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

Saturday, July 20, 2019

One of Fred's Girls by Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood

Rating: WORTHY!

This isn't normally the kind of book I read, leaning toward the old west and romance, but it was told in such a sweet and realistic way that I was able to overlook my reservations and enjoy it as a story about life in the old west rather than as a romance. The author puts to shame so many other YA writers who think people fall in love instantly ('instadore' as I call it). She even has a love triangle - after a fashion - going on here without making it farcical and ridiculous. YA authors could learn a lot about how to write realistic romance from reading this, and some of them sorely need an education if they want to avoid becoming part of the problem.

Another draw for me was that Fred Harvey's girls were a really thing. I have a distaste for novels that are titled after the fashion 'The ______'s Daughter' or 'The ______'s Wife', labeling these women like this one does, as though they're a possession of Fred Harvey. It's an annoyance, but this is how they were known back then. Harvey really did have a chain of restaurants tied to the railroad network, where he (or rather the girls he hired) served fine food quickly; it was not the same as the larded, calorie-laden, obesity-driving fast food we eat today! These restaurants had a good, solid reputation, and the girls were highly trained and had standards imbued into them, so they were considered a 'catch' by the men who encountered them. Consequently, many of them got married and made good matches, but there was a penalty for those who quit their job before the year's contract was up: they had half their year's wages docked.

This story is about a fictional girl named Bonny who is looking for a better life and when she sees Harvey's ad in a newspaper looking for girls to go out west and work in the restaurants she sees it as a chance to earn money to buy her mother a new porch for the farmhouse, so off she goes. She travels alone initially, and we have the trope of her running into someone famous - Horatio Alger in this case - which seemed a bit much to me. This was a more civilized time and traveling alone not so bad, if a little scary for her, but after she pairs up with another girl heading for the same life she has chosen, things look up. At first she feels a bit lost and homesick at eh new restaurant, especially since it's so new it hasn't even been built yet. Food is served in some converted railroad cars, but soon she's working the job without a second thought, and meeting men.

Will is the railroad telegraph operator, but soon he moves up to become a representative of Fred Harvey's with regard to a new trade that he and Bonny helped originate: selling Indian crafts and wares at the restaurants, which turns into a profitable sideline. It's so successful that Will is soon coopted into setting-up an Indian camp at the upcoming Chicago world's fair, but when measles strikes the Indian village, Bonny's other acquaintance, a doctor named Joshua, comes to the fore. Bonny doesn't feel especially drawn to either of these men, although Will seems to occupy her thoughts more and more since she's become such good friends with him and he's a real gentleman.

Seeing her two closest friends happily marry two very different guys - one a wealthy rancher and the other a poor, down-to-Earth gold prospector yet to strike anything, Bonny is stuck wondering if she's expecting too much in waiting for her idealized man to put in an appearance, and whether she ought to take Joshua or Will more seriously or at least quit giving either the inadvertent impression that she might be seriously interested in them.

I really enjoyed this novel despite it being a bit out of my usual fare, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas by Frederick Kohner

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a 1957 novel written by Kohner based on the experiences of his daughter who got in with a bunch of surfer dudes and learned to surf herself. The story isn't a biography, but is extrapolated from her experiences and turned into a fictional adventure in its own right.

Gidget's actual name is Franzie - we do not learn her last name in this novel although I understand it's revealed in a sequel as Hofer. She becomes Gidget when she starts hanging with the surfer guys, having run into them after being rescued from an undertow by a mocking surfer. None of these guys use their real name. Like super heroes, they go by supposedly cool titles like Kahuna and Moondoggie. Since Franzie is a female of diminutive stature, a girl midget, she's dubbed with the portmanteau monica: Gidget.

Initially she's not welcomed - this is a guys' club after all, but not everyone is hostile to her, and she ingratiates herself by delivering lots of food to them, purloined from the larder at home. The surfing guys appreciate this and gobble it down, and slowly she becomes assimilated into their group. She especially raises the hackles of the self-absorbed Moondoggie, so you know he's the one she's going to get hitched to. The one who takes her under his wing initially though, is Kahuna, an expert surfer who travels the globe catching the waves wherever they lure him. The other guys are typically college students down for the summer.

Gidget, who at fifteen, can't afford a board of her own, sometimes manages to get rides doubling-up on a surfboard with one of the surfers, starting with Kahuna, and after she stays overnight (after a party gone wrong), in Kahuna's beach hut, Moondoggie gets the wrong idea and starts a fight which Kahuna wins. Losing patience with both of them, Gidget grabs one of their surfboards and goes out to ride a huge wave - something she's never done alone before. With some concentration and supreme effort, she nails it, and that seems to break some tension. She and Moondoogie start seeing each other romantically.

This was a sweet, innocent and slightly scary story given how much freedom Gidget is allowed by her parents and what a potentially risky alliance hers is, but times were in general far more innocent back then and Kahuna proves himself to be a real gentleman - more so than Moondoggie initially is. So this was a fun and interesting story, well-written, if a little clichéd, but worth the read.

Athena's Choice by Adam Boostrom

Rating: WARTY!

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

I liked this story initially, but I had several problems with it: some of the writing was a bit off, the story moved slowly, the main character seemed really quite stupid at times, and the premise of a stolen genome was really thin. Even so I might have been willing to rate it positively, but the ending was such a let-down that I honestly can't bring myself to commend it was a worthy read.

The basic story is that of a future world which is highly technological and idyllic, and in which men are completely absent, having died out as a result of a plague which inexplicably seems to have afflicted only men. The story tells us that the plague attacked the Y chromosome in several different ways, which was why it was so successful, but it fails to address the fact that the Y chromosome is largely a degraded X chromosome, so it begs the question as to why this plague didn't affect any women? Why didn't it affect male animals? The chimpanzee genome is almost identical to the human genome, so did all the male chimps die out too? Again, it's never even mentioned, much less addressed. Closer to home, the question of what happened to transgendered people is completely ignored - like they don't exist or worse, don't matter. This was a bad no-no.

Equally bad was a complete failure to address how this had affected the world of human society and industry. While I don't doubt that there are women who would be thrilled were there no men around (and sometimes I don't blame them quite honestly!), I can't imagine that every woman on the planet would have been happy that no men were left. How did that affect life? How did they start to recover? Given that men are so pervasive in business and sports and so on, how did it affect those things? Women can of course fill any role that a man can, but that doesn't mean they come to that role with the same experience as the men who had been, prior to their disappearance, doing it on a daily basis, so what happened in the interim, until the slack was taken up? Did robots fill in?

On that score, this world, replete with AI, seems inexplicably devoid of robots and by extension (so to speak) of male sex dummies! Did every woman become lesbian? How? Why? Did the women immediately start trying to work out how to clone more women? How did that fare? Were there setbacks? Fights? Civil war between women? None of this is addressed. It's like the loss of the entire male half of the population was a complete non-event! While that's amusing to postulate, in practice, it needs addressing. The thrust of the story is not about that, so I didn't expect reams of backstory on the topic (that would have been boring), but to fail to address it at all, not even in passing, in casual remarks here and there perhaps, is inexcusable.

Anyway, after so much time without men, there is a movement and a scientific project that's been going on for five years, to recreate the male genome. It's not explained how come there isn't anywhere a computer file, hard drive, set of disks, or textbooks or anything remaining as to the male genome.

