Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Girlwood by Claire Dean


Rating: WARTY!

Polly is twelve. Her older sister Bree has fallen into the wrong crowd - drugs and so on, and one day Bree disappears. Polly is convinced she has escaped to the woods, but no one believes her. Given how everyone pitches in when a child goes missing, I found it hard ot believe that there was so little interest in organizing a search for her. Yes, Bree was older, and there is the drugs angle, but it felt wrong.

There is talk of fantasy and fairies in the story, and it started out well enough, but then it just dragged. Instead of getting into the woods and going along with the story I felt I'd been promised, it became bogged down in Polly and her wolly doodles all day, and it became a tedious read. I'm not about to expend more of my time on this when there is too much to read and too much to be written. I can't commend this based on the part I read.


Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Siren's Call by Jennifer Anne Kogler


Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 of a series I began reading so long ago that it's not even one I blogged. Also I barely remember it. This is yet another problem with series ! LOL! I did recall it hazily, along with the author's name and the distinctive cover, and with a favorable if vague memory, but unfortunately I was turned off this particular volume right from the off, very nearly.

The story starts out with main character Fern, one of the 'Otherworldlies' having a bad dream while on an airplane flight with her schoolmates to Washington DC. Although she has a couple of friends at school, she is considered weird and is bullied by people who apparently go unchecked and unpunished at this school, as is the case with every high-school novel ever written for the YA crowd. Curious, that, isn't it? I guess YA authors just love to bully their characters for reasons which escape me.

At the airport, the students are divided into groups of four to share a room, and despite this bullying, Fern is assigned to share a room with the two biggest bullies. That's where I quit reading this. I am so tired of this school-bullying crap. I don't doubt that there is unfortunate and even dangerous school-bullying going on in real life, but for authors of these books to use it as their go-to conflict device is tiresome and unimaginative, and I will not reward it with a positive review. These authors need to get a new shtick.

In this case it wasn't even credible that this room assignment would be made especially since, on an occasion prior to this novel starting, these same two girls had duct-taped Fern's head to something while she slept. Who sleeps through getting her head duct-taped? Why are these two jerks still even students at the school after pulling a cruel stunt like that? Or is it one of those idiotic stories where the bullied don't snitch on the bullies? Again, tedious trope rejected. Find something intelligent to write if you want me to read your stories. This one is garbage.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Water Crown by James Suriano


Rating: WARTY!

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

Initially I was drawn into this story because it was about the world's supply of fresh, clean water, which is, along with climate change, and pollution, one of the real crises in the world right now. I was by no means convinced that bringing in magical abilities or Middle East jinn would lend adequate gravity to a story about a serious problem like this, but I was willing to give it a chance. The problem was that story got lost somewhere along the way. Largely abandoned were the jinn, and the story devolved into one that was delving far more into the day-to-day minutiae of the lives of the two main characters. It seemed to lose track of the fact that it was supposed to be telling an important story about a serious real-world problem.

The two main characters are a Bedouin boy named Zyan, who is living in Morocco, and Jade St John who splits her time between South Africa and Israel. She has the ability to bypass normal space by latching onto a strange system which allows her to travel great distances - on a global level - in relatively short times. She can also push people's minds in the direction she wants them to go rather than where they might have gone otherwise, and she can communicate on some level with animals. She has an assistant, for example, which is a pangolin, but which works for her as a sort of housekeeper, which I thought was rather cute. Jade works for a mysterious organization and gets her instructions from 'Mother' rather like John Steed used to in the old British TV series called The Avengers.

Zyan lives - as befits his ethnicity - in the desert and has a pets like chickens and a goat which he foolishly ties to a post outside a library, only to have it stolen. He tracks it down, but fails to act before the boy who stole it slits its throat. This is important for my attitude toward this novel later, if you'll bear with me. He has the ability to see Jade on occasion, but he thinks she's some sort of jinn. He becomes involved with the Moroccan royal family because they think he can talk with jinn and thereby help them with their fresh water shortage. Therein lies a problem.

Morocco is on the coast. It has a long coastline. It also has oodles of sunlight. It wouldn't take much to set up a desalination plant - or a series of them - running on solar energy which could supply Morocco with all the freshwater it could ever want. If this had been addressed in the story, and some sort of 'reason' (however weak or invalid!) had been put in place to 'explain' why their water problem couldn't be solved by this means, that would have been something, but for the author to dismiss all that, and make this sound like it was a crisis in need of jinn magic when there are technological solutions seemed like cheating to me.

The people of Morocco don't call their nation Morocco. It's known in Arabic as 'The Western Kingdom', and while politics are discussed in the novel, we learn very little about how Morocco truly is. It is a very repressive kingdom where free speech is highly circumscribed and homosexuality is illegal. Lack of water isn't a problem; lack of sanitation and access to flowing water in every household is a problem, so it seemed to me like this was a poor choice of a country to set this water issue.

