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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman

Rating: WARTY!

Published in 1990, for me this was the weakest book in the quadrilogy so far (I have one more volume still to read). Frederick is dead. Sally has had his child from their one brief dalliance right before he died, and it's this child, Harriet, who is at the heart of this story. Sally's closest friends and associates: Frederick's brother Webster Garland, Jim, and Charles are off in South America on a photo expedition.

What Sally doesn't know, but finds out very quickly, is that her foe from the first novel in the series has very carefully, sadistically, and expertly been putting in place her downfall, as she learns when divorce papers are served on her by a man named Arthur Parrish. This is a surprise to Sally because she has never even heard of Parrish, has never met him and has certainly never been married to him or to anyone else.

As she digs into the claims and accusations, Sally realizes that she has been set up in a way which will be very hard to fight, and especially so for a woman in that era. This situation is exacerbated, sadly, by the fact that the tough and capable Sally Lockhart from the previous two volumes is also dead. She has been replaced by a replica, exact in every detail except resolve and fortitude. This new Sally has the constitution of a wet biscuit, which is inexplicable. Why Pullman chose to do this to her is a mystery and a serious mistake.

The original Sally was not perfect by any means, but she did not let the fact that she was treated as a second class citizen (being a woman in Victorian times) get in the way of turning her life around in the first volume, or of taking down a dangerous and advantaged foe in the second. I know that here we have a child to consider, but to me this should have made Sally even more formidable, not less. That's not what we get.

The Sally here is weepy, lackluster, hesitant, nervous, distracted, aimless, clueless, and is pushed around by everyone she meets. It's sad to see a completely different person from the one we have loved in two successive volumes. Rather than stand up and fight, this sally effectively runs. Yes, she engages a solicitor, who in turn briefs a barrister to represent Sally in court, but both of these men, and particularly the barrister, are complete jerks. They aren't even willing to consider that the marriage never took place, and they treat her like a whore (the common term for a single mom in those days) and a victim.

Sally never once stands up to them much less fires them. Instead, she simply fails to turn up at her own trial, and of course loses - something she pretty much knew her barrister was going to do beforehand. She goes on the run with Harriet, which is ill-advised at best. In that era women, regardless of what they had or who they were before the marriage, became effectively the property of their husband once married, and he took possession of everything they owned and all of their children. They had no rights. Sally, therefore, as a now 'proven' wayward wife, lost everything. She knew this was coming yet took not a single step to counter it. She's not your Ruby in the Smoke sally, sorry to report.

Just as in the first novel, she's now penniless and on the street, this time with a very young child in tow. She could have transferred her ownership of her home and her business interests, and although that would have been challenged, it would have been something - a delaying tactic at least. What she could certainly have done is remove every penny from her back account, but she failed to even consider this, much less actually do it. Now her "husband' has everything and she has nothing.

Once again a man comes to her aid. He's a Jewish agitator who is also up against Parrish for his exploitation of Jewish immigrants. His associates give her shelter and hide her and Harriet from the police and Parrish. One of these, a man named Dan Goldberg, reveals to Sally that Parrish is a criminal who is running frauds and scams all over London, including houses of prostitution and exploitation of minorities. She learns from him that the man behind Parrish is known as Tzaddik, and it's he who is really doing all this to Sally, but Sally doesn't make the connection to a man named Lee with whom she had a run-in - and shot, but not fatally - back in book one, the events of which took place many years before those occurring in this volume.

Tzaddik is outright evil and to bring him down Sally takes a job in his house as a maid. he doesn't know what she looks like, and it all works out in the end, including Sally magically forgetting about the terrific romance she'd had with Frederick and having no problem shacking up with a different guy that she hardly knows. It's not a great story, and I cannot recommend it. The only thing which made me want to read volume four is that it's really a different story altogether, otherwise I would have quit right here.

The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

This was first published in 1986 as The Shadow in the Plate and is set six years after the previous volume The Ruby in the Smoke, this novel takes place in 1878. I know that they tended to go in for long engagements in the past, but six years seems like an awfully long time for nothing to have changed between Frederick and Sally. Indeed, it's like things have actually gone downhill. They are frequently at odds and outright name-calling arguing in this volume, so perhaps the long-term outcome was all for the best.

The dark stories continue with both Frederick, who is inexplicably a private investigator now, working with Jim, and Sally tackling different ends of what turns out to be the same problem. Sally, now with her own financial advisory business and a large dog, is trying to help a client recover the three thousand pounds which she lost after investing it on Sally's advice. The company went bust and Sally just knows that it wasn't any accident or poor planning. On the contrary: the collapse of the company was planned in detail by Axel Bellmann.

