Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Awakening by Lisa M Lilly

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson, Jeff Rovin

Rating: WARTY!

If I had known this was volume one of the 'Earthend Saga', I would never have picked it up. I don't do sagas, cycles, chronicles and any other of that pretentiously-titled garbage. Jeff Rovin is supposed to be (according to the book blurb) a New York Times bestselling author, but the problem with this novel was that it was boring, and Gillian Anderson's lethargic reading of it in audiobook format made it even more mind-numbing than it already was.

I get why, in this case, they chose an actor to read it since it was written by that same actor, but in general terms in my experience actors are the worst people to read audiobooks, and Anderson's flat and dragging recital proves it here. Her voice is slow and dead, and totally unappealing.

Worse than this, the story itself plods along at a snail's pace and the "action" isn't remotely interesting. I find it hard to believe that a story with this premise, that teenagers around the world are suddenly behaving inexplicably: speaking in tongues and setting themselves on fire, for example, could be made uninteresting, but this inanimate duo managed it with this story. I got two volumes from the library hoping that it would be a worthy read (or rather, listen!), but both volumes are going right back there because this isn't engaging me at all. I do not recommend it.

Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie R Sorensen

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher. It's been a while since I've fond something I really wanted to read on Net Galley and this was worth the wait in gold to coin a phrase!

It was an awesome novel - steampunk set in Japan (kinda)! But that's not why I liked it. I've read a few steampunk novels and found too many of them less than satisfactory, the author being far more in love with steampunk than ever they were in good story-telling. This is a different tack. This author clearly loves to tell a great and well-put-together story and steampunk is just an accessory.

It's not even really steampunk as such, but the story of an alternate-world Japan entering the steam age perforce to save themselves from falling under the thumb of an expansionist and capitalist USA in the form of Matthew Perry, not the actor from the Friends TV show, but a US Navy Commodore who also happened to be a belligerent bully who, in the real world, forced under threat of arms, a very feudal and unprepared Japan to sign a so-called treaty which treated the US and no-one else.

In this novel, things happen differently. Toru is the name of the mysterious "fisherman" who arrives back in Japan after two years of living in (and closely observing) the USA, and in this world the Japanese, because of Toru's efforts, are fully armed and very dangerous when Perry arrives in the last twenty percent of the novel.

So no, it's not a novel full of battles. Instead, it's a story of perseverance and bravery, and of hardship and ingenuity, where Toru has to overcome one prejudice after another in a very strict, very isolationist nation which rejects him to begin with because he's 'soiled goods' having lived outside of Japan. Rejection here, please note, means no less than ritual beheading. It's a story of codes of honor, of class separation, and of how barriers can be worn away with diligence and dedication. The story is one of change, and skin-of-the-teeth survival, and of a slow awakening (in this case militarily) of a nation which in the real world enjoyed a similar rise, but economically after World War Two.

The author quite evidently knows her stuff (or at the very least, fakes it beautifully, which is fine with me!), and while - now and then - I found the frequent use of Japanese terminology annoying, for the most part it was fine and even educational. Some readers who are seeking only a story of martial might, may find this rather restrained and slow-moving, but for me it was a comfortable, easy read which entertained, educated, and showed how non-violent change can come even to a nation as rigid as Japan was (and still is in many regards).

It's not all about the men, either. We have a strong female character who is admirably understated but very much to the fore. We also have a restrained love story which even I liked, so if you've read my reviews of not a few young adult stories, you must know that this one had to be well done to please me!

I had one or two minor issues, but nothing that put me off the story overall. For example, we're told that Toru meets Helmuth von Moltke at West Point, which is highly unlikely since he was stationed in Magdeburg in charge of the 4th army corps when Toru was supposedly in the US! Moltke is the guy who goes uncredited for saying "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy," when what he actually wrote was rather different: "No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force." I honestly did not see the point of referring to him or to what he supposedly said. This guy was an appalling racist and doesn't deserve to be remembered for anything.

While the author conveys a good feel for Japan, when it comes to preparations for war - in this case a huge build-up of steam power - the idea of powering steam engines is a bit too easily accomplished. Coal was not scarce in Japan in terms of being available for mining, but in order to mine it to power the steam engines, a lot more work would have had to be done than there was time for here! Perhaps this is why it gets so little mention, but I'm not convinced that there were enough trees to do everything they did either - not to do it and sustain it! The same problem exists for mining iron to build those engines and the tracks upon which they would run.

But I wasn't about to let minor quibbles spoil what was otherwise an excellent and very much appreciated read. I fully recommend this one.

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

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

Rating: WARTY!

I'm back again after taking a couple of weeks off from blogging to pursue illustrations for the print version of Baker Street, the e-version of which is released today.

This graphic novel was a bust for me. The most amusing thing about it was that when I first saw it on the library shelf I thought the title was "Pope Battling Boy" which I thought was hilarious. But no, it's just Battling Boy - the ''Pope part came from the author's pretentious conceit of putting his name at the top and the title below it, like this is supposed to mean something to me.

I'm sorry, but no! I don't borrow - and I certainly don't buy - a book for no other reason than that the author thinks I should because it's by him - or her. I read books based on whether they sound appealing, and I often get that wrong! I don't go by the title or by the pretty cover (yes, insanely melodramatic cover reveal authors, I'm looking at you!) and I really don't care who the author is, or what they've done previously. I'd hate to think people were buying my books just because my name is on them and for no other reason. People who think like that are morons.

I sure learned my lesson here with the confused and chaotic story and the indifferent illustrations I got. The basic story is that the super hero who protects the town in this purely fictional alternate world - but which looks exactly like ours - is killed by super villains whose sole purpose in life (other than dressing like mummies) seems to be abducting children - for reasons which are unexplained. A lot of things go unfortunately unexplained in this book because it's part of a series, which is one reason I thoroughly detest most series I've ever encountered.