Worse than this, over half a million Moroccans are addicted to drugs. Eighty percent of cannabis in Europe comes from Moroccan plantations. For me, that's no worse that growing tobacco, but Morocco is also a shipping route for South American cocaine. Drug addiction is particularly prevalent among Moroccan youth. These are not things to be proud of. Why Hollywood is so intent upon favoring Morocco for so many movie shoots is beyond me.

Morocco is also an islamic nation, but you would not have guessed that from this novel. There is no talk of Islam and none of the people depicted are ever shown following any of the tenets of that religion, which lent the story an air of high fantasy and inauthenticity. Indeed, at one point the Moroccan queen is depicted as flouncing around in a bikini in front of a stranger! Even for a western nation that might seem a problem (recall the sensation in Britain when Princess Diana was photographed with the sun behind her shining through her skirts. For an Islamic nation it was positively ridiculous.

While Morocco is more enlightened than many Islamic countries with regard to dress code (westerners can wear a bikini on the beach, for example), Moroccan women are expected to dress conservatively to one degree or another depending on which part of the country they are in. Some areas are more conservative than others, and even western women would be frowned on or worse were they to try wearing a bikini or even a bikini top at any place other than the beach. Moroccan women do have some rights, but they are far from equal as compared with western women - who even now still bear a greater load of grief than ever men do with regard to dress and comportment. In 2015 two women were publicly abused and arrested for dressing 'indecently'. That same year, three teenagers were arrested because one of them, a boy, took a picture of his friend, another boy, kissing a girl and posted it on Facebook. So no, they're a long way from equality and freedom in Morocco and I'm sorry this author skated blithely over all that.

This brings me to another problem, which was that I couldn't tell if this story was supposed to be set in the near future or in some sort of alternate reality. Britain's queen for example, was given as Queen Agatha, which is nonsensical since that name isn't remotely close to the name of any of the queens Britain has actually had, so again this undermined suspension of disbelief. Maybe in an alternate reality there would be a Queen Agatha and the Moroccan royal family would not have an issue with the queen disporting herself in a bikini, but without having any guidance from the book blurb or from the novel, it was hard to tell what was supposed to be going on here.

That wasn't why I DNF'd the novel though. The problem for me was, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that the author seemed to forget that there was supposed to be a story going on here, and instead spent so much time in minutiae which didn't really do anything for the story at all. I began to grow bored, but didn't really lose my interest until Zyan started rambling on about his dead goat. If he'd mentioned it in passing, that would be one thing, but he told a story about it that went on, and on...and on! It was so tedious that I quit reading right there.

That rambling wasn't interesting. It revealed nothing we did not know already, and neither did it do a thing to move the story (or me for that matter given Zyan's complete lack of effort to save the goat in the first place, and his stupidity in leaving it tied up where he couldn't keep an eye on it to start with). This had already been covered earlier in the story so this revisit was annoying at best. My patience had been waning with Jade's mindless and pointless puttering around by this point, so the endless story of Zyan's tragic loss of his nanny really got my goat - and I'm not kidding. I can't commend this as a worthy read, not based on the fifty percent of it I did read.


Friday, August 9, 2019

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a sequel to Zita the Spacegirl which I reviewed recently and loved. This one is equally loveable. Zita is irrepressible. I didn't know, when I read the first one, that Zita was actually invented by a fellow college student of the author's named Anna, who would go on to marry him. Paradoxically, Zita was older when she was first conceived than she is now, and the art was much more basic. She then transmogrified into an adventurer a bit like, I guess, a space-faring version of Jacques Tardi's Adèle Blanc-Sec. I'm not sure I would have liked her like that, because I much prefer Zita in the incarnation I first came to know her, which is this early middle-grade femme de feisty.

In this adventure, Zita, who we left thinking she had saved her friend and dispatched him home safely in the previous volume, is brought to trial in a kangaroo court which disappointingly isn't held by kangaroos, but by an alien villain and his hench-robots. His purpose is to recruit people by foul means (fair isn't an option with this guy) and set them to work in his mine in search of a crystal. He doesn't care that removing it will collapse the asteroid which bears the mine, and kill the indigenous life forms which look like lumps of coal with startling white eyes. Why a mined-out asteroid would collapse remains a bit of a mystery, but I didn't let that bother me! This is more sci-fantasy than sci-fi!

Zita meets her usual assortment of oddball alien friends - but even more-so in this outing, it seems - and she attempts to escape, but even when freedom is within her grasp, she can't help but go back and lend a hand to an alien she noted earlier who is being sorely-abused. Since this graphic novel was published just over four years after a Doctor Who episode titled The Beast Below, I have to wonder at the author purloining this idea from Stephen Moffat, but maybe the latter purloined it from elsewhere before that and so it goes. Writers can be a very derivative bunch can't they? Especially if they work for Disney. Remake much? But as long as suckers will pay, they'll be delighted to keep suckering them in won't they - innovation be damned?