Meanwhile, via Jim, a showman and magician Alistair Mackinnon has had death threats. Mackinnon supposedly has the power of psychometry - being able to divine things from touching objects, and through this he has become aware of a murder. At a séance conducted by Nellie Budd, Jim and Fred learn of the very death which Mackinnon has seen. Evidently Nellie has psychic powers despite the fraudulent medium game she pursues.

Bellman sends a lackey to threaten Sally, who works alone out of her home. He has documented many visitations from men - obviously seeking financial advice, but Bellman plans to spin it as a house of prostitution if Sally doesn't back off. Sally doesn't back off.

To further his interests and influence, Bellmann plans on marrying the daughter of Lord Wytham. I have two observations here. The first is purely regarding my own amusement when I read this sentence: "Lord Wytham was a handsome man" to which I wanted to append, "Lord without 'em he was ugly as sin," but that's simply frivolity. It does, however, offer an insight: you should be careful how you write things, and also how you choose your character names if you don't want to provoke unintended mirth amongst your readership! Moreover, why were his looks important? No answers are to be found here.

The second thing relates to this with regard to the complementary sex (not opposite, surely!) in describing female characters as beautiful. It's almost like there's a law forbidding female characters from being ordinary or plain. It seems that male characters - even major ones, in novels can get away with any amount of ordinary and average, yet females are required to be young and beautiful - not pretty, not attractive, not good-looking, although these do occur, but outright beautiful. I think it's a poor choice and worse, a clichéd choice against which I've railed on more than one occasion

I want to give here, thanks to Philip Pullman, an example of how it can be done and made to work well. Frederick, the photographer, has his breath taken away by Lord Wytham's daughter, Lady Mary. The text reads, "...beautiful wasn't quite the word. The girl was astoundingly lovely, with a grace and shyness and delicate coral coloring which made him want to reach for his camera..."

So here is the first part of it - a photographer's view. Note that it's not the author telling us she's beautiful, but a character observing her to be so, and he's doing this because he is a photographer - someone who we would expect to react to beauty whether it's in the face of a woman, or in a sunset, or a flower, or something else.

Later, another character says to the main character, Sally Lockhart, "...Lady Mary's beauty would fade. Yours is not dazzling, but it is a beauty of mind and character, and it will grow stronger...." To me, that is exactly how it should be approached and how it can be done well. Anything else is cheap by comparison and insulting to women in general.

In addition to Sally, there is another strong woman in this novel - she's an ardent admirer of Mackinnon's who has no illusions about her own lack of beauty. Her face is disfigured by a birthmark, but she shows her inner beauty by how strong she is in the face of her poverty and in her lack of a more ordinary-looking face. She is the one who shows them a newspaper clipping which confirms the visions both Mackinnon and Budd have had. It's someone Bellmann killed in a duel. We also have confirmed something which has been a growing suspicion for attentive readers: that Mackinnon is actually the son of Lord Wytham and Nellie Budd.

Sally has by now learned that Bellmann is building an automated steam gun. His belief is that once every nation owns these guns, peace will inevitably reign because no one will dare start a war. He's delusional of course, as the arms race between the US (United States) and the US (Union of Soviets) conclusively proved. The big guys simply pay the little guys, one way or another, to fight proxy wars. As long as there are haves and have-nots, war is inevitable. But this is not the problem with the steam gun as Sally discovers. It's confined to railway tracks. With such limited mobility, Sally determines that it's intended to be used against a nation's own population, not against foreign aggressors. But Sally has a plan.

Pullman evidently likes to kill off main characters with the glee of a Joss Whedon or a Jo Rowling, and he manages to slaughter both Sally's dog and her fiancé, as Frederick is by then. Bellman is also dead, and we're left with the knowledge that Sally's one brief dalliance with Frederick has borne fruit. I recommend this as a worthy read.

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

Published in 1985, and set in Victorian times, 1872, this is the first of a quadrilogy, three-quarters of which I enjoyed overall. It's been a long time since I read this though, and I still have to read the last volume in the set!

I have multiple problems with Goodreads (not least of which is that it's owned by the unforgivable Amazon), but one of them is that the blurb for this book begins: "Sally is sixteen and uncommonly pretty." I don't see what that has to do with anything. If she were sixteen and plain would her story be not worth telling? Are her age and her looks her most important qualities? Goodreads makes me sick at times.