The super hero has the absurd name of Haggard West. His replacement is his daughter who, again for reasons unexplained, has a different name from her father. But there's a second replacement. For reasons unexplained, it's a kid whose bar mitzvah is to be dumped into this world from the heavens by his Thor rip-off dad, so he can prove himself. He's given no instructions, no tools, and no training - for reasons unexplained. He's just left there to fight the monsters which invade this city routinely...for reasons unexplained.

For reasons unexplained, he has a set of t-shirts which are imprinted each with a different animal logo - mostly real, but in one case mythical. For reasons unexplained, when he dons a Tee, it doesn't give him the powers of the animal, it makes the animal appear and talk to him offering pretty much useless advice. For reasons which ought to be clear by now, I don't recommend this book.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Basher Basics: Punctuation by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher

Rating: WORTHY!

Part of a series which covers a wide variety of educational topics from science to writing to music and math, and so on, this small volume looks like a children's book on the outside, but it really isn't - not unless that child is writing intelligently. Once they're ready for a nudge to the next level, this book will get them there. And it wouldn't go amiss as a gift for older writers too - not a few of them published ones!

Again I'm unconvinced of the value of the illustrations by Basher, but younger children might like them. Each page covers a different aspect of punctuation, in some detail, but not too heavily. The text is larger so it makes for easy reading both in seeing it and in following it. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in better using language - which ought to be all of us.

Basher Basics: Creative Writing by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher

Rating: WORTHY!

This is part of a series I'd never seen before. It evidently started out with science books and now has also branched into writing. These look - from the cover - like young children's books, but fortunately my blog has nothing to do with covers, which are all glitz and slick packaging. Mine is about what's between the covers: writing, and if you look past the cover, you'll see why I like this book. These are not for the very young, but any child who has taken their first steps into creative writing can benefit - as can many adults, including not a few published authors!

This book is a how to of getting started, and of understanding all aspects of creating a story. Each topic fills only one page of fairly large text, so there's not a lot of heavy reading, but what is there cuts straight to the chase. Frankly, I am unconvinced of the value of Basher's illustrations, which tend to obfuscate as much as illuminate, but the writing itself is where the value is here. I recommend this but it will be useless without a companion volume which I also review today: Punctuation!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Rating: WARTY!

I liked my previous foray into Sarah Addison Allen via The Peach keeper, but I literally could not get into this at all. It was an audio book and I listed to about a third of it, but it did not hold my interest. Half the time I honestly couldn't follow what was going on, and what I did manage to assimilate bored the pants off me.

Not literally, fortunately, since I was driving, and that would have been most unfortunate for all concerned, and even many who were totally unconcerned or who just worked at CERN. Seriously, I couldn't believe that this was the same author. It should have told me something that those who did not like The Peach Keeper were saying Allen's earlier work was better. I should have known I would see it the opposite way around!

It probably didn't help that this was book two in a series about the Waverley Family. Series are a no-no for me, generally speaking and this was no exception. It's a story wherein Waverley women are, the blurb tells us, rendered "restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree." It's a magical tree, which I expected and would have had no problem with, but I honestly don't remember the tree being mentioned at all (it may have been). It seemed like every time I could stay tuned-in to the story, mom was lecturing her daughter, Bay.

Bay? Yes, Bay. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Who names their daughter Bay? What's her middle name? Watch? Does she stock only bikinis in her wardrobe? Does she have sandy hair? Can she be a beach at times? Does she run in slo-mo? Maybe her middle name is Gelding? She has a horsey laugh or a whinnying smile? I'm sorry, but no. I couldn't take that seriously, which is probably what tuned me out so much. So in short, I listened to relatively little, learned nothing, and disliked a lot. Not for me.

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog

Rating: WORTHY!

I was so thrilled to read this book - an example of how to write a really well-done high-school romance. This book was amazing, and other writers of such works would do well to read this and learn from it. It was not perfect, by any means. I had a couple of issues with it, but those aside, the book was deep, well-written, passionate, amusing as hell, and amazing in how well the author controlled it, and brought it to closure.

Morgan Sparks is about to reach her sixteenth year and she gets to celebrate it with her lifelong partner, Cam Browne, who shares her birthday. That's the last great memory she has of the relationship, because almost from day one, things start going south. It turns out - hilariously, I thought - that macho football star Cam is a fairy. He was switched at birth with the Browne's newborn, and now he's about to turn sixteen himself, the fairies want him back. And Morgan isn't about to let that happen, but when he starts losing weight and growing wings out of his back, and Morgan is the only one who can see these changes, she starts to wonder if her dream romance is actually over for real.

A female fairy named Dawn arrives, and starts tutoring Cam in the ways of Fairy World. She's not supposed to be visible to anyone but Cam, yet Morgan can see her, which annoys Dawn. Dawn is, however, deadly. She has fairy magic and a mission not only to bring Cam back but to marry him and unite two fairy dynasties, and she is not about to let anyone get in the way of it, even if it means killing and maiming to accomplish her aim.

Morgan herself is psychic, yet she has a hard time seeing her own future, and has never seen future for herself and Cam. Her assumption has been that it will work out fine and they will always be together, but is it so? Or has she been so blind that she simply invented their future and now is about to find out the cold truth?

I loved this story and will look for more by this author. This story reminded me, a bit, of a story idea I have for a fairy tale, but fortunately this one is very different from what I had in mind, so I don't need to scrap mine! Phew! I did like this one. I liked that it was different, and that the author wasn't afraid to take a path less traveled. How sorry it is that far too many authors of this kind of story fail so dismally precisely because they're aping everyone else's stories? Kudos to Cyn Balog for blazing her own trail.

And kudos again for being unafraid to call it what it is: a fairy story. Nowhere in this book is there 'fae' or 'faerie'! It's 'fairy' all the way, and the author is proud of it; it's right there on the front cover. Good for her. If you're going to write a story like this and then let yourself be too embarrassed to use the word 'fairy' then I don't want to read your book anyway. And kudos to myself or being smart enough to recognize that this one might just be different! LOL!

