Showing posts with label dumb-assery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dumb-assery. Show all posts

Friday, September 1, 2017

Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler


Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this one because first of all it was not remotely connected to Sense and Sensibility. I got the impression that the author had only promoted this 'stretcher' (as Samuel Langhorne Clemens might have couched it), to garner for herself some of Jane Austen's cachet. If the book had been put out honestly, it would likely have sold far fewer copies than however many it did sell by dishonestly using Jane Austen to promote it.

Secondly, the story itself sucked. Daphne (15) and Gabby (17) Rivera live in Texas and get along about as well as the Aggies do with the Longhorns. Actually they get along worse, which is to say not at all. So far we have two sisters, but neither of them is remotely like Marianne and Elinor. The author completely misunderstood where Austen was coming from when she characterized her leading ladies in this travesty.

Daphne is obsessed not with romance as Marianne was, but with marriage. Gabby is not the long-suffering and wiser older sister, but a bitch, period. Neither is remotely interesting nor do either of them have the depth or appeal that Austen's leading characters so reliably do.

These girls are supposed to be Hispanic from their father and Caucasian from their mother, and not the pasty girls the cover artist moronically depicted. Normally I don't talk about covers because unless they self-publish, authors have little to no say in the cover they get stuck with, and once again this was predictably a complete fail from Big Publishing™ with the cover artist not having the first clue of the content of the book as usual. All we got was the girls legs - like there was nothing of any more interest much above that - and the legs looked like they belonged to nine-year-olds, not mid-teens. And they were white enough to be a pair of Swedish girls (au pair?!). They were definitely not Hispanic, not remotely. And why were the girls Hispanic anyway?

I can see the point of it, if they were then presented as sheltered young women, from a traditional Catholic family, thereby mimicking Austen's characters in that they were not very worldly and subject to being taken advantage of, but other than their last name, there was nothing Hispanic about them and they were certainly not remotely sheltered. On the contrary, In the long, sad tradition of YA "literature" these girls were so generic as to be bland to the point of disappearing into their background. I got a third of the way through this, and even that was being way too generous to the author of this insipid pile of crap. I'm done with both this novel and with Ziegler as an author of any interest at all.


Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld


Rating: WORTHY!

I gave up on this Austen rip-off audiobook set in modern Cincinnati, because it was so far removed from Austen that you couldn't even see her from there. The story tracked Pride and Prejudice closely, but the characterizations were completely wrong, so I didn't see the point.

Apparently there's this thing called the Austen Project, where writers create a novel rooted in one of Austen's works. This one was one of these efforts and it wasn't good enough. I get the feeling that if someone had written this who was not an established writer, they would never have found a publisher and rightly so.

The story went off at a tangent very early, about Lizzie's relationship with this guy named Jared who would not commit to a relationship, so even as he and Lizzie were seeing each other as friends (and not even with benefits), he and she were desultorily dating other people.

Original Lizzie of Austen was way too smart and cynical to put up with that, so this felt like a betrayal, and this Lizzie seemed like a wet rag in comparison with the original. And this non-diversion just went on and on. And on. It was tedious. Additionally, a lot of the story was endless exposition, which isn't Austen at all. Gone were the engrossing conversations which are an Austen staple. Not a good read.

It was competently read by Cassandra Campbell, but even her voice could not save the lackluster material. It honestly felt like the author was desperate to include everything modern in her story, to distance it from Austen's, so we had a transgender character (Wickham, and I don't care if it's a spoiler because it's so pathetic), an interracial relationship, artificial insemination (I guess that's the only way this author could get a semen airy into the work), and adultery. I'm sure there's a kitchen sink in there somewhere with "all mod cons," but I must have missed it since I DNF'd this one in short order.

'Eligible' is the name of a TV reality (so-called) show, on which Chip Bingley has appeared, looking for a bride. Why any sane person would even remotely consider doing this mystifies me, but I have to admit that it's in character for this character. I was never a fan of Bingley. In the end Bingley refused to choose either one of the two finalists. Now he's moving to Cincinnati and renting a house there. Why? I guess because the author is writing what she knows, which isn't much it would appear when it comes to emulating Austen. Resident in Cincinnati is the Bennet family of course: husband, wife, and five daughters.

I confess I am not sure why authors want to keep repeating Jane Austen's stories, much less why they choose to move them to a modern era and/or shift them out of England. The last one of these I tried was a YA novel which did not at all impress me. Neither did the PD James 'sequel'. This particular one is aimed at an adult audience, and initially I had mixed feelings about it.

Sometimes I wonder if Austen is turning in her grave at this modern plethora of rip-offs of her work. This author repeatedly betrayed the character of Lizzie Bennet, including her career, by having her work for a fashion magazine. Her sister Jane is a yoga instructor! This turned me off the story. I confess I can see Jane as a yoga instructor. She was not one of my favorite characters either, but to fritter away Lizzie's amazing character on fashion is an outright travesty. This is not Austen's Lizzie, not remotely.

