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

Monday, December 2, 2019

Sovay by Celia Rees

Rating: WORTHY!

I enjoyed Celia Rees's Witch Child which was one of the earliest novels I blogged since I first began blogging reviews. I'm happy to report I enjoyed this one, as well.

It's set in renaissance Italy, and Sovay is the bastard daughter of a well-to-do Italian, who had an affair with a seamstress. He loved his daughter and left her a dowry, which her evil stepmother uses to buy not a husband, but a berth in a convent for her detested stepdaughter.

Sovay has other plans, however, and consults an astrologer who informs her she will find her true love despite events. As extra insurance, she buys a charm which is supposed to heat up(!) when her true love shows up. I have to say I felt that the charm was a bit of a waste of time. I admit a curiosity as to why the author put it in there, because for me, it really contributed nothing to the story which would have worked better without it.

Nevertheless, Sovay, something of an artist, attends the convent and starts learning the rules. There are mean rich girls there who bully her - again that's a trope that could have been omitted, but once Sovay's art is discovered, she's taken out of normal convent life and assigned as an initiate into the art department - which is run by a renowned female artist, inventor of the prized and secret 'Passion Blue' pigment, and who helps fill the convent coffers with commissions for her art. Sovay begins learning much, but is not willing to give up her pursuit of true love, and forms an attachment to a boy who is working on restoring a mural at the convent.

Needless to say, things do not pan out the way Sovay was hoping for or expecting, but they do pan out and the story reaches a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed it very much and will probably seek other work by this author since she continues to bat a thousand with me. I commend this as a worthy read.

Gate of Air by Resa Nelson

Rating: WARTY!

"...and her faith never waived." I think she meant 'wavered'.
"Like all Northlanders (other than Frayka), men and women alike had long blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes." Not really.
"No sense in getting all sentimental." That last word didn't exist in Viking times. It comes from Latin sentire - to feel, but the Vikings didn't know it as a word. I get that you can't write a novel like this in the original language, but you can try, as an author, to make it sound somewhat like it's from another era, and not middle-America mall-speak!
Another example is the old guy who said things like: "Njall ain't hating you." And "It be you and Njall!" Seriously?! This is an abject lesson in how to write Northlanders and make them sound American! LOL!
Again with the Aryan cult: "Although he had the height and pale features of all other Northlanders" The truth is that Vikings were no taller than other peoples, and shorter than today's average, women being about 5 feet, men about 5.5 feet. In today's world, the Danes are 4th in line in terms of average height, and Icelanders are 10th so...still not towering.

This novel irked me pretty much from the start and it soon became too nauseating to read. It didn't sound remotely authentic, and much of it was misleading, ill-conceived, or far too American to sound remotely like an ancient people from Scandinavia! One of the early sentences revolved around the fact that main character Frayka (really? Frayka?!), who had just returned from an extended voyage, wasn't wearing her Sunday best or pristine and clean. As if.

I read: "Didn't you hear me ask if she'd ever laundered them? Think of how long she's been wearing them!" Laundered? The Norse peoples were hygienic, but it's highly unlikely someone welcoming back people who had been on a long voyage would make a comment like this! This was nothing more than high-school bullying! It felt so inauthentic and was the first big problem with this novel - the young adult outside who becomes the heroic femme. It's been done to death. Please! Get a new shtick already!

The writing was so clunky and amateurish that I gave up on it quickly and ditched the novel. I can't commend it based on what I read.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinney

Rating: WARTY!

Me and this novel did not get along. Despite misgivings (see below) I did start to read it but it did not draw me in, and I felt like I shouldn't have started it anyway for reasonsI discuss next.

This novel in print form uses less than sixty percent of the page for text, and only some forty percent on new chapter pages. Naturally no one wants a book that is so print heavy it's like reading in the dark, but publishers could very easily use much more of the page than they do, thereby reducing paper waste and saving trees, which are the only organized institution actually doing anything concrete to seriously fight climate change. They need all the help they can get.

Since this was a recycled read, I don't feel so bad about that, but I have to say that it's not acceptable to sell or buy new books that so foolishly waste trees. That said, the story itself wasn't worth all this waste of trees though, either! No story is. It was boring, slow-moving, uninteresting and tedious, and I started skimming quite quickly trying to find interesting parts, and failed. I gave up less than 25% in.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Doomed by Tracy Deebs

Rating: WARTY!