Jane Austen's England by Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins

Rating: WORTHY!

Sometimes fortune favors the depraved, so today I have two books to blog which were pure joy to read. The first is this one, written not about Jane Austen's stories, but about her times - not her life, but the time in which she lived, and what life was like back then. It's reasonably-well documented because people were fond of writing letters and keeping journals, and some of Austen's own letters are quoted from here.

Austen was a contemporary (near enough) of Mary Shelley, although to my knowledge, the two never met. Austen was twenty-two and had completed Lady Susan when Shelly was born. She died by the time Shelley was twenty, the year before the latter published Frankenstein, so while Shelley had undoubtedly heard of Austen, the reverse was never the case. Austen as so prim and proper that the two of them probably would not have got along together even had they known each other! The Brontës were all of this era, but they were all born right around the time Austen died, so they never met either, which was probably just as well. By all accounts, Charlotte was no fan of Austen's.

There were other well-known writers alive in this era, too, such as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who published anonymously, Donatien Alphonse François, aka the Marquis de Sade, who died three years before Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley's mother, who died as Shelley was born. There was also Sophia Briscoe, and in terms of better known writers, both Charles Dickens and Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot were born around the time Austen died - to within a few years. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand, was around treize when Austen died.

Austen was not the only known and read female writer of that time; Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Ann Radcliffe all preceded her very slightly, and she knew of, and liked at least two of these. She disliked Radcliffe. The reason I mention all of these people is that this book surprisingly does not. Despite it being about Jane Austen's England, and despite it quoting many many writers of letters and journals, there are none other of what we might term "professional" writers, even mentioned! We get not a word on their lives or influence during this era. I found that very strange.

That glaring flaw aside, I enjoyed this book every much; it was well written, well-supported by contemporary account, well-referenced, and fascinating in many regards. It was very much another era back then, with different senses and sensibilities, much misplaced pride and prejudice, and a different outlook on life altogether, with death and disease looming at every stage. There was war, off an on, and many injured ex-soldiers had been left on the scrap-heap with little to their name despite their sacrifices. There was a huge gap between rich and poor, as there is now, and very little hope for - or love of - the latter.

This book devotes a chapter to each stage of life, exploring what it was like for rich and for poor, what customs and habits were, and how things fell together. There was an introduction, which I skipped as I do all antiquated prologues, prefaces, forewords and so on; then comes a chapter each devoted to marriage, "breeding", childhood, home, fashion, church, work, leisure, travel, crime, medicine, and death. Some of it is amusing, much disturbing, some very surprising. Nude weddings, for example, were not invented by Star Trek writers!

Aside from the missing writerly references, this is all-in-all a very comprehensive work, and a must-read for anyone who aspires to write a novel as Austen did. I recommend this as a worthy read, although I must confess curiosity as to why Roy gets precedence in the attribution over Lesley. The names are not alphabetical, so was this done because Roy did the most work? Because it was his idea? Or because even in 2013 when this book was published, even in a book dedicated to a woman and her times, the male still takes precedence as he did during Austen's lifetime, and the woman still takes his name?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows

Rating: WORTHY!

This book was a true delight from start to finish. The wonderfully feisty and mischievous Bean (short for Bernice - somehow), is a little tyke, which is why she's not interested in making friends with Ivy, the quite evidently boring girl across the street who just moved into the neighborhood.

Fortunately for history (and literature), fate has other plans and the two are thrown together as Bean has to make a hasty escape from her older and rather peeved sister Nancy. Ivy is teaching herself to be a witch, and suddenly Bean is very intrigued. The two set off on an amusing adventure (which never leaves their's and their neighbors back yards, and I loved it.

This may be written for seven years and up, and aimed at readers who are past the beginning reading stage, but not yet on to more strenuous novels, but it kept me entertained quite readily! Sadly, it's a quick read which left me wanting more. It's only a hundred or so pages, with copious and amusing illustrations by Australian artist Sophie Blackall. Does that make them illustralians? I think so. Anyway, I recommend this.

Sophomore Switch by Abby McDonald

Rating: WARTY!

This is the third of three sorry reviews - sorry that I started reading the book in the first place! I read only a few chapters of each and was so disappointed that I DNF'd. Some idiots argue that you can't review a book when you haven't read it all, but they're morons. Yes, you can reject a book if it's garbage and or simply fails to move you anywhere other than irritation.

This one is your typical "let's switch places" story, and those can be fun if done right. This one wasn't. It started out brightly enough, but quickly devolved into serious dumb-assery and trope, and was so bigoted it was obnoxious. I've had quite enough of female authors who seem dedicated to degrading their female characters to maximal extent, and this seems to be de rigeur in far too many YA stories. I'm pretty much at the point where I'm done reading YA, although I have probably more of that genre still sitting on my shelf (real shelf of e-shelf, it doesn't matter!). Who knows, maybe one of those will restore my faith, and that's the whole point of ditching a badly-written and abusive novel like this: so I can move on to something better. I have no loyalty - nor should anyone in their right mind - to authors who are as clueless as this one is.

Emily the Brit and Tash the Yank are students who have switched colleges for a semester. The circumstances of the switch are truly dumb and lacking all credibility, but for the sake of the story, I was willing to overlook that. Emily is studying law (or pre-law, I guess) in Oxford, whereas Tash is studying film as a gut form in California, but now Tash is doing Em's classes, and vice-versa. None of this makes sense, but I was willing to let this fish play out of water for a good story.

The real problem was with the characters. They were boring and cliched stereotypes, and this switch between the two countries separated, as they say, by a common language, rather than being educational and fun, turned out to be a bitch-fest. Given that the author evidently moves between the two countries, it was shameful that she presented such a blinkered view of them.