Given that the male genome is almost identical to the female one, it isn't explained why it's taking so long - except for some vague and farcical hand-waving about the virulence of the virus, and the fact that the genome must be robust enough to counter it, but this made little sense. If it attacked only human males and all human males died out, then the virus had to either die out along with them, and so would not be a problem, or it had to find a reservoir in which to survive and in time, to evolve. If it evolved, it would be a huge and ongoing problem, threatening even the female population! None of this is addressed, not even in passing.

One of the biggest problems in these dystopia type of stories is the failure to address the rest of the world. Did all humans die out or was it just in the US? If so, there are already males in other countries! Did even the males on the International Space Station die out? Those on remote islands? Even if they did, other countries are probably working on bringing men back and at the very least, they certainly have the genetic information available, but this story behaves as though the US is the only country on the planet!

Unfortunately, that's the blinkered tack that far too many of these futuristic stories take, and it makes the story seem really dumb. None of that was adequately addressed. I don't imagine for a minute that if all men disappeared, suddenly every country would get along and throw away its nationality to join together and make a world alliance. People aren't like that, not even women. If the US Republican women can't bring themselves to join the US Democrat women in issuing a condemnation of the president's repeated misconduct (at best) towards women, how can you expect women from entirely disparate nations to ever agree on anything like a world government?

Even without all of those issues though, the big problem with this novel was that the main character repeatedly came off as being less than sharp. She kept having dreams in which an urgent message was imparted to her. Now admittedly in keeping with this kind of a story, the message was vague to the point of uselessness - and frustratingly and irritatingly so - but this doesn't change the fact that something urgent was going on, and yet Athena never once reacted to this like it was an issue. She just let it wash over her like nothing was wrong, no problem existed, she was not somehow chosen to resolve a supposedly serious issue, and so on. This made her look stupid to me, like some sort of lackadaisical country bumpkin who just didn't get it.

Like I said, it didn't help that the dream warnings she kept getting were annoyingly vague. It's so reminiscent of other stories or movies/TV shows I've encountered where the psychic gets warnings of an impending murder or a disaster, yet they never get detail enough to stop it. Instead of "Stephen Davidson is going to be murdered by David Stephenson on the corner of Fifth and Main in Big City with a knife at two in the morning on Tuesday the eighteenth," all they get are the most worthless and vaguest of details and it's really irritating.

It would have been far more interesting had the warnings been specific, but something else had prevented the protagonist from getting the problem solved, but this was not such a novel. This one was of that same, vague, irritating nature, and given where the warnings were coming from, they ought to have been much better, but the worst part about this was again Athena's complete lack of motivation. She was so passive throughout, that she herself was annoying.

The reason that the premise was thin with regard to the genome being completely gone was several-fold. First is the ambient ignorance that seems so pervasive when it comes to how information is stored in a computer. There seems to be this crazy notion that if the information is copied, it's not really copied, but instead it's actually removed from the original and shifted entirely to another location. This isn't how copying works.

The problem here seemed not that someone had copied the genome, but that the genome was gone: i.e. erased. It is possible to delete the information, but deleting normally doesn't actually delete it, it simply marks the location as vacant - so it can be used for other storage, but unless the storage has been significantly overwritten since the deletion (which is how it's truly deleted), it's quite possible to recover it.

Having said that and in view of some information that became revealed later in the story, it's possible the thief did erase the information, and in such a way that it was impossible to recover it, but never once was this mentioned, nor was it explained how this thief got by the AI watchdogs. Instead, there was just this bland and blind assumption that it was gone and there were no backups, which was profoundly stupid. Of course there are backups, and unless the people operating the system are complete morons, the back-up is off site and in a secure location, preferably on a different medium that does not permit electronic outside access. So for example if you have some songs on your computer and also stored on disks, then if they're accidentally erased from the computer, you can restore them from the disks.

Now if even one person had simply asked, "It was deleted? Can't we recover it from off-site backup?" and was given a definitive "No!" (because the backup had been tampered with, for example), then the story would have made a lot more sense, but no one, not even the police captain in charge of the inquiry, ever asks this. It was a glaring hole through the whole story, but nowhere near as glaring as the fact that this whole thing was a charade, but I can't go into that without revealing a plot point (not that the plot ever pursued that point - which accounts for my dissatisfaction with the ending, an ending which just sort of fizzled out).

There were some oddities in the text here and there, such as when Athena who has of course never met a man, views them fantasy-like as having rough, calloused hands and strong arms. Whence this idea of what men were like? Maybe she read it somewhere? The thing is that it doesn't say that in the text, so it leaves this question hanging as to how she knows - or more accurately, why she has this bizarre idea of what a man is like. It's never addressed, nor is it addressed why Athena, evidently a lifelong lesbian, is suddenly fantasizing, completely out of the blue, about strong men.

At another point in the text I read the word "brusk" - except that it's not a word. The actual word is 'brusque', which comes to us from the French, via the Italian, via the Latin (as always it seems!) from a word meaning a brush, so it's really apt, but you'd never know that from 'brusk' which sounds like some sort of snack food for a teething toddler. It would seem that the misspelling used here is disturbingly becoming acceptable. The problem with such linguistic languor is that we lose the root of the word, and our language becomes poorer for it.

At another point I read, "The sky had turned from dark black to dark blue" but isn't dark black Another kind of oddity arrived when I read, "At the bottom if the box lay a small, pink, sapphire object." The problem with this is that sapphire isn't pink. Sapphire is a precious way of saying of aluminum oxide and it can come in orange, purple, and yellow as well as the more commonplace blue, but if it's red, then it's not a sapphire, it's a ruby! So whence the pink sapphire? No idea. By 'sapphire-like' was the author talking about the shape of it? But 'sapphire' isn't a shape, so I have no idea what was meant there.

One more thing I found confusing was when Athena, looking out of her apartment window one morning, spies a river of delivery drones so thick it obscures the pedestrians below it on the street. The thing is that in this world, everyone apparently has 3D printers in their home to make things, such as clothes, and even breakfast, so why is there this massive need for delivery drones? What are they delivering - masses of printing 'ink'? This seems to have been one more case where this world hasn't quite been thought through, and it happened way too many times. That and the thin plot and lackluster main character really disappointed me, and I therefore cannot commend this story.

Wildflowers, Part I: Allaha of the Mountain by Aurora Lee Thornton

Rating: WARTY!

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

"....the witch go the fire started." Got?
"staunch the bleeding." Stanch
"Brisbane grit his teeth" gritted
"My business here is done. I will leave on the marrow." Morrow?

My problem with this book (apart from it being a part of a series!) is that it never went anywhere (which begs the question quo vadis the series?!). I managed to read about 25% of it before giving up because it was uninteresting to me as well as annoying. It simply rambled on and on, spending far more time on world-building than ever it did in telling any actual story.

This is part of my problem with series. I typically do not read them because of precisely the problems this one had. The first book in a series is inevitably not a story, but a prologue - and I don't do prologues. Once in a while, a series comes along which does work well and which can justify itself. I've read series which are engaging and which make a reader want more, but often those kinds of stories feel bloated and padded, as well as lethargic and pedantic, and this is how this one felt to me.