This was another tired novel in first person. I think I'm going to systematically survey all of my books and give away or delete every last one of them that's in first person because I'am so tired of that worthless voice that it almost makes me ill when I see it in a book. Also, if I'd known that this author was a 'professor of writing' at a college, I would never have picked this one up on the first place. Such people are usually the very worst people at writing novels in my experience, but I've had it on my shelf for some considerable time, so maybe I was less picky when I picked this up!

The story launches into tropes form the outset - the disaffected teen who is parentless, the two guys, one a 'bad boy' and one a good guy for the inevitable YA lust triangle, and the ditz of a female main character who is so useless she can't possibly choose between them and leads both of them on like a cruel mistress for the entire trilogy. Get a tomb! Apparently this professor of writing teaches that it's best to rip-off every story that's ever gone before instead of writing something new and fresh. Either that or she teaches writing originally, and then hypocritically does just the opposite when it comes to her own projects. Either way this is not a person i want to learn anything from.

Main character Pandora wakes up on her birthday. Despite knowing better, she searches desperately for an email from her mom, but there is none. Yes, she's not an orphan per se, but her mother works for Big Fossil, aka Big Oil, and is often gone, and her father has been long gone, yet he's the one who sends her an email. How mom comes to leave Pandora all alone at home with no-one to keep an eye on her is a mystery. It's not like she couldn't afford a live-in caretaker for her daughter, but this lazy writer doesn't even bother to address that.

Pandora is quite obviously, it quickly comes to light, not the brightest silverware in the drawer. When she sees an email from her father, and despite being warned by her mother to delete on sight any emails he might send, she opens the lone one he does send and then clicks on the website it links to. This act unleashes something take instantly takes over the entire internet. Yes, everything, worldwide! No one is better than this hacker. No security is equal to it, so everything goes down. Then Pandora's computer lights up and she's offered the chance to play a game and save the world. Also, her two male consorts are let in on the game. How her father would even known she was hanging out with these two guys these days is one of endless questions left unanswered.

Idiot Pandora, despite the entire world being offline, decides they can go get pizza. This leads to a truck broadsiding them, and it was when Pandora, in first person, was describing in detail the accident that I decided I wither needed something to prevent severe nausea, or I needed to get the hell away from this piece of garbage. I chose to ditch the book. It's trash. I'm done with this author, too.

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 12, 2019

Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss

Rating: WORTHY!

This book was set in 1487, which is the same year that the farcical witch-hunters' manual Malleus Maleficarum was published, and Leonardo da Vinci drew his 'Vitruvian Man'. It tells the story of Giulia Borromeo, the daughter of a Count and a seamstress in his employ.

When the count dies, it turns out that in his will, he has left provision for a dowry for Giulia so that she might marry decently, but her wicked stepmother decides that Giulia needs to be married to Christ, and gives her dowry to a convent, to which Giulia is promptly dispatched. She's not sent so promptly however that she doesn't have time to pay a quick visit to an astrologer who maps out her future with regard to whether or not she will ever meet her romantic match.

If she'd worded it precisely that way, she might have got a clearer answer, but in a desperate attempt to make sure she gets what she wants, she also pays a sorcerer to create an amulet containing a spirit which will guide her to her true love. I'm unconvinced of the value of incorporating this supernatural element into this story, because it seemed like an unnecessary distraction to me, and the story works perfectly well without it, but the amulet played only a small role, so I was willing to let that slide.

That amulet seems to Giulia like it burns when she meets a young man at the monastery who is there to renew a damaged fresco. Of course she's not supposed to be with him alone, but she's a bit of a rebel, and she doesn't want to be at the convent anyway. She has other plans. She's expecting to meet the love of her life and move on.

Later, she meets the same guy on a supervised trip from the convent. This trip came about because Giulia has some talent for drawing, and the convent she was sent to conveniently has a workshop of some renown, where nuns create works of art to adorn churches. It's quite a lucrative business, especially since one of the nuns - the maestra, has created a brilliant shade of blue known as passion blue - not from romantic passion but from the passion of Christ. Once Giulia's skill in art comes to light, she's is adopted by this maestra, and begins training as an artist under her wing. She attends the workshop each day instead of pursuing what the other nun novices are doing.

Despite being thrilled with her opportunities there, Giulia is still intent upon pursuing her romantic inclination, and she secretly arranges to meet her guy in the orchard behind the convent one night, where there's a breech in the wall and he can climb through. These meetings continue, but they don't end up where Giulia was expecting them to!

The book was quite surprisingly entertaining. It felt really nice for a change, to pick up a book like this on spec as it were and to discover that it's as good as you'd hoped it would be. We should all write books like that. I commend this fully as a worthy read.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Princeless Book 2 Get Over Yourself by Jeremy Whitley, Emily Martin, Kelly Lawrence

Rating: WORTHY!