But this story was amusing, entertaining, and made me want to read it to the end, so I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Swans in Space by Lun Lun Yamamoto


Rating: WARTY!

I suppose I should remind readers up front that I'm not a huge manga fan. Reading backwards isn't my choice, but I can do that if the story is worth it. the problem is that the stories all-too-often aren't worth the effort of reading unnaturally. This was one such.

The premise was amusing and entertaining enough, but in the end it's the story. I can read a story which has no plot if the author writes well enough. I can't read the perfect plot if the story is written badly, uninventively, or boringly. The premise here is that a young girl is chosen in school by a classmate for testing for what seems to be UPS in space, although it's also space police - or maybe something else? I dunno and that's part of the problem. The scope of their 'duties' is so vague as to be limitless.

What were these people supposed to be doing and why are girls taken out of school to do it? No explanation. Their travel results in time-dilation, so their return is only a minute or two after they left, but they have subjectively experienced the entire time - even if it's many hours - that they spent doing this job, which consists of flying spacecraft. These craft are designed to look like swans for reasons which are unexplained - assuming they even exist.

The girls come back already exhausted and still have the rest of their own school day to finish. It's beyond credibility that something wouldn't go wrong, and it's hardly surprising that this girl who recruits the main character into this life is totally shallow. Her brain is probably fried from the insane hours she's been forced to keep.

Even that might have been manageable if the story itself was worth the reading but it wasn't. It was so bad that just a couple of days later I've completely forgotten it. They didn't really do anything that a decent drone couldn't have done, so again: point? None! If there had been something - anything in the story to give it some oomph, then the rest of this ridiculous situation might have been overlooked. I can even get with whimsy if there's a compelling reason to, but there really was nothing to see here. I can't commend this garbage as a worthy read on any level.


Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty by Polly Horvath


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and while there were some tame bits, for the most part it amused me highly. I'm not sure who it was aimed at. It seems a bit too mature for a middle-grade or earlier audience, and a bit too 'bunny' for older audiences, but none of that bothered someone like me who is completely insane.

It's read in fine style by the author, and she does a great job. She seems to take an unhealthy delight, it must be noted, in pronouncing bunny with an explosive beginning and a whimper of an ending. That word appears in almost every other sentence. 'Rabbit' not so much.

This is a sequel to Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! which I have neither read nor heard, but which deficit I intend to rectify at an early opportunity. Fortunately this one worked as a stand-alone so I didn't feel robbed at not having encountered the initial volume first. Once again it's a case of the publisher not having the decency to put something on the cover indicating it's a part of a series. This is why I self-publish. I do not trust Big Publishing™ one bit.

In this story the bunnies, Mr & Mrs, travel by ship to England to inherit a sweet shop, and hopefully a title - like Queen - along the way, and the story is about their travel across the ocean, their struggle to get to the shop, and get it up and running profitably, and endure assorted mishaps along the way including an unprovoked assault with acorns by squirrels along the way. I tell you, those squirrels. If I had an acorn for every time....never mind. I do.

I commend this as a funny bunny story and a worthy wabbit wead. Or wisten! Be advised: Do not let it get anywhere near marmots.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler, Frank Miller


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The publisher requested that reviews not be released until a month before publication, which is in October 2019, but since Amazon-owned Goodreads already has nearly sixty reviews as of this posting, I don't see any harm in publishing mine and getting it off my lengthy to-do list!

This was written like a movie and it didn't work. A novel needs to be written like a novel, but I understand this was conceived as a multimedia project and I think that was the problem: we really got a sort of a movie script translated into a novel. I understand Netflix has plans to televise this next year, but I won't be watching. I can only hope they do a better job in the writing, because although I was intrigued by the plot and I tried to like this, I couldn't get with it and DNF'd it at just over 25%. Initially, when I'd seen Frank Miller's name attached to it, I'd thought it was a graphic novel, but it isn't. It's a really long book which goes nowhere fast, and Nimue is sadly-lacking in anything to appeal to me in a main character

Having grown up in Britain, I'm familiar with the Arthurian legends, but I'm far from expert in them and I didn't realize, initially, that Nimue is one of several names that are given to the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. The thing is that in this novel, she was such a non-entity that I wasn't impressed with her at all. She's a changeable, inconsistent, weepy little brat of a girl who is all over the place.

Her mother's dying wish is that Nimue take this magical sword to Merlin, who will know what to do with it, but at one point very shortly afterwards, Nimue is considering selling the sword for some cash so she can escape! This is after she supposedly feels really wretched that all of her people are dead, and despite the guilt that she carries over a fight with her mother before her mother died. Shortly after that, when a guy wants to take the sword from her, she suddenly decides she wants to keep it from him and cuts off his hand! Way to keep a low profile Nimue.