Yes, maybe that blurb was posted by some reviewer, but if Goodreads librarians were not among the most useless people on the planet, they would fix things like this. I'm surprised that Pullman himself hasn't complained about it. I know I would if someone characterized one of my main characters so shallowly. But then he's not listed as a 'Goodreads author' whatever the hell that means, so maybe his voice doesn't count since they don't own him? Or maybe he gives less thought to Goodreads machinations than I do? I dunno.

The Wikipedia entry isn't much better! The entry doesn't talk about beauty, but it's so obsessed with TV and stage adaptations of the book that it completely fails to say a word about the plot! Pathetic. An encyclopedia entry that says not a word about its subject! LOL! That's sadly underperforming for Wikipedia I have to say.

Take it from me that Sally Lockhart's looks are unimportant in this story. It's her character that's the critical quality and she has that in abundance. She's an orphan, her mother some time past, and her father having died in a shipwreck. She's under the care (so-called) of a cold bitch of a woman, but this doesn't hold sway for long.

Sally is called to the shipping office to which her father had ties and she learns of some information there that sets her on a course of conflict with the bad guys, which consist of a mysterious Asian and an evil woman who works for him and who isn't entirely lacking in similarity to Marisa Coulter of the 'His Dark Materials' hexalogy. Sally bests them both and makes a friend of Frederick with whom she has only a short-term relationship, it turns out.

I really liked this story and commend it as a worthy read. I also commend the TV adaptation starring two Doctor Who alumni: a very young Matt Smith and Billie Piper.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

City of Saints &Thieves by Natalie C Anderson

Rating: WORTHY!

This was another audiobook experiment and it's the one I wait for while wading through all the others! The story was really good, very engrossing, and it kept moving. I felt there were bits here and there that dragged, but for the most part it was exceptional. More importantly, it's based on real truths about what happens to people, especially to young woman, in this volatile part of the world.

Pascale Armand's reading of it was flawless and remarkable. It was so good and it definitely contributed to my attachment to and appreciation of the novel.

The story is of young Tina, who runs with the Goondas, a street gang in Sangui, Kenya. Having fled with her mother from the Congo, Tina is an orphan; her mother was shot while working at the home of the wealthy Greyhill family, and Tina just knows Mr Greyhill did it. She's planning on revenge, breaking into his home and exposing him for all the dirt she's convinced he has on him - that is until she's captured in flagrante delicto by Greyhill's young son, and held prisoner. But why doesn't the just turn her in?

Being pressured on one side by her gang leader to come up with the goods - the secrets to where Greyhill's wealth is hoarded - and by her captor on the other, who is equally convinced his father is innocent, these two young people forge an uneasy alliance and develop a plan to determine the truth no matter what it is, but that involves traveling on a banana lorry right back into the Congo where it all began.

I loved this story, and I recommend it highly.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Once a King by Erin Summerill

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

There was nothing in the Net Galley page for this book to indicate it was part of a series. If I had known it was I would not have requested to review it. It does not stand alone well. I am not a fan of Sarah J Maas who recommends this. I should have taken her recommendation as a bad omen and steered clear. My bad!

I think books in a series, especially in a trilogy, and especially if it's a YA trilogy should carry a warning sign like on cigarettes. In general terms, and while there are exceptions, series are not known for being inventive. The whole existence is predicated upon derivation and cloning and that's what this felt like, even not having read the first two volumes. The earth, fire, water, and wind motif is overdone in books, and the way it’s depicted here is far too reminiscent of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series for it to be truly original.

I was really disappointed in this because it offered so little that was new. It's like the author read a dozen popular YA love stories and appropriated the most clichéd parts of each of them. I was still waiting for the king - the male interest - to be revealed to have gold flecks in his eyes when I DNF'd this out of disgust at twenty percent in. Out of sheer devilment I did a search to see if 'gold flecks' or 'gold flecked' appeared in the book, but it doesn't; however, in conducting this search I discovered that the king's other golden traits: hair, skin, eyelashes, are trotted out a sickening number of times, so in my book that counts just as badly as the gold-flecked eyes!

So this is your standard tired story of a man and a woman who hate each other and then fall in love, so there's nothing new there at all. I can't even give any credit for the author making him a king rather than a prince because really? If it had been the other way around and she was the queen and he the 'maiden-in-distress' character that would have made at least a bit of a difference, but as it was, I saw nothing here that I haven't read two dozen times too many in female-penned YA novels.