I came across these books purely by accident in my local library and pretty much have started falling in love. The writing (by Whitley) is good and amusing, and M-ART-in takes fine care of the ART. Colors by Lawrence are also excellent. Naturally when you're relying on your local library to get this new stuff (new to me anyway) you can't always be sure you get it in the right order - or read it in that order either, for that matter.

This is book 2, and I should have read it after the other volume I got, so that's on me. What's not on me though is the confusion by the author starting a series within a series. Some of the books are subtitled 'Raven the Pirate Princess', and those are intermingled in the library listing, so it was a real pain to sort out not only in what order these should be read, but also which were of one series and which of another. Life ought to be a lot simpler than this. No wonder people end-up takine automatic weapons into crowds when life is like this - and this sure as hell isn't the most egregious example of life's frustrations; it's just one of many minor ones, but many a mickle maks a muckle dontcha know?

That pet frustration aside, I really enjoyed this volume in which Adrienne and Bedelia take their dragon Sparky on a road-trip (road? Air-trip) in search of Angelica, who ain't so angelic, but who is Adrienne's sister, and who bills herself as fantasy land's most beautiful.

Unfortuantely, it appears that Angelica is in no need of rescue and probably would prefer to be left alone with her swelling crowd of admirers, but that's not the only problem since the King has hired a group of poseurs, aka knights(? Maybe?) to track down and kill the knight he believes is responsible for Adrienne's death. The problem is that the night who "killed" Adrienne is actually Adrienne herself, as part of a dastardly escape plan. The plot quickens. Loved it. Commend it. Haven't had this much fun since Bad Machinery and Rat Queens which is hardly surprising since this appears to be a cross between both those series. Now I'm on my own quest to find more.

Princeless The Pirate Princess Girls Who Fight Boys by Jeremy Whitley, Rosy Higgins, Ted Brandt

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Whitley, with art by Higgins and Brandt, this began as a Rapunzel rip-off about the rescuing of a purported princess (she'd deny it) from a tower. Her hair, unfortunately, was nowhere near long enough, but the escape was affected anyway, and they were on their merry way. The 'pirate princess' was desperate to take over the nearest pirate ship, especially since it was being run by her brother (although he was not on board). I was sorry one of the trio dropped out and spent the rest of this volume napping, but that's dwarves for you.

Most fun sentence: "We kept company for a few moments before she continued eastward while I ate and watered my horse." I've heard the phrase "I could eat a horse," but the way this was worded, she actually did eat a horse. And then watered it. That takes some doing....

Loved it though. A fun romp. Commend it. Looking for more.

Hellcat Careless Whiskers by Kate Leth, Brittney L Williams, Rachelle Rosenberg

Rating: WARTY!

I have to say of this that I found the title far more entertaining than the content. I'm sorry to have to say that, but there it is. The story didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, and there really wasn't much happening. This is the only one about this character that I've read and it isn't the first one in the series, so maybe it loses something for that, but to me it wasn't appealing at all. I liked the Hellcat played by Rachael Taylor in the Netflix series Jessica Jones far more than ever I liked this one, who was rather lacking in substance.

That was the entire problem: it was nothing but a ping-pong game between Hellcat and her rival who was chewing up the scenery and not in any entertaining fashion at that. Hellcat's followers were being subsumed by her rival (whose name I completely forget) and as soon as hellcat would manage to liberate one, another would get sucked in due to some magical ability inherent in her rival's claws. I actually was liking her rival better than the hero quite frankly, but that's a relative liking. Nothing of interest was happening, and overall I didn't like this at all or find it entertaining or engaging. I can't commend it. At least I can say it got a negative OC rating (i.e. there were no open crotch shots in this comic) - but then it was a female vehicle so that didn't surprise me).

Zatanna's Search by arrested-adolescence writers and artists

Rating: WARTY!

Zatanna the female magician starts out right on the front cover in fishnet hose, so though it's technically not an open crotch shot, I didn't need to go any further into this comic book to fail it. The crotch shot is completely obviated by the cover itself. FAIL. Her legs are entirely out of proportion to the rest of her body as well. Just sayin'. Art or porn?

Spider-Gwen Radioactive apparently written by adolescents

Rating: WARTY!

I was impressed by Spider-Gwen in the hugely successful animated move Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which made over four times its budget and will, so I've read, spawn at least two sequels/spin-offs. This comic unfortunately, is a FAIL because the OC rating for this graphic novel was 46. That means that it took only until page 46 for a gratuitous open crotch shot, which admittedly is better than many I've looked at recently, but still unacceptable. The art crew? Unsurprisingly, it was almost entirely male.