What really turned me off this novel though, is how this guy Arthur (yes, that Arthur, apparently), moves in on her, starts stalking her, and suddenly she's getting the wilts and the vapors whenever she's near him. He takes over and Nimue loses all agency, becoming totally dependent upon him in true YA fashion. Barf. That's when I call "Check please, I'm done here." Why even have a female lead if all you're going to do with her is make her subservient to a male? Why even call the male Arthur? Just call him Jack and be done with it. That's the most over-used name in literature for the alpha male, so go with it, and forget about making your story original.

The book - in the portion I read anyway - completely abandons all Arthurian legend, just FYI. I didn't worry too much about that, because it was supposed to be different, but a nod and a wink to it here and there would have been appropriate. And in the end it wasn't different from so many others I've read. It was an Indiana Jones from medieval times: Arthur Jones and the Very Lost Crusade. That said, the whole thing about Arthurian legend is that it's always presented wrongly - with knights in shining armor. The people who gave rise to these legends never were those knights. Arthur was at best a tribal leader, dressed not in chainmail but in a leather jerkin and leggings.

Most of the writing, while shallow, was serviceable, but some of it was downright bad. We got the trope of the flecks in the eyes, which is so rife in YA that it's nauseating. Usually, it's gold flecks so kudos to the writer for going with green, but it's still flecks! That wasn't even the worst part though. The worst part was when Nimue noticed these: she was, for reasons unexplained, practicing sword-fighting with Arthur. It was night. They were hiding in a copse off the road, to avoid being seen, and at best had a small fire so how, in the virtual pitch dark, is Nimue going to see green flecks - or any kind of flecks - in Arthur's eyes? It doesn't work! Let's quit it with the YA flecks.

Did you know that 'whicker' describes movement? Well that's not surprising - because it doesn't! A horse whickers when it makes soft whinnying noises. It has nothing to do with movement - except movement of the lungs and larynx! Yet this writer has this: "He whickered his horse down the road at a trot." What the hell does that even mean? Did the horse whicker as it trotted down the road? That's not what he's saying here. Maybe he means the horse moved down the lane like the late Alan Whicker, the globe-trotting and much imitated British television presenter? That could work, I guess: "As the Kaleidoscopic Knights ride reverently along the rocky road, we have wonder why the nefarious, nincompoop Nimue isn't with them...."

At one point - during her ever-changing attitude toward the sword - Nimue declares, "I have to bring the sword to Merlin." Actually she has to take the sword to Merlin. I know in modern usage, people say 'bring' and it's bad grammar, but it's what people do. The question is, would this modern parlance have been in use a thousand years ago? I doubt it, and this is emblematic of another problem with the story - the modern lingo. I don't expect the writer to write it in medieval English, but I do expect at least a nod and a wink to cadence and modes of expression back then, yet here, the language is completely modern in every regard. Disbelief is not only not suspended, it's hung, drawn, and quartered, and dead and buried.

This inattention to what was being written sometimes comes back to bite the author such as in, "She realized that whatever was inside her darkness had made her come, had somehow drawn her there," which made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. It was merely bathroom humor I'm afraid, but the real problem was that I had to read this sentence twice more before I properly understood what he was saying.

That's not a good thing, and it wasn't the only time, but fortunately it didn't happen often. The damage was done though and the problem was that the unintended humor in that sentence made me keep thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and having lines like "...if I went around sayin' I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!" running through my mind didn't help to take this seriously, especially since I was having trouble taking it seriously to begin with! So while I think the basic idea for this story was a good one, the execution of if left far too much to be desired for my taste. I can't commend it as a worthy read.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh, Warren Wucinich


Rating: WARTY!

PU turns out to be apt initials for this graphic novel. I came to this via Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin books that I really enjoyed, but this one on a new subject, despite being in glorious color (from Wucinich), standard graphic novel page size, and well-illustrated, left me feeling deprived of a good story. This is a fish-out-of-water story, which is the kind of thing I don't normally go for because they can be tedious and predictable if not done right, and that's exactly what happened here.

So Princess Ülga is supposed to be some sort of Viking warlord's daughter used to living rough, buff body, not remotely afraid to tackle barbarians with a battle axe. Curiously she speaks with a Scots accent. For reason which were not exactly clear to me, she's sent to a school for princesses, and of course all of the current students there are finely-mannered and even more finely-dressed, and they take exception to Princess "Ugg" as they call her, to even being there, let alone wanting to better herself.

You know things are going to be resolved, but this isn't a stand-alone so while there is some sort of resolution, the story isn't really ever over in a series. I really didn't like Princess Ugg despite becoming rather fond of Ülga. You never see women like this in the movies because they're far from what Hollywood considers to be a female ideal - and don't think for a minute that "diversity" is going to improve that narrow, blinkered perspective. It's still Hollywood.