The somewhat illiterate blurb tells us that "Allaha is a knight of the Order of Aisha, Fallen of the Mountain. She - like her fellows - is stoic and reserved, trained to fight against demons and their ilk. When she triggers a vision that kills a renown oracle, she is set on a quest to complete the prophecy." That 'renown' should have been 'renowned', but authors don't get to write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, so I typically don't hold them to account for that kind of thing.

For me, the problem here is that the quest never really gets underway despite the endless traveling that these people do. On top of this, the difference between Allaha and an actual knight is, well, day and night, because she never does anything! Not once does she fight! I'm not a fan of endless blood and gore, but you'd think at some point early in the story the author would want to unleash Allaha to show us just how good she is, but no. It's like Allaha is on Quaaludes.

In the part that I read, it was never explained what Allaha's title meant either. Aisha is her god - apparently fallen, but I have no idea what that meant, or why she was still worshipped or considered to have any power if she has fallen. Or was it Allaha who has fallen? I dunno. It was never explained in the part I read. I have no idea what it meant that she was 'of the mountain' either. She often announced herself as Allaha of the Mountain, and everyone seemed to understand what this meant no matter how far she traveled. Even when she was on another mountain entirely, nobody ever asked her which mountain she referred to, or what that title meant, which I felt was a bit much, frankly.

The travelers with Allaha are: Tamara, who is a young woman of the Menori people, who are apparently like the Romany, or maybe itinerant traders? I dunno. Again, it isn't explained. She was also a 'hamalakh', which is a sort of psychic lie detector or trouble detector. Other than that, she was an enigma who we never got to know.

The problem with all of this was that she was alternately referred to as Tamara, as the Menori girl, and as the hamalakh, which initially made it difficult to keep track of who the author was referring to. I had this same problem with the others in the group who remained equally unexplored enigmas even after 25% of this novel, yet annoyingly larded with nouns.

The most annoying of the group were Hibu and Tibu though. Hibu was a sorcerer from Jeongwon, so he was referred to by name, by nationality, and by his profession - again, three initially confusing titles. Tibu wasn't a name but a nationality. His name was Karejakal, also referred to as Karej, and he was a young cat person. So...even more confusion there.

In addition to this we were introduced to multiple new characters every few screens, who came and went like the flickering pages of one of those print books that animates a scene as you let the pages flash by in rapid sequence. It was hard to keep track of anyone. I still have no idea how Allaha came to be playing den mother to any of these people because none of this was explained, or if it was, I missed it somehow. Perhaps that was my fault as I shall explain now.

The novel is a bunch of flashbacks related by Allaha who is evidently being held prisoner. The book starts with her, and then is told in flashbacks, which I personally detest, so every time we start getting into the story, it's brought to a screeching halt for an eyewitness update on Allaha's condition, after which we return to our story in progress. It was annoying as hell. I quickly took to ignoring the Allaha chapters and simply followed the story which made for far better reading, although as I hinted above, perhaps the story of den mother Allaha was related in those portions I skipped. I don't know, and I really don't care at this point.

I was on a cruise ship a few months ago, and they showed free movies every evening, but during the viewing, the idiot cruise director would literally stop the movie and spend two or three minutes rambling on about events taking place on the ship, as if those of us halfway into the movie actually cared. If we had cared, then we'd have been at those events instead of comfortably sitting there trying to enjoy this movie! It was so irritating, and that's what these constant stoppages to get an Allaha status update were like for me.

The author seemed curiously dedicated to keeping us updated on Allaha's unchanging body status, too:

  • "Her body was covered in scars and bruises"
  • "She was covered in scars and bruises"
  • "old scars and colorful bruises"
  • "Her body was covered in scars and bruises"
  • "She had new scratches and bruises "
  • "The scratches and bruises still hurt "
This was another irritation. Did the author really think that after the first two times we honestly needed these almost word-for-word repeated updates on her physical condition? Apparently she did.

There were other such oddities and annoyances. At one point I read, "She had light red hair, almost more of a dark pink." Seriously? To me, light red has always been pink and dark pink always been red! But I'm a guy and as such am not quite as attuned to nuances of color as women seem to be, so maybe I'm missing something. I don't think I was missing something when I read, "The beds were compressions cut into the ground." I think the author meant 'depressions'? Also, I read, "We know the Zhos; they would not let one of their go free" which should read, 'theirs go free' or maybe 'their number go free'?

Another issue I had was with the phonetic representations of speech. I prefer it to be simply described, with maybe an example given here and there, but for the most part just to have the text in plain unadulterated English. I really don't like this sort of thing: "Come in trou da inn ten" and "Tat it tis." I've made only one exception to this, but in general, my personal preference is to just say they have an accent rather than try to phonetically represent it. Maybe that's just me, but in a novel which was already filling with annoyances, one more didn't help.

The other thing which was really annoying was this other character named Goric, who was a demon, and who floated along as a disembodied head. He was evidently the resident stand-up comedian of the group, but he wasn't funny. He truly became an irritation in short order. None of this helped me to enjoy the story at all. Nor did it make sense for the blurb to tell us that Allaha is "trained to fight against demons and their ilk" and then have her tolerate this one who was apparently tied to the sorcerer, aka Hibu, aka the Jeongwonee.

This group, for some reason which escaped me, was supposed to be figuring out how to stop this darkness that was coming, but there seemed to be no urgency to their 'quest'. This god Aisha whom Allaha worshipped evidently was of no help (because she was fallen?). The sorcerer was useless. No one they met could advise them at all. They were supposedly heading for an oracle, but they travelled literally for weeks and weeks through scrub desert, meadow, jungle and mountain and never seemed to get any closer. Everything that happened to them seemed solely for the purpose of adding new characters, tribes and communities to the world rather than actually moving the story along. To me, that was a major problem with this story and with series in general, and I can't commend this one at all.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Daughter of Athena by A Rose

Rating: WARTY!

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

"She knew it would earn her a lecture from Jackson if the she ever saw Amara do that" - the 'she' should be a 'he' and the 'the' should be omitted.
"Its bright blue eyes glinted off the sun" - surely the other way around?!
"Amara tried to get up and move but found her hands, chained to the floor." That comma doesn't belong there. It should be placed after 'move'.
"Let me go, there is a dragon I need to slay," is a run-on sentence.

This novel is written in a rather innocent style which initially charmed me, but over time it became rather more disagreeable to read, and after about twenty percent I DNF'd it because this simplicity of writing wasn't entertaining me at all. I found that the narrative was superficial, with no history and no depth and often nonsensical, so it became far less charming as it went on, and I was asking questions which the story didn't seem interested in answering.

I couldn't have put it better than one reviewer who gave this a five-star review while telling us next-to-nothing about what it had done to earn those stars. In one part of the very short review, the reviewer said, "... Amara the dragonslayer hunts and kills a dragon and the story starts to unravel from there..." and that's exactly what it did: unravel. I rather suspect the reviewer meant to say it 'unfolded' from there, but what it really did was unravel, so she inadvertently got it right.

The story is set in a future post-apocalyptic world where, for reasons which go unexplained, Chicago, which was evidently burned to the ground by dragons, was rebuilt in stone, because dragons apparently can't melt stone, although this claim is overturned when shortly after the story begins, the main HQ of the dragon-slayer force is pretty much burned to the ground by a dragon, despite it being built from stone. Worse though, the story failed to address the fact that Chicago was largely built of stone to begin with - at least when it came to the main buildings downtown - since it is such an old city (by USA standards). It would hardly have been burned down as described. Yes, the newer stuff is glass and steel, but even that incorporates huge amounts of concrete (which is for all practical purposes, stone), and most of the older large buildings are stone, so none of this made sense to me.