At one point, Emily actually says to herself "Sam is...far more attractive than any boy I could find back in England." Seriously? How fucked up is that? It doesn't matter that the country named is England. You could put the name of any nation in there in its place and the sentence would still be as blinkered, blind, and brain-dead.

Worse than this it conflates 'attractive' and 'California beach bum' in the most stupid way possible. I lost all respect for this author and her characters at that point and ditched the novel It had been bad enough seeing Emily create bigoted twin stereotypes of Californians as being universally laid-back and the British being universally uptight, but really, why would I care about her opinion? She's clearly a moron.

This is the same hypocrite who just moments before has been perceiving herself as street meat under the ogling of the guys she passed, and who has just declared that she's not the kind of girl to rush into things, and yet now, with a guy she literally just met is "distracted by the heat of his torso," shes letting him have his hands all over her, and is about to let him kiss her. The only thing which prevents it is that she's an 'uptight Brit', apparently!

There's no moral code in play here; no question of impropriety. There are no thoughts of her allowing herself to be the very street meat she recoiled at earlier, and not only perpetuating, but also fostering the 'easy' stereotype. Nope, She should have let him have his way with her! She's too uptight. She needs to get over it and let boys get their hands all over her when she's just met them!

Does this author even read what she writes? Quite clearly she's utterly clueless about how to write a realistic, intelligent and conscientious novel. You know the worst thing about this though? The worst thing is that these two girls who are dishonestly presented here as totally different, are actually exactly the same! That's how pathetic this pile of garbage truly is. Normally when I'm done with a print book I donate it to the local library. That's the best kind of recycling there is, but this one? I'm honestly tempted to burn it in an effort to prevent this pernicious disease from spreading.

Rowan of the Wood by Christine Rose, Ethan Rose

Rating: WARTY!

Today I have three sorry reviews - sorry that I started reading the book in the first place! I read only a few chapters of each and was so disappointed that I DNF'd. Some idiots argue that you can't review a book when you haven't read it all, but they're morons. Yes, you can reject a book if it's garbage and or simply fails to move you anywhere other than irritation.

This is one of a pair of novels I picked up on close-out at a local bookstore. It was written by two fellow Texans, but I don't know the authors and probably would not have much in common with them if I did, they being evidently into to renaissance fairs and fantasy, and me...not so much! The books looked interesting, but when I finally got around to reading the first one, it was so loaded with fantasy trope that it turned me off. Tolkien did it all, so unless you have something really new to bring to the genre, what's the point?

This is my biggest problem with fantasy novels: they are so derivative and in a stagnating rut bordered on one side by the embarrassing lack of imagination prevalent in modern rip-offs, and on the other by a staggering absence of invention. Worse, in the case of this novel, the authors couldn't bring themselves to set the novel in is native Europe. I've seen this repeatedly in books and in so many movies. Gods forbid we should ever create a story set outside the USA. What's the point? There is nowhere else! Right?

So after an antiquated prologue so brief it may as well not exist (which I skipped as usual), we have another prologue in chapter one, which is fine. I advocate putting your prologue, if you must have one, in the first chapter. But then it skipped to the USA! Yes - let's get European fantasy and rather than set it in Europe, let's bring it to the US because really, who cares about anywhere else?>

And this from authors steeped in renaissance? You know there are plenty of third-world countries where people are perforce living lives of the same quality as those renaissance folks 'enjoyed'! Those who want to immerse themselves in that life can always move there if they really want an immersive experience. Yes I know, it's outside the US! Oh god what a quandary! Does even 'a place outside the US' exist in reality?

And do let us forget about the fact that the US has its own fantasy traditions abundant in Native American folklore. No! Those are simply not good enough! They're too primitive. Too childish. No, it must be genuine USDA grade A fantasy imported from Europe to count, but it must be set solidly in the good ole US of A to validate it. Sorry, but no, I don't shop there. The goods are tainted. This is why I quit reading this. There are many other books out there and more than a few of those get it right, I'm not going to waste time on reading any which are so very wrong-headed, and committedly-so right from the second chapter.

The Game by Terry Scott

Rating: WARTY!

Today I have three sorry reviews - sorry that I started reading the book in the first place! I read only a few chapters of each and was so disappointed that I DNF'd. Some idiots argue that you can't review a book when you haven't read it all, but they're morons. Yes, you can reject a book if it's garbage.

There's no law that says you have to waste your life gamely plodding through a book that isn't thrilling you, and even if there were such a dumb law I would resolutely break it at every opportunity. Life's way-the-hell too short and books are way too many, to squander your hours on stories that don't grab you from the off - or worse, stories that do interest you, but that let you down badly with poor writing choices, stereotypes, trope, and cliché.

Fine, they say, then at least keep it to yourself. You don't have to post what you claim is a review of a book you didn't read all the way through. Bullshit! If the book is lousy from the start, you have a duty to warn others of it! And so to this one, which was not well-written. It felt a bit amateur, like fan fiction, and it was telegraphed from the start that there would be your trope guy and girl love story which is tedious, pathetic in execution most of the time, and way overdone.

The story is one of those absurd dystopian novels of a dysfunctional society which could never actually happen in real life. In this case it's a world focused on video games. This is how kids get their education: through living a series of lives in a virtual reality world, each "life" taking only a few weeks, during which time the contestant is completely immersed in the world. Of course, the poorer kids have to go to public school, while the successful contestants can win fortunes from viewers and sponsors, and re-enter the game many times, emerging at age eighteen with a fortune.

I learned all of this from a tedious and massive info-dump which occupied the entire first chapter. It was a slog to get through, and so I was not inclined to cut the author any more breaks at that point, and when I learned this is really just a mis-named "reality" TV show where the reality is all manufactured and totally fake, and that a successful girl who fouled-out of the system was going to get her chance to go back in, and this girl is living on the streets collecting scrap metal and being bullied?? At that point my trope meter exploded and I ditched the novel.

