Showing posts with label Holly Black. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holly Black. Show all posts

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lucifer Cold Heaven by Holly Black, Lee Garbett, Stephanie Hans, Antonio Fabela

Rating: WARTY!

I really enjoy the TV series Lucifer based on the character from the Sandman comics. I tried a couple of those and did not like them at all, but I thought maybe the dedicated Lucifer comics might be better. They were not. I looked at two of them, and I made it only half way through this one and a quarter way through the mainstream one, and I was not impressed at all by either one. I'll stick with the TV show.

This particular edition collates six individual comics into one. The story here is that god has been killed and a disgraced Gabriel and Lucifer have to work together to solve the case. They evidently didn't get the news that god has long been dead for all thinking people who are not blind sheep! LOL!

Yes, the premise is utterly absurd, and I really have no time for the traditional trope angels and demons shtick, but I thought perhaps this might have some of the charm and humor of the TV show. It did not. The tow are completely unrelated. This whole graphic novel series of Lucifer is exactly that: graphic with gore, and rot and evil, and with nothing to leaven it or save it. The story made no sense. I mean, if god is in his Heaven and is surrounded by adoring dead Christians (or Jews or Muslims, or whatever), then how did anyone ever sneak by to murder him? What does it mean that a god is mortal? None of this is considered in the hell-bent rush to the gross-out.

The comics are obnoxious in ways other than the pointless gore, though. They're racist. There are no people of color here - everyone is white because, presumably, the main artist is white. Either that's racist because the artist doesn't consider non-whites - the overwhelmingly massive majority of people on Earth - to be worth representing, or it's racist because we're being shown that white people are overwhelmingly evil. While it's tempting, sometimes, to consider that, it is in fact not true, excepting our current government of course!

More than this, in this comic there was a fat-shaming episode in that the only person who was overweight who was depicted in the entire comic here was evil. Everyone else, even the evil people, were slim and good looking. Fat people are evil? Way to go, Lee Garbett! Being a male artist, Garbett is very squeamish about depicting male genitalia. In his favor, I perhaps should say that he doesn't pneumatically over-sex his female characters, but it's harder to judge that because there are almost none in the story, which is curious given the gender of the writer.

So, in short, I cannot recommend this story. It was trite, and predictable and amateur, and the artwork was the same. Worse, there was nothing new here at all.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Rating: WORTHY!

These three twelve-year-old kids, Alice, Poppy, and Zach, have a healthy imagination and play together in an elaborate fantasy world they've created, featuring pirates and mermaids, and evil queens, based on their respective toys - action figures, Barbie dolls, and this one bone china doll in Poppy's mom's cabinet. The way Holly Black evokes these kids and their passion for this fantasy world is remarkable. The way it's read by Nick Podehl contributed greatly to the atmosphere and representation of the kids, too. I can only speculate uselessly how I would have found this novel had I read it first rather than listened to it. I would still have liked it, but would I have liked it as much? More? It's impossible to say, just as it's impossible to say if I would have disliked it had the narrator been rather nauseating. You pays your money and you takes your chance! Except that in this case it's "You borrows your audiobook ...."

Zach's dad thinks Zach is too old and too male to be playing with dolls, so he throws out all of Zach's figures one day while Zach is at school. The boy already resented his father for disappearing for some time before slowly sliding his way back into the family, but now Zach honestly hates him. For reasons which I didn't feel were well explained, Zach is too embarrassed to admit to the girls that his toys were thrown away, so he brusquely states that he's done playing these childish games. This begins a thread of discord which runs uncomfortably through this story like a out-of-the-way itch

The girls are crushed, but he's adamant about his decision, until late one night Alice and Poppy show up outside his bedroom window with a story that Poppy has been having night-time visitations from the ghost of the bone china doll, which she says is made from real bones of a dead girl who wants to be buried or she will curse them. Poppy has some actual ashes and bone fragments she says were inside the doll. They look like they came from someone's cremated remains.

Zach isn't sure that she's being honest, and he only half-way believes the ghost story, but he's impressed by Poppy's earnest demeanor, and by Alice's bravery at risking being grounded for life by her strict grandmother. Alice said she would only go with Poppy if Zach came, and Poppy was determined to go alone if she had to. Zach may have been skeptical, but impressed by the strength of conviction in his friends, and interested in one more adventure with the girls, the three of them hop on a bus to East Liverpool in the wee hours. it's a three hour ride to whence this dead girl supposedly hailed. Their plan is to bury her and lift the curse.