I can't commend this as a worthy read although I do commend the creators for offering up a different perspective on what a female main character can be. She just deserved a lot better story than to be plonked down in the middle of a bunch of boilerplate Disney princesses with a wish upon a star that something fun would come from it. I recommend reading Kurtis Weibe's Rat Queens instead - it has a much more diverse set of main characters, and is an fun and interesting story as well.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 4 Monstrous Holiday by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume four wasn't quite as entertaining as the earlier volumes I think in part because Courtney seemed much more gullible in this one than she had in all of the three earlier volumes, which made little sense. Admittedly she was charmed by a boy, but having gone through what she'd been through previously, you'd think she'd be less inclined to fall for something instead of more so. And yes, she was feeling disgruntled (her gruntle had never been so dissed in fact), but it made her look limp and weak in comparison to how she'd appeared in earlier volumes. Ideally this would have been the first volume. That would certainly have made more sense in terms of her personal growth and would have explained a lot about her attitude in the other volumes.

That said it still made for an enjoyable read and I commend it as worthy. This story involves Courtney's visit, with her great uncle who is sometimes not so great it has to be remarked, to a family chateaux which of course is occupied by vampires, one of whom is mature and very old (although she looks in her thirties), and the other of whom is around Courtney's age, but also very old. So Yuk! The mature one is an old flame of Aloysius's evidently, and plays very little part in the story. It's the young one who charms Courtney and wins her confidence, and at first she wonders if he's a ghost, but when she realizes he's solid, she changes her view. Even when she suspects he's a vampire though, she trusts him and that trust is misplaced.

He bites her three times over the next few days, which is supposed to either be fatal or seal her fate as a vampire, but this is where the story let me down because the ending was a complete fizzle! I couldn't say if the vampires were destroyed because the panels where Great Uncle Aloysius did battle with them were not exactly categorical, and would a blood transfusion save Courtney at that stage? I dunno, but the book ended without giving any sort of an answer. It begs the question as to why her uncle even took her there is there were vampires and if he still insisted, why he didn't provide her with some magical protection against them.

So while the story was entertaining and I commend it, I have to say the ending was poorly done and a sad way to end such a sterling series.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 2 The Coven of Mystics by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

Volume two - meaning I finally caught up to the first volume I read in this series, which was three. I'm not a huge fan of series, not regular books, and not graphic novels, but this is one of those rare exceptions that manages to change up the story and keep it fresh and interesting even though we're following the same main character.

In this volume, Courtney learns new ways to circumvent and side-step the witch conventions that seem to hold everyone else in paralysis or in rigid regimentation. She's always ready to try something new, learn something extra, or make unexpected and unusual friends, and she has great instincts. She's not afraid to change her mind either, so this makes for a multi-faceted and engaging character.

So she starts out tackling Tommy Rawhead, the hobgoblin of the marl-pit, whom someone has unleashed. Fortunately, her enigmatic and mysterious uncle is just the match for Tommy, but just because Tommy's beheaded doesn't mean he can't be useful to Courtney later! Courtney gets an usual invitation to visit the cat council, but this involves her becoming a cat herself. Finally she befriends Skarrow of the under-world, and this brings trouble on her uncle's house.

The variety and inventiveness of these stories is remarkable and welcome and is what kept me reading on - that and the indefatigable Courtney. This is why I commend this volume and intend to go on to read volume four.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Scarlet Hood by Mark Evans, Isobel Lundie


Rating: WARTY!

No success with this graphic novel either. I don't have anything to say about Isobel Lundie's artwork except that it was gray-scale and scrappy. And the writing was simple, pedantic, and uninventive.

When I picked this up and glanced through it briefly, I thought maybe it was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but it was not. It looked superficially interesting, but it was not. Greta the Cruel sounded like a fun villain, but she was not. It was just a story of school bullying and a magical remedy and it was very, very short.

Scarlet treks through the forest to grandma's house, doesn't get eaten by a wolf; grandma isn't impersonated by a wolf, and all grandma does is give to Scarlett a red hoodie which she claims will help her granddaughter. She says nothing about it delivering the poor girl to a dragon! Thanks grandma.

But Scarlet ends up befriending the dragon as she ends up befriending the school bully, who never pays for her previous acts, and no-one in the entire school seems to have any issue with the bullying. The best thing I can say about this, is that it's short. I can't commend it in any way.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

Written by songwriter Meloy this ebook is very long and very slow-moving unfortunately. The 540-some page print version is illustrated by his wife, Ellis, but I saw none of that in the audio version, which was read by Amanda Plummer in such a sweet voice that I think I kept it going longer because of that. Had the voice been less pleasing, I would have ditched it a lot earlier than I did.

This book exemplifies one reason I don't like longer books: too many of them seem to take forever to get anywhere. When I was about a quarter the way through it, nothing had really happened other than that this girl saw her toddler brother carried away by crows into this wild wooded area, and she went into it to get the kid back and discovered that it was home to a bunch of weird characters including a regiment of military coyotes.

