on Earth, but Ada finds that in certain circumstances, she can employ it. It's especially workable in the tunnels. Not that it's of much use against the magical creatures, which is why Ada is always well-armed. She and Kay start out as enemies, but they soon learn that in order to solve unexpected problems, they must work together. All the pieces of this story work together, believe it or not. I liked the originality, the strange new worlds, and the description of the deployment of magic. There's a heck of a lot to explore here and I'm sure the author plans on doing just that in the coming volumes.

But that's enough spoilers - except to ease you by advising you not to take anything at face value in this novel! I recommend it because it had interesting, intelligent, feisty, and motivated characters, because it did NOT have a silly love-triangle, because the relationship between the two main characters was handled responsibly and intelligently, and because it was interesting, original, and had an engrossing plot. The very minor quibbles I had were ones which other readers might well not even remark upon, such as one sentence which read: “A creeping feeling crawled up my spine…” which sounded odd and redundant to me. But those were very rare, and overall, this is a great adventure. I look forward to the next one in the series.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Ice kissed by Amanda Hocking


Title: Ice kissed
Author: Amanda Hocking
Publisher: MacMillan
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Errata:
Page 11 “As we spoke, Mina pet the rabbit absently.” should be “As we spoke, Mina petted the rabbit absently.” or “As we spoke, Mina would pet the rabbit absently.”
Page 16 “…but we didn’t know where there were…” should be “…but we didn’t know where they were…”
Page 26 “…on the lowers shelves…” should be “…on the lower shelves…”
Page 104 “King Mikko refuses to undo his father changes…” should be “King Mikko refuses to undo his father’s changes…”

It was reading about Amanda Hocking’s experience that first got me into self-publishing. Of course I never for a moment expected (nor did I get!) the same success she has had, but when I began reviewing, I always thought it would be fun to review one of her books. My problem was that I never found one that I actually wanted to read until this one – and it’s in first person PoV! 1PoV is the voice I detest most for a variety of reasons, but it's not possible to find YA novels with a principal female character that isn't 1Pov these days. So anyway, there’s another strike against this novel. Given that the author tends to write romance disguised as fantasy, I was not confident I would even find this one to my liking, but I thought I’d give it a try. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t impressed.

Ice Kissed is book 2 in the Kanin Chronicles, consisting of Frostfire (which has to be one of the most over-used book titles ever!), Ice Kissed (a title which has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the novel), and Crystal Kingdom. Note that I haven’t read book one in this series since it’s one more into which I came ‘in progress’ without realizing it was an ongoing series.

I think from this point onwards I’m going to simply assume that any YA book in which I may take an interest is part of an ongoing series because quite evidently no one in the entire YA world, it seems, can write a one-off any more. I’m not a fan of series because it’s just a lazy way to milk money from readers by expending no more effort than it takes to regurgitate essentially the same thing over and over (with a twist or two - if we’re lucky - to try to disguise the cookie-cutter marks). Either that or it involves merely padding a novel that should occupy one volume so that it stretches to two or three. I’m not into that.

In a story which seems to have been heavily painted with a Scandinavian brush, complete with snow (because without snow it would be neither complete nor Scandinavian, right?!) Bryn Aven is a “tracker”. I assume that this is explained in book one. I also assume it means just what it says – that she’s some sort of detective. It’s actually rather astounding, I find, how often ‘tracker’ is an actual occupation in fantasy fiction.

In book one Bryn had gone off searching for a missing queen and returned empty-handed. Why it was her job to find a queen missing from another country, I don't know. During that escapade, she and her tracking companion, Ridley, had become ‘romantically’ involved, so the first thing the writer of a trilogy has to do in book two is tear them apart. Here it’s done quite ham-fistedly by having Bryn keep something to herself – something she revealed only when questioned by the king. This allows Ridley to have a childish hissy-fit and treat Bryn like dirt so that she has to suck up to him like a whipped puppy because that’s Ya lot in life for female characters.

I have to say that my favorite character name is Bent Stum, which sounds like some sort of physical infirmity – and painful, too! Bryn hangs out with two girls named Tilda and Ember, both of whom behave as though they’re fifteen. Tilda has been impregnated by a fellow tracker and they’re planning on marrying. Bryn and Ridley are sleeping together and he’s her superior, which is completely inappropriate, yet neither of them think there’s any problem with this. So much for discipline in the ranks!