It may seem hypocritical for me to criticize others' ripping-off of Austen when I plan on doing the selfsame thing myself, but anyone who has read the kind of stories I write has to know that I plan on doing something completely different with it - and not even a parody! Hah! And they said it couldn't be done! My whole motivation for writing this, as it was with Femarine is to take the story completely off the beaten track. Call me arrogant (I don't care!), but I have to write this if only as a commentary, after a fashion, on what others are so determinedly and so dedicatedly failing to do.

I'd have a lot more respect for a writer who did not rip-off Austen, but who instead chose to emulate her by writing a story set in period, and written with the same grace and skill as Austen herself naturally employed. I cannot respect writers who merely usurp her cachet and apply it as a cheap veneer to cover a trashy, ill-conceived story that could never stand on its own without co-opting Austen's unwilling support. It's pathetic and I think I am done reading such stories now. Time to go back to the one and only originals!


Sayonara, Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi


Rating: WARTY!

The original Japanese of this book was translated into English by Michael Emmerich, but frankly and honestly, for all the sense it made to me, I may as well have gone with the original language because I got nothing out of it that I could not have got from simply staring at the (to me) incomprehensible Japanese symbols. Actually, I would have been better off! At least the Japanese characters would have been beautiful to look at!

The book provided absolutely no hook, door, access, or invitation whatsoever to get into this story and I'm guessing that's because there was no story. It's like walking through an art gallery which displays only bad paintings, all by different artists, on different subjects and in different styles and periods, and trying to make a coherent story out of them (and by that I mean something other than a history of bad art!). The paintings have no connection whatsoever other than that they're all paintings. Well this was all sentences, but the words had no connection. It was pretentious nonsensical garbage and I ditched it in short order. If this review clues others into the way the wind is blowing, and helps you avoid mining something so unseemly, then the warning from the weather vane to avoid this vein will not have been in vain!


Shopgirl by Steve Martin


Rating: WARTY!

Steve Martin used to work for a living, but now he gets by writing short, very amateur excuses for stories in semi-retirement evidently. Read by the author, this novella was my second disappointment from him. I've liked him in a couple of his movies, but I think he's best in small doses, and I really think he needs to find someone else to read his books on audio, unless of course you might enjoy a book read with all the charm, poise, elegance and monotony of Navin R Johnson.

Normally if I have not liked a novel by an author I tend not to sample them again, but I'd heard good things about this one, which was made into a movie in which Martin inappropriately starred, so I requested it from my library. Mistake! It felt far more like listening a detailed synopsis for a movie than ever it did reading a novel.

Consequently, the best thing about it is that it's very short. I began listening to it on the way home in the car, but after less than fifteen minutes, I was so revolted by it that I preferred the sound of the car's wheels on the asphalt to listening to any more of Steve Martin read Steve Martin.

If it had been written in the fifties, I could understand the attitudes expressed in it, but this was published in 2000. The movie from it evidently died the death too, making only 11 million in the theaters. I might take a look at that out of pure curiosity, but I hold out little hope for it...or for Martin as a writer of novels from here on out.

The writing was all tell and a no-show in terms of intelligence. If it had been penned by an unknown it would never have got published because Martin's amateur writing is awful, as in, "Mirabelle is smart because she reads books." Seriously? This from a professional? The one thing he does actually show is her complete lack of intelligence, evidenced by the very fact that she gloms onto rich man Ray when he's clearly the bigger loser of the two men in her life, neither of which she should have become involved with in the first place!

Or perhaps, if she had decided to check out Jeremy, she might have offered him a few tips towards improving their interactions, instead of taking Martin's antiquated and genderist advice that the guy must know, do, and pay for, everything, and the girl just needs to simper on his arm and look pretty in designer clothes to fulfill her entire life's worth and function.

It irked me that the author (through his character Mirabelle) seems to have some sort of antique delusion that when a couple go on a date, then the guy pays for everything (no doubt opening doors and pulling out seats and so on). I guess females were never emancipated in his world. I can see if the girl is poor and the guy rich, then this is the way it would sensibly work, and vice-versa, but when both of them are not well off, and the girl is apparently better off than the guy, it's entirely wrong, and even immoral, for her to expect him to pay for everything. Martin doesn't get this because he's not remotely strapped for cash, and if he ever has been, he's quite clearly forgotten what it's like.

Porter is supposed to be middle-aged so why they had sixty-year-old Martin play him in the movie is a mystery, especially since it quite obviously didn't do a thing to help the box office! Clare Danes was only in her mid-twenties which would have been, I think, the right age for her character.

Martin definitely needs to find someone to read his books for the audio version, because his reading voice is terrible. It is flat, unentertaining, and it evidences no feel for pace or tone. I felt like I was a young kid in school being read to by a very inexpert teacher. The novel was bad, but his voice made it much worse. The ending, from what others have said, sounds like even the author got bored with himself and just dropped it. I happily grant that on a good day he can (or was able to) write a decent amusing movie, but he cannot write books.

What was so bad about the novel? Well, the plodding, amateur, elitist, pretentious writing to begin with, but then we got onto the part where the narrator talks about Mirabelle Buttersfield who works at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and it deteriorated.

