Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Seventh Day of Christmas

Rating: WORTHY! (The First Two) WARTY! (The Last Five)

Nenek Tata and the Mangrove Menace by Judith Vun Price, Jacqui Vun

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is, I think, to be my last advance review copy book. I've now completed 1,400 such reviews through Net Galley, as well as others from other sources, and it's high time to retire from this - which really does nothing to help me at all - and focus on my own work for a change.

I can't think of a better book to end that streak on than this one, which was a truly fun and educational book set in Borneo, where older couple Tata and Jantan, of the family Nenek, are starting their day to the unnerving news of a storm brewing. The story is told very well by, I believe, Judith Vun Price, and illustrated exquisitely by, I believe, Jacqui Vun in bright colors and playful illustrations.

They start this ~35 page book and their day enjoying their coffee, and then they split up, with Jantan heading to town on his bike to purchase some supplies, and Tata doing an assortment of chores in their homestead, including feeding the ducks, chickens and pigeons, as well as her pet cat, which is actually a clouded leopard kit.

Next she has to cut some juicy grass for the buffalo and finally, she must go empty the crab traps. Unfortunately, this is when she encounters the horrific mud-beast which follows her home! Her brave antics and the resolution to the story are amusing, educational, and highly entertaining.

This was a great story and it contains a glossary at the end to clear up any confusion from some of the local terms used in the story. I enjoyed this immensely and commend it fully as a worthy read.

Harry's Lovely Spring Day by NGK, Janelle Dimmitt

Riffing off the town mouse and the country mouse idea, this is a meticulously drawn (by Dimmitt) and nicely-written, short picture book about Harry Mouse who becomes homeless and is helped a little by Katie Mouse (no relation). Katie lets him have her umbrella and raincoat on a nasty night because she's going to the country. Harry is so happy the next day that he seeks out Katie in the country and has quite the chore in tracking her down. The book was fun and pretty to look at. There's no indication where the story takes place but to me the illustrations had a distinct French flavor to them, although I can't really pinpoint why. But the book told an interesting story for young kids and I commend it.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

This was yet another in a forlorn and long line of attempts to read the classics. It met pretty much the same result: tedium. The story was boring, drawn-out, rambling, and going nowhere. I made it barely a quarter of the way through before I gave up. At least it gave me an idea for a story so it wasn't a complete waste of time, but whether I'll ever write that one, is an open question.

It's hilariously subtitled "A Mystery of Modern Venice" given that it was written in 1878. Doubtlessly Venice was modern back then just as it is now, but it amused me. Quite literally nothing happens in this novella in the first six chapters and apparently not for considerably longer even than that from what I've read about this book, but I can't really comment past the point I read.

In a novel titled 'haunted hotel' one expects there to be some sort of a haunting quite early in the story but no, there isn't! This doesn't even occur in the first half of the story, so I understand now, and even then it's questionable as to what's going on. Personally, I suspected that the disappeared man might well not have disappeared at all, but still be hiding out in the hotel and this is why it appears haunted, but I have no idea if this is the case.

There's no scene setting here. I'm not one for eleborate descriptive prose, but here we don't get any at all! We just get places named without anything supportive. The only real description I read was of a woman who visits this doctor right at the start of the story. She says it will take five minutes of his time, but it ends up consuming him, pretty much, and then either I missed them as a result of glazed-over eye syndrome, or both of these characters simply disappeared from the story. Maybe they reappeared later, past the point at which I quit, but I honestly do not care. Neither was interesting or appealing.

Everyone is stupid in the story. When his Lordship dies, it's written off as bronchitis despite his wife's (non-)brother avidly experimenting with noxious chemicals. It's like the author insists upon sending you a telegram whenever he's planning something, just so it doesn't take you by surprise.

There were so many interchangeable characters introduced in such a lethargic way that I honestly lost track of who was who, which did not help of course! Given all the issues mentioned here though, I can't commend this remotely as a worthy read based on what I read of it. It told a profoundly boring story, and it completely failed to pique my interest.