It made less sense as to why the rebuilt Chicago would be renamed Athena. There is no precedent for this. If the story had been set in Athens, in Georgia, I could see it maybe being renamed Athena, although even that's a stretch, but renaming Chicago? The city was named after a wild onion that grew abundantly in that area, and has had that name since the late seventeenth century. There would need to be a really overwhelming reason to change it so drastically, and maybe that would even happen, but the problem is that we're not given any reason why it did happen, just the credibility-straining bare fact of the name change, and it doesn't work. It simply makes it seem whimsical and random.

There were lots of errors in the text, some of which I've documented above. There were other oddball issues such as when I read, "Even though Emery was attractive, she did not trust him." I don't get the connection there! Are we supposed to trust people just because they're attractive?! Why would his attractiveness (or otherwise) have any bearing on his trustworthiness?! At another point, I read, "Their bodies did not have scales in the drawings, making their skin look like that of a snake." Well, snakes actually do have scales! At another point I read, " took point in the front." Taking point quite literally means assuming an exposed position in front! It's a tautology to say that someone takes point in front! I quite understand that mistakes appear in novels. We've all been there, but the sheer number of them in this story was a major reason why the writing lost its charm for me.

A major problem with the future presented here is that this one city (Athena) is totally divorced from everywhere else in the world, like it's the only place that exists. It isn't, but it feels that way. This is all-too-often the problem with this type of novel. It's not been properly thought-through: the author has focused so tightly on the little story that unfolds in this one location, and hasn't given an ounce of thought to how this apocalyptic scenario would have played out on the world stage. This insularity: that only the USA matters, and in this case, that only this one city matters within the USA, is really a problem not just in this story, but in a much wider context of how a person's mind works. If you get into a mentality that none of the rest of the world is important, then it's a serious delusion that I'm not in favor of promoting, not even in fiction. On top of that, it makes for a very claustrophobic story. What happened to the government? The police forces? The military? We get no explanation. It's like all of that somehow disappeared along with the cities of old. It makes the story sound very artificial.

Related to this is the total isolation of one city from another. We're told that the area between cities is a wasteland where no one wants to live, but when Amara, the main character, is kidnapped, she's transported to a thriving community that exists within sight of the city. No one in the city ever noticed this? Despite this, and despite there still being people around from Amara's dragon enforcement bureau, or whatever it's called (I forget), no one traces the attack back to this community despite their use of 'Hummers' to travel back and forth on their attacks.

Worse, Amara never tries to escape despite being completely free to do so. She never attempts to report back to her people in the city and tell them what's going on, and we're given no good reason for this; yet we're expected to believe she's the best there is at what she does. She even participates in another attack on her own headquarters in which she takes part freely, and has no remorse about it! Her motivations do not work.

I didn't get the Hummers, either. The last Hummer rolled-off the production line in 2010. Are we to believe these gas-guzzling catastrophes were still hale and hearty almost a century later? That would be like driving the Ford Model T today as an everyday run-about rather than a classic car. It's too much of a stretch. Here's the thing: if everything that wasn't stone was razed to the ground, then so was all of the gas and oil infrastructure, so whence the gasoline that the Hummers run on? Where does it come from? Who processes it from oil - and where does the oil come from in the first place? How does this tiny community which kidnaps Amara, pay for itself? Hummers get only some ten miles or so to the gallon, maybe a little better at a relatively low speed on the highway, but not rumbling over rough terrain in a post-apocalyptic world, so they'd need a lot of gas, and it's like the gas magically appears from nowhere.

Maybe it does because there was another component of this story which was the magical abilities. Amara wasn't born. She was somehow created in a genetics lab, and endowed with special abilities. How magic was inbred into her is again unexplained, but what's worse is that she almost never uses her magical abilities, which are ill-defined to begin with. Maybe there are limitations on them, but we never know, since it's never specified what she can and cannot do. To judge from the endless times she seems unable to employ magic, it would seem that it's so limited and weak as to be pointless, so why include it at all? It doesn't help her fight dragons. It doesn't help her avoid being kidnapped, or to escape when she's briefly confined. It doesn't help her to solve any mystery she was faced with during her captivity in that first 20% of the novel. And she's supposed to be the best there is?

There's a weak love interest which, as usual in YA novels, has zero basis. We're offered no reason why Amara, genetically engineered so she isn't distracted from her dragon-slaying purpose by anything, including men, starts falling for this one guy. There's no reason for it. There could have been, if the story had had a little more depth. There could have been something about this guy which really resonated with Amara, but we're not given that or anything else to explain it, so the rationale wasn't there and the relationship is forced, as it is in nearly every YA story I've read.

At one point I read, "He had almost died in her arms, they were forever bonded from through experience and she couldn't leave without knowing he would be okay." In addition to being a run-on - and slightly nonsensical - sentence ("from through experience"?!), the problem here is that she barely knows this guy and has had her limited acquaintanceship with him for only a short time. There's no way she could realistically feel this way about him unless she's a moron, and especially not since she's genetically-programmed not to have such crushes!

The fact that she's genetically engineered is a problem in itself. Even today, we cannot genetically-engineer a healthy human let alone a super human, so how would this be possible in a post-apocalyptic world a mere eighty years into the future? How did such a devastated society manage to rebuild so quickly and get so far ahead of even where we are now? It makes no sense!

Maybe by now you can see my problem with this: the basic idea was great and the author has some real story-telling potential. I wish her all the best in her career, but no matter how good an idea is or how charming it starts out, if it keeps on racking-up one improbable assertion after another, as this one did, and if it fails to build a solid foundation, it's not going to win me over. This one faield to do that, and for the reasons I listed, I can't commend it as a worthy read.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Real by Takehiko Inoue

Rating: WARTY!

I've not had a lot of success with Manga. Reading a book 'backwards' doesn't come naturally to me(!), but I've made it through one or two that have proven themselves to be worthy reads. This one wasn't. I'd thought it might be interesting given that it features a wheelchair-bound protagonist, but it's not a story about a person with a handicap. It's a story about basketball which happens to feature a person with a handicap. That's not the same thing and the book suffers for it.

Now I know you can argue that it should not be about the handicap - and I agree that far. You can argue that it should be about basketball, and I agree that far, but if you're going to write about basketball and just put one of your characters in a wheelchair and not write about that at all, then what have you done other than to gratuitously include a person with a disability merely for the sake of it? (And that's sayk, not saky! LOL!)

While the wheelchair shouldn't dominate the story unless there's really something weird going on, like a wheelchair version of Stephen King's Christine (which I haven't read), then the wheelchair has to have a role in the story just like any other character because it's either a character or it's a cynical and cheap attempt at diversity without having a thing to say about diversity. Aside from that issue, the story was boring. It didn't offer anything new and worse, it was hard to follow what the hell was actually going on here at times, so I ditched this pretty quickly, especially when skimming through more pages didn't offer me any hope that the story would improve.

Cinderella Screwed Me Over by Cindi Madsen

Rating: WARTY!