Why so many female authors pen themselves up this way is a mystery to me, but then I like to read something new when I pick up a new book - not the same tired old thing I've read a score of times before. Far too many YA authors seem not to care about that in their desperation to sell their trilogy, and neither do publishers, evidently. I think it's because, for too many writers, it's not about the writing, it's all about the Benjamins isn't it? They seem like they want play it safe by cloning trilogies of other writers, and recovering old ground endlessly, rather than take the road less traveled and bring us something truly sterling, and it's a crying shame. Rest assured I will never go down that path. It's too boring.

Funnily enough, that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was that once again the author of a YA story goes for the first person voice and then doubles-down on her error by making it dual first person. I read the first chapter (in the female's voice) and then went on into the second chapter not realizing it had changed to the king's voice. For a screen or two the story made less and less sense than it already had until I realized the author was using worst person times two. That's enough to turn me off a story even if the story is interesting, which I honestly can’t say about this one. Maybe if I’d read the first two volumes it might have made a difference - at least in that I would not have had to read this one?

The main female character, whose name I already forgot, is not an actor, she is a thing which is acted upon: just a girl who can't say "No!" The blurb even tells us that "...when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no" and maybe it’s a bit cruel to quote that, especially since authors have nothing to do with their blurbs unless they self-publish, but this is actually an accurate portrayal of her weakness. She is controlled and buffeted like an insect in a bathtub drain, and if she'd shown some sign that she was rebelling against this and taking arms against this drain of troubles instead of being the tool of men (take that how you will), I would have at least had the temptation to continue, but she offered me nothing. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot recommend this novel based on the thoroughly unoriginal and uninventive part I could stand to read.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook which I did not like. It looked superficially interesting, but when I began listening to it, it turned out to be nonsensical, poorly thought-out, badly-written, and not entertaining at all, so I DNF'd it. There's no point in plowing on gamely through a novel which doesn't do it for you. if I were being paid for reviews that would be one thing, but this is entirely another, and I quit whenever I want! Being a writer myself, my own writing takes priority over reviewing, so I don't see the point in trying to force myself to read on through someone else's material that isn't entertaining me at all, when I can write my own which I typically find much more engrossing and fulfilling.

My biggest problem was the epistolary nature of this story which is told as a series of asinine interviews and purportedly official records. Typically whenever a novel is written like this - using diaries, journal entries, documents, or whatever, the entries are entirely unrealistic and therefore keep kicking me out of the story for lack of credibility. Most writers don't think about what they're doing when they adopt this method and make these 'documents' far too detailed, like a novel (duhh!), quoting verbatim conversation and so on. No one keeps written records like that. Very few audio or video records are of that nature either.

Worse than this, the story is supposed to be gripping, but when you remove it from the reader like this by making it sound like the proceedings of an official enquiry, all immediacy and therefore any hope for excitement, is gone. The stupid attempt at having a boy-girl love-hate relationship (at least I assume that's where it would end up) is not only tediously overdone, it was in this case ridiculous and turned me off. I cannot recommend this because of how poorly thought out it was (assuming thought entered into it), and how scrappily thrown together it was based on the portion I listened to, which was not very much.

Friday, April 6, 2018

School for Psychics by KC Archer

Rating: WARTY!

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

Not to be confused with The School for Psychics by Carolyn Jourdan, this School for Psychics is volume one is a series which seems to have as its aim to be an adult version of Harry Potter, but don't let that fool you. It's really a YA novel with non-YA characters, and this made for an inauthentic, if not laughable story. I did not like it. I didn't like the main character, which was the first problem I had with this. She started out fine, but went rapidly downhill.

24-year-old Teddy Cannon owes a lot of money (like low six figures) to a Serbian crook by the name of Sergei. Her plan is to use her psychic ability (which she doesn't know she has) to win big at poker and repay the loan. How she ever got into such debt when she can win so easily at poker is a mystery. Though she doesn't realize it, she's psychic and knows exactly what the other players have in their hands.

In her ignorance of her true calling, she puts this skill down to her ability to detect their 'tells' - little peccadilloes and mannerisms which reveal what they're holding in their hands. As it happens when we meet her on her big gamble, she fails and is contacted by a mysterious man who invites her to come to the school for Psychics on an island off the coast of California. If she does, he says, all her debts will be paid. Does that sound like entrapment? It did to me, but Teddy isn't smart enough to be the least bit suspicious of how all this magically came together. I wondered if she was set up for this right from the off, but if she had been, it really would have made no sense anyway.