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Written in Victorian times, this is both contemporary - for when it was written and historical, for when I read it. Those are the best kind of historical novels for they are authentic. Despite that, this was another forlorn attempt at the classics. I do intend to continue these occasional forays, despite being sorely disappointed most of the time, as I was this time. I didn't finish this one for the reason that it was tedious to read. It also seemed obvious to me that Lady Audley's secret was that she was the wife of adventurer George, who had gone to the antipodes to seek his fortune. The moron had not written a single word to his wife back in England, so she had thought him dead and consequently accepted an offer to marry Lord Audley, abandoning her son in the process. When George returns, he's told she's dead and buried. This is purely conjecture on my part. I do not know if it's true and I really don't care whether it is or not. This gave me an outline of a novel I could write myself, but whether I will or not remains to be seen. As for this one, I can't commend it based on the twenty percent or so that I read.

We Didn't Give Up by Richard Carlson

This is an English Welsh bilingual story about a mommie duck and her three ducklings, who are trying to take a walk to the pond, but the gusty wind keeps blowing them back. However, they do not give up and make it safely there in the end. Each part of the story is told first in English and immediately afterwards is repeated in Welsh. I do not speak a word of Welsh although I love the accent and have been to Wales several times. It's a sweet place to visit with lots to see. I have to say this is far more of a language tutorial rather than a picture book since the illustrations are very rudimentary and not in color. They're just simplistic and rather repetitive line drawings, so the purpose here has to be for the languages rather than the arts, and that said, the story is simple and repetitive. You'd think this would make it a lot easier to match the Welsh words to their English counterparts, but it really doesn't because there's no color-coding of matching words which would have been really easy to do. Without that we have to guess, so, for example, the Welsh word for pond appears to be pwll, which as far as I can ascertain without actually consulting a native Welsh speaker, is pronounced rather like 'pool' which is really easy to remember. The word for bridge is 'bont' which reminds me of 'pont' which is the French word for bridge, so for me, not a stretch! The thing is it could have been a smarter book, better laid out and better organized and failing that, and as simplistic and scrappy as this is, I really can't commend it at all. The author seems to be making a point about determination, but there's also such a thing as admitting failure and giving up. There's no shame in that and sometimes it's by far the more intelligent option!

Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton

This audiobook was far too fictional. Yes, Hatshepsut had a sister named Nefrubity, but it's not known how she died. It's assumed she died young since there is mention of her and then abruptly no mention of her. She may have died as an infant or toddler, whereas this story has her as the older sister nobly saving Hatshepsut's life when the latter was foolishly trying to hunt a hippo. It's highly doubtful that any of this is remotely close to the truth since the Egyptians above anyone would have known how thoroughly dangerous and unpredictable the hippos were, and no one but a congenital idiot - which Hatshepsut was certainly not - would go off alone trying to bag one, much less a child. That turned me off the story because it felt like such a cheap shot. What made it worse though, was that there was nothing interesting going on. Not even the hippo fiction was very good and I quickly lost interest in the story and DNF'd it. I can't commend it based on the part I heard.

Midnight Wings by Ariele Seiling

Ariele Seiling again. That name amuses me. This is yet another retelling of Cinderella, which I trashed in a non-review. Typically I have no interest in ever actually reading such a book, but it turns out this one was on offer for free as a loss-leader, so I decided to test my theory and see if the book really was as bad as my non-review painted it, and sure enough - it was! It just goes to show that even an admirable attempt to take Cinderella sci-fi, cannot make a good novel out of it if the author doesn't have the chops to really make the story different. I have now read two (at least!) sci-fi Cinderellas, both of them were part of a series, and while the other one was much better than this one, they both suffered from a lack of imagination on the author's part when it came to Cinderella and her prince. Both of them literally had a prince and the gist of the story panned put exactly as it had in the fairy-tale. Boring!

In this one, Cinderella (called Eleanor here for unknown reasons, and going by El), lives on a space station with two step-sisters and a stepmother, all of whom are unrelentingly evil in the sense that they have zero regard for Cinderella and literally dump chores on her unrelentingly, yet she was also supposed to have a full-time job as a mechanic - and have some free time to go sit in the community greenhouse to get some peace and quiet - like there was none to be had at home when her family was all asleep. This endless tedium and repetitive cruelty made for a boring read. The bizarre thing was that this family had at least one servant and yet Cinderella was still doing all the chores! I'm like, what the fuck was the servant doing? Sitting on his ass all day? It made no sense.