It was totally unrealistic. People like this girl celebrity would, in reality, have been snapped-up as a commentator or adviser or at the very least made a fortune from doing the talk shows, writing a book, and getting paid a small fortune for tabloid interviews. She would never have ended up on the street - at least not so quickly.

The story made no sense and gave me the impression it was being written from a playbook rather than from the heart - and heart set in the real world rather than a ridiculous Nickleodeon world. The problem with this fiction was that it was too fictional, and so it was really a non-starter for me. It didn't help that the author quite evidently doesn't know the difference between 'benefactor' and 'beneficiary' which did not bode well for reading on. I ditched it and I don't recommend it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Chimpanzee Complex Vol 2 The Sons of Areas by Richard Marazano, Jean-Michel Ponzio

Rating: WARTY!

Here's a problem with series that single books never have to face: unless you, as a reader, can get your hands on the compendium edition, you have to root out all the individual volumes! Thus, series are in no way written for the reader, but for the lucrative gratification of money-grubbing authors and publishers. This is one major reason why I will never write a series. It's not worth selling out for.

And how dumb does a publisher have to be to favor a series (which you know they do, especially in the YA world) when they have no idea how good it's going to be? All they have is the first volume and a promise of two or more follow-ups. They have no way of knowing how good or bad those will be, yet they would rather commit to that, blinded by cash rewards, than give three single-volume authors a chance because they can only rake in one third the money with one volume? Screw them. That's not a world I want to be a part of.

Thus my issue with this, a graphic novel translated from the original French (Le Complexe du Chimpanzé: les Fils d'Arès), the very medium which tends to be, almost by definition, episodic. The library had volume two on display which was odd, and it looked interesting from a brief skim. The artwork by Jean-Michel Ponzio looked pretty good, but they didn't have volume one. It would have been wiser on the part of the library to have not put this out there without including the first volume.

Anyway, I figured to take a chance (and it failed)! The story made no sense whatsoever, and I suspected that even had I read volume one, and assuming it had impressed me enough (of which I confess I have some serious doubts) that I ever made to to volume two, it would still make no sense. The problem (again definitive of series) is that the story really goes nowhere. In volume two there can be no beginning - that bus left with volume one, and since there is a volume three, there can be no ending here. So all we have is this free-floating story fragment, and I could make neither têtes nor queues of it.

The plot? Well, that's an open question. Other than its dedication to cheapening the achievements of people like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin, what does it offer? Nothing that I can see. In volume one, set in 2035, a space capsule plunges into the Indian Ocean and when it's recovered, it's found to contain Armstrong, and Aldrin - and no Michael Collins apparently! Collins became the most isolated and lonely man in the world (or rather out of it) in 1969 when, having dropped off his two companions on the Moon's surface, he went behind the Moon alone, and was out of touch with the rest of humanity for a period of time! Yet not a word about him!

In this volume, we meet this woman who is going to Mars, leaving behind her daughter. No father is evidently in sight although there is this guy who is supposedly in charge of the young girl, but who he was I have no idea. He wasn't very good at what he was charged with undertaking, for sure. But more to the point, what woman would do that to a young child? Going to the Moon for a week or ten days, I can see, but going on a round trip to Mars for a year? That's child abuse. Her daughter feels it pointedly too, and runs away from home (she seems to be completely unsupervised), yet while I was mildly interested in the daughter's adventure, I had no interest whatsoever in the mother's non-adventure, which while commendable in that she was not your usual pale Caucasian protagonist (she was Asian) was boring.

And who, in 2035, has an encyclopedic knowledge of Russian cosmonauts from 1961 (I love the rotational symmetry of that year!) - such that she knows the middle name and exact dates of Gagarin's life milestones? This is an example of truly bad writing, and frankly, that was the weakest link here - not only did the writing make no sense, it wasn't even inspired. I really disliked this story.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

Rating: WORTHY!

My wife may leave me for confessing this in public, but I'm in love with Argyle Fox! But this is not one of those fatuous YA romances. No! It's based on understanding and respect! And yes, I confess a prior bias: I love not only foxes, but the entire concept of them and the mythology and folklore that surround them.

The day is very windy outside (as it whimsically illustrated by author Marie Letourneau), and as Argyle looks out of his window, he longs to go play in the wind. Argyle's problem though, is that he's not a very good listener. Every time he makes a plan - to play cards, pirates, knights in a castle, and so on - he's warned that it won't work in the high wind, and the warnings prove true and dire!

So while I would have liked to have seen Argyle learn the adult trait of being able to listen in place of his childish willfulness, I have to approve of three other things in this fox's tale. The first is his mature trait of steadfastness. He's determined to achieve his goal and is willing to work at it, even as he seems to fail often. The second and third are both tied to his thoughtfulness. When he finally realizes that his game plan isn't working, he first of all cleans up after himself without having to be told, keeping his forest neat and tidy, and then secondly, he sits down and gives the problem some hard thought - until he finally does come up with a plan that will work on a windy day!

I liked these traits and they way they were shown in this story. I also liked Argyle, and I recommend this as a worthy read, and a fun and instructive story that can be well made use of as a teaching tool, and a fine example (eventually!) of good behavior for children to follow.

Infinity's Shore by David Brin

Rating: WARTY!

This really isn't much of a review because this novel wasn't much of a novel - not the slim portion of it I could stand to listen to, anyway. I consider audio books experimental: I take more risks on them than other formats, which is why so many of them fall by the wayside. It's worth it to find a gem here and there, but this was (infinitely) far more a coal in the stocking than ever it could hope to be a diamond in the rough.

I really liked Brin's Kiln People, but this one bored the pants off me right from the start. The writing was pretentious and extravagant, Brin clearly adoring his own voice far more than ever he was interested in entertaining his readers (or listeners in my case). If this book had been submitted by an unknown writer, it would never have got published, and justly so, which only goes to show how stupid and short-sighted Big Publishing&Trade; is: it's not what you write, it's whether you already have your foot in the door.