So it was a charming idea, but it was moving like a slug. It had moved along quite quickly to begin with, but once Prue, the main female character had got into the Wildwood area, everything seemed to have the brakes slammed on and it really started to drag. I kept going until about a third the way in and lost patience with it.

There was a battle described between the coyotes and the bandits in the forest, and it was so gory that I couldn't believe I was reading a book written for young children. While I get that children see this kind of thing more often in video games, movies, and on TV these days than their counterparts used to, this still struck me as a lot of unnecessary detail. It's possible in a children's book to describe death without going into into loving detail. Again this is a problem with an overly long book - too much time on the author's hands.

The only amusing thing, to me, about this is that it was at this point that I chose to skip to the last few tracks and despite the skip, I came back into it to discover equally gory detail! I couldn't believe it. We have enough violence in schools these days without needing to extoll it in literature. It was like I was still listening to the same part of the book. On top of this was a baby sacrifice, and I decided this book wasn't worth spending any more time on, and quit listening.

I can't commend something like this as a worthy read or a listen, not even with Amanda Plummer's voice.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Courtney Crumrin Volume 1 The Night Things by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

As promised a few days back, I did pick up volume one and read it and loved it. I think I liked this more than the volume 3 I read previously, so now volume 2 is on the way!

This volume brings Courtney to her great uncle Aloysius's house...or is it her father's great uncle? Or his father's great uncle? Courtney gets bullied by the spoiled rich kids at school, but when she discovers her uncle has some interesting spell and charm books in his secret collection, she manages to co-opt help from a forest sprite, get herself glamoured to become the most popular person in school (big mistake), and lose the baby she was babysitting in a unilateral exchange with the fairies. But she cdecides she likes it here and wants to stay.

I enjoyed this book - the steady pace, the interesting situations, the steadfast fearlessness of Courtney and the endearing artwork. I commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 5 The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This was one of the last two of this series that I had not read yet, although by no means the last in chronological order. Not that that matters very much with this series, but this one was published as volume five, and was the last one I read, and it's odd to think this grew on me so quickly after I had initially not liked one of these volumes when I read it a few years back and so never pursued the series! Now I'm sorry it's over, but I do understand Allison's desire to move on and try something new. I'm just sorry I didn't like what he did next.

In this volume, the author explores Selkies - mythological seal-like creatures that inhabit the ocean, but after casting-off their sealskin cloak, appear as human - and very pretty young girls some of them are, too. Due to Lottie's discovery of one of these cloaks on the beach, and her stuffing it into one of the boys' bags, the Selkie latches onto this boy and pursues him ardently, including enrolling at his school, where she poses a threat to the established swimming champion in the school, who is also threatened by her boyfriend dating one of the girls without telling her he doesn't want to date her any more. But wait, his ex is good-looking, and a great swimmer? What's going on here? Meanwhile the Selkie's dad emerges from the ocean in search of his lost girls and is immediately assumed to be a homeless guy!

Once again I was highly amused by this and I am sorry to see the series come to an end. I commend this as a worthy read.


Bad Machinery Volume 2 The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second to last I've read in this series, but the second to be published chronologically. In the story, Mildred wants to win an enchanted pencil at the visiting carnival, so she can draw a dog - which the pencil will make real, and then she can have a pet. Meanwhile toddlers are disappearing, mostly from the baby care centre, and the police don't seem to be doing much about it ("Oh, they'll turn up!"). Meanwhile some sort of creature is lurking in the forest and a crazed animal hunter is called in to track it down.

So once again the boys and the girls are coming at a mystery from two direction and destined to collide, one way or another, in the middle. There's the usual off-kilter humor, and bizarre utterances from Lottie, my favorite character, and overall the story was hilarious and very much appreciated. I fully commend it as a worthy read.


Courtney Crumrin Volume 3 In the Twilight Kingdom by Ted Naifeh


Rating: WORTHY!

I didn't realize when I first picked this one up on spec from the library that it's volume three in an apparently disjointed series of seven. It was readable as a standalone though, if you don't mind missing the backstory - which really doesn't seem to have impacted my grasp of this volume. By the time I'd completed half of it and found it engaging, I decided I might go back and see if the library has any previous volumes, and I still feel that way despite the story slowing down rather in the second half and not really having an ending.

Courtney is a young witch with a less than accommodating attitude, and I liked her as a character. She's powerful and feared, but for all that she seems to be very restrained with her practicing her witchery. She tries to warn her teacher at this witch school not to conduct this experimental spell, but the teacher doesn't listen, and when they realize the spell won't wear-off this poor kid, as the teacher had thought it would, Courtney has to step-up and try to fix it. The teacher has to learn a second lesson though, before she realizes she ought to seriously listen to Courtney's advice.