I have to say the writing quality left something to be desired – notably a good editor. I found several items of wrong word use or poor grammar, but to be fair, these were sometimes leavened by refreshingly correct constructs such as in the opening two sentences in chapter eighteen, where we read: “…took Kasper and me down…when Ridley and I had been…” But then we get odd sentences like “all kinds of books ranging from items of years to the latest novel…”. I don’t know what “items of years” means! Classics? Old tomes? Crappy looking?

In chapter thirty, we get this totally weird sentence; “The darkness of the water outside my window made it impossible to see if the sun had come up yet.” I have no idea whatsoever what that means; was she sleeping under water? In this novel that might be possible! Even if she meant something simple, like that the water wasn’t reflecting the sun yet, then surely the actual sky would give something away? Even if it was cloudy, the sky is routinely lighter in the daytime than at night (trust me on this), so the sentence was nonsensical. On page 170 we read this oddity: “Ilsa…opened the door with a quick knock…” which is actually intelligible, but awkward at best. Maybe the door wasn’t latched and sprung open when she knocked?!

By the time I was a third of the way through this novel, I had pretty much lost interest in it and began skimming rather than doing over-much detailed reading. The writing really isn’t very good, and by that I mean it’s nothing special: it’s not thrilling, it’s not particularly easy on the ears, and it really doesn’t grab the reader. It’s frankly a bit tedious.

On top of that, not a single one of the characters captured my interest, much less my imagination. There was no attempt at character building. Maybe that all got done in book one? There was nothing going on except for Bryn and some guy (Kasper, Ridley) traveling to one place or another, and back again. Bryn was never allowed out on her own (more on this anon), yet she’s supposed to be a strong female character. Pshaw! More interestingly, there never was another female accompanying her, so there was no female bonding notwithstanding her two friends and their wedding plans.

Bryn discovers Queen Linnea’s location through a psychic message which the queen sends her. They deliver her straight back to the very place from which she’d fled in fear of her safety. This made no sense. Bryn and Kasper are sent to guard her despite the kingdom having its own guards. How insulting is that? Bryn kills a guy who is apparently about to kill the king and the latter is arrested for treason – because he’s apparently plotting all of this himself (and faking the attempt on his life)! This is set in completely modern times in our own world (with SUVs and cell phones), yet the assassin uses a sword? It makes no sense.

Now for a bit more on how female characters are treated here. We’re told that the Queen has no say in her husband’s arrest because the two societies are patriarchal, with the laws applicable equally regardless of rank or position. No queen can rule of her own right, yet in this same society, they have female trackers and female officers How come there’s ‘emancipation’ in the military, but none in the nobility?! ? It makes no sense.

This diminution, if not infantilization, of females in this novel is further highlighted in an incident where Bryn is called to see the king, and Ridley protectively jumps up and tries to argue that he should go instead, since he’s her superior. But the fact is that the king summoned Bryn, no one else. Ridley’s behavior here is not only once again inappropriate (and insulting to the king!), it’s completely demeaning – like Bryn is no better than a weak child who needs protecting.

After the wedding, Bryn tries to talk to Ridley, and finds herself tongue-tied. This is supposedly a militarily trained tracker, supposedly a strong woman, who supposedly can act independently, and she’s completely lost for what to do? I don’t get why female authors, particularly those who write YA, so consistently and effectively neuter their main female characters like this. This is why I don’t read romance (not much anyway) and tend to find it distasteful when I do read it. Once in a while a worthy one comes along (which is why I read it once in a while!), but in general, it’s dreadful. What it says about women in how they're portrayed is unacceptable, but what really bothers me what it says about the readership these novels attract.

So why is Bryn summoned? We’re supposed to believe the Prince Kennet – now “acting king” came all the way from his own kingdom, leaving it at a time of trouble and uncertainty, to flirt with Bryn. Seriously? It was at this point that I really had had more than enough of this novel, but I read on to the end, which was, if you pay any attention at all to how the purported “villain” Konstantin is written about throughout this novel, entirely predictable, so no surprises there.