As if the writing wasn't bad enough, the reader, George Wilson, seemed determined to give Brin's trilogy diarrhea its full due, and he ably discharged tedious torrents of it, so I flushed it. I simply could not stand to listen to him, nor could I stand the thought of getting the print or e-version to read myself after having listened to the first of twenty-two disks. No way I'm going to subject myself to that when other books are calling with sweeter voices!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sword Art Online: Aincrad by Reki Kawahara

Rating: WORTHY!

Sword Art Online: Aincrad, known in Japanese as Sōdo Āto Onrain, which I find hilarious, is a novel which has spawned several sequels and an anime as well as the inevitable video games. I checked out the anime which is available on Netflix (as of this writing) and it wasn't watchable. I can't stand those giant, mournful eyes, and the pointy noses and chins. They look creepy to me, and it's particularly obnoxious when they have physical interactions of an intimate nature because it's like seeing children have sex. No. Just no!

Worse, the thing was subtitled and that's a no for me. Video - as defined by its very name - is a visual art, and you can't focus on that if your eyes are almost one hundred percent glued to the bottom tenth of the image trying to understand what they're saying. Not that there's much action in these minimally animated anime shows. Anime is entirely the wrong name for it; it should be called minime! But if I want to watch it, I don't want to read it at the same time! Duhh! Get a clue movie makers! If I want to read it, I'll get the book, which is what I did in this case.

Dubbed versions are also sometimes laughable because they have these middle-grade kids speaking with gruff adult voices which is beyond ridiculous, and sometimes the female voices are so spastic they make you want to tear your ears off. Suffice to say I don't watch a heck of a lot of anime!

But back to our book in progress: set in 2022, with the trope of new technology available to totally immerse gamers in virtual reality, sixteen-year-old Kazuto Kirigaya, whose game name is "Kirito", is anxious to try out this new game: Sword Art Online, of which he was a beta tester. He, along with ten thousand other players (all in Japan) is shocked to discover that once the game begins, no one cannot log out.

All of the players have been trapped by psycho game developer Akihiko Kayaba, and the sad thing is even by the end of the novel we're never given any real reason (not even a 'reason' as seen by Kayaba) why this is being done. The only way to get out is to fight your way past super monsters to the one hundredth floor. Anyone who tries to exit by means of having someone remove their telemetry head cage, will have their brain zapped by microwaves. One more thing: if you die in the game, you die in real life.

Players find they have no choice. Some hunker down and do nothing, while others form guilds to try and make their way to the top. One groups forms a huge army. Some players, such as Kirito, go it alone. Time passes and the gamers progress floor by floor. Progress isn't achieved by anything like skill or intelligence - except skill in sword-fighting, but this is what the gaming world has reduced us to: conflict and bravado.

Just like the real world, we could render the virtual worlds into anything we want, but the males in power in both these worlds have decided that testosterone rules: the real world, the gaming world, and the comic book world, and all that's important is stealing and racing cars, fighting with swords, or fighting with guns. This is the world macho men have created for us all.

Large chunks of time are bypassed in this book in the space of a sentence as the novel progresses, and suddenly we've been gaming for two years, although who is keeping track of that isn't mentioned. Maybe it's the game itself, but since they're in a virtual reality, that reality could be lying to them with each passing minute! No one considers this.

There are one or two interludes, during which Kirito meets and partners with a guild member named Asuna Yuuki, the first name of which is pretty much 'anus' backwards, unfortunately. That said, the relationship between the two, while a bit on the precipitous side, isn't too badly done, and given the stress they're under, perhaps isn't even too quick. The end was a bit abrupt and unlikely. No one who has been confined to a hospital bed essentially in a coma for two years, not even with the best and most attentive care, which few of these many thousands of gamers will have had, is going to get out of bed and start walking around five minutes after waking up!

But, despite the weaknesses, I liked the story quite a lot. I consider it a worthy read, and I was thinking I might read volume two just out of curiosity, but then I discovered that volume two consists of Kirito going back into the game (a slightly different game) to rescue Asuna, who is trapped in it! What? How is she trapped in a different game? This is my problem with series - they are by definition derivative and unimaginative, and while some authors can make a go of them, most just make a goo of them. Clearly this author can't hack it, because he's simply telling the first story over again! Except that this time it's worse, because Asuna is a maiden in distress. I'm sorry, but no! You don't get to make her a victim like this and have the guy come in and rescue her like St George saving the maiden from the dragon (exactly like that!), so further reading in this series is definitely out for me.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the first of this author's works I've ever encountered and it left a favorable enough impression that I want to read something else by her. I tend to take more risks with audiobooks than other formats, because I'm a captive audience in my car and I'm not fully focused on the audio when in traffic, so I tend to be a bit more tolerant - within limits! - when I'm stuck with this one book until I get back home! In this case the book was easy on the ears as was Karen White, the actor who read this book and who successfully avoided annoying me!

It's set in a fictional North Carolina location called improbably 'Walls of Water' because of the cataracts in the area, but sometimes you have to wonder if the cataracts are on people's eyes rather than cascading down the rocky hills. In this small town lives Willa Jackson, whose family used to be important, but now are just another family, and Paxton Osgood, whose family is still important, from old money, and quite snooty. Paxton's family runs to three generations here, while Willa and her grandmother, who is seriously ill, seem to be the only two of their lineage left.

Each of these two women is crippled in the same way, but for different reasons. They both suffer from chronic inertia, having settled into a rut and being either incapable of, or beyond caring if they ever escape. Willa runs a sporting goods shop, and Paxton despite being thirty, has failed to flee the nest, having made it only as far as the pool house where she currently lives. Neither of these women struck me as being particularly smart, which was a disappointment, although they were not outright dumb, either.