My problem in the second half was that Cortney went into the goblin lands to try to fix this bad spell, yet there was nothing she did there which seemed to lead to a solution, and nearly all her time there was spent fixing a second gaff by her teacher. One wonders why Courtney isn't teaching this class.

The thing is that by the end of the story, the boy still wasn't 'fixed'. I didn't understand that, and it doesn't appear that this story is taken up on any later volume, so I have to declare a certain amount of dissatisfaction with that regardless of how much I had enjoyed this to begin with. It's with some mixed feelings that I still consider this particular volume a worthy read therefore. It was interesting and different, and the black and white line art was good, but I guess I'll have to read another one to decide how I feel about the series as a whole.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Sali and the Five Kingdoms by Oumar Dieng


Rating: WARTY!

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

I made it a third of the way through this before giving up due to the story moving too slowly, paradoxically jumping abruptly from one thing to another, and trying to be far too mysterious. It didn't feel very well-written to me. There was little descriptive writing, and none of the characters seemed inclined to use contractions: it was all "I am" and "you are" - nobody seemed able to say "I'm" and "you're" which gave a very stilted tone to the novel. I quit reading this when a 'mineral which isn't on the periodic table' was mentioned.

The fact is that there can't be anything that's not on the periodic table, which contains every element (some of which, such as manganese, for example are called minerals). Even elements we have not yet discovered are on the table with a holding space for their proper place when they're officially discovered and labeled. That's why it's called periodic, because it's predictable. We know where the undiscovered elements will appear on the table, and what their properties are likely to be. Most of the undiscovered ones are so unstable they don't exist in nature except for split fractions of a second in, for example, nuclear reactions. They're highly radioactive and would do no living thing any good. There's a potential 'island of stability' where there is thought to be a spot for a very heavy stable element around 184 neutrons in size. These have not yet been discovered or created in the lab, but they're not complete mysteries, so I don't buy this 'not on the table' nonsense and I don't approve of misleading young people on this score either.

In addition to this, Sali seems to live in complete isolation from the world, having zero friends despite being part of a Tae Kwon Do dojang (that's the Korean version of a dojo) and she seemed very moody and hair-trigger, even more so than you might imagine given what she's been through. The basic story is that Sali saw her mother quite literally disappear before her eyes when she was young, and thirteen years later, no sign of her mother has been found. Sali is a graduate (I guess from college - the story jumped so fast into it that it was hard to tell, which was another problem), and is starting an internship. Younger readers may enjoy it, but it's hard to tell who the book is aimed at because the main character, who unfortunately tells the story in first person, is (apparently) a college grad starting work, whereas the tone of the book is much more middle grade.

Additionally, the setting of the book is futuristic, but there's nothing in the opening chapter which reveals this, so when Sali gets into her car and uses this way-advanced heads-up display to navigate to a rendezvous, it really stood out starkly against the low-tech background the story had been residing in up to that point. It was quite a jolt. I let that slide, but as these minor hiccups kept coming, they became collectively too big of a hiccup to enjoy the story after quite a short time, and like I said, I gave up about a third the way in due to lack of interest in pursuing this. I'm not a fan of first person to begin with since it nearly always seems so very unrealistic, but that wasn't really the issue here, so that was a pleasant surprise!

But there were many problems. At one point there was this seemingly random information tossed into story about the discovery of a hive of wild bees - this supposedly 39 years after bees had become extinct. Note that 39 years is a heavy foreshadowing of three times thirteen - the number of years since Sali's mom disappeared, but that wasn't the problem. The problem here is that there's absolutely no talk of the issues it would cause if bees actually did disappear. Bees pollinate 70% of the crops that feed 90% of the world! You can't have bees disappear for almost forty years and there be no impact on society, yet this is how this story read. Again, unrealistic - serving further to isolate Sali and her story from the real world (that is, the real world as depicted in this story).

One problem for me was the disjointed writing style - with large jumps between one event and another with little or no indication of the time elapsed. When this happens between chapters, it's not so bad, but when it happens between one paragraph and the next with no effort to clue the reader in to the passage of time, it's confusing or worse, annoying, and this happened after Sali had foolishly gone to a rendezvous after some guy left a note on her car. Fortunately the rendezvous is in a public place and Sali has some martial arts skills, but it's not a good idea to let young readers think it's okay to meet a stranger, especially not when, as I write this, a young woman's body was found in a canyon after she met someone in Utah who evidently did not have her best interests at heart. Sali should have at the very least told someone what she was up to.

There were two problems with her meeting this guy. The first is that while the guy she meets actually does have information about her mother, as usual, it's very vague. He palms her off with advice to ask her father, and despite his having a folder with some extensive documentation in it, he never shares that with her, which begs the question as to why he's carrying it around in the first place. I'm not a fan at all of a writing style which creates an artificial 'mystery' by withholding information from the reader (and the main character) for no good reason at all. It makes the story seem amateur and fake, like bad fanfic.

