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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Meet Kaya by Janet Shaw, Bill Farnsworth, Susan McAliley

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of a series of short (around seventy pages), illustrated, "American Girls" books which tell stories of pioneer girls, American Indian girls, Victorian girls, and so on. In this case we're with Kaya, a Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) girl living in the American West in 1764. Kaya has several stories of her own, told in different volumes. This one has illustrations by Bill Farnsworth, and vignettes by Susan McAliley.

I think Kaya (full name Kaya'aton'my, short version pronounced Ky-YAAH) is a great role model for young girls who are struggling with the same kinds of issues she has, and let's face it, coming of age stories don't vary all that much (in very general terms), no matter which century you're in. Kaya is feisty, and a bit proud and boastful, but she's still finding her way in her world - a world which has not yet been ruined by predatory easterners plowing through everything which lay before them on their destructive trail westwards.

Kaya is proud of her horse and likes to run it, but when accepting a challenge from the boys in her band, she almost ends up injured and is censured for it. However, she recovers well at a later time when a friend's life is at stake. The story is realistic and fun. I don't buy into this "noble savage" mythology, or believe that American Indians of yesteryear lived in close harmony with nature, or expertly managed the land, or had any particular affinity with it. The truth is that they exploited it just as much as we do. The only difference is that their numbers were so small that they didn't over-exploit it as we do.

That said, this story presents Kaya and her people in a realistic light and tells a harmonic tale. The fiction is supplemented at the back with about eight pages of photographs and text discussing Nez Perce history and culture, and their modern world. All in all it's a great book, and I think I'm going to keep my eye open for others in this entertaining and educational series.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Glimmer by Tricia Cerrone

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

Not to be confused with Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis, or Glimmer by Beth Kery, or Glimmer by Stacey Wallace Benefiel, or Glimmer by Evalyn Fulmer, or Glimmer by Annie Waters, or Glimmer by Melodie Ramone, or any of a dozen other glimmer books, this novel could have used a more distinctive, à propos, and individual title! Why not Black Swan? Well, Black Swan is also overdone, so why not Blue Swan? Titles are important. Memorable, distinctive titles are vitally important.

It's the start of a series and I am not a series fan, and it also is bogged down by an awful lot of YA trope yah? But it's also not written in first person voice for which I sincerely thank the author and vow to build a shrine in her name. See, you YA authors? You actually can write a viable YA story with a main female charcter in third person! Look and learn from this author! That said, this novel skated so closely to the thin ice of YA trope and cliché, that I would have rated it negatively if it had been in first person! That's how close it came!

As it is, there was enough going for it that I was willing to let the nauseating YA parts slide, and overall I consider it to be a worthy read. But because of the flirtation with the more nauseating parts of YA trope, I honestly cannot see myself pursuing the rest of this series, although I do wish the author every success with it. I just hope she doesn't ruin and cheapen her main character by turning her into a limp rag trope YA female when she started out so strongly. I saw signs that she was doing this toward the end of the novel, around the ninety percent mark, and so I truly fear for the main character, but not for the reasons the author wants me to!

So I wasn't sure I'd like this when I first began reading it, because I feared it might be another YA special snowflake story where the trope innocent young girl falls for the trope bad-boy from the street. I still fear that for the series, but as I read on in this particular volume, I grew more engaged. This is book one in the trope 'YA trilogy' (or series), and I can see an embryonic YA love triangle here, which is as sad as it's annoying. Actually, it's not even an embryo yet, more of a zygote, but it's there and it bothers me that we have yet another story where trope ostensibly strong, independent YA girl appears to be in need of rescue and support from trope bad boy or trope good boy, or worse: both.

The basic story is that of Sunday Cashus, a weird name which isn't even the real name of this sixteen-year-old girl who has lived in seclusion on a secretive military base virtually all her life. Her real name is Jocelyn, but this struck a false note since the name Jocelyn isn't even in the top forty for girls born in 1999. Could not a better name have been chosen? Yes, there are girls who don't get named popular names thank goodness, but they do tend to get names that are quite common. 'Jocelyn' just isn't on the board at all.

It seemed odd to me and out of place, but it's a minor issue and maybe the author has a good reason for it. I tend to put a lot of thought into my character names, and I try to make them appropriate to the story. Some of them are a tour de force and give clues to what's going to happen, so maybe this author is doing the same thing. Jocelyn used to be a boys name. It has German origins, so it goes with her last name, and it means 'one of the Goths' so who knows where that might lead?!

I preferred Sunnie though! She believes her family is dead, and that her uncle loves her and is taking care of her, but there's something off about everything, and it's a bit sad that it lakes Sunnie so long to realize it. I would have been happier if she had not put up with so much crap, but in her defense, she was isolated and had few touchstones to clue her in to how real life ought to be. That said, she was learning in school and studying foreign languages, so some of her innocence came across as a bit false and overdone. It's even more sad that her reality check comes not from her own examination of her life, but from her exposure to a boy of her own age who is brought into the "program' in which she is involved. On the other hand, she's led a very sheltered life, so her naiveté is understandable in some ways.

She believes she's getting medical treatment from the military in return for training and improving her "skills." These skills are rather of the Bionic Woman variety although Sunnie's skills come not from bionic implants, but from (she believes) experimental chemotherapy employed to treat her cancer. As time passes though, she learns that she doesn't have cancer after all, and that's not all that's been kept from her. Angry and frustrated, she begins pushing boundaries that she has never questioned before, and this is where the story became interesting to me. It made me believe (and hope!) that maybe there was more to Sunnie than a trope YA female protagonist.

I think one of the things which turned me off this story to begin with was the constant jumping from one new set of characters to another. It made it really hard to keep track of who was who and what the heck they had to do with what I'd read immediately before. I felt that could have been approached in a less choppy and annoying fashion, but once I got past those early pages, the reading became much more of a pleasure than it had been an irritation. The chapters are short and move pretty quickly, so it's overall an easy read and the reading went by quickly.

For the most part it was technically well-written, but I found a few textual problems, such as when Sunnie is taking a swab sample from herself. I read: "Sunnie obeyed, putting on gloves, taking the swab from the box..." Why does she put on gloves to swab herself? They don't want her to contaminate herself?! It made little sense. It felt like the author was writing this without really thinking about it because donning gloves is what she's seen people do on TV and maybe in real life. But specifying gloves wasn't required. It could have been simply related that Sunnie took a swab without saying if she wore gloves or not! It's worth keeping in mind when you're a writer!

'Whom' put in an inappropriate appearance here. For me, 'whom' can go in the trash can. I know authors feel like they have to use it so they sound educated, but it's antiquated. I can see it in the text, where as a reader, I just lightly skate over it, but it also appears in people's speech, and no one says 'whom' anymore, unless they're particularly pretentious. So I read, "Harvest from whom?" and "But I’m not sure by whom exactly," and it read false and made me realize I was reading a novel. It took me out of that world and back into reality. Skip the 'whom'!

At one point I read, "Said out loud, it actually sounded funnier that it was." when it should have read 'than it was" I know how these things happen! No spell-checker will catch them. The only way to get 'em is to re-read the text and that's when your eyes begin glazing over! We've all been there. Another instance was this: "...she repelled down the vertical bank to the river first." Unless the river bank is forcing her away from it, she's not being repelled, she's rappelling! One final example is "...she lied down." I rather suspect she laid down or she lay down. it;s very confusing, but 'lie' is a present tense verb so you don't use lied unless you've been lying! LOL! One last one: "...then sprang off a large jutting rock jettisoning herself through the air." Jettisoning is wrong. Projecting? Launching? Definitely not jettisoning. But there were very few of this kind of error, and I'm sure they'll be fixed in the final copy.

What of trope and cliché? Well, it's sentences like this that turn me off YA stories: "She closed her eyes and told herself not to think about the dark hair that fell over his forehead, or the gentle strength he’d used as he caught her." This is merely one example of Sunnie being out of character. Yes, she's a young woman and yes, she'd be curious about boys, especially since she's met none, but for her to turn from a tough cookie, independent and self-sufficient, into a limp rag in a boys arms is frankly pathetic.

Plus these are hardly things people think about in stressful or emergency situations, and far too many YA authors simply don't get this, in their blind, desperate hell-bent rush to include a romance. Forget the romance. Focus on the story. If the romance is going to happen it will, and it doesn't need any help from you! If it's not going to happen, you're going to ruin your story by forcing it on the characters. And forget the triangle. Two guys and one girl make the girl look like a duplicitous flibbertigibbet. Triangles never make a girl look heroic. Give the characters some self-respect for goodness sake!