They're the same age and though they were both at the same high school together, they were never friends. Paxton was part of the moneyed crowd, and Willa was the school prankster, although no one knew it was she until the last day of school. The pranks were totally lame, though, so she wasn't much of a prankster. The only thing special about it is that she keeps it a secret for so long, and someone else gets the blame. The person the school thought was the prankster was Colin, Paxton's twin brother, who left town after high school and pretty much never came back until now, and only because he's supervising the landscaping on The Blue Madam - a local landmark building which Paxton is overseeing the restoration of.

It's obvious from the start that Willa and Colin are going to end up together and while this was somewhat boring and had some creepy elements to it, in the end it was a harmless relationship and far better than most YA authors bullshit 'romance' attempts, so I let that slide. Paxton's was a much more interesting relationship.

She's been lifelong friends with Sebastian, but having seen him, back in their high school days, kiss another guy on the mouth, she wrote him off as a prospect (despite having the hots for him), thinking he's gay. While this was a nice pothole to put in her road because it leaves the reader never quite sure if this is going to work or if someone else will come along for one or other of them, it's also the reason why I felt Paxton wasn't too smart. They've been close for some twenty years, yet she never figured out he's not gay, nor has she ever heard of a sexual preference called 'Bi', apparently!

So! Not a brilliant story, nor a disaster, and it did fall off the rails a bit towards the end. The murder mystery part of it is more of a hiccup than an actual plot. If it had been shorter (for example by dispensing with the "mystery" and trimming the drawn-out ending, it would have been better.

I didn't like that Willa was so very easily led by the nose and in effect controlled by Colin. It's never a good sign for a relationship when one party comes into it evidently intent upon changing the other, but as I said, in this case it was relatively harmless, so I let it slide. I recommend this if you like an easy, reasonably well-written, and quite charming story that never reaches great heights, but successfully avoids numbing depths. It has a southern charm and a country living air pervading it and overall, I liked it.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Book of Sight by Deborah Dunlevy

Rating: WORTHY!

"inch by inch, certainty of death foremost in his mind, not daring to breath." - should be 'breathe'
"It had been wo weeks" - two weeks, presumably? Or maybe that unspecified number of weeks had been rather woeful?!
"Its hot pink color was already, and it was taking on the even brown tones of Dominic's hands." 'already fading'?

The problem with series, and one reason why I'm not really a fan (except for a few rare cases), is that they are by nature derivative and repetitive, and worse, they mistreat the reader by only offering a part of a story while still trying to charge you the full price! This series is going to run to at least four books. Worse than this, the first volume tends to be a prologue for the rest, rather than an actual story, and I don't do prologues. They're tedious and antiquated.

In this case I decided to make an exception in the hope that this one would be a different experience, but I had mixed feelings about this right from the start, and my worst fears were realized when it came to an abrupt ending (I don't read epilogues any more than I do prologues, but I doubt the epilogue moved the story very far!). The ending was abrupt and a cliff-hanger of a sort, which I never appreciate. So it was indeed a prologue, but that said, the story wasn't bad for the intended age range, so I consider it a worthy read for that group. For myself, I have no interest in pursuing this any further.

It started out routinely enough, and that was part of the problem: the trope kid (in this case, 14-year-old Alex) at a loose end of one kind or another with one or both parents absent. In this case it was both because, even though dad was present, in effect he was also absent since he was a poor father who neglected his child while he pursued his publication of his moderately successful comic book series. On the first day of her summer holiday from school, a weird-looking guy who claims he's some sort of delivery boy shows up at Alex's front door.

We're given a reason for Alex to be trusting enough to open the door because she thinks it's one of her father's graphic artist types, but the guy claims he's a messenger. He hands her a parcel and doesn't require a signature. He tells her it's a book, and then he leaves. The fact that none of this makes Alex even remotely suspicious (he requires no signature and knows what's in the parcel) tells me she's not too smart. I don't do books about dumb girls. There are far too many of them out there (YA authors I'm looking at you), so I'm hoping at that point that Alex gets smarter fast, but I'm not confident that she will. In the end she is a bit smarter, but the kids as a group are not very smart in their behaviors generally speaking.

At one point the author writes, "...which with characteristic creativity she had dubbed 'dad days'." I'm not sure if that's meant to be sarcastic, or if it's just badly written! Alex has shown no evidence that she has a sarcastic demeanor to this point, and that title certainly isn't creative. This is one of the reasons the book failed to properly resonate with me: there were parts I really liked, but other parts that fell flat. Also the book, while commendably not in first person voice, switches perspectives between kids and I didn't appreciate that approach. There's a lot of telling in place of showing, too. Again, kids for whom this is written may not notice or may not care about these things, whereas I tend to

There were one or two errors, but aside from that (which was no big deal for me as long as it was relatively rare!), what bothered me most was the trope. I mentioned the disaffected teen; next came the 'things appearing but disappearing as soon as you look away' trope which is tedious and way-the-hell overdone. In Alex's case it was the appearance of a tiny man after she had begun reading the book. She sees him, looks away, and looks back and he's gone. She does this twice. It's annoying! And so common in this kind of story that it's become a suspension-of-disbelief destroyer for me. There's also the trope two characters who dislike each other, but you know they're destined to be together. The sad thing is they're named Adam and Eve! I am not making this up - the author is! Yet despite this no one remarks on their names!

That aside, the book was intriguing and the way Alex struggled to read it and then suddenly got it, was a joy. The words appeared to be nonsense, but as she started pronouncing them, she was transported in some way to another world where a story unfolded about a king and four brothers and a magical jewel. Visons, ideas and dreams lead Alex to a place where four trees are grouped together. When she visits it, she discovers a marking on one of the trees, but then the trope male character predictably the same age as Alex shows up and I became annoyed again, because it seemed like the "required" (when it's not at all) romance is going to trample all over the story. In the end it didn't, so this fear never materialized and I thank the author for that!