Cable and X-Force Onslaught Rising by various adolescents

Rating: WARTY!

This comic gets an OC rating of 19. That's the page number I quit reading at because that's where the first illustration of a female appeared with her legs wide open for no reason at all except that the artists of this trash are quite evidently perennially adolescents. Open Crotch on page 19 says it all.

Almost as bad was the artwork in general, which was so scratchy it made me itch - for less. There was nothing attractive, elegant, or anything about it at all. It had bared, gnashing teeth and fighting on every other page. The only chops it had were drooling, and it's not remotely entertaining at all.

X-Force a Force to be Reckoned With by assorted delayed-adolescence writers and artists

Rating: WARTY!

This has an OC rating of 26 - that is, it took only until page 26 for a female to be portrayed with her legs wide open to the viewer. Hilariously, the one thing the woman is saying in that same panel is "Never!". Any OC (open crotch) rating is a fail for comic book and graphic novels, and the lower the number, the greater the failure. This book is a fail regardless of whetever else it thinks it has to offer.

The entire creative cast for this book was evidently high testosterone, adolescent males so this surprises me not a whit, but the interesting thing is that if this was rated on male open crotch shots instead of female, it would have an even higher rating of 1, meaning the very first page had an open crotch shot of a male. That's the lowest rating you can get nrxt to a zero for such an image on the cover. In 1998, a study at the University of Central Florida of 33 video games found that half of them depicted violence against women or sexually-objectified them. Do we really want comics going down that stinking, testosterone-laced alley? No wonder female comic book buyers are in the minority.

So the novel is a fail, but I also have to say that the drawing was poor for my taste. It was too 'scratchy' - like if you load an image into a computer art app and sharpen it up too much? That's what the artwork looked like in this book. I didn't like it. I didn't like the characters, either, especially not cable, and the story was boring. These characters were fighting every other page. What the hell is wrong with these morons who write these books? Do they think endless fighting equals a story? More to the point, what the hell is wrong with the morons who read trash like this? WARTY, period.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Rating: WORTHY!

Eliz is counting the days until her graduation when she can head off to college and leave her little town behind. She's tired of being the odd one out at school and has no interest in anyone there. What neither the school nor anyone else but her immediate family realizes is that Eliza Mirk is the creator of a web comic called Monstrous Sea, which is highly popular. Why it is, I don't know.

There are a few (and far between) illustrations in the print book along with some text about which I had no particular feelings one way or the other excepting to say that it didn't seem to me the type of thing that would inspire and rabid readership and a thriving paraphernalia store which nets Eliza a comfortable income such that she can already pay her way through college.

This all begins to unravel when a studly guy arrives at her school as a transfer, and immediately he and Eliza start becoming an item. At first it's very awkward, but when they both reveal their shared interest in Monstrous Sea (he as a fan fiction writer, she as a fan fiction artist - so she tells him) they begin hanging out together and eventually really are dating. This is where I began to have problems with this novel because it started feeling too trope to live. The girl who thinks she's unattractive and has no interest in guys. The stud of a guy - a jock, with chiseled features and a buff bod - is attracted to her. Seriously? That is so YA. This could have been about a couple of regular nerds with no special physical qualities and it would ahve read a lot better, so why'd the author go the trad route instead of making her own path? Selling out to Big publishing™ maybe? Far too many YA authors do.

For the longest time it seems as though Eliza was truly going to be different, because the writing suggested she was perhaps overweight and typically dressed way down, but in the end she's the good-looking girl who only needs to take her eyeglasses off to be a runway model. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but it came close at times. That started to turn me off the novel, but the writing continued to be good, original, and interesting and the relationship didn't suddenly balloon out of nothing. That sure helped. The thing is that it could have been that same way with the nerds. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

I read on anyway, and found myself being drawn into the story and wanting to know what happened next even when, at the end, it became predictable. Eliza had a counterpart who had started a series of books and then when it came to the last volume - never produced one. She left her fans hanging and dropped out of the world. You knew at this point that Eliza would contact her when she ran into the same issues, which in Eliza's case were precipitated by her idiot parents who have zero understanding of Eliza, and who constantly demean and belittle her interests concerning Monstrous Sea; they consider it to be just some passing fad which didn't deserve to be taken seriously. They had no interest in even reading the web comic.