I also have to wonder, since she's been specially recruited - having been watched for some time - why her recruiter waited so long, and if he's so sure about her, why she has to undergo these entrance tests. As another reviewer suggested, it would have been better to test potential recruits before they arrive at this secret school, not afterwards, but none of this is gone into in the novel. It speaks very poorly of the recruiters skills that so many new entrants were kicked out so quickly. Up to the point of Teddy's arrival at the school, the story wasn't too bad at all and it held my interest, but it went downhill quickly once school began. The author needed to think this through much more than she evidently did, is what it felt like to me. It simply wasn't realistic, even within its own framework.

Teddy thought she was epileptic. She had no idea she was psychic, although how that happened went unexplained in the 25% or so of this that I could stand to read. You would think that someone introduced to a whole new world as Teddy was, would revel in it, but she acted like she didn't care much about anything - she behaved as though it was simply another day in the life, which again felt inauthentic.

In the end, my biggest problem with this was that I wanted to read "School for Psychics" not a heated Harlequin romance, but that was what I got instead. I wanted to read about a main character who was strong and independent and who relished the chance to learn to use her abilities. I did not want to read about clichéd 'bitch in heat' who really had no great interest in anything save the "hot guy" she sees on the first day, and with whom she can't wait to have unsafe sex. I don't do covers because my blog is about writing, and author's have little control over their cover unless they self-publish, but this novel's cover was actually pretty cool. Unfortunately it was wrong for the book, which ought to have had the stereotypical naked, shaven-chested guy on the front cover, standing behind a swooning Teddy.

So it's not really about psychics at all, it's about this woman's obsession with this guy and which turns into a clichéd YA triangle in short order. Yawn. I wanted something original and instead we got a boring version of X-Men crossed with Harry Potter, and this had the worst elements of both those and a poor YA novel into the bargain. There's even an guy unoriginally named Pyro. Barf. It's all adults, but it reads like a high-school romance. Sorry, not interested!

I wanted to read about the psychics, not how hot this woman thinks this guy is. If she'd just mentioned it a couple of times, that would be fine, but it's every other page and it's boring. I don't want to read about women like that. Women do not need a man to validate them and it's sad that so many female authors think they need not one, but two, including your standard trope bad-boy, to make a woman whole. I cannot recommend a novel that's as bad as this one, and is so insulting to women.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Girl In Snow by Danya Kukafka

Rating: WARTY!

"A girl was dead, a beautiful girl and there was tragedy in that" was the phrase in this novel which first turned me off it. I have read this same wrong-headed phrasing, written by so many female writers, so often that it makes me sick. Even in this day and age I can see it coming from some insensitive male writers, but for a woman to write this of another woman is a disgrace. Is this all the value a girl has: the shallow depth of her subjective beauty? Is that her only worth? Is there nothing more that can be said about her?

Apparently this author with an amazing name and in her debut novel doesn't think so, because while she could have written, " A girl was dead, a strong girl, but that didn't save her..." or " A girl was dead, a smart girl, who evidently wasn't smart enough.." or "A girl was dead, a sensitive girl and there was tragedy in that..." she didn't. She wrote only that the tragedy was that this was a beautiful girl. Meaning what? That if it had been an "ugly" girl, then it wouldn't have been a tragedy? If she had been plain and homely, it would not have been so awful that she died?

I can't rate a novel positively when the author abuses and cheapens women like this, callously reducing them to their looks, as if they have no other worth. I expect it from those trashy magazines that line the checkout shelves at the supermarket, where fattening junk food populates one side of the aisle while the other is replete with magazines telling women that they are ugly, sexually incompetent, and overweight. For a female author to willingly side with that kind of chronic abuse is shameful.

That alone was bad enough, but it was not the only problem with this novel which superficially purports to be about the death of a young girl, but which seemed more like the author was going for a pretentious piece of art than ever she was interested in telling an engaging and sensitive story about the kind of death we see all-too-often in real life.

Even on merit as a work of literature, there were issues, such as awkward phrasing and purple prose. I read on one occasion: "He hated to imagine his sadness inside her" which struck me as a peculiar thing to say or think. His sadness inside her? It sounds almost sexual, like he's considering penetrating her with something. It just felt wrong. Certainly it could have been phrased better. Another one which sounded peculiar was this: "When Cameron first heard about Andrea Yates, he ran a bath."