In general the story was well-written, with a clunker or two here and there, such as when Adam is trying to locate a particular place in the vicinity. It's by a dried-up creek, yet when he approaches it, I read that there was "a dark green line on the other side of another grassy field. It had to be a creek." The thing is, if the creek was dried up, there would hardly be a dark green line marking it, since the vegetation would be dried up, too - as is confirmed when he gets closer.

That aside there was some good and commendable writing, particularly about team-work and getting along, and owning up to mistakes, which I really liked. Sometimes the teamwork aspect was overdone, but as I said, overall, I think this will do well for the intended age group. It's just not for my age group!

Happy Animals by Gerald Hawksley

Rating: WORTHY!

This is another goofy Hawksley effort and it's simplistic, but fine for entertaining young children. It also contains a subtle message about animal cruelty of which I always disapprove, so I recommend this. There's a "bonus" book which consists of a stream of pages saying goodnight to the animals which appeared in the earlier story. On balance I think this will be entertaining for very young children.

There's a really irritating 'please review this book' thing that hijacks you at the end if you swipe one page too far. In this regard, the print book is a better investment - they can't manipulate your reading experience there! LOL! But I really wish authors wouldn't do this. It's desperate and pathetic, and serves only to annoy. Let me offer in passing my assurance than none of my books will ever do this to you. That aside, this book is worthy read for young children.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Count Zero by William Gibson

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook. I'd read and enjoyed Neuromancer a long time ago, and Gibson followed-up with this sequel, the second in his so-called 'sprawl trilogy' but even though I also read this one, I could not remember what happened in it! That ought to have warned me right there. This one started out well enough, but after the first ten percent or so, it devolved into the most tedious rambling imaginable, and I couldn't stand to listening to it any more.

I found myself phasing it out of my consciousness, and focusing on other things instead. Since I typically only listen to audiobooks when driving, I'm used to focusing on other things, namely traffic, but I always come back to the book - it's always there on the periphery even if I'm focused on some traffic situation, but in this case it disappeared and I didn't miss it! It was minutes later that I recalled I was supposed to be listening to it, which is a sure sign the author has lost me as an audience and it's time to return this to the library and let someone else suffer through it!

The sequel to this, and the closing volume of the trilogy is Mona Lisa Overdrive, which is an awesome name for a novel - as good as Neuromancer, so I will give that a try if the library has it. Again, I've read it before, but I barely remember it, so I'm not optimistic about liking that after this experience.

Gibson's problem is that his books now seem awfully dated. They're set in a high-tech future, but now have the same quaintness that those 'predictive' books of the nineteen-fifties had: so optimistic about technology, but so wrong about how it came to be and how it's been applied. Gibson's future is relentlessly negative, which hasn't come to be and most likely will not, unless climate changed brings us down badly. He thought we'd be getting our news by fax instead of through cell phones! His future hasn't heard of personal communication devices or anything like the world wide web.

He has medical science making huge leaps in body repair and enhancement, which is slowly coming to pass, but while he futuristically has people jacking into 'cyberspace' directly, instead of interfacing through keyboards and monitors, he has them completely unprotected against viruses and worms. This isn't credible. Neither is it credible that anyone would put their brain at risk like that unless they were nuts to begin with. On the other side of the coin, he does see corporate globalization as being troublesome, but I think Melissa Scott does a better job of visualizing the future in her Trouble and Her Friends than Gibson does in anything he's written (that I've read).

The story began interestingly enough with a mercenary by the name of Turner, being blown-up and rebuilt. He's recuperating with a fine girlfriend, but he doesn't realize she's been paid to nursemaid him until Conroy shows up. An old colleague, Conroy wants Turner's help in extracting a member of one global corporation and delivering him to work for a rival company. Meanwhile, the standard Gibson style hacker, Bobby Newmark, the Count Zero of the title, almost dies when trying out some new software. He's saved by the daughter of the man who Turner and Conroy are trying to extract. Her name is Angie Mitchell, and she has the ability to "jack in" to cyberspace without a jack.

As you can see, Gibson's work has heavily influenced what came afterwards, notably, the Matrix trilogy of movies, and the Thirteenth Floor movie which got very little traction, but which is a favorite of mine. The problem with him, for me, is that he's pretty much remained static, with his one-hit wonder, Neuromancer, the only thing to have honestly impressed me of all he's written, and a large part of that was Molly Millions, aka Sally Shears, who makes only the briefest of appearances in this middle volume before playing a larger role in the finale.

I can't recommend this one, though.

Emily The Strange: Rock Issue by Rob Reger, Jessica Gruner, Kitty Remington, Brian Brooks, Buzz Parker

Rating: WARTY!

I'm not even going to dignify this drivel with a significant review because it's not worth my valuable time, and it was so awful I pretty much skimmed the whole thing. The only rock references are to antique and irrelevant musicians in this modern world and to actual rocks. I am so disappointed in this whole mini-series. It's trite, tedious, and boring beyond hellish. Skip it. Avoid this series altogether, and read instead the four novels and the newer graphic novel about Emily's band: Emily and the Strangers.

Emily The Strange: Let There Be Darkby Rob Reger, Jessica Gruner, Brian Brooks, Kitty Remington, Buzz Parker

Rating: WARTY!

This is volume three of a seriously disappointing four-comic series.

After enjoying a previous graphic novel which was my first introduction to Emily, and then all four of the novels written about her, I was really looking forward to these, but they were not at all what I had hoped for. far form it.

The problem was that this set doesn't tell a story like the others do. The title of the volume sets the theme for the content, which is a set of mini-stories which are neither entertaining nor in any way satisfying.

God made Woman in My Own Image The forerunner to Emily's duplication of herself in the Stranger and Stranger novel. Read that instead.
Emily Created Creatures of the Night Totally boring.
Scarytale theater felt staged.
Go to the Dark overshadowed by later work.
Danger in the Dark
What's Darker Than Dark? Unintellidrivel.

That was it - hardly anything and what there was of anything wasn't worth reading.