I wondered at times how autobiographical this novel was. I don't know. I hope it wasn't, but it could well be for all I know. She writes like maybe it is, or like maybe she knows someone like this. I can understand it from my own experiences. But loved ones aren't by any means required to love what we love. We can only hope for understanding, and be miserable if we don't get it! Writing can be a very lonely profession, even for an amateur.

The problem other than the trope high-school couple was that the ending was very predictable. You know she's going to be outed before she tells her studly boyfriend her big secret and that he's going to react very negatively, but in the end everything is going to be hunky dory, and she's even going to be reconciled with her family that she's spent the entire novel all-but despising until that last few pages. That was too sickly for me, but despite that, the overall the novel was worth reading. Besides I'm tired of wishing for novels that don't necessarily wrap-up neatly in the end like a pathetic TV sitcom tying off all the loose ends in a half-hour or forty minutes. I got so tired of waiting for such novels to come that I started writing them myself!

I read somewhere that this author is John Greene's new favorite. I wonder what happened to the previous one? How are they faring? Whenever I read one author recommend another like that I wonder how much they were paid to review the book. She's fortunate that I read that commendation after I read her novel, because if I'd read it beforehand I would never have picked this book up! I can't say she's my favorite author, but then I'm not paid for my reviews! I can say I would read something else by her - except maybe not if it was as long as this was.

Nightmare City by Jack Conner

Rating: WARTY!

"You're 'friend'?" should be "Your 'friend'"
"Kat ducked under it, hurt a splash, and smelled something foul." Heard a splash?

This book had a few typos which is not big deal for me. The ones I noticed are listed above. The story started out great. Set in an alien world (or maybe Earth of the future, but gone real bad!), Kat is a petty thief operating on the edges of major crime boss territories.

One blurb has it that "In the dystopian, steampunkish city of Lavorga, the young and beautiful thief Katya has stumbled upon a plot that may spell the end of the world . . . and only she can stop it." Why beautiful has to be spelled out I do not know. I don't recall reading that when I found this book on offer. If I had, I would have rejected it out of hand. What makes her special if her only qualities are young a beautiful? That's pathetic. When she grows old is she going to be worthless? That is what Hollywood seems to think, so maybe this author - or the blurb writer - has bought that kettle of rotting fish. The young are often beautiful; youth is often the mistaken for beauty. They're two sides of the same coin and tell us nothing.

The thing is I started out liking it, but once the big crime boss she goes on a spying mission for welcomes her back and is uninvitedly manhandling her, and she offers no objection to it, I lost all interest in it and ditched it right there.

The story hadn't been making a lot of sense, but it was engaging, as was the character (but not for her youth and 'beauty'). The problem was that life ran a little too smoothly for her, and I could see exactly where this was going as, returning from her mission, the waifish girl was subsumed by the big muscular man. I had no desire to go there with it. Grab a barf bag if you plan on reading further than I did. You'll need it. I can't commend this based on the sizeable portion I read.

Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, Molly Park

Rating: WORTHY!

Written by Ly and illustrated by Park, this book was a regular-sized comic book, but with hard covers and it was quite a fat tome to boot. I really enjoyed it. Both the writing and the artwork were excellent. Suee is a strange, but engaging and rather fearless child, unless you count her fear of making friends. Because she's at a new school and so reticent about socializing, she begins rationalizing her behavior by telling herself that she doesn't need friends and anyway these people (pretty much all other humans) are not right for her.

That's not really her problem though. She's a very independent young woman and doesn't pine for the company of others. No, her problem latches onto her right after she visits this one rather scrappy and dark room in the school, and she hears someone calling in there and ventures inside. From that point on, it seems, she finds herself the host of a rather different shadow from the one she normally sports in bright light. This shadow has a will and agency of its own and seems to appear most-readily when she's annoyed.

After some negotiation, the two seem to get along, but there's something not right, not only with the weird shadow, but with other kids in the school - particularly the ones who are bullied. After a while they seem to turn into rather zombie-like people. Not the brain-eating variety, but the shambling, lifeless variety. And like Damien Mocata in Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out, they have no shadow.

At first, Suee pretends she has no interest in these events, but as her own shadow bothers her more and more, she finally snaps and determines that she will figure out what's going on here and fix it! Unless her shadow companion takes her over first, just like other children seem to become taken. By this time she has two recruits who will help her and the three of them eventually do overcome these problems and in doing so learn something about bullying and friendship. I loved this story - particularly the shadow - both the drawing of it and the repartee - and I fully commend this graphic novel as a worthy read.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

One of Fred's Girls by Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas by Frederick Kohner

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

Athena's Choice by Adam Boostrom

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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