Thus begins their quest! The story is told well and has a lot of action and adventure, and some interesting conversations and shifting allegiances. There are some less than noble behaviors indulged in by these three kids, and I would have liked to have seen some sort of remorse or cost to the kids resulting from these, but there was none. I didn't like that. That aside, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I recommend it not only for age-appropriate readers (/listeners!), but for anyone who likes a good adventure story.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black Heart by Holly Black

Title: Black Heart
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K McElderry
Rating: worthy

I've already reviewed the first in this series, White Cat and the sequel, Red Glove.

This one takes off exactly where the last one ended. Cassel and his brother Barron are play-acting at being FBI agents, tailing Lila, with whom Cassel is still obsessed, just for the practice for when they're accepted as real FBI agents. Sam's girlfriend Daneca is now dating Cassel's brother, but Sam doesn't know it. Cassel learns that his mother (Shandra Singer) stole the resurrection diamond from mobster Zacharov (Lila's father), having an affair with him in the process, for that very purpose. Now Zacharov has Shandra held captive - not much of am imprisonment, but the real punishment is the threat, not the specific circumstances of her captivity - against Cassel recovering the diamond.

Moreover, Cassel is being pimped by the FBI to deal with Patton, a crazed state governor who's leading the charge to suppress, repress, imprison, and pretty much wipe-out the curse workers. The FBI wants Cassel to transform Patton into some other species, so he's taken out of the equation, but the more Cassel considers what they're asking him to do, the more he realizes that they're setting him up to take the fall for taking out Patton. Moreover, he also realizes that if he does take out Patton, it will not prevent the legislation that the latter is sponsoring - it will more than likely render him into a martyr, and insure that the legislation is carried.

Cassel manages to wangle his way through all of this without any disastrously false steps, and finally, at the very end, after all this time, he gets...well you'll have to read it to discover that! I liked this volume, too, so I guess I'm signed on to continue reading this series as long as it keeps being readable. It wasn't spectacular, nothing to rave about, but it was acceptable; it was an easy read, and I blew through it rapidly. The only screw-up I noticed was 'Yalikova' on p231 when it should have been 'Yulikova'. The rest was well-written, engaging and kept me turning the pages, so it's a worthy read as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Red Glove by Holly Black

Title: Red Glove
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K McElderry
Rating: WORTHY!

Well we're back with Curse Workers #2, and with Cassel, and Cassel is back in school. And so is Lila, which is a shock to him. He's supposed to be staying away from her because she was emotionally compromised into falling in love with him by Cassel's mother, who is one of the seven varieties of curse worker. Cassel refuses to take advantage of Lila, even though she's pretty much begging for him to take advantage of her; he's resolved to stay distant from her until the curse wears off. He's not doing a very good job of it, and neither is she. But then she doesn’t want to!

That's when the FBI shows up and reveals to Cassel that his brother Phillip has been assassinated. They want him to help them bring down the assassin - someone wearing red gloves, who appears to be female. Here's my wild guess: it’s either Cassel's ex-girlfriend Audrey or it isn’t a female. Now you know for a fact that it’s not Audrey, but it is a female, given my history of appallingly wrong guesses! Unfortunately, Cassel is already feeling wretched about the murders he was forced to commit (and then forget) by his brothers, Phillip and Barron. This entire family consists of men with two consonants in the middle of their name, and the reason Phillip was killed was because he has one too many letters in his name. There. Solved!

Okay, so the seven deadly workings are: emotions, death, dreams, luck, memory, physical, transformation (now you know how the Transformers really arose…). Lila is a dream worker. Cassel is a transformation worker. Cassel's two friends Sam and his girlfriend Daneca are both interested in the case files which the FBI gave to Cassel, despite his never giving them permission to snoop. Cassel discovers that he both killed and hid his victims in one fell swoop by transforming them into inanimate objects. He browbeats Barron into revealing one of the objects to him, but when Cassel transforms it back to its original state, the guy appears alive for a split second and then deteriorates rapidly, confirming what Cassel already knew - you can’t transform a living person to an inanimate object and hope to get them back alive. He really did murder those people. He also knows that you can, for example, transform a young girl called Lila into a white cat and get her back safely. So could you transform someone into a pair of red gloves?

Cassel becomes ever more confused and trapped in this lifestyle that he was so hoping to escape. Zacharov comes courting him by first asking a 'favor' - to change the appearance of one of his assassins. After Cassel complies (he doesn’t feel he has much of a choice), he's treated to a luxury dinner at an exclusive members only club, and later, Cassel finds he's the recipient of a brand new luxury Mercedes, a gift he doesn’t return. So has Zacharov finally bought him? We don’t know. When he later learns what the assassin did, he feels awful that he helped him escape justice.