The problem here, from a writing perspective is that Sunnie has no reason to trust any guy, much less get the wilts and the vapors whenever one looks at her. This felt to me like a betrayal of the woman she had become. She actually should have behaved more like a guy here, given her upbringing, her lack of socialization with young women, and her military training. Instead she suddenly became more like a thirteen year-old girl watching a rock star on TV. It was sad, and it was a betrayal of everything the author had done for her character to this point. I felt bad for Sunnie. At this point, she looked like she was being manipulated by the author in far more insidious ways than ever the military was manipulating her in the story! Here's an example: "No guy could resist a girl with big, blue eyes fighting for her life and begging for protection." This is the militarily trained girl begging for protection? And what if she had brown eyes, is she SoL?!

I'm so tired of reading of YA female characters who desperately need validation from a guy. Are there no YA authors out there who are willing to step away from the herd and write something new and different, and independent and original? It was my frustration with this which made me write Femarine. Fortunately, this tacky tack was very limited in this particular novel which is why I was willing to let it slide and not influence my overall rating, but it's also the reason I don't want to read more of this series, because I can see this just getting worse, and I liked Sunnie. I really did. I don't want to end up hating her, which I feel I will do if I pursue this series.

This business of telling instead of showing was a bit overdone. When Sunnie gets a new handler, we're told how awful she is when we should have been shown. It would have been better-written had this been made into an issue with the new woman, given that were being told, not shown, that she us cold and officious.. The character Graeme could have been omitted from the story altogether and it would not have suffered for it. He seemed like he was only there to complete the third leg of the triangle. His Porsche was far too 'Inspector Gadget' and made the story seem ridiculous at that point. I was really glad when it wrecked! Sunnie's escape was too long in coming, so was nice to see her explode into action, but it felt like this volume was one long prologue, which was funny, because this volume also had a prologue. I have no idea what that said since I routinely skip all prologues. It will be really funny if volume two has a prologue. LOL!

There were some cases of 'it's been done', such as when I read, “They really should invent a rubber that doesn’t wear out so easily.” Well, they did! It was used in the boots astronauts wore when walking on the moon. I find it hard to believe that such a well-funded military operation as this one did not have access to that!

But as I said, these are relatively minor considerations in this particular story. They will be amplified for better or for worse in a series, but I don't have to worry about that! So my rating is that this is a worthy read if you can overlook the YA tropes. I liked it. I liked the main character for her openness and thoughtfulness. I sincerely hope she doesn't go downhill in volume two and beyond! But for this volume, I recommend it. I'd ditch the two guys, though. Neither of them were worthy of Sunnie. Seth was a bit of a manipulative jerk who has no respect for personal space or for a young woman who is compromised and not street smart. Graeme was just a joke and not a funny one. The ending dragged on a bit too much and was entirely predictable, but as i said, not bad and worth reading.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Rating: WORTHY!

I’m a captive audience in my car with a commute that’s not overly long, but which isn’t short either, so I listen to audio books and I tend to take more risks and experiment more with this format than any other. Consequently I have more fails with this format than any other, but it’s worth it to find the occasional gem, and one such book was this one. If there’s one thing I detest in writers it’s a sheep mentality. Instead of coming up with something original (or a refreshing take on an older theme as, say, The Hunger Games trilogy or the Harry Potter heptalogy represented), most authors, particularly in YA, jump right on someone else’s band wagon and turn out sorry clones of existing work. barf. I prefer the author who tosses out cliché and trope and takes the road less traveled, as I tried to do in Femarine, and as this author does here, which is yet another variation on the same theme I varied.

Another audio book to review - this time positively. My problem with princess stories - the kind where a prince is essentially holding a lottery for a bride - is several-fold, not least of which is what it says about the prince: he's so vacuous and shallow that he thinks he can get a suitable lifelong partner in such a critical role through this haphazard means? The other side of that coin is what it says about the princess-to-be in that she's so shallow or so desperate that she's willing to sell out for this guy she never met and will be expected to marry before she even knows him. It's truly pathetic.

That doesn't even begin to cover trope and cliché either. These stories tend to be larded with them: that the most humble, plain, and simple girl gets to win, or alternatively that the girl who least cares about or least expects to win gets to win because she's a special snowflake, and the only one who truly understands the prince.

There's also a really pretty girl who everyone expects to win, but who doesn't because it turns out that the plain-jane is prettier somehow! There's the really dumb girl who is the only one who thinks she will win, and there's a really bitchy girl who we all know will never win. There's also the truly sweet girl who becomes the main character's bestie, and who dreams of marrying the prince, but who doesn't honestly believe she will win. She ends up marrying the captain of the guard or the king's younger brother or something like that. It's tedious. It's been done to death, and any author who continues to churn out this kind of story with no variation and no twist and nothing new to offer is the really dumb girl. Any author who thinks he or she can make a trilogy out of this trash is beyond dumb.

So what I look for on the very rare occasion when I read a story like this, is what I tried to provide in Femarine: something significantly different. This audio book was such a story. It impressed me and continued to impress me because it continued to inject new ideas into this trope and thereby stirred it up significantly. There were some bits that were a touch too rambling and boring, but these were few. Most of the time it kept adding the twists to make it entertaining and engrossing.

What I liked about it was that Miri, the main character, was smart, but not particularly special except in that she learned. The value of books was am important part of the story. They actually played a role in the story and in Miri's growth, and were not just lazy short-hand used by the author to say "Hey, look how smart my character is!" Miri was always learning, and this is what made her stand out from far too many spastic princesses in other stories I've read or read about, and who show zero growth or real smarts.

I liked that the girls weren't the usual suspects in these stories, but the daughters of quarriers (and some of the girls were quarry workers themselves) in a pit which produced a special high quality stones used for important buildings in the cities down the mountain. I didn't like the 'us versus them' mentality (mountain people against lowlanders, where the mountain people were considered primitive and dumb and the lowlanders urbane and cultured), but I did like that the girls were not in fixed groups or fixed mentalities. Relationships changes and morphed, and the bitchy girl wasn't always the bitchy girl. The ending was very different from what you might expect and really turned the story again from the course you might expect.

The thing was though, that while I always feared that this story would go straight to hell in a hand-basket, I always had the feeling that it could completely capture me, and this is what it did in the end, so I recommend this for those of you who, like me, are tired of trope and ready to quit with cliché. Yes, it did have some examples still of that kind of mentality - that the girl must end up with the boy for example, but overall it was different enough and enjoyable enough, and above all unpredictable enough that I consider it a very worthy read. Or listen - Laura Credidio does a decent job of rendering the characters, although her voice was a bit annoying at times.

Lastly, one thing I don't get about this is that it's part of a series. Why? This was a great story and it was told well, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. Why did the author feel the need to ruin all that by dragging it unnaturally, kicking and screaming, into a series? Is she so lacking in imagination that she can't think of a new idea to write about? Let it be known that I have no intention of following the series. As far as I'm concerned, this book stops here!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Miraculous Origins by Thomas Astruc, Quentin, Sebastien Thibaudeau

Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Miraculous Origins by Cheryl Black!

Taken from a French TV show and transformed into an entertaining comic book, this is the origin story of Ladybug (aka Marinette Dupain-Cheng) and Cat Noir (aka Adrien Agreste), two young French teenagers who are given their powers through jewels called 'Miraculous'. The jewels are curated by little creatures called Kwami. Marinette's, called Tikki, permits her to transform into Ladybug, complete with flesh-hugging Harlequin mask à la Green Lantern.

Adrien (I'm sorry but I can't see or hear that name without hearing Rocky calling to his girlfriend) has a similar kwami, Plagg, which I find to be the cooler of the two. Plagg is reminiscent of Hiccup's dragon, Night Fury, in the How to Train Your Dragon movie. Hawk Moth is the arch villain who wishes only to steal their miraculous and in their everyday life, the villain is Chloé Bourgeois, a stereotypical spoiled-brat who is the Mayor's daughter and a rival for Adrienne's affection. The action takes place, refreshingly outside of the USA, in Paris.