On the other hand, maybe this was perfect, because the character who entertained these thoughts was an out-and-out creep: a peeping tom and a stalker. I did not like him, and I sure-as-hell had no sympathy for him. It was so plainly obvious that he was not the perp that it was no more than an exercise in masturbation to pursue his story, which was boring, but this was true of all three characters this novel followed. Not a one of them had anything of interest in them to engage the reader.

If you're going to have characters that have unpleasant qualities, then you need to give them something to balance it unless you really don't want us to like them, and the ability to sketch portraits of the girl being stalked is not an endearing quality. It's just not.

Aside from the shallowness of the 'beauty' comment, the problem with this novel was that the layout was a confused mess. Instead of starting with the crime - the finding of the body, the novel opened with Cameron the Stalker in third person voice, then switched to Jade the Obnoxious in first person, like it was a nondescript YA novel (and like I cared about her story). It seemed like an afterthought when we once again switched to third person and met Russ, the cop who realistically should have had no involvement with the investigation, but who did anyway! So here we had our priorities laid out and none of them were the victim of a brutal assault. She was tacked on as an afterthought; a prop whose life was immaterial to the anguished and utterly self-centered existential chatter of the three main characters.

Jade gave me the impression that she was only in the novel so it could have the rebel female trope requisite in YA stories. Russ had even less reason to be in the cast. Why he was involved at all is the only real mystery here. They woke him early in the morning after the body had been found. He was not a detective, and he was not the first on the scene, nor was he instrumental in any matters regarding the victim, so I was at a complete loss as to why they called him out there. It made no sense at all.

The body was apparently discovered by the school "night janitor." I am far from an expert in school administration, but it seemed like an odd if not a rare occupation, especially given than this was not a massive urban high-school, but a small school in a small town, so I didn't get his reason for existence in this story at all unless he was the perp. Not that I'm saying he was. I never found out who the perp was and I really didn't care.

The story was laid out peculiarly, too: it was told backwards, with two characters being introduced who were at opposite ends of a stark black and white spectrum of feeling towards the victim. The victim trotted along after them a poor third, like an unloved dog, which resentfully has to be walked, and even then she didn't take center stage because her section was instead about the selfsame police officer who should never have been involved in the first place!

If he had been on night patrol and had found the victim, then it would have made sense for him to be involved, but it never did. Calling him out of bed to see the corpse represented nothing if not sick voyeurism, os this was really poor writing. Even during questioning, this officer was uninvolved, his mind constantly and tediously going back to his own past instead of focusing on the questioning of the suspect or the pursuit of the investigation! he was a lousy cop. I felt like he needed to have Yoda come along and give him his speech about "Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing," and whack him over the head with his little knobby walking stick.

The chapters were named after the person from whose perspective the story was told. This is typically a portent of imminent tedium to me. I've rarely (if ever!) enjoyed a novel written in this way, and the chronic voice-switching was jarring, making for a disjointed work which did nothing save remind me I was reading a YA story.

It felt like the author could not make up her mind about which voice she wanted to tell this story in and the hesitation showed uncomfortably. First person is almost never a good choice and mixing it with third is a no-no. The only effect that method has on me is to remind me repeatedly, with each change of voice, that I'm reading a story that's more interested in being artsy and pretentious than ever it is in actually telling an engaging story.

Despite all of this, I might have enjoyed it if it had been written well, but it was not. The author seemed far too in love with turning a phrase than ever she was addressing the very real problems children in school face when a death occurs. It's like the author had no respect not only for the victim, but also for the grieving process. It felt more like a sensationalist piece of writing than an exploration of death and grief, or even a detective story, and this approach cheapened the death of a young girl. But hey, she died beautiful, so what's to worry about, right?

I think at this point I am ready to quit reading not only novels which have a woman's name in the title, but also those which actually use the world "Girl" in the title, such as "Girl, interrupted" and "Girl on a Train" because they are inevitably poor efforts at telling an engrossing story.

This was an advance review copy and I have to apologize for making it only a third the way through this one before I had to quit reading, but life is short and reading list long, and frankly it's a waste to expend any of it on something like this when there are far more appealing and fulfilling efforts out there begging for attention.

I did not care about any of the characters, not even the victim because I was never given reason to, and I sure didn't care who the perp was because the author evidently didn't either! I do wish the author all the best. I think she has stories to tell, especially if she can get an editor who is on the ball, but this particular novel is not one I can recommend.

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.

"...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."
" 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!
" does that fit inline with..." should be " 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!

“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

Rating: WARTY!

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

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.