Meanwhile, the FBI guys are pressuring him to uncover the murderer of his brother. Cassel is reluctant to do this because he's convinced it’s his mother; then he suspects it's Lila! Finally he decides to take matters into his own hands by fingering a person he really dislikes, and who he knows for a fact has put out a contract on someone else in the past. In this way he gets the FBI off his back and metes out harsh justice to someone who he knows is a bad person. He sets this person up by planting the murder weapon from his brother's case in this victim's apartment. I am in somewhat of a state of confusion about exactly how this weapon came to be in his hands and what it means that it ended-up there. Did Cassel kill Phillip?

Yes, Cassel isn't really such a nice guy, and it’s harder to like him in this novel than in White Cat, but he is still, even given all the pressure, trying to do the right thing as he sees it, only to have things go sideways on him at the most inopportune moment. There's one intriguing event when he actually performs a transformation on himself. I had wondered whether a worker could do this, and here we learn of it not only in Cassel's case, but in another instance, too. This made me wonder if Black is slipping this in as a concept so she can use it later to much greater effect on us.

This revelation also brought into focus a question I'd entertained when reading volume one, but never got around to discussing (curse this hectic charge from one novel to another!). This is a technical question as to how, exactly, this cursing business works. I believe I read in volume one that it doesn't manifest itself until somewhere in childhood - maybe onset of puberty? - which is how child-bearing women manage to deliver the kids without being killed or transformed, for example, by the fetus touching them! I don’t recall reading how cursing actually works in practice. There exists this obsession with wearing gloves: everyone wears them, even non-curse workers, because touching is such a verboten activity in this society. Hands are always covered, like breasts and genitals, which effectively turns them into sex organs (after a fashion!).

That reminded me of an old Mad magazine I read once where this series of panels featured three young men at the beach eyeing the semi-exposed girls around them. One of the guys goes off on a riff in his mind about how, if noses were considered sex organs instead, then women with large noses might be considered to be "stacked", and those with snub noses would be considered under-endowed. Right then, this young girl strolls by with a large beak-nose with a Band-Aid on it and the guy blurts out how sexy it is. His two friends look at him in askance. The weird thing is that I actually think that noses can look sexy, or can be a turn off, yet my perspective isn't based on whether they're overly large, or particularly cute, or if they're misshapen. I guess I just like what I like; but I digress!

So anyway: this business of cursing by touch! Clearly if workers can curse themselves, then it can’t be done by nothing more than a touch of the fingers, because the death-dealers would all have inadvertently offed themselves in their sleep at a very young age! There has to be some intent behind it when the victim is touched, yet this isn’t ever really made explicitly clear. This was really brought home to me by a rather erotic scene in this novel when Lila and Cassel start to kiss this one time and their hands are bare yet they're touching each other. Nothing really happens between them, yet this really moved me in the context of this novel because it was so forbidden! The touching seemed far more sinful than any amount of naked flesh or intimate kissing, or of feeling of breasts, or of organs rubbed against each other. Curious, huh?

I think Black has subtly revealed this self-cursing ability to us (or not so subtly, since I noticed it!) because she plans on using this at some point in the novel (or in the finale when she thinks we forgot it!). I guess we'll have to wait and see. I love this series and I'm already looking forward to volume 3.

Back to Cassel! Sometimes he appears to do things way out of left field. Lila is still liking him very much, and the temptation to take advantage of her is ever-growing, so finally, he asks someone who is quite close to him, and who he has discovered unexpectedly, is an emotion worker, to zap Lila with a neutral vibe. He wants her to quit liking him so much, but not to hate him, either. He'll be just another student at her school; no one special. It hurts him to do this, and he knows it will hurt worse when it goes into effect, but he does it because he's convinced that it will be best for her. He honestly feels he can never trust her if she keeps liking him, because he'll always feel it’s the remants of the curse which his mother worked on her. This seems to be the most selfless thing he's ever done.

OTOH, Cassel is, foremost, a con man. He's always gaging all the angles even if he's not working them, so I'm not sure that he truly is doing this for purely selfless reasons, but when I considered why he was asking that this be done on Lila, and not worked on himself, which seems selfish at first glance, I could see that it would be actually less selfless that way. If he did it that way, it would result in Lila (assuming she does have any honest feeling for him) being left high and dry if he suddenly stopped caring for her, so maybe he's putting her first and taking the hit himself rather than dumping it on her, which is a very romantic act in many ways.