Neither of the two kids, despite working together as heroes and despite the total inadequacy of their 'masks' as a disguise - the equivalent of Clark Kent's eyeglasses - knows the other is also their classmate in school, but they work beautifully together, Ladybug coolly deflecting all of Cat Noir's advances (ironically, Ladybug has eyes only for Adrien!), and the pair inevitably, after some pratfalls, defeating the villain. The two are like an inverse of Marvel's Spider-Man (here represented by Ladybug and every bit as nimble and athletic) and DC's Catwoman. The villains are puppets of Hawk Moth, transformed into evil-doers by the butterflies he employs to deliver evil super powers to them while staying in the shadows himself. He "evilizes" them and makes'em do his dirty work for him!

Out of curiosity, I watched two of the episodes on TV. They are episodic (you can watch them in any order and it makes no difference), but they're also extremely formulaic. Someone of Marinette's acquaintance (close or not so close) has bad feelings over a defeat, Hawk Moth senses this somehow, and dispatches a butterfly to convert those feelings into super-powered evil, and Ladybug and Cat Noir have to defeat them inventively. It's pretty much the same in every episode from what I've seen, and I hope the comic book version, which seems a bit more mature, stretches and takes more risks than the TV version does.

The Amazone conglomerate wants two bucks a pop for these TV episodes, but they're free on You Tube. Sometimes I think Google is hardly better than Amazon, but bless 'em for this, so I was at least able to take a brief look. The stories I watched were amusing and very cute. I always like a good time travel story, which one episode featured, but the shows are certainly not something to which I'd become addicted; then it's not aimed at me, and it is a very successful show. This comic is the origin story. It's less "cute" than the TV show and a bit more gritty, and it's just as entertaining. The art is good - very much in the 3D computer mode rather than the traditional drawing and coloring mode. The story lines are not bad and the execution works.

When I first saw the comic I thought it was about two girls, but the blond is Adrien. I also thought the characters were much younger - middle-grade rather than older teenagers - so I was rather concerned about the sexualization of Ladybug with her skin-tight suit. It's still a problem - as it is with all female super heroes - but since she's older and Cat Noir is decked-out pretty much the same, I was less concerned about it than I was when I thought she was twelve or thirteen. At least the genders are treated equally, for what that's worth! Ladybug's costume is somewhat ameliorated by the playfully black-spotted ladybug motif, so maybe it's not so bad by comic book standards. I thought the ears and tail on Cat Noir were an interesting touch, and at least Ladybug is shown to be very much her own person and the more dominant of the two.

So, all in all I recommend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Out On Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler

Rating: WARTY!

This is a LGBTQIA story set on a college campus, where Francesca Annamaria Bellisario (who naturally goes by 'Frankie', because she's queer, of course), a self-described pansexual (which does not mean she only has sex with cooking pots), is leading a dangerously promiscuous life. While 'sex' is clearly in her sexicon in bold letters, 'safe' certainly is not. Why anyone would become involved with her is a mystery, but college students are not necessarily the smartest rats in the maze - which is why they're at a learning institution, after all, isn't it? The question is, are they going to get the education they expect, or something else entirely? The target of her lust, as she dallies with everything in between, is Samara Kazarian who rooms with one of her friends. This is the story of their "courtship" and it was a huge fail for me.

I know college students are supposed to have an improbably over-sized libido according to MTV and other jock mentalities, but only half of this couple was that kind of person, The other was supposedly a smart, conservative, closet lesbian who you would think would show a lot more common sense than she does. That was one of the problems, We were frequently told how things were, but never shown.

The story was, essentially, a lesbian wet-dream with zero characterization. If we're to go by these lights, all that queers in college ever think of is sex, sex, and more sex, and that's the entirety of it! They never think of homework, or coursework, or hobbies or interests. They never expend any time in conversation which doesn't involve going to sports games or having sex. For me it was completely ridiculous and wholly unrealistic.

Frankie is purportedly an artist and truly dedicated, yet we get none of that here. The closest we come is Sam's examination of one of Frankie's pictures at an exhibition, but then it's gone and we get nothing more. Why make her an art student at all? There is of course no reason except that if she's an artist or an actor, we can stereotype her more? The story felt inauthentic from top to bottom, especially with the inverse slut-shaming (what would you call that? Slut championing?!) that's indulged in with Frankie, who can do nothing wrong. Slut championing is equally as bad as slut-shaming itself is, especially when it seems to be dedicatedly mischaracterizing all queers as promiscuous and shameless. And the idea that a retiring virgin and a slut-champion can find common ground and do it so quickly and effortlessly had to be a joke.

The only relationship Frankie and Sam had was sex. The only value Sam offered for Frankie was, judged by the writing here, a sexual one. She was better than masturbating, it seems. Frankie cared only about the depth of Sam's skin, and her ass and legs, and how beautiful she was. We never got anything which suggested that she liked Sam as a person, much less as a companion, or truly valued her for anything other than lust. That's what turned me off, paradoxically, because that's all there was to this relationship. If that's all the consenting parties are looking for, then it's fine, but I don't particularly want to read about those people, and I certainly don't want to read a bait-and-switch-hitter novel which pretends it's offering a great romance, yet delivers only carnality and literally nothing else but trope.

The saddest thing is that for all her supposed smarts, Sam never once considered discussing venereal disease with Frankie, despite knowing full-well that Frankie would quite literally screw anything on two legs and human (although despite her proudly self-proclaimed pansexualism, all Frankie ever really did was go after or lust after girls). I didn't expect a pages-long dialog about sexual responsibility by any means, that would have been boring, but the fact that not once was it ever so much as even mentioned in the 60% of this novel that I read, was shamefully irresponsible.

There was literally no exposition either. The entire novel was pretty much conversation, all of which centered on Frankie's adulterated lust for Sam. It was truly sickening, and I could not continue reading it when I fully-realized that this story was never going to mature or change. I sure as hell cannot recommend it. If you want a dumb sex romp, then this might be for you, but don't go into this thinking there's anything loving or romantic about it, or that there's a great relationship story here. There isn't.

The Frog Prince by Jenni James

Rating: WARTY!

Jenni James (not to be confused with English actor Jennifer James despite Jenni's use of words like "bum" and other 'British-isms'!) has made a career out of retelling fairy tales (think of Disney titles and you'll pretty much have half her oeuvre). She's moving on to pillaging Jane Austen next, but what the heck - if it works, then best of luck with it. She also has a series of videos on her blog (here on Blogspot) and on You Tube, purportedly telling people how to write novels.

I watched parts of some of them and they didn't seem very helpful to me. The fact is that any time you spend not writing is not helpful to your writing career, because you can attend all the lectures you want - in person or online, it doesn't matter - and you can read all the writing-advice books you want, but unless you are actually writing, you're not a writer and you're going nowhere. Have you noticed that those books on 'how to write a best-seller' are almost always written by "writers" you've never heard of, who've never had a successful novel, let alone a best seller? That ought to tell you exactly how useless those books truly are. They're like those books telling you how to get rich quick, written by people whose only wealth has come from selling those very books!

The videos are each about twelve minutes long, and one of them for example, was about sticking it out with writing and making it to the end of your novel. This is an important topic, but the video missed the mark for me. Instead of offering writing tips for making it through the long haul, the author talked about how long her hair was and what it took to grow it out so long and to take care of it.

I could see where she was trying to go with that, but it offered really nothing (unless it was crammed into the last third of the video, which I didn't watch) to help a writer get to the end, and overcome writing blocks. Full disclosure (or given that this is October, maybe it's Fall disclosure?!): the only way to do that is to write. It's really that simple. In the short term it doesn't matter if you are writing crap. It doesn't matter if it's the worst writing you (or anyone) ever did. Write on. Write to the end. Get the thing finished and then you can go back and edit it.

For me, editing is a lot easier than getting to the end in the first place, so the temptation is to keep going back over what you wrote, whether it be one chapter, or fifteen, or one paragraph, primping and teasing, and perking and polishing, but this will never, ever get your novel finished! Quite the contrary. It will prevent you from ever finishing. There is nothing in this world that can compare with putting that final period to the final sentence in your completed novel even if it's only the first draft! At least, at last, you have it done (after a fashion)!

It feels good, even if the novel isn't perfect. Once it's done, then is the time to go back over it and perk and primp and polish. But don't get lost in that. At some point you need to have a go/no-go decision which will determine if that novel is going to be submitted (or better yet published by yourself), or if it goes on the shelf and you start on your second novel instead, because the first just isn't getting it done. There's no shame in this and it does not mean you're a lousy writer. It actually means you're very smart to know the difference, and to make a wise decision about whether it works!