Neither did the sci-fi setting. The space station is ruled over by a queen; the prince being her son of course. Why was there a queen in charge of a space station? How the fuck would that ever happen? There was no explanation for this - or for anything else in this entire story. World-building was non-existent, which really wasn't surprising since the whole story was only 100 pages long. It was literally a prologue to draw readers in to buying the rest of this series, so it was barely a story at all, and since we already know how it's going to end, you'd think the author would put in a twist or two here and there to stir things up, but she never does. It was like an animated cartoon for children with farcical 'set-backs' and almost instantaneous resolutions. And Cinderella is such a Mary Sue. No matter what happens, she comes out on top notwithstanding the chores. Actually, on reflection, it's more like the first rough draft of an outline for a story. It's not a story in itself.

Everyone on the space station supposedly has a 'social standing' score and because Cinders's sisters have trashed hers, she has a social standing of zero, which means she has no prospects. When this happened, how, and why, are completely ignored in this story! There's nothing about it other than a passing mention. Why there are even such scores on this space station isn't even touched on. Her means of getting out from under all this comes in the form of her penchant for playing "jet fighter" video games at which she's very good. When does she have time to play video games with all her chores? Again, this is completely glossed over, but evidently she's had sufficient time to become an ace. There's no explanation for why the callous step-sisters let her use their accounts, nor for why she doesn't have her own. Again, like everything else in this story, it's skimped and skimmed.

El meets the prince - who is unknown to her, in one of her greenhouse visits late at night, She's sitting looking for some peace and quiet and this asshole just busts in on her unapologetically, acting like a clown with no regard for her solitude, and she doesn't even resent him for it. The bizarre thing is that she doesn't recognize him. There are apparently not that many people living on the space station, and only one of them is the prince - who must have his face all over the media - yet idiot El doesn't have a clue who he is. It's nonsensical.

Of course she meets him again in her job because she's working on fixing his fighter "jet" naturally! And of course she doesn't know it's his. Unnaturally. Why the prince is flying fighter "jets" is again glossed over. Yes, royals do train in the military, often, but they do not, after their training, go on active service, putting the royal lineage at risk. On the contrary - they're protected from it, so the prince being an active duty pilot made no sense, especially since he was so bad at flying - repeatedly damaging his fighter - which is why El is working on it. Note that the Cinderella character in the other sci-fi I read was also a mechanic. Clone much, Ariele?

Her chance to make a name for herself comes in the form of a contest, open to all citizens regardless of social standing, to find new "jet" fighter pilots. Why they need pilots instead of being able to use drones or AI is yet another topic which is completely glossed over. Why are there no robots in this high tech space station society? Who knows? On the same topic of technology, this ignorant author has no clue that jets don't work in space. They would not be called jet fighters, but that's how they're consistently referred to. Why do they have these and why are new pilots needed? There is no war going on - or if there is, it's never mentioned, so why this urgent need for fighter pilots? Again, the story is silent on the topic. Again, it makes no sense.

There are so many ridiculously artificial (non-)barriers to El getting into the contest and the whole story is ridiculous at this point. "Friends" come out of the woodwork to help her, like woodland animals helping Snow White. It's asinine. And of course she ends up entering the contest quite magically. Yes, of course she's outstanding and of course she becomes a pilot.

Of course her social standing score is wiped clean, but what that means is a mystery sicne it's already at zero. Isn't that wiped clean? LOL! The idiot prince never once questions why it was so bad or how it was possible for evil stepsisters to trash someone's score like they did. No one pays any penalty for their evil at the end, either.

The whole story stunk from start to finish. I would have DNF'd it were it not so short. It's a horrible story and I actively discommend it. It's like the author not only wants to rip-off a tiresomely retreaded fairy-tale, that's been done to death already, but she also then wants to completely skimp on doing any real work to get it up and running as a viable story. On top of that, she wants us to buy her stuff based on this shitty example, when clearly she has no interest in doing any work to actually interest us in reading more. I don't get that mentality at all. To me, that was the only alien thing in this story! And the story completely confirmed my 'non-Review' assessment of it. QED! I rest my case.

Thus we are finished with Day Seven.