But if you wanna know more, then you're gonna hafta read tha novel! I recommend it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

White Cat by Holly Black

Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K McElderry
Rating: WORTHY

Volume one of the Curse Workers series, apparently; not to be confused with the case workers series. This novel only appeared on my radar two days ago and then I found it with the huddled masses in the library yearning to be free. I will have to see if I can find the companion novel to this: Black Cat by Holly White! There actually is a Holly White, but she's into photography, not so much YA fiction! Ooooookay! The second volume in this series is called Red Glove. No word on whether the third in the trilogy is called Blue Balled….

This novel centers on Cassel Sharpe, who ironically seems to be a pawn rather than a castle. If it’s as entertaining as Sharpe's Rifles then I'll be satisfied. Cassel is a high-school teen from a family of curse casters; these are people who can manipulate others in different ways (according to the specific gift that each has) by mere touch. Consequently there is much wearing of gloves. Because curse casting is illegal in the USA, these curse casters are all criminals. Cassel cannot cast anything; he's the standard YA trope: a dysfunctional kid from a dysfunctional family, who not only lacks the ability of his supposed peers, he also carries a 'disability'. Actually, he carries two.

He's attending a boarding school to avoid having to associate with his criminal family; that is, until he finds himself on the steeply-sloping slate roof of the school, with no notion of how he got there. He almost falls off, and the fire department has to come get him down. The school kicks him out (at least temporarily) because they don’t want students randomly falling from roofs. If that happened, - I guess attendance would drop off?! Cassel can return (in theory at least) when he gets a doctor to sign-off on his sleepwalking. Somehow I doubt that we'll see him back at school. This sleep-walking is his first 'disability', but it’s something he thought he'd outgrown. Unfortunately, that night it came back with a vengeance. He had dreamed that a white cat stole his tongue and he'd chased the cat up onto the roof to recover it!

So now he has to leave the school, where he's quite happy, and go stay with his older brother Phillip, where he's not happy, especially since his brother seems to be a rather shady character who is trying to foist him off on his grandfather. Cassel claims he would be even more unhappy there. One night when he's sitting up the stairs eavesdropping on his brother discussing Cassel's future with his grandfather down below, Phillip's wife Maura saunters by, sits with him, and quietly reveals to Cassel that she's going to leave her husband. Later, she completely forgets this. I wonder if she was touched by Phillip?

Cassel's whole family is less than above the law, let’s face it. His mother is in jail and his grandfather has blackened and missing fingers from the killing curses he's cast. All of Cassel's family has one such ability or another, but it comes with a price: every 'working' takes some sort of toll on the worker. Those curse casters who can manipulate memory, for example, tend to lose their own memories. Those curse casters who can kill by touch seem to lose a finger here and there. Wait a minute! What's up with that?!

I know some reviewers make a big deal out of the fact that magic carries a cost in this novel, but this isn't an original idea with Holly Black. Diane Duane, a sadly underrated writer, took that rational tack long before Black did. Anyone who is interested in a more grown-up version of Harry Potter should read her Young Wizards series. Bit I digress! Cassel would appear to be lucky in that he has no ability, since it costs him nothing, but you and I both know that he has some secret mega-ability that's been suppressed, and will be awakened during the course (curse? cure? core?!) of this novel, don't we? Cliché much, Holly? Actually I love the name Holly, but that's not going to stop me from wartifying this novel if it doesn’t please me, rest assured. Yes, that's the curse-working power I have. I can cause novels to be warty if I don’t like them!

"But what of Cassel's other disability?" I hear you asking. Yep, I do - I am tuned into your computer right now spying on you through that little cam you didn’t know was there, and soaking up your every word, rest assured, but your secret is safe with me. So anyway, Cassel's other disability is a real humdinger (yes it is, why would I lie about something like that?) Quit laughing, this is serious. Cassel killed Lila, the daughter of a powerful crime boss. So he believes. All he actually recalls of that night is standing, bloody, over her dead body feeling rather pleased with himself about something. Since then, he's felt absolutely wretched about it, and he finds himself imagining killing other girls to test himself. Each time he's grossed-out by the thought, and so he feels better that his dark passenger isn’t resurfacing. Dexter much, Cassel?!

Given how suspiciously his brother Phillip behaves, I suspect that Cassel has been rooked-up pretty badly (how many more of these chess references can I get away with?). I think he didn’t kill anyone and Phillip's involvement in the cover-up means that someone else killed Lila - or that she's still alive. I'd be willing to bet that Cassel's missing ability is tied to the killing (or non-killing) somehow, and Cassel will turn into a knight (well, one more chess reference at least!) in shining armor and capture his queen (two more!), but we'll have to see.