So if my two cents is worth anything (and it's probably worth about two cents!), then all you need to know is that if you want to be a writer, you have to write lots - and lots. And then some more. Lots more. And you have to read all kinds of books and not necessarily only novels. You have the read the genre(s) in which you're interested to see how others do it and learn from their mistakes.

No one in their right mind likes to be stuck in traffic unless they have a really good audio book to listen to, so if you get stuck at a roadblock (I'm talking about writing here!), you need to jump over it and continue on. You can come back and fix that issue later. Even if your hero is in an impossible fix and all you can offer is "and magic happens and he/she gets away," it's far better to do that and move on, and finish that novel than it is to sit for weeks stuck there not going anywhere because of this one issue.

If you don't like what you're writing, then write something different. If you're not looking forward to hacking the next chapter, write a different chapter or make something different happen. Listen to your characters! Let them tell you how to get out of a fix and where to go next. I promise you it's what your characters will do for you if you have done them the favor of writing them well.

But I digress. Majorly! You're the writer. Take what advice you think helps, ignore the rest, including this if it doesn't help. But write! Write! Write!

This novel didn't get it done for me either because it felt inauthentic and I had to DNF it. It's like the author wanted to get a traditional fairy tale told, but didn't want to write it traditionally, and rather than go determinedly one way or the other, she got stuck somewhere in between, and it didn't work. What it delivered instead was some truly jarring writing, so in the space of three lines, for example, I read three different forms of "maybe":

Mayhap her thoughts and ideals and dreams and all those things she longed for and loved—all of it—perhaps they were too simple for handsome princes to care about. Maybe....
It just did not read easily. I have to confess a personal hatred of 'mayhap' here. I think authors use it as a lazy way to try and put some authentic antiquity into their tales and it almost never works. There were some other writing errors, such as the author using "crumbled" when she ought to have used "crumpled", but those aside, the writing was not awful. It just didn't feel right to me.

On top of this the attempts humor fell flat, and the writing level seemed aimed at middle-grade even though the main characters were young adult. The amusing thing about this to me, is that in and around the era when this story supposedly took place, young children were routinely married off at a very young age, and I'm forced to wonder why so few authors have the courage to write it like it was? that would offer some historical authenticity and do a lot better than tossing in a 'mayhap' here and there, or mixing modern English idiom with antique ones and making the reading a jarring roller-coaster experience, instead of a pleasant read.

For me, the worst thing was the two main characters, because I didn't like either of them. The way they were written made then both look like idiots, in which case they probably deserved each other, but I quickly came to feel like my time would be better spent reading something else, or better yet, writing something! The problem with fairy tales is that they're pretty much all tapped out now. If you want to do this, don't, unless your take on it is going to break seriously new ground and put a truly new spin on the tale. Instead of chasing the vogue, you should try to plough your own furrow: find something new to tap and start your own trend! I wish the author all the best but I cannot recommend this one.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Rating: WORTHY!
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

"Sasha though suddenly of his stepmother," 'thought'?

This is a traditional-style fairy tale employing Russian folklore and mythology, and exploring the inevitable clash between religions: the extant traditional natural religion of the Russian hinterland, and the sick encroachment of Christianity into it. I loved the way the story started out, and enjoyed the ever-unfolding pace and power of the story-telling. There was no slack here, no annoying flashbacks or side-tracking and meandering, and it grabbed me from the start, even though I'm not usually a big fan of stories set in Russia.

This author knows her craft, and she did not cheapen the tale by writing it in first person, either. For that alone, I intend to paint an icon in her name! (You have to read the story to get that!). For me it really took off when a couple of new characters showed up, bringing conflict to what had been a rather idyllic existence for our main character. The fun thing was that the story never did play out quite as I might have expected, or even written it myself. There was always a twist, a turn, a quirk, an event to keep me guessing where this would go. I adored it for that.

The very best thing about it is the main character Vasilisa Petrovna, aka Vasya, aka Vasochka. Yes, the endless variations on names was one complaint I had. It was really hard, to begin with, to keep track of who was who since so many name variations, nicknames, and pet names were employed for the same character. I realize this is what Russians do, but this wasn't written in Russky! The author herself explains in an afterword that literal translation is not always a good goal for an author of fiction, and I agree with her very much, so a little more clarity would have been nice, but maybe that's just me.

That aside, Vasya was one of the most engaging and amazing characters I've ever read of. Alert to all Young Adult novel writers! If you want to know how to write a strong female character who is more than merely a male appendage, then you seriously need to read this novel. It's not the only novel which has a strong, independent female character who owns her life, and by 'strong', I mean within herself, not necessarily in her ability to kick someone's ass, but this is a fine example of such a novel. Katherine Arden gets it, period. Vasya was wonderful: a breath of fresh air in a world of lackluster and very forgettable young adult female characters.

The basic story begins with a Russian land baron in a period of history often called The Renaissance. That name didn't seem to fit here. Medieval felt more appropriate, but this was just after that era. In the particular case of this novel, I prefer to think of it as Age of Discovery! The land baron's wife dies giving birth to main character Vasya, a child who grows up rather odd and wild. She is so in need of minding - thinks her father Pyotr - that he travels many weeks to Moskva (curiously written as Moscow in the novel) to find a new wife at court. The ruling monarch is one of a small handful of Ivans to come to power in Russia. The story doesn't make this clear, but I assume it's Ivan the Fourth ("the Terrible"), who ruled from the mid- to late-sixteenth century.

He had three daughters named Anna(!), one of which died before she reached the age of two, and the other two of which were sent to convents. Such was the fate of unmarriageable girls, in Russia or anywhere. And that gives me an idea for a story! I hat eit when that happens! Anyway, Ivan did not like immodest girls, and he accidentally killed his own son during an argument over his daughter-in-law's perceived immodesty. In this story however, one Anna isn't sent to a convent; she escapes such a fate because Ivan adopts a plan to rid himself off this "crazy" girl to Pyotr in exchange for one of Pyotr's daughters marrying his son, and thereby helping secure his dynasty. This story succeeds admirably where Ivan failed so dismally in his quest!

The thing about Anna is what she shares in common with Vasya. The difference between them is the interpretation of what they see, and the subsequent fear or it, or lack of such fear. Anna often sees what she believes are demons around the palace, and she is scared to go into the wild, frozen north. When she arrives, she sees even more demons, and this time the demons see her. Meanwhile there's a strange nobleman (or maybe not so noble) who manipulates Pyotr into giving his youngest daughter a necklace, unless Pyotr wishes to see his oldest son die. But the family nursemaid manages to wangle it so that the daughter doesn't get the gift until she's of age. What will happen then, is anyone's guess!

The writing was evocative and engaging, but occasionally, a part here or there struck me as being 'off'. For example, at one point early in the story the youngest daughter, Vasya, wanders off and gets lost in the forest. She is rescued (fortuitously before a freezing night falls) by her older brother who was out searching for her. She had encountered a strange man in the forest before her brother brings her home. She was terrified, but we read, "Pyotr thrashed his daughter the next day, and she wept, though he was not cruel." Excuse me? He "thrashed" her, for getting lost and scared half to death, and he's not cruel? That struck a sour note for me.

And yes, I get that people, especially people in those climes and times, were a lot more rough and ready, and pursued what might be termed "frontier justice" with a lot more vigor than people do today, but this is cruel by any light. I get that someone like him might thrash his daughter, but to 'qualify' that by adding that her father was not cruel, was poorly done for me. This isn't the last time that Vasya is so disciplined. In fact, the second time it's an even greater injustice, but she's older then, and bears it stoically, especially since it simultaneously rescues her from something she was not looking forward to. It seems that Vasya is fated to live always slightly apart from her own people. This is one of the things which made her such an intriguing character for me.