I'm not opposed to chick lit and I've read a bit of it myself although it's not my first choice of genre, but quite honestly this was the worst kind of chick lit - arguably anti-#MeToo. I didn't read much of it, but to me it looked like the only connection it had to Cinderella was that the girl met her tediously predictably hunky guy when her stiletto heel got stuck in a crack between floorboards in this restaurant she frequents and in which this guy is part owner.

Her shoe comes off of course and he hands it back to her, but instead of leaving it to her to put it on, he puts his hand on her hip - not her arm or shoulder, or offers her his own arm for balance, but uninvited, he puts his hand on her hip 'to steady her', and she gets the wilts and the vapors. I'm immediately thinking, "I'm outta here. This is not my literature!" so I gave up on it. At only a few pages in.

Despite having a professional job in an office, this girl did not come off as very smart to me. She automatically assumed this guy was a liar when he told her he was part owner of the restaurant, like she was an expert on the place just because she eats there often. Neither is she the impoverished stepsister, so what this had to do with Cinderella, I have no idea. All I had actually needed to know is whether it was trespassing on my Cinderella territory or I on its, and the answer to that was a resounding 'no!' The story's nothing like what I'm writing so I fortunately don't need to be concerned with it at all, which is great, because I certainly didn't want to continue reading it.

I don't get why so many female authors so frequently subject their main characters to manhandling by strange men and then instead of becoming annoyed at it, turn to Jell-O. It sucks and it needs to stop. These two 'girls' were in the restaurant at the time of the shoe incident, so it probably wouldn't have been hard for the guy to quickly grab a chair from a nearby table. If they'd done that and she'd sat down and asked him to put the shoe on for her, that might have brought it a bit more in line with Cinderella and certainly been more socially acceptable and even romantic, but this author doesn't get it, and that's a problem. It might have been better yet if the guy had been part owner of a shoe store rather than a restaurant so he'd be naturally helping her to try-on shoes.

I didn't get how being a part owner fo a restaurant made him any kind of a prince either, unless the restaurant was Burger King! LOL! But as it happens, I really don't care because this story was trashy pap and not worth anyone's time. Readers need to demand better. Much better. More original, better written, more intelligent, and with real people instead of antique Barbie and Ken dolls.

A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey

Rating: WARTY!

Read rather oddly by Raphael Corkhill, this was another audiobook which started out really well and then Le Stupide set in big time. I had thought I was going to get through it unscathed, but it was not to be. About two-thirds the way in, it went south with the ducks - and normally I like ducks. Some of my best friends are...not ducks, but anyway, to see them in the southbound lane was still rather sad. Duck asses are not the most engaging of sights.

The initial premise was an interesting one and the story changed up periodically so it did not quickly become boring, but the more I listened, the less the story seemed to have a plan to go anywhere. It wasn't until later that I discovered why. The main character was so passive as to be tedious, as was his momma! Worse than this, I discovered by skipping to the end after I'd given up on it, that this novel is part of a series, of which there is zero indication whatsoever on the book cover, so the publisher is outright lying to readers and I will not countenance that.

This explains why this novel never was interested in going anywhere. The author gave up that motivation when he decided to thinly-stretch material sufficient for one book into a trilogy or more. Michael learns nothing - not even how to control his ability, and he never does learn a damned thing about his father because this is not a novel, it's a prologue.

By accident, this semi-orphan with the uninventive name of Michael Malone discovers that he has the ability to not so much change reality as to be able to switch between realities in a multiverse. He can only do this at first when under stress, which is how he does it the first time. His new reality is always very similar to the old one with some minor changes, but the important thing is that he's supposed to be able to switch to one which conforms to some idea he has of the kind of reality he wants to live in.

Michael is seventeen. A kid of that age ought to be at a point in life where he has some self-motivation and some idea of what he wants out of life, along with a few grown-up thoughts here and there, but none of this is true with Michael who acts more like he's thirteen. He has no excitement or curiosity whatsoever about his magical power and shows no inclination at all to investigate it or to try to use it to put himself into a reality where his father is back with the family, and the villains are out of his life. He'd evidently much rather attend his own self-pity party.

These villains arrive suddenly in the form of a young French woman and an older German man by the name of Klimt. We never learn how they latched on to Michael, but apparently it's through his missing father who evidently had some of the same abilities as Michael does. Klimt wants to use Michael for some purpose of his own and holds the carrot of finding Michael's father and the stick of changing Michael's reality into something horrible. These people are from the "Unicorne" society and Michael at one point discovers he's been inducted into it while he was unconscious after an bike accident. Now he has now has a black Unicorne tattoo, which covers a spot in his skin where he has, he's informed, been injected with a microchip for the purpose of tracking him not only in this reality, but in others, too.

Michael shows zero anger at this, zero curiosity about how he can disable the chip, and no amusement at how pathetic it is that this secret society blatantly advertises its existence with this unusual tattoo. This was my first adverse reaction to the story. If this had been a middle grade novel, then I could probably have countenanced this , but for a young adult novel it was pathetic at best. There are ways to write that do not make your characters look limp, or stupid, and your story amateur, but this author is apparently too lazy or unimaginative to think of them, hence his penchant for writing series with uninventive titles. That coupled with the laziness and lack of imagination inherent in writing a series is enough to avoid this author like the plague from now on. I expect a lot better from a university-educated writer. Or maybe that's the problem.

It got worse when the story began to drag with little-to-nothing happening. At one point Michael is hit by a car when riding his bicycle and ends up in a private hospital where the doctor is of course Klimt, and the nurse is this same French girl. On top of this there are two police detectives investigating the car accident, yet they are literally grilling Michael over matters that are totally irrelevant to what happened and neither Michael nor his mother objects to this line of questioning. That immediately said "Dumbasses" to me, and it's where I quit being interested in this purportedly young adult, but more like middle grade or younger story.

I skimmed to the end, and discovered that the book has no resolution whatsoever, and so is merely a prologue to volume two. I don't do prologues, and I do not accept books like this one. I would have rated this negatively for treating readers like mushrooms (keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit) if it hadn't already failed me. The book is poorly written and is a rip-off. I dis-recommend it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Replacement by Brenna Yanoff

Rating: WARTY!

This was my first and last Brenna Yanoff. The story started out sounding like it was heading somewhere, but it never did! At least it had not by halfway through which is where I abandoned it out of boredom. Main character Mackie Doyle is some sort of elf or fairy who was left in the crib of the real Mackie years before. Mackie knows he isn't human. He suffers daily and reacts badly to iron, so the entire first half of the novel is him whining about how bad his life is.

I kept thinking that something was going to happen - something had to happen - to change or bring change, but it never did. The closest it came is when someone in the know told him that he was dying, but even that didn't seem to be the kick in the pants this story needed badly, and that was where I quit it. At that point I would have been happy had he died, since I have better things to do with my time than listen to a main character whine almost non-stop about his life. Maybe if he had died, a more interesting person would have stepped up and told their story, but I didn't care by then. This book sucked. Period.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Rating: WARTY!

I read all four of this series and liked only the first two. I thought I was going to like this one until it became such a clichéd bore of a werewolf romance story that it made me want to vomit. I have no time for bullshit werewolf or vampire romances. This one promised not to be such a novel when it began. It was steampunk. Why authors feel the need to include vampires and werewolves in their steampunk tales is a complete and utter mystery to me, because it never works. The story always wants to be one or the other and is ruined by trying to make it both.