En passant (another chess reference!), Cassel ends up stuck in his childhood home with his grandfather, the king of assassins (another one!) cleaning up gargantuan piles of hoarded trash. Cassel's jailbird mom was evidently the mother of all pack-rats (no, that's not why she's in jail - she's incarcerated because of a con she pulled). This is at odds with his stated desire to avoid his grandfather because he and Cassel seem to get along really well, trading the occasional barbed comment and smart-mouth remark. Since Cassel is narrating this story, this might be a good reality check for us readers: maybe Cassel isn't always telling us the truth? Or doesn't he know the truth to begin with?

One day Cassel's ex girlfriend Audrey arrives from school with some suggestions which she thought might facilitate his early return to school. What that's all about I have no idea, but Black uses this visit to introduce us to the idea of protective amulets which Audrey wears. You can curse an amulet for one of the half-dozen or so possible curses, and wear it; then if someone tries to curse you, the curse is somehow sucked-up by the relevant amulet and you are spared. The amulet breaks, though, so you need to get a replacement. Amulets have to be made of stone. I know not why. Audrey wears seven, and Cassel also finds an amulet in the trash he's clearing out. He puts that one in his pocket. No doubt it will come in useful later in the story when we've all forgotten it was there. But you and I won't forget, will we now?

The other thing of note - and I consider it more than that actually - is that the house has several cats living in the barn out in the yard, one of which is white. Cassel dreams of this cat again the first night he stays at the house, and the cat speaks to him, telling him that he must undo the curse. At this point it seemed obvious to me (but as usual I'm probably grotesquely wrong in this) that Cassel has not killed Lila, but that he used his power to protect her, yet make it look like he killed her. This is why he was so pleased with himself. I also think that it's possible that the white cat actually is Lila, as bizarre as that seems. Hey, how can that be any more bizarre than a curse-by-touch story?!

In his desperate desire to get back to school and a "normal" life, Cassel lies to his grandfather that he has a doctor's appointment. He actually does go to the doctor, but he has no appointment, nor does he plan on actually seeing the doctor. In the confusion as they try to figure out why his non-existent appointment got screwed up, Cassel lifts the materials he will need to forge a letter from this doctor, which he then mails to his school, clearing him for a return to active duty as it were.

Well, to cut a long review short, Black went the way I had guessed, having Cassel start to think that the cat was indeed Lila, which immediately made me start to think I was completely wrong in my guess, and that the cat wasn't Lila after all. I'm not going to spoil this any more than Holly Black had done at this point by confirming whether I was right or wrong, but once I saw that Black was making it so obvious, then I suspected that Lila might be someone other than the cat - assuming she is indeed alive - and the white cat was a, huh, red herring! My immediate port-of-call then was Cassel's grandfather, which kinda grossed me out! But I thought, what if his grandfather was dead, or had gone far away, and people didn’t know, and Cassel had transformed Lila into him to keep her safe?! I think I would have done that very thing, had I been writing this: made everyone think it was the cat and then turned their stomachs by showing it was the grandfather! Lol! Lila as the grandfather! I love it.

However, I'm telling no more. You’re going to have to read this and try to figure it all out for yourself, because shy of a really lousy ending, I am ready to rate this one as worthy. I already have the next volume on request at the local library. Yes, I wish I could reward the authors by buying more of the really good novels I read, but I simply do not have the funds to buy so many, especially given that I prefer them in hardback and those are so expensive these days! If I ever strike it rich I will have a heck of a lot of books to buy!

I can just tease you by telling you that things really start to snowball towards the end, with revelations and events (that may or may not surprise you) rolling in faster than a San Francisco fog - thick and quick. Cassel is drawn into a scam by his brothers that can only end badly for him. He discovers that someone has been messing with things they ought not to, had they a decent bone in their body, and he has to start coming up with one con after another to stay ahead of the game.

When I finally reached the point in this novel that I'd decided I was going to give it a worthy rating, I went out on the 'net and looked up some one-star reviews to try and balance my own feelings and see if there was anything I'd missed that I ought to consider, but some of those reviews were really sad and did nothing to dissuade me from my own conclusion. Those reviews were from people who evidently read a lot, yet their spelling and grammar are sadly lacking. How can a person read so much and learn so little? Some of the reviews were apparently written by twelve- or thirteen-year-olds who seem to think that 'young adult' means twelve or thirteen. One of them was whining about the 'lust' in the novel! I'm like, "what?" That PoV makes me feel saddened, because it seems it was written by a young Christian girl who is woefully unprepared for life. But then it ought to be obvious that religion is for people who can't handle reality!

So, in conclusion, and in short (like I know short!) I recommend this novel.