Yes, nicknames and pet names! Here's one example: "After Sasha and Olga went away, Dunya noticed a change in Vasya." I had to actually parse that sentence before I got out of it exactly who was doing what here! Here's a classic example:

Alyosha was waiting for her. He grinned. "Maybe they will manage to marry you off after all, Vasochka."
"Anna Ivanovna says not," Vasya replied composedly. "Too tall, skinny as weasel, feet and face like a frog." She clasped her hands and raised her eyes. "Alas, only princes in fairy tales take frog-wives. And they can do magic and become beautiful on command. I fear I will have no prince, Lyoshka."
Alyosha is actually her older brother, Aleksei Petrovich, who is one of the few people who actually 'gets' Vasya and supports her. I really liked him, but this endless parade of nicknames was irritating (Google is going nuts underlining all these names in red as I write them! LOL!). Eventually I learned to overlook it and it became less important as the story progressed, but I could have done with a lot less of it. It's not necessary to name a person every time you speak to them or even of them. I think quite a few of these names could have been dispensed with and left the novel a more pleasing demeanor in the doing.

That was my only real complaint about this story. I do have to say that the ending fell a bit flat given that the entire novel had been leading me to it. I was expecting more of Vasya, but overall the story was an engaging and very endearing one, and I fully recommend it. In general it's a tour-de-force of how to write a fable like this, mixing folklore and fairy-tale, and it was a joy to read. I very much look forward to Katherine Arden's next literary outing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Shimmer by Brinda Berry

Rating: WORTHY!'

This completes my brace of reviews of mermaid stories I decided to...dip into. While I like the idea of a good mermaid story, the execution of such stories has nearly always failed me, so I'm not a fan of the genre. Once in a while a story comes along that sounds like it might be worth reading, but often I'm disappointed which is what happened with the previous novel I reviewed, which was awful. This one is a very short story, and when I began it I had the feeling that I might end up not liking it, but as I read on, it won me over.

It's not brilliant, but it was a worthy read even though, with all the advertising in it, it felt more like it was a flier for Brinda Berry's writing than ever it was an honest attempt at selling a story. There are pages of advertising for books by Berry, so the actual story starts on page seven and ends on page 43 of a sixty-three page book! The actual story isn't even forty pages. The last section of the book is taken up with two chapters from another Brinda Berry novel, which (and not coincidentally!) I'm actually reading next.

The thing which started to turn me off the novel was the main character names, which were so bad and uninventive that it almost made me quit. The guy is named Draven - he's the landlubber. Draven? Seriously? The mermaid is named Coral. She's land-bound due to a family decision from long ago, but she knows of her mermaid heritage from her deceased mother, and she's trying to get back to it. This explains why Draven (Draven? Honestly?) thinks she's drowning herself when he's out on the beach at an ungodly hour in the morning. He "saves" her and they form an uncomfortable friendship. But Coral is determined to revert to her heritage, so the relationship seems doomed.

Like I said, not usually my cup of sea. I like a good paranormal story, even some romances, but they have to be organic and make sense within their own framework and far too many do not. I think you have to have some sort of framework, otherwise anything goes and the story has no substance. This one was short enough and vague enough that I didn't run into any of those problems, and Coral was so practical I couldn't help but like her. She doesn't care that Draven sees her butt-naked, which makes a refreshing change from the panicked modesty we often encounter in scenes where one of the main characters is unexpectedly exposed. It was this grounding and Draven's more mature attitude which won me over. He almost lost me with his over-protectiveness, but in the end I liked the story which is why I moved on to read the book-length Berry novel titled The Waiting Booth

It's for these reasons that I consider this a worthy read, especially since it was free from Barnes & Noble when I picked it up! I'm always looking for new, intelligent authors to get into, and maybe Brinda Berry (which is actually a really cool name!) will be one of them. Although I solemnly promise right here that I will never read any of her novels that have naked male torsos on the covers. Ugh! Talk about genderist! I actively avoid novels like that no matter who had written them. Maybe that should have informed me on the second book I reviewed by this author, which did not fare so well despite having no naked torsos on the cover!!

I don't normally talk about book covers because my blog is about writing, not pretension or glitz, and authors rarely have anything to do with their covers (or their back cover blurbs!) unless they self-publish, but I have to say this one was interesting. The model's face was quite captivating, but what I loved most of all was how the title, Shimmer was in a font where it looked like it might read "Swimmer". I don't know if the artist planned that consciously. If so, it was a master stroke. If not, it was a fortuitous happenstance. I enjoy plays on words, especially in book titles, so this one was a winner there, too! Note that this is not the sad cover shown on Goodreads with the guy, and the mermaid holding a starfish. The one on this edition was so much better!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Rating: WARTY!

If I'd wanted to read a John Green novel which I don't, ever, I would have picked one up. I picked this one up mistakenly, but utterly convinced it was not a John Green novel. Was I ever wrong! It was awful. Even the guy reading it sounded exactly like the kind of voice that I've heard in a John Green audiobook when I made the unforgivable mistake of trying one. Gräf is a German word meaning Count, as in Graf Zeppelin, meaning Count Zeppelin who founded the Zeppelin airship company. It doesn't mean 'green', so what the heck was going on here?!

The story is that this young guy killed another young guy by means of accidentally hitting him in the chest with a hockey puck. The victim has a weak heart and dies. Now this guy is all-but irremediably morose, until this girl swoops in and rescues him. Almost inevitably, the girl is named Fallon, because god forbid she would have a given-name name that wasn't someone's surname, or any sort of ordinary name in a John Green, er Lisa Graff novel.

The only thing that Lisa forgot to do was include the girl's name in the title. She should have called it Looking for Fallon, since Lost in the Fallon sounds very odd. I guess it could have been titled Gone Guy. That would have worked, but it's really better if you have the girl's name in the title. That's only going to work though, if the girl has an unusual name, like Alaska. Looking for Myrtle, charming as that sounds, isn't going to cut it despite it having a play on words. But with an exotic, pretentious, or unusual name, you can have Half-Baked Alaska, if Alaska is a bit stupid or crazy, or Alaska is Like, Totally Husky, Dude!, if Alaska is a bit of a dog, or Melting Alaska if she's cold, and which also has the other element which you really: the implication in the title that she's lost or in need of saving. So you might have Performing Open-Heart Surgery on Alaska in the back of a old VW Bug which works because it makes a play on the term 'open-heart'.

Playing on words, especially if you can play on the girl's name, is wonderful. So you can have, for example, The Color of Jade, which is perfect, because then you get an exotic name and a play on words. Or you could have April, Come She Will which has the added advantage of a salacious play on words. So on that theme, maybe Lisa should have titled this, Fallon, Falloff which not only gets the unusual girl's name into the title, but makes a play on words and evokes The Karate Kid. OTOH, why would anyone want to evoke The Karate Kid?" Okay, strike that.

Fallon derives from Gaelic name meaning leadership or supremacy, or something along those lines. I'd hazard a guess that this is something which never crossed the author's mind, and she chose it merely because it struck her fancy, but maybe she did know what she was doing (she's emulating John Green after all, perhaps hoping to get a second wind from his sales/sails), but playing on that theme would give us Following Fallon which has the added advantage of an alliterative appellation. Another such title would be Rise and Fallon. But I think we've explored this motif quite enough for now, so I'll just go with Lost in its Own Pretensions, and leave it at that!

So, in short, the prologue sucked as much as the novel. Neither Fallon nor the main guy, whose name I completely forget, were worth my reading time. In fact, the guy was a vindictive and obnoxious little prick in the part I listened to, so I cared neither about him nor about the girl in shining armor. I don't normally read prologues, but it's hard to avoid them in audiobooks where you have no idea what's coming next, especially if they don't announce it.

The prologue was a truly crappy story about a crappy rip-off which the author calls a 'claw machine' - one of those things which takes your money based on your deluded belief that it's fair and equitable and the claw really is strong enough, if you get it just right, to pull up one of those tightly-packed plush toys. No, it's not, and even if you did get one, the toys are so crappy and cheap that they will fall apart in short order.

It's better to have your kids save the money and actually buy a decent plush toy. The habit of saving and reaping rewards will teach them much more useful tactics in the long run, than any amount of plays on a gambling machine ever will. Of course, then the kids don't get to play with the claw and have some excitement, but there are better ways to let them have fun than this. This prologue was pedantic, and as usual it contributed nothing to the story. Nothing. You can skip it completely and be no worse off. I rest my case against prologues, prefaces, introductions and authors notes. Boycott them with the same ardor you'd boycott one of those fraudulent claw machines! And give this novel a miss, because it's amiss. It will deliver to you the same emptiness that the claw machine does, and it's so John Green it will never ripen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Charmed by Jen Calonita

Rating: WARTY!