Sophronia is at a girls' finishing school based on an airship, but it's really a finishing school for female spies. That part was all well and good, but of course the author had to throw in a forbidden romance because no YA female main character is complete unless she has a demanding and pushy bad boy after her.

The guy's absurd name was Soap and he was a grease monkey on the airship - so, forbidden. Then the author evidently thought she had to up the ante, and she had Sophronia save Soap's life by begging the werewolves to bite him. Now Soap is a werewolf and even more forbidden, and far from being pissed at her for interfering in his life (or death), he now sees her action as a declaration of her love for him, and bizarrely thinks he owns her. Never once does Sophronia set limits or boundaries, because he pulls all sorts of entirely inappropriate behaviors on her and she gulps it down like a bitch in heat.

In short, the whole thing reeked. The author might have rescued it if she'd had anything going on other than the romance, but there was literally nothing happening that was worth the telling in the fifty percent of this that I could stand to read, and the romance was all this book had to offer. That was certainly not worth the telling. It's been done countless times before. Please, bring me an author with an imagination and some originality. I'm done with this one. I ditched it and moved on to something hopefully better, and which I felt certain couldn't possibly be any worse.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva

Rating: WORTHY!

This was different and quite fun and fresh, but it doesn't contain a complete story. This features editions one through four, and there is another collection that will either continue or complete it, so I was rather dissatisfied with the lack of a resolution, but that was nowhere near as bad as the wildly inaccurate blurb on the back cover of this graphic novel! Other than that, the book was well-written by Usdin, and beautifully drawn and colored by Vakueva.

The story is of Chris, all excited to start her first day at a vinyl record store. I've frankly never understood this craze for vinyl. We had vinyl and it sucked, which is precisely why we went to other media! You can't win me over by arguing about audio fidelity when the vinyl recording you have is full of noise, and skips and jumps which is the inevitable fate of all vinyl. Nor can you argue that any purported difference matters when you can't listen to vinyl through your iPod or your phone or whatever medium you use outside the home. Whatever you run through those devices is processed in exactly the same way, so you gain no advantage even if there is one to be gained! There may well be people who can tell the difference between a vinyl sound and a CD, or an MP3, or a streamed track, but I cannot, and I suspect most people cannot and are just fooling themselves that they can.

I can accept that there are vinyl snobs and stores catering to them, so I had no problem with the setting for this story, which is called Vinyl Destination (the blurb inaccurately called it "Vinyl Mayhem"). The plays on words through the story were one thing which highly amused me. It's rather a genderist establishment though, given that every employee and the boss are all female. It's also ageist in that they are all in their teens and early twenties, including the boss! You'd think a store like that would want someone with vinyl experience! But I let that slide.

The book isn't set today - it's set in the 1990's for reasons which escaped me. Given that era, some reviewers have complained about the lack of homophobia depicted here, saying it was unrealistic, but there was very little in the way of gay representation in this book at all, so there was nothing for incidental homophobes to react to. It's not like the book was presenting as an LGBTQIA romance. It's not. That's a part of it, but the main thrust is about another topic entirely. It was mainly Chris's innocent and clumsy crush on a fellow employee that was the gay element, and the awkwardness and humor inherent in her inability to determine if her attentions would be reciprocated. I think that was plenty for a book like this, aimed at the younger YA audience as it was, especially when it had other fish to fry. It seemed perfect to me, but I'm coming from a cis background, so your mileage may well differ depending on your own perspective.

But to get back to the lack of homophobia - I think a lot of those reviewers failed to fully grasp that the entire story (very nearly!) takes place in the relatively safe confines of the record store which is entirely populated by young and very open-minded females, all of whom (except for newcomer Chris) were already tightly-bonded by their vigilante background, so the claims that the story was unrealistic in its nineties portrayal seemed shallow to me. Were there no such enclaves in the nineties? I'd call bullshit on that one. And it's not like these girls didn't have other issues to contend with!

It felt like some of these reviews hadn't warmed to the story and went through it looking to find any little scrap which would support what were evidently vague feelings that 'this story was not for me'. Hey, if you don't like it, you don't like it, and if you can't articulate why, that's fine! Personally I prefer reviewers who go into some detail over their likes and dislike because it helps me get a handle on where they're coming from and helps me to make a better decision about whether to read it or not, but I don't demand it of every reviewer in every review! You don't like it and can't put your finger on a good reason? I'm fine with that!

Anyway...there is something odd going on at the store and it doesn't take long for Chris to start feeling excluded, but it soon becomes clear that the store employees aren't in a secret band. The blurb claims that they are "endlessly trying to form a band" but this is a lie. They're not! Not until the end of this volume anyway. Whoever wrote the clueless blurb should be the one kicked out of the store! Some reviewers had an issue with that, too, but they seemed to be taking the story too seriously to my mind. It's a light and fun romp. Relax and enjoy that ride, I say!

Chris is finally invited to stay over with the rest of the staff one day after work, and she feels accepted at last, but is unsure if she wants to be when she discovers that the girls are all a part of a teen girl vigilante group (not a "fight club" as the blurb inaccurately claims). They do fight each other, but only as practice for their vigilante-ism, which is actually going through some slack times until their pop idol, Rosie Riot, goes missing, and certain zombie-like, or perhaps more accurately, robotic-like behaviors are noted in some members of visiting bands.

No, this isn't a zombie story. I would never have picked it up if it were. It's more of a sci-fi mystery/thriller, and it works pretty well. I liked the characters and I would read the next volume if I could get my hands on it, so while I was disappointed that the story ended so quickly and abruptly, I liked it well enough that I consider it a worthy read.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Luisa Now and Then by Carole Maurel

Rating: WORTHY!

Published in French originally as Luisa: Ici et là (strictly speaking, Luisa Here and there), with this English version adapted by Mariko Tamaki and translated by Nanette McGuinness, this oddball time-travel fantasy brings a younger Luisa to the future to meet her older self, and neither is well-pleased with the other.

Teenager Luisa sets off on a bus trip and ends up falling asleep. When she awakes she's at the end of the line and gets out to discover she's nowhere near where she thought she was, not in space or time. A young, but mature woman to whom Luisa is loosely attracted helps her and slowly it dawns upon Luisa that this woman lives across the hallway from her own older self, so to the outside world, the younger Luisa feigns being a cousin of the older until they can sort out what happened and how to put it right. It's a learning experience, and not a pleasant one, given how prickly and persnickety the two of them are. Or should that be 'the one of them is'?

The young Luisa refuses to believe that she ends up as this 'spinsterish' older woman whose life is unadventurous and downright boring. Yeah, she lives in Paris, but whoa, is this second-rate job the one young Luisa dreamed of getting? No! Older Luisa has tried to make her life pain-free, and appears to be in serious disagreement with Socrates that 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. In arranging her life thus, she's failed to realize that she's attracted to females and in particular, the very one across the hall that younger Luisa finds so appealing.

So far so good, but the longer they spend together, the more alike the two of them become and they realize that it's urgent that they split up before they become indistinguishable from one another. Young Luisa must return to her original time and place. This book is done as a fine art piece, with entrancing line work and watercolor painting, and it was a pleasure to read: fun, engaging, and overall a worthy read. I commend it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Skim by Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki

Rating: WORTHY!