I cannot in good faith recommend a novel as lifeless and devoid of entertainment as this on is. For the passive misogyny alone I’d have to rate it negatively. I guess there’s a market for it if a publisher feels it can can offer a new author some two million dollars for four books, but no matter how inexplicably lucrative it might be for an author, I couldn’t write this stuff, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Trust by Jodi Baker


Title: Trust (Could not find this novel on B&N or Amazon)
Author: Jodi Baker
Publisher: Between Lions Press (website not found)
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This is book one of the 'Between the Lions' series. I have to say up front that this is a first person PoV novel, a voice I detest because so few writers can carry it off, and it ends up being arrogant, self-absorbed and self-obsessed. In this case it wasn't too bad, but it was rather annoying. Why is it that young adult authors in particular seem utterly incapable of writing in third person?

One of the biggest problems with 1PoV is that it doesn’t work suspense-wise, because you know the story gets finished – so there's zero drama over whether the narrator will survive! For example when main character (and narrator) Anna gets imprisoned somewhere during this novel, it doesn't make for a chapter-ending cliff-hanger because there is no question of the outcome. We know she's going to escape and in this case the manner of her escape was so convenient that it was really rather sad.

Another problem with 1PoV is, of course, that you're stuck with you! The narrator can't relate anything that they don't experience personally, or the reader ends up with long info-dumps, or boring conversations where the reader has to sit and wait while someone relays what happened elsewhere. It's completely unnatural. Maybe some readers (and far too many writers, particularly those of the YA persuasion as I mentioned!) feel it brings more immediacy, but to me it brings irritation and annoyance. I routinely put books back on the shelf at the library or the book-store as soon as I discover that they're 1PoV, but it's a lot harder to do that with ebooks - and no book blurb ever gives you the PoV!

That aside, I was pleasantly impressed with this novel for the most part - the most part being the first 75% or so of it. After that it went somewhat downhill, but it still managed to stay this side of readable. It was a new and fresh story with some good ideas, and best of all, the main female character wasn't a complete loser who needed a guy to validate her which is another typically ailing of YA stories, so kudos to the author for that. There was a really nice (and slightly creepy) surprise in chapter two, which was most welcome.

Anna lives with an abusive mom - mentally abusive that is - who home-schools her and keeps her from the spotlight, drilling her mercilessly on the need to keep not so much a low profile, as a no-profile. It's obvious that Anna's being shielded for some reason, but she's never told why. This annoyed me somewhat because it's yet another example of the trope of a teen having special powers (of one kind or another) and being kept in the dark, and having no family, or one parent, or being raised by relatives, etc.

Frankly that was irritating, but the way it was done here as fresh enough that I got through it without developing hives. Unfortunately, this business of 'keep the orphan teen in the dark' was rather overdone, I'm sorry to say. Parts of it were good, but I really did become annoyed with it when it went on and on and on.

There were other minor issues. The author is one of those YA authors who thinks it's "bicep" and not "biceps" (Page 19). She disses nurses on page 48 by describing one running out of a hospital room "like a terrified kitten". I've worked in hospitals and it doesn't describe any nurse I've ever met. I know there must be some like that, they're only human after all, but when it comes to children in their care, nurses are as fierce and protective as a parent is, so I felt that slur was uncalled for.

There's also the sorry description that I've read in more than one YA novel: 'skin so black it was almost blue' (Page 135). I've read this in The Walled City by Ryan Graudin and the awful Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. In The Midnight Dress, Karen Foxlee takes in in the opposite direction: "…so blue it was almost black...".

This phrase makes absolutely no sense. The author is conflating hue, chroma, and brightness, which isn't a smart thing for a writer to do. There are very subtle ways like this in which we, as writers, can educate readers and bring them up with us instead of talking down to them. Cat Winters knows how to write this in In the Shadow of Blackbirds: "...navy blue so dark it was almost black.".

Anna finds she has a long, long family history (to a wonderful place as it happens - something which I loved and approved of), but her mom has sought to protect her from this history - foolishly as it always turns out in these novels. Now Anna's mom has disappeared, and she feels threatened, and suddenly a grandmother whom she thought had died turns out to be alive, and Anna is meeting strange people with curiously mythological names. And is she hearing voices?

So the story is for the most part quite gripping, and those quibbles I mentioned aside (and despite a bit of a falling-off of quality in the last quarter of the novel), I was impressed enough with this debut that I'm rating it as a worthy read.