This was a major rip-off of Harry Potter. I tried this one because I had liked the first in the series Flunked, but the author got the titles wrong. The first one was charming, this one should have been flunked. It was awful. It''s hard to believe the same writer wrote both of them. I felt bad for the reader in the audio version, Kate Rudd, who does am amazing job and has an adorable voice, but she had absolutely nothing to work with here, although she does her best.

The first novel was something of a rip-off of Harry Potter, but I was willing to let that slide because it seemed like the author had put some effort into making it lighthearted and amusing, and added a twist or two. I liked the attitude; then comes this mess, which starts out with the most juvenile chapter ever - a food fight - and descends from there. The next chapter launched with a ship coming up out of the lake which is right by the school. Durmstrang anyone? The ship has a silver serpent for the figurehead. Slytherin anyone? It was at this point that the ripping-off of Harry Potter had gone far too far. I started skimming and realized by forty percent in that this was just getting worse. It's back on the library shelf now. I refuse to recommend such bad, unimaginative, and derivative writing.

Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes

Rating: WARTY!

I made it twenty percent of the way through this before giving up in disgust. The reason I was interested in reading it was that it seemed like it might have preempted an idea I had for a different take on Oliver Twist, but this story had nothing whatsoever to do with Charles Dickens's novel except in that it purloined the names of some of his characters. My idea is quite safe! Other than that it was set in contemporary times in a high school featuring a bunch of young hackers who were one-dimensional cookie-cutter characters, and was consequently and unsurprisingly boring.

There was the trope new kid in school, the trope obnoxious classmate (in this case Tyson who was solely interested in meat LOL!), the trope hot guy, in this case "Z", which turned me off immediately. What really killed this for me apart from the boredom was that it was twice as bad as the worst person voice, which is first person voice. Twice as bad because, having made the mistake of choosing that choice to tell this story, the author then split it between the two main tropes (Z and Liv) and told their stories both from first person in an open admission that she had chosen the wrong voice and was far too stubborn and stuck in a YA rut to change it.

Frankly, this story sucked and after reading the first fifty tedious pages of these character's "Liv"es, I had "Z"ero interest in learning anything more about these wastes of skin. I'm sorry, but there is honestly something wrong with you if you find this kind of writing entertaining.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Flunked by Jen Calonita

Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook was read appropriately by Kristin Condon, who failed only with some of the the male voices (making them sound obnoxiously fake as some female readers can do I'm sorry to report). Otherwise she was very easy on the ear and got most of the voices spot on for me. I liked this story out of the gate for the fact that it was humorous and quirky, but after a while it started to flag. It was nice to get that good feeling to begin with though, because I haven't had a lot of success lately with audiobooks. I have to say that I tend to take more risks with audio than with other books, since I get them for free from the library and I'm willing to give anything a try for some good company on a longish commute to work each day. The downside is that I tend to fail a greater portion of audios than I do print or ebooks. In this case, this one made it under the wire!

I can see a lot of ties to the Harry Potter series here, which might irritate some readers. I could see Professor Snape in the Evil Queen, who is a teacher whose sister is also in the school and is a trouble-maker and a bully, so I guess it's more of a cross between Snape and Malfoy. Also, it was a boarding school (in this case a reform school), which featured rooms and hallways that changed - apparently randomly - like the staircases in Potter. There was also a forest from which the students were forbidden and which houses giants and "Pegasi"!

The author evidently doesn't realize that Pegasus is an actual name in Greek mythology; not a species, but a god sired by Zeus himself! If you want a species name, then maybe it should be something along the lines of Equus volantem. In short, there was a lot of copying and this author made no more effort to make it make sense than did Rowling. Why for example in Potter, was a children's school situated near a highly dangerous forest? Why was there no magic keeping kids out? Why do hallways randomly appear and disappear? As with the staircases in Potter, what was the point other than to put a weird quirk into a story of a magical world? Of course this is exactly what it was for, and younger readers don't have a problem with it. Older ones might.

The characters also bore similarities. There was a flighty female like Luna Lovegood, and she even had a name ending in 'a': Kayla. The main character is Gillian or Jillian. it's impossible to tell with an audio. I shall employ the latter spelling for now. She was sent to Fairy Tale Reform School for a third strike theft offense. The third leg was a 'jack-me-lad' kind of a guy whose name was actually Jax (or jacks, or something like - short for Jackson), I'm sorry to have to report.

That name (Jack) is way-the-heck overused in fiction. Normally that's a deal-breaker for me because I expect my authors to have more imagination and inventiveness than to go immediately to a stock character name like that. I flatly refuse to read any more novels which have a main character named Jack. In this case I let it slide because he wasn't the main character, and he wasn't too irritatingly competent and macho. Also I really liked the warped take on fairy-tale land which the author had concocted here, and I loved the wry view of life the kleptomaniacal main character adopted.

The magic was illogical, which may sound strange thing to say of a book about fairy-tales and magic, but if you're going to create a world where everything is apparently free - as in a magical world - then there's no reason at all to have impoverished characters. That always stuck out like a sore thumb in the Potter series. Why was Ron's family poor when they were excellent at magic? If they could transform a goblet into a rat, they sure as hell could transform lead into gold, yet they were always down at heel! Why were Ron's clothes shabby when it was so easy to do some sort of reparo spell and fix them? Why did anyone work when they could get everything they wanted from magic - and at no cost? None of that made any sense at all!

The alternative is to have rules - to make spells only work in a certain way or entail a cost to perform, and that didn't seem in evidence here any more than it did in the Potters, but Jillian's family had no magic, and resented those who did - who could, for example, magic up several pairs of shoes which her father would normally have made - so he was robbed of the work. This at least gave Jillian her motivation for theft. Additionally, some of the teachers seemed a bit on the stupid side I have to say! Why, for example, did they believe Jillian's lie that Jax was sneaking out of an upper storey window after curfew, on the flimsy excuse of looking for Jillian's lost Journal out in the grounds? The lie was so obvious and so out-of-left-field given Jax's actions that it made no sense they would let such a bogus claim slide. That kind of thing aside, I did enjoy the opening sequences: they were funny and a bit different, and made for an enjoyable listen. I liked this one and intend to listen to the second in the series.

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd

Rating: WARTY!

Audiobooks for me are a lot more experimental than print or ebooks, because I am a captive audience for an hour each day when commuting, so I tend to try a lot more risky or uncertain material, and sometimes this pays off with a gem here and there (mostly there), but more often I find I don't like the book, and I can't stand to listen to it all the way through. Fortunately, these are all library books, so I haven't wasted any money. There are assorted reasons for my dislike, and this one had two of the major three (first person voice, poor writing, and bad narrator).

This one started out on the wrong foot by being first person PoV which I typically cannot stand. I know a lot of people like this voice, but I'm not one of them. If I see it in a print book at a library or a bookstore, I immediately put it back on the shelf no matter how interesting the blurb made it sound, because I know it's far more likely to piss me off or repulse me in some other way, than ever it is to please me. It's a lot harder to reject such books when they're ebooks (unless they happen to offer a sneak preview), and it's impossible to determine this with an audiobook unless you listen to it, or can find a print or e-version you can sneak a peek at.

The first person voice is wa-ay overused, especially in YA novels, and is rarely used without imbuing a feeling of fakery to me, and in this case simultaneously invoking severe nausea. The reader here, who has the charming name of Sile Bermingham (which if pronounced phonetically and sloppily, actually sounds a little bit like the way people who live in Birmingham, England, say it: Buhrminum - wasn't unpleasant, but the tedious, endless first person was boring as hell given that she wasn't narrating anything of interest and obsessed with trivial details instead of larger pictures. The story started out well enough with the main character fleeing her foster home, which actually didn't sound at all bad, purportedly heading back to Ireland, but she somehow never got there - not in the portion I could stand to listen to - and the story became lost somewhere along that convoluted road.

The second biggest problem was that having got me all interested in the escape, the author then harshly slammed on the brakes (gimme a break!) and went into endless flashbacks about the character's previous life, which is a big no-no for me. By all means slip in a detail here and there, but to info-dumpo the whole thing when it was largely irrelevant (except as a trigger) to what she was currently doing, brought the story-crashing down and was an insult to the reader. From that point on, I was frankly never quite sure if I was listening to the flashback portion or the current story portion. Worse than this, all the flashbacks achieved was to convince me that the main character, the self-titled 'Solace' was a whiny, brattish, unpleasant person who deserved nothing better than she got. if the flashback portion of her life is that interesting (which it wasn't) then why is the author telling that story instead of bouncing back and forth like a pinball? I quickly gave up on this one, and now you know why. Based on what I listened to (and then skimmed through), I can't on good faith recommend this at all.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Rating: WORTHY!