These two cousins, Mariko the writer and Jillian the artist have been interesting me lately because I find their work mostly appealing. I say mostly, because I definitely did not like Jillian's Indoor Voice, which was a scrappy little book that had all the charm and import of an artist's rough sketchbook sold as is! It told no story and was uninteresting to me. It seemed to be a paean to New York City, but it was more like a pain, especially to someone who has neither love for nor interest in people mythologizing NYC.

Skim was a different fettle of Kitsch. The story was interesting if a little confused at times, and the artwork was engrossing if not exactly brilliant. The art evoked a feeling of a story about dolls rather than about people, because of the art style and I wondered if this had been intentional. Regardless, it told the tale of a young, confused high-school girl trying to make her way through life among a barrage of conflicting messages and poorly understood signals. She seemed to be going through one issue after another including an unrequited crush on her female art teacher, and I have to wonder whether any of this was autobiographical. I have no idea if it was, but it seemed heartfelt. Maybe it was pure invention. Maybe it was the story of someone the author knew at school.

The story begins with the suicide of the ex-boyfriend of one of the elite girls at the school, Katie Matthews, and everything is overly dramatized, suggesting - since it's all told from the perspective of Kimberly Keiko Cameron (the Skim of the title) that this is how she sees it, not necessarily how it actually is. Perhaps Skim, as suggested by her name, is very shallow and fails to see deeper meanings in things, while deluding herself that she is seeing deeper things that are actually not there at all. Skim is very jaded and cynical for one so young, and this comes out quite starkly in her exchanges with her best friend - a friend who she drifts apart from over the course of the story as her allegiance haphazardly shifts in an unexpected direction.

The truth or fiction of the tale isn't important, because these are certainly someone's truths, somewhere, and the story was entertaining, although I have to say the ending was a let-down - it just sort of fizzled-out without any conclusion or indication of any future direction for the main character. Not all issues are neatly resolved, of course, but I think we're entitled to feel they ought to be in a fictional work. This one felt like the author had grown tired of writing this and wanted to move onto something else. That aside though, I enjoyed it and I commend it as a worthy read.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Rating: WARTY!

After, Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue, I was a fan of Kristin Cashore, but that didn’t help with this novel, which bored the pants off me. Fortunately not literally. This is her first novel since the end of the Graceling Realm trilogy, and I have to say that, given the time it evidently took to write it, it wasn't worth waiting for. Evidently, it was planned as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story, and then morphed into a regular novel with five parallel universes that are Jane's potential directions, but I was turned off this long before that point. And how she's unlimited when there are only five options, I do not know.

Jane's parents are dead and her only living relative, her absurdly named Aunt Magnolia is also apparently dead after she went missing in Antarctica. One thing her aunt bequeathed her niece was the extracted promise that, if ever she received an invitation to visit the mansion named Tu Reviens (French for 'you come back'), she must accept it. Personally, that would persuade me to avoid it like the plague, but not Jane. When her erstwhile school friend, the absurdly-named Kiran Thrash, a bored, rich bitch, reconnects and invites Jane to visit, Jane accepts.

At that point - her arrival and first day at the mansion, this audiobook had become so utterly boring that I quit listening to it, which is unusual in a case like this, because as the blurb informs us, "the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life." Actually it offers her a choice between five options, but let’s not quibble about that! Normally something like that is really attractive to me - a story about someone's opportunity to change what’s happened - but I never read that far. I was pretty much bored to tears at this point and Rebecca Soler's reading of the audiobook would have made me want to quit even if I had been enjoying the story, so I gave up on it.

Based on the small portion I listened to, I cannot commend this effort. Hopefully Cashore will be back on form with her next effort, but the gods alone know when that will come out.

Come Home by HL Logan

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a very short (68 widely spaced pps) which the blurb describes somewhat illiterately as a 25,000 word novella that can be "enjoyed on it's [sic] own"! I found it sad that even this story is largely based, like so many stupid YA novels that have any kind of romance in them, on pure looks. As the blurb puts it: She’s instantly drawn to the gorgeous customer," and how 'gorgeous' or 'beautiful' or 'hot' this girl is comes up often.

The blurb asks, "Could someone so caring, passionate and beautiful really ever want Kalli?" and that at least brings 'caring' into the question, but nothing about decency, smarts, companionability, integrity, reliability, loyalty, or whatever. It made it feel a bit shallow. The feeling I got was that the author had rendered Dana as a social worker as a kind of shorthand for character building, under the assumption that we’d all love her as a decent human being without the author having to do any of the work to get us there.

The two main characters behave more like they're thirteen rather than twenty-three (I assume their age is somewhere around mid-twenties although it’s not specified. I do get that people falling in love can become rather giddy, but a little more self-control would have made for a more realistic story with a greater hope of a relationship that had some legs. Fortunately this wasn't done to a nauseating degree, so I appreciated that.

One thing which struck me though, especially given how much physical lust was broadcast in this story (which was all from Kalli's PoV although fortunately for me, not first person), was the lack of any focus on any particular physical aspect of the other woman. Yeah, Kalli does become focused on Dana's green eyes, but despite a lot of lustful thoughts on behalf of both parties, neither one of them ever seems to attach herself to any specific body part - like lips, hair, breasts, legs, ass, fingers, or something like that. That felt a bit unlikely to me.

There were some gaffs in the text, too: I read at the start of chapter five that “She’d been out that morning to get a new phone, and called Dana immediately" and just a paragraph later, Kalli "...tingled at the thought that Dana called just to talk about nothing”, yet as we read, it was Kalli who called Dana, not the other way around! later I read, “A thin slither of skin was visible.” I think she means that a sliver of skin was visible!

All of that said, I do consider this a worthy read, but not a great read!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Rating: WORTHY!

I listened to the audiobook read very ably by Welsh actor Michael Sheen. He doesn't sound very Welsh here it must be said. He often plays a weasely villain in movies. You might remember him from the first three Underworld movies where he played Lucian. He's also played Tony Blair, HG Wells, Kenneth Williams, David Frost, and Brian Clough! He did get a bit overly dramatic, even frantic at times in his reading here, but otherwise I enjoyed his effort as I enjoyed the book. It's a worthy addition to the 'His Dark Materials' canon and I commend it, although it's far from perfect, it has to be said.

This particular story is a prequel to the original trilogy, when Lyra was literally a baby and had to be rescued from the machinations of the Consistorial Court and also from a vengeful scientist by this young boy Malcolm Polstead and a moody girl named Alice Parslow.

The other two volumes in the series will cover Lyra at later stages in her life (this is why Pullman has described it as not a prequel, nor a sequel, but an equal). The story is very much told from Malcolm's perspective, but blessedly not in first person. Pullman is a writer who gets just how pathetic and limited first person voice truly is. The story is aimed at a young adult readership, but be warned it has bits of quite brutal violence and swearing throughout the narrative.

Malcolm's parents own the inn where Malcolm helps out and Alice works. Across the Thames from the inn lies a priory wherein nuns are caring for an infant girl named Lyra. Malcolm plies this river in his beloved canoe, La Belle Sauvage and he helps at the priory, too.