All books to me are either worthy or unworthy of reading. It's a binary thing, not a one, two, three, four, or five star thing! Having said that I'm not a series fan, so I doubt I will pursue this series. It has to be a series of truly octopodally gripping power to get me to follow it! Otherwise it's just a prologue to a series of really long and repetitive chapters, and I don't do prologues! It's hard to see where this can actually go in a series and maintain my interest, but this one volume is worth a read and maybe you'll become addicted where I wasn't.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos


Title: Material Girls
Author: Elaine Dimopoulos
Publisher: Houghton Miflin Harcourt
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Normally I rail against, indeed, refuse to read, novels which are little more than a shopping list of the author’s favorite fashion items. Such snotty books deserve contempt, as does the fashion industry itself. What could be more arrogant and flatulent than an industry devoted to dictating to you that you must change your clothing styles with great frequency, or there’s something wrong with you? What could be more unjust than an industry which effectively tells you that if you’re rich, you’re fashionable and if you’re poor you’re tasteless? And what could be more appalling than an industry built upon the backs of slavishly laboring Asian women and children?

This novel is exceptional, in more ways than one. In the do or Dior world in this story, youth rules comprehensively. At thirteen, children are “tapped” for the success spotlight. If they have spent their school year doing the right thing on their websites, they could become the next pop sensation, the next fashion icon, or the next box-office dream. If they fail, they’re doomed to a life as “adequates” – in short, they’re just like you and me, but in this story, adequate is really understood to mean failure.

This story concerns two successes. One of these is Marla Klein, who hit the big time in the fashion industry, being quickly promoted to the superior court – a handful of teens who declare what’s fashion and what’s fashi-off for one of the five big design houses, Torro-LeBlanc. Marla’s problem is that she’s been disagreeing with the rest of her court appointees, and before she can say “tummy ill figure”, she’s been jettisoned to the basement, where a hoard of designers deemed not good enough for the fashion courts are desperately trying to come up with fashion ideas which will impress the junior courts and get them a shot at displaying their design before the superior court.

Meanwhile, Evangeline Vassiliotis, now reincarnated as ivy Wilde, the current rebel diva superstar, is seeing her position threatened by an upstart Tap. Worse, she’s forced to wear the newest fashion: torture (which features chains, fake blood, and points on the soles of your shoes – on the inside). Of course, these “fashions” are scarcely any more torturous than those which women have felt compelled to wear for centuries, but they’re new and different, of course, so don’t you dare criticize them. Valenteenhold and Shamel certainly wouldn't! Women have fashion guns with which they can scan their clothing labels. If the light stays green, the trend is still good. If it’s red, you’re dead - fashionably speaking, of course - and it’s time to buy a new wardrobe.

Marla finds herself on the “obsoloser” table in the basement – as debased as it gets, in fact. She’s almost “crustaceous” for goodness sakes, but slowly, she and her cohorts hatch a scheme to subvert this system which considers people antiquated by the time they turn twenty. It all goes horribly wrong, and Marla finds herself under the icy glare of Ivy Wilde’s entourage – with the emphasis on the ‘rage’ part. It’s then that things really begin to change. Quick! Alert the media. I'm sure Vain Infamy, Cosplaypolitan, Fugue, or Helle fashion magazines would be interested!

This author could have read my mind – or snuck a peak at chapter zero of my novel Baker Street, but I doubt it! I honestly doubt that she and I are the only ones who have had thoughts like this about the fashion business. It’s what this author does with this story though, and where she takes it, which is what makes this novel “prime” (in my lingo: worthy!). No, in this novel she runs with it and makes an engrossing story full of interesting characters and even more interesting motivations.

I have to say that in many ways, characters Marla and Ivy are very much alike. There’s not a lot to separate them into individual characters, but this is only to be expected from a system which pre-processes children and manufactures a salable product out of them. But if you think that, then read on. They're not!

This story – speculative, dystopian, both - is set in the future, but it’s not a future that’s so far off it can’t be seen. No, the seeds of that future have been enthusiastically sown by vested interests since the 1950s, especially in the USA. A conspicuous consumer/planned obsolescence machine has been working on hearts and minds for decades. We’re all fashion victims. The question is: Is there a cure?