Nicely read by Kate Rudd, I felt that this novel exemplified my problem with first person voice precisely because this was not written in first person! It would have been obnoxious to me if it had been first person because there was a bit too much info-dumping and lessons on being blind, and these were told rather than shown. It was written for a younger audience than I represent, but sometimes it felt like it had been written for a middle-grade audience than a YA one.

That said, and the occasional annoyances aside, for me it was eminently listenable as a third person story. I applaud April Henry for that! It started out very strongly and really drew me in. Then a bit later towards the end, it started going slightly south and I remember thinking, "Oh no! Here we go again!" but it rallied and came back strongly at the very end, so I'm very grateful to the author for that too, and happy to rate this as a worthy read (or listen!)!

The main characters are sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder, the daughter of a Nike executive, and Griffin, the boy who kidnaps her inadvertently when he steals the Cadillac in which she's sleeping when Cheyenne's step-mom goes into the pharmacy to pick up her antibiotic prescription.

Griffin is heading out of the mall parking lot when Cheyenne makes her presence known, but he's not about to stop and let her go so she can report him and describe him to the cops. It's then that he learns she's blind. Still he doesn't stop, but he assures Cheyenne that he will return her to a safe place for pick-up by her folks when it gets dark. Unfortunately his dad and two jerks who work for his dad discover that she's actually the daughter of a rich man, and decide to hold out for a ransom. As the negotiations go on, Cheyenne realizes that she needs to escape or she'll end up dead, and although she's grown a relationship with Griffin, she doesn't feel she can trust him to help her. She must go it alone.

There were some issues (as other reviewers have pointed out) such as the question of why money seemed so important to a family which seemed to be doing pretty decently from their chop-shop business, but I didn't let that bother me. Avarice is the only motivation some people need! The biggest issue for me was the story coming to a screeching, jarring halt near the end, when the author decided inexplicably to give us a couple of chapters of Griffin's history! She'd had the entire novel in which to do this during conversations between Griffin and Cheyenne, yet she halted the whole story just when it was getting really exciting and dumped it all right there. I skipped it and didn't miss it. The ending was good enough however, for me to forgive that and recommend this story overall, as a very worthy read.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

Rating: WARTY!

If I'd paid attention to the blurb, I would never have read (or more accurately, listened to) this novel. The blurb on Goodreads begins, "John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park." They quite evidently have no idea whatsoever how that prospect would turn my stomach. I detest John Green's novels, and thought that Rowell's Fangirl was a truly sad disaster.

This novel, OTOH, has no relationship whatsoever to any of those pretentious and flatulent piles of drivel. I don't get why Big Publishing™ is so intent upon demeaning their authors by rendering them into clones of other authors. How insulting can you get? This is why I self-publish, and that may rob me of a few advantages, but anything is better than putting up with that crap - with having insulting and misleading blurbs that treat readers like morons, and having someone else effectively own your property at least in terms of how it's presented to the public. Screw that for a game of tin soldiers!

This novel stands apart from those others in many ways, and I did like Rebecca Lowman's narration (refreshingly this was not a first person PoV disaster) but in the end, it proved to be no better that he volumes to which it's been compared. I think the author's problem was that she could not make up her mind what the hell kind of a story to write, and tried to make it all things to all people. As such it was a serious fail and ended-up ill-serving her original purpose, which evidently was to show that people with disabilities are really just like the rest of us. Well duhh! The problem with her approach was that instead of showing us two challenged people who were otherwise just like the rest of us, she chose to show us two people who were really, in the final analysis, jerks. They were unlikable, irresponsible, clueless and ill-fitted to decent sociable society. Ironically, it frequently seemed like they were made for each other

Matthew is in many ways worse off than Amy. He has a richness to his OCD that's worthy of Howard Hughes, intent upon a disturbing level of personal hygiene and an inexplicably paradoxical compulsion to touch and count things he passes. The saddest thing about his condition isn't that he has it, it's that he's had it in this school system for years and no one has offered him a lick of help for it. The teachers in the school are quite obviously morons who ought to be fired. Matthew's mother is hardly better. That was one of the problems - the novel takes place in a bubble formed by Matthew and Amy, like the rest of the world doesn't exist. Absurd!

Matthew finally does get a species of help in the form of Amy, who has the questionable idea of hiring fellow students to be her companions at school in place of her regular adult companion/facilitator. This leads to her opening up and living a life quite unlike she has before, and it also brings herself and Matthew into regimented proximity. That's not to say it's all plain sailing, though; much of it is painful and ailing.

This idea of using fellow students gets her what she wants in terms of making 'friends' although the value of the friendship is highly dubious, but as other reviewers have pointed out, the author fails to explain how these people substitute for her adult aides who did a heck of a lot more for her in terms of caring and personal hygiene than ever the students do. It's like the messy little bits are swept under the carpet, but it really wasn't that which bothered me. It was that the real dysfunction of these two characters wasn't OCD or cerebral palsy (what an awfully antiquated name that is! Can medical science not do better than that to describe this condition?). The real dysfunction here was that both Matthew and Amy were unlikable jerks who treated each other shabbily on Matthew's part and appallingly on Amy's. And this is a romance? No!

The latter honestly did not deserve anyone like Matthew who, as mis-focused as he was at times, at least wanted to help her. She just used him, and despite the author telling us repeatedly how smart Amy was, what she showed us all-too-often was what a complete dumbass Amy was. I didn't like either of these characters and gave up on a novel that had started out so well and then fell apart. I cannot recommend this.

Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona

Rating: WORTHY!

Admirably written by the talented G Willow Wilson, and nicely and amusingly illustrated by Adrian Alphona, the Ms. Marvel book is actually the first in the series - finally! I can't believe graphic novel writers make it so hard to figure out which collected volume is the first you should read. Is it such a problem to put a big "#1" of the front cover? LOL! It's a good story though, so I want to read more in this series. I think I've now read the first three (but who can say?!), and really liked one and three; two, not so much. Finally I got to learn how Kamala Khan got her super power - and it was by the oddball method of becoming enveloped in an unexplained fog which wafted through the city!

Working on an idea for a super hero novel (not graphic, just text!) myself, I've started thinking about the existing ones a little bit more closely. Becoming empowered by a fog struck me as decidedly odd, because everyone in the city (this is set in Jersey City; Marvel seems obsessed with the east coast for some reason) was likewise exposed, yet only Kamala seems to have developed any super powers from it. Why? This goes not only unexplained, but unexplored. I found it sad that she wasn't curious about why she alone was blessed or cursed. Thinking about other heroes, only one immediately comes to mind - although I'm sure there are more - who developed his power in a way parallel to Kamala, and The Hulk really goes unexplained too, so this is nothing new.

I mean, how did Bruce Banner change, and no one else exposed to gamma rays did? Maybe it's because no one had the exposure he did, yet we're all exposed to gamma rays from space - fortunately not to a high degree. The fact remained that it was he who survived and developed his...condition. Spider-man is a similar case, but though many are bitten by spiders, none that I know of have been bitten by a radioactive spider! Superman doesn't count because he isn't special - anyone from Krypton would have his powers if they came to Earth, as his story shows. Batman and Iron Man are self-made, so they're responsible for their "power". Thor is just like Superman in many regards, so nothing to be learned there. Wonder Woman is also in that category. Green Lantern got his power because he was chosen and imbued with it, just as was Captain America, although in a different manner. Again, anyone in theory could have had their power. So we're back to Kamala being special in an undefined way which few other heroes are. Unless of course she was chosen somehow, but we're left with these unanswered questions, which make her very intriguing to me.

Moving on from the receipt of the power, we immediately get to the story of how she recognized it and learned to live and work with it, which I thought was really well done in this book. It felt real, and natural and organic, and it made for a fun and engaging story, especially since it's tied, in many ways, to her Muslim upbringing, her distance from her traditional parents - and from her school-friends, and her desire to be "normal" yet be able to use her gift to help others. I loved this story and recommend it as a great start to the series. I was unimpressed by volume two, especially the artwork. Volume three was a much more impressive and very amusing volume. I review both of those separately elsewhere on my blog.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A Koosis

Rating: WARTY!