The second problem is that Sali seems far too lax in pursuing this new information with her father. The story tells us it's several days after she met this guy Simon before she calls her father about it, which seemed unrealistic given how much she still suffers from her mother's abrupt and dramatic disappearance. You'd think she'd want to pursue it immediately and we're given no reason why she doesn't. More realistically, she would have called her dad the same night and the hell with waking him up, but this isn't the only weird jump in time. The very next sentence after she hangs up the call with dad begins, "It had been a few weeks since I had met with Simon Freitz". Just like that! There's no new chapter, no section symbol to indicate a gap.

Instead, there's one short paragraph where she relates that she's still angry with her dad, and then in the very next paragraph after that, her dad is arriving with her grandpa in his truck! He's back from London and there's no preamble or heads up, which could have been related in that previous paragraph. It's just so disjointed! This kind of thing turned me off this story pretty quickly.

Oumar Dieng motivational speaker, storyteller, author and life coach, and while I wish him all the best in his career, I can't commend this one as a worthy read.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 7 The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

Here I go reviewing the last volume before I've read them all. The others are on the way. This one, surprisingly, was actually in a regular comic book format - but slightly smaller. This made for easy reading, but disguised the fact that it was considerably shorter than the others I've read. Whether this was just because it's the closing volume, or this one was written for the print version rather than as a web comic, I do not know.

The story was just about the girls, too - which is fine with me because they've been typically far more interesting than the boys who barely were featured in this story. And by that I mean they were in the story hardly at all - not that they were in the story without any clothes on.

So Charlotte Grote, Mildred Haversham, and Shauna Wickle are on the case - once they discover what the case is, and in this case it's the curious wormhole in a cabinet in the chemistry lab at school, which they go through back to 1960, only to return and discover that the present is screwed-up, so naturally they have to go back and fix it now. Or then. Whatevs.

You know they're still going to screw something up, right?

I loved this story. It might be my favorite, but I still have volumes two and five to go, so we'll see. Meanwhile this gets a worthy!


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Bad Machinery Volume 4 The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

Another outing for Charlotte, Linton, Jack, Mildred, Shauna, and Sonny, who are now in the second year at Griswold Grammar school and marveling at how tiny and young the new first years look. One new kid, Lem, is decidedly strange. He eats onions like they're apples and suddenly, everyone starts thinking he's a cool guy - including Shauna's previously disparaging friends.

But where are Shauna's compatriots? Why do they all seem utterly preoccupied with other things and uncaring about a "mystery"? Shauna, it seems, will have to go it alone, or recruit new people onto her team, because one by one, it seems, even her closest friends are being won over to Lem's onion-eating circle. What the heck is going on? One way or another, Shauna's going to find out.

After a weird start to this series several years back, and a hiccup several years back minus two, I finally got really into it over the last few days, and now I intend to check out the remaining three volumes.


Bad Machinery Volume 3 The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison


Rating: WORTHY!

This is volume one of the graphic novel series for which I reviewed volume six yesterday. The volumes are, in order: The Case of the Team Spirit, The Case of the Good Boy, The Case of the Simple Soul, The Case of the Lonely One, The Case of the Fire Inside, The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor, and The Case of the Forked Road. The publication as print volumes, of the collected web comics began in 2013, and at least one was published every year through 2017. Since that was over two years ago, I'm thinking this series is done now.

When I posted the review of volume six yesterday, I couldn't get away from the idea that Bad Machinery was something I'd tangled with before - and I'm not talking about an old motor vehicle! So I looked back in my reviews and discovered that I'd reviewed two of these, one back in 2014 and the other in 2016, the first negative, the second positive, but I'd never got back with any volumes after that.

When I'd read it for the first time, volume 3 (which is this volume) I hadn't rated it very highly and I forgot about it, but now having read it again, I'm forced to change my view. I think maybe I've warmed to the characters and the story-telling in the meantime - or maybe before was a mean time and now isn't? I dunno! But no! This doesn't mean I'm going to return to previously negatively-rated books for the purpose of re-reading and re-rating all of them! Yuk!

When I initially read it, I was trading the thing back and forth with my son (and the format of these books is unwieldy!), each of us reading a section, and neither of us had been very impressed with it. This time I read it on my own and as part of these three volumes I'm reviewing today, so I think maybe I was on a roll.

In this volume, the usual crew, Linton Baxter, Sonny Craven, Jack Finch, Charlotte Grote, Mildred Haversham, and Shauna Wickle come at the same problem - a fire-starter - from different angles, and end-up solving the problem. One issue is a real live troll - who looks like a brawny, neckless human, is living under a bridge. The other issue is that empty barns are being burned down. Of course there are many other issues!

The gang get by with their usual wry and dry take on life, their usual weird situations, and their usual humor. Unlike in late 2014, this amused me this time around and I commend it as a worthy read.