The more Malcolm learns, the more involved he becomes and when a flood prophecy from the Gyptians proves to be true and a once-in-a-century deluge hits, and Oxfordshire is swamped, Malcolm is unexpectedly thrown into a chase across three countries trying to deliver Lyra safely to Lord Asrael in London. He finds himself throwing in his lot with the antagonistic Alice to save the child.

Note that there are spoilers here which might make you regret trying to read these books in order. I recommend starting with the original 'His Dark Materials' trilogy (Northern Lights published in the USA as The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) before tackling this one. You may also be disappointed. This book is much more mundane that the initial trilogy, and the chase across the flooded landscape goes on with almost metronomic repetitiveness, so for me it sagged rather during that time.

I understand the print book is some 450 pages long. I listened to the audiobook and it didn't seem that long at all, because I was enjoying it so much, I guess! That said, I think Pullman could have used some self-editing here. The repetitive cyclic nature of the 'slow speed chase' rowing across the endless water, finding an island, rowing the water, finding an island might turn off many people, but for me in was just interesting enough to keep me reading and I'm looking forward to the next volume.

There were problems with this journey: almost no other humans were ever seen during the long aquatic trip, and the few that were, were always the villain, Gerard Bonneville, or the Consistorial Court boats. At one point we learned the Gyptians were out looking for Malcolm but they had only half as many boats as the Court, yet never once do we see one of those Gyptian boats, nor any boats bearing anyone else. How the Court and Bonneville managed to so expertly track Malcolm and Alice when no one else could was a bit too much to swallow and felt more amateurish than I thought this author capable.

I read some negative reviews that complained that Malcolm was boring and Alice never changed, and their roles were genderist, but it really wasn't that way at all. Just because Malcolm was in charge of the boat (his boat that he was an expert at using and Alice wasn't), doesn't mean she was confined to a traditional female role! This is not set in 2018, but at some time in the past when traditional gender roles were the norm, so this isn't a surprise, but Alice came through repeatedly, including decking Bonneville at one point, and Malcolm was repeatedly shown to have what might be termed a more traditional feminine side, so I really don't know what those reviewers were complaining about.

There's nothing weak about being a woman! There's nothing weak about playing to your strengths whatever they are. Some women want to be jet fighter pilots, others want to be homemakers and to chide the one for being traditional is insulting to the woman who choses such a role. Alice was doing what she chose to do and often telling Malcolm what's what. He consulted her frequently and she had no problem expressing her mind at will. How is any of that weak?

I recommend this as a worthy addition to the cannon. Just don't expect too much from it!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Snotgirl Vol 2 California Screaming by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Leslie Hung, Rachel Cohen

Rating: WORTHY!

This was amusingly subtitled 'California Screaming' and I had to wonder why not 'California Streaming' given the manifold mucus from Snortgirl's allergies, but streaming means a whole other thing these days.

This is the second compendium of comics about this problematic fashion blogger named Lottie Person, who has been nicknamed 'Snottie" by her new 'friend' who Lottie in turn had nicknamed Coolgirl, but who is actually a fellow blogger named Caroline.

One of my early theories about Caroline was that she might be a complete delusion created by Lottie under the influence of a new experimental allergy drug prescribed by her new doctor. Caroline could well be the girl Lottie wishes she were, but since other people see Caroline, then either she's real, or Lottie's delusion is disturbingly larger than even she fears. Could Lottie be imagining this whole world while sleeping off her allergy drug in her apartment? Who knows?

Lottie certainly has some issues. She introduces her new acquaintance to her hater's brunch group which consists of Cutegirl and Normgirl, both fellow bloggers. The four of them decide to go on a desert retreat, but barely has it begun when they change their minds and instead go to a fashion blogger conference in California, where things get really weird.

Talking of, weird Lottie stalker Charlotte was pushed off a roof by Coolgirl (or Lottie under a delusion she's Coolgirl) towards the end of volume 1, but shades of Tricky, she don't, she don't, she don't die! Instead, she's in hospital being visited by Snotgirl's ex, Sunny.

Worse than this, Lottie starts being haunted by a girl who died violently but who can't remember who killed her. Worse than that, Coolgirl elects to room with Cutegirl instead of Snotgirl, and so Lottie is stuck with Normgirl, with whom she seems to be fighting constantly. And now there's a new blogger on the block with very few followers, but who wishes to befriend Lottie and then becomes offended when Lottie spaces-out over her. Will Lottie ever have a day when things don't go disastrously south and park? Oh, and Cutegirl has a twin whom she refuses to acknowledge the existence of! And maybe Normgirl's perfectly ordered life isn't so perfect?

I loved this one and I admire Leslie Hung's drawing. She makes the characters, male and female look real, cute, and even sexy without pumping them up to improbable proportions like the super hero stories do, and Rachel Cohen's coloring is every bit as good in this volume as Mickey Quinn's work in volume one was. I commend this volume as a worthy read.

Snotgirl Vol 1 Green Hair Don't Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Leslie Hung, Mickey Quinn

Rating: WORTHY!

I got the two Snotgirl graphic novels from the library. The title was so bizarre that I couldn't help but request them just out of curiosity. I didn't know what to expect, but I was intrigued and I actually enjoyed reading the first one. She gets her name from this weird friendship she strikes up with a girl named Caroline, who sounds like nothing but trouble. Snotgirl's real name is Lottie Person, and she's a fashion blogger who has chronic allergies, hence the Snotgirl nickname that this new friend bestows on her. Lottie was kinder, calling her new friend Coolgirl.

Coolgirl calls her Snottie instead of Lottie, which pisses off Lottie, because she's the one always making up nicknames for fellow bloggers. She refers to one as Cutegirl, and another as Normgirl. Those three get together for Hater's Brunch once a month, which is a little breakfast club they created. Events in Lottie's life are slightly warped and a bit absurdist, so they appealed to me. I had trouble at first in trying to figure out if this other girl actually existed, or was merely a figment of Lottie's imagination - perhaps the Lottie that Lottie herself dreams she could be.

Coolgirl appeared right around the time a new allergy doctor put Lottie on an experimental medication, and from that point on, Lottie's life became even more weird. She believes that her new friend fell over in the bathroom and cracked her head open, but when she wakes up the next morning, there are no police at her door, and no reports of dead girls in bathrooms, and eventually the girl reappears in Lottie's life none the worse for wear. Did she crack her skull? Did Lottie imagine the whole thing? Does this girl even exist, or is Lottie imagining her? Maybe Coolgirl is imagining Lottie?!

The comics are done by the same guy who did "Scott Pilgrim Against the World," or whatever that was called. I never read it, but I read about it. It ended up as a movie, but I can't see something called Snotgirl making it to the movie screen. Not in the USA I'm sorry to say. Because old white men are in control, there's far too much idée fixe about how young girls should appear on movie screens in the USA to have a Snotgirl up there.

I can see it as an animated TV show. It's actually pretty funny. I think Lottie is more cute than Cutegirl. Cutegirl just seems annoying, but she's not the one who gets pushed off a building at the end of volume one!

So I have to say, if you haven't figured it out, that I am a Snotgirl fan now, and I'm very much looking forward to reading volume two already. Fortunately, I have it in hand so I can get to it right away! This comic is beautifully drawn by Leslie Hung, gorgeously colored by Mickey Quinn, and it tells quite an entrancing story. I love it.

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.