Note: this is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Resurrecting Sunshine was a real disappointment for me. I felt like it was a bait-and-switch story and I got the lesser half of the deal. The titular character, Sunshine, aka Marybeth, is being cloned, and she had a major story to tell, yet we never get to meet her at all. All we get is Adam's perspective, in first person, which can be tedious, and Marybeth never got to tell her story. In fact, she got shorted badly and I resented that.

The story is set about a decade into the future and is all about the adolescent yet juvenile Adam, an emancipated and emaciated spoiled-rotten seventeen-year-old, self-pitying drunk, who is one of the most tediously self-obsessed, self-centered, and monotonously whining characters I've ever had to put up with in a novel. The first person PoV, which is nearly always worst person PoV, did not help at all. He was nauseating. After about sixty percent of the novel, I began skimming because I could not stand to listen to him and I resented the endless, uninformative flashbacks. I found myself wishing that Adam had died and Marybeth was telling the story. As a resurrected clone, it would have made for far more interesting reading.

More than one person has rudely tried to impose upon me the assertion that you cannot review a novel if you haven't read it all, but those people are not only crass, they are delusional. I read sixty percent of this one and skimmed the rest, and it not only did it never improve, it never went anywhere I didn't expect it to go. I rest my case.

It was utterly predictable in pretty much every major facet, so there were no surprises at all. Except one: I was surprised that I never got to meet Marybeth, but having met Adam, I was left in no doubt as to why she killed herself. He was insufferable. And yes, it's no spoiler to reveal that fact, because like several other things in the novel, such as how Adam and Genevieve would end up as an item, and what her story was, it was so predictable, and it was quite obvious that "Sunshine" had rain in her life despite the author's inexplicable, yet extreme reticence in revealing that obvious information.

Adam was the guitarist in a four-person band of which Sunshine was the star. All of the others are dead, and so it's Adam who's approached by a rather secretive organization that's intent upon cloning loved ones. He's told they can bring Marybeth back, and they need him because her memory record, which they had taken when she was in the hospital, is corrupted in part. He knew her better than anyone, and he can help fix the omissions.

This was one of several issues for me in a novel that was far more fiction than science. Yes, we could technically clone a human. Whether it's ethical or advisable is another issue, but this cloning was glossed over so thickly that it stunk of varnish. How did they get her cells? How did they record her memories?

Growing an embryo into a seventeen year old girl in a few weeks or months? It's too much. Recording memories? I found it hard to believe they'd been able to get access to someone like Sunshine and record her memories as she lay dying or dead without anyone finding it strange or questioning what they were doing. There are ways to explain this, but it never was explained - it was simply a given. And never were the ethics of this shady business seriously questioned. The second instance of this memory mapping is even harder to explain, and so it goes unexplained, but I can't go into that without giving away a rather large spoiler, even though it became obvious what was going on well before the author revealed it.

I really like a good cloning story and this one started out quite well, and at least the story took off quickly, which is always a plus. Problems arose for Adam as soon as he arrived on the Island of Doctor Morose. He's missing booze of course, the islanders seem to think there are ghosts at the clinic, despite all the secrecy - or perhaps because of it - and even as he pines for Sunshine, he's forming a relationship with another young girl there, whose name is Genevieve. This was another sad case of instadore in YA "literature" and it was one more sorry aspect to this story. Adam isn't fit to be in a relationship with anyone and Genevieve is a moron if she thinks she's in love with this dick after a few troubled weeks.

As for Sunshine, despite being the titular character, she's conspicuous by her absence. She's been cloned, Adam is told, but not yet fully matured. In the story, the clones undergo an artificial maturation process (which the author amusingly calls 'aging', like the clones are wine or cheese!), so he isn't allowed to meet her until they've finished calibrating his mind and retrieving his memories. The idea is that Adam will recall memories of Sunshine and these will themselves be cloned and used to fill the gaps in the clone's mind - suitably altered to make them look like her own memories rather than his. How that will work goes unexplained. The author hasn't specified why this is necessary - why they couldn't, for example, simply tell her she's lost some memories.

This was one of the major problems because the author seems to have a poor understanding of how memories are made and stored. Or is it that she has a great grasp of it, but chooses to ignore it for the purpose of this fiction? I don't know. I can't remember accurately! LOL! Seriously though, there's this fiction in fiction that the mind is like a computer hard drive constantly recording everything, and that whatever is stored there can be recalled exactly as it was when first stored - it never changes. This is completely wrong. Human memory is much more like stew than it is like a hard drive, with memories constantly mixing with and flavoring others.

Memories are modified every time they're recalled, and what's stored in the first place isn't an accurate record of what you experienced. Most things your senses encounter are filtered out, and only what your mind considers crucial to your survival is stored. Even our definition of survival is different these days from what it was when we lived on the Savannah in Africa. This laxity in our memorizing is why eye witnesses are the worst kind of evidence in a court case, and our poor understanding of memory is why jurors so idiotically put so much stock in what an eye witness says. It's not possible to pull up your entire past because it simply isn't there to be pulled up, and what is there isn't authentic, so it actually wouldn't matter if the clone is deemed to have false memories! Our own "real" memories are false to a disturbing degree!

One question I kept asking is "Why make her a clone?" She could have been be a ghost or a twin sister and this story would have been largely the same, especially since she never got to actually tell her story. All we ever got was Adam endlessly going back into his recollections and "interacting" with Marybeth in holodeck simulations right out of Star Trek. I felt cheated.

At first this wasn't bad and it was actually integral to the story, but when it went on and endlessly on and on and on, it turned me right off the story. It became boring, tedious and unengaging. Even if Adam had been a guy worth reading about, and he wasn't, it would have been mind-numbing with the monotonous flashbacks. The truth is that Adam was a complete dick, and I loathed him. At one point he even alienates Genevieve who has been inexplicably patient with him. He pisses her off so much that she refuses to hang with him or speak to him, and I can't blame her at all. She's a smart woman! Or she was until she has a brain fart and returns to him.

In the end I felt mugged of the story I'd been promised - or at least the story I felt I'd been promised from the blurb and the title, and what I got instead wasn't nearly as entertaining as what I'd expected. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot in good faith recommend this one.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ms Marvel Vol 5 Super Famous by G Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa

Rating: WORTHY!

I reviewed the previous volume to this (I think - Graphic novel creators make it far harder than it ought to be to follow a series!) back in July of 2015 to mark the end of my year of two reviews per day every single day without a miss, which was stressful, but a great discipline. I wasn't impressed with the comic because the artwork was atrocious, but I was impressed - as much as not, by the young Ms Marvel character, Kamala Khan.

I started in on this graphic novel and found it refreshing. The young Ms Marvel is more like Spiderman in that she's young, has real relationship issues, and has to cope with demands on her time which interfere with her super-heroics. It's also set in a Marvel world where the usual Avengers super heroes have been switched around a bit. Thor is now a female (and still evidently named Thor, not Thora!). Spider-Man wears black instead of his usual red and blue. Captain America is black, but having said that, there's a disturbing lack of African American and Asian American presence in this story.

Ms Marvel is a young teen who is a Muslim (yet she never actually practices her religion), but there's also a Captain Marvel - who I assume we'll see in the movie theaters at some point, although the date keeps on being pushed back, from July 2018 to November, and then to March 2019. Seriously? At least we get Wonder Woman next year, although how good that will be depends on how willing DC is to totally screw-up yet another of their properties. They seem to be batting a thousand so far in that department ever since Chris Nolan finished his excellent Batman trilogy.

I read an earlier comic in this series where I really didn't like the artwork and found some of the story condescending, but this one seems much better and the artwork is far better. The comic was also really funny. Kamala's ex-boyfriend creates two clones of Kamala using technology left behind by Loki, and these clones start to multiply and take over the city. One of them is supposed to represent the scholarly Kamala while she's off super hero-ing. This one can say only "Easy-peasey" and marches around hilariously. The other is supposed to represent the good sister Kamala attending on her brother's wedding preparations, and has only one line related to the wedding. No one seems to think there's anything wrong here! Until the clones start flooding the city.

This one was funny, and very entertaining, and unlike the previous one, made me want to read more in this series.