She works the glove counter which seems like an exaggeration to me, but I don't shop at that kind of store, so I can't comment beyond this point. She leads a very dull life and her only two diversions (apart from her cats) are millionaire Ray Porter, and impoverished Jeremy. She derides Jeremy because of his lack of ambition, but she's exactly the same as he is!

This book was godawful trash, and I refuse to even remotely recommend it. I'm done reading Steve Martin's efforts.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure


Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was a complete fail for me. It was not even a hot mess - it was a cold and poorly congealed mess which had no plot. The blurb tells us that "Eden is the only person who can get through to Jasmine, but is she brave enough to face a world that’s bigger and more magical than she ever would have allowed?"

I hate blurbs that ask the question which everyone in the entire universe, even non-sentient species, already knows the answer to: will she succeed in reclaiming her love? Of course she will. Will he get his man? Of course he will. Can the kid escape the evil villain's clutches? Of course the kid can. Why ask such dumb questions? Publishers in general just don't seem to get it: they continue to insult potential readers with lousy covers that have nothing to do with the story and with dumb questions in the blurbs. The flowers were not even roses. Publishers need to insist that the cover designer actually reads the freaking book before they start work. Please, publishers: treat us with some respect. We do not have to read your book. There are literally millions out there to read, so please be honest about the book, use a cover that actually has something to do with the story, and don't ask ridiculously juvenile questions in the blurb. It's tiresome, and we deserve better than that.

Questions like that tell me that whoever wrote the blurb thinks that potential readers of this story are gullible at best, and complete dumb-asses at worst. This is the very last book I shall ever request that has such a question in the blurb; I don't care how attractive a read it sounds. I shall avoid such books on pure principle in future, but funnily enough, that wasn't even the biggest problem with this blurb!

This book is the second in a loosely-connected series. I did not know this at the time I requested it, otherwise I would have bypassed it completely. I am not a series fan, but fortunately this read as a stand-alone. The only reason I went against my better judgment and requested it is that I discounted the "Hey dumb-ass listen to this!" blurb because I thought there would be a worthwhile underlying story: 17-year-old Eden Jones, herself fresh out of a short coma, is the only hope of reaching Jasmine, aka Jaz, aka Vasquez, as Eden names her, after the kick-ass woman in the Aliens movie.

I though it would make for a great story to have one ex-coma victim trying to reach another even if there were some supernatural elements, but the author all-but completely abandoned that idea in the pointless pursuit of yet another juvenile YA absurdist "love" story. Eden could have been such a strong character, but instead of that we got, once again, a female author of a YA story turning her lead female into a limp wet rag of a love-struck juvenile chasing Joe, Jasmin's best friend, like a bitch in heat. I've seen this exact same story a score of times before and it always makes me nauseous and it make me ditch the novel immediately as I did this one. Can YA authors not find anything original to say? If not, quit writing.

The saddest thing about this is that no one actually cared about Jasmin, a character who had been built up in Eden's mind at least, to be heroic, bad-ass, and worth learning more about. The more we learned about her the more interested I became, but Eden and Joe abandoned her in short order, so they could flirt and kiss, and smoke cigarettes. Yeah. Smoking In a YA novel. Smoking is bad for you and for those around you, and I know people do it in real life, but that does not mean that we, as writers, need to give it cachet.

And while all this was going on, Jasmin was about to have the plug pulled on her, yet nowhere do we see any sense or compassion or urgency from Eden or worse, from Joe. They came across as shallow and selfish. He refuses to let them pull the plug, but he seems completely unmotivated when it comes to even exploring, let alone finding a way out of this for Jasmin. She was completely subjugated to their own juvenile "romance".

At that point I began skimming the book to see if the blurb had lied completely and it pretty much had. It was once again bait and switch, because I skimmed a whole bunch more pages after the halfway point, and all the two of them did was talk about contacting Jasmin, visit a psychic, smoke cigarettes, and flirt and kiss. No. Just no. These people were boring and simply not worth reading about. There was nothing new here, nothing different, nothing worth pursuing. I cannot recommend it.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire


Rating: WARTY!

I liked the previous novel I read by this author, but this was another failed audiobook which went on too long and was far too rambling to hold my interest. The title was curious. It sounds like one David Weber would have chosen for his Honor Harrington series. Maybe I missed it but I never did figure out how the hell the title fit the story.

There are parts I liked and parts which amused me, but the author got off-topic way too many times and overall, the novel was a drag which I gave up on about two-thirds the way through. She seems to keep forgetting that her detective is supposed to be hunting down a missing teenager.

The novel is also brimming with tired trope and klutzy cliché. I've mentioned oddball names for fictional detectives before, no doubt, but the one in this story almost takes it to another level. She's called October Daye and goes by Toby for short. On the other hand, this isn't your usual detective, since it's a fantasy novel, with fairy characters. Toby herself is half fairy.

But the annoying first person voice is here, which I typically detest, although some writers can make it far less nauseating than others. Here, it wasn't too bad, but I think the reason for that is that it was seriously helped along by Mary Robinette Kowal, who read this book (and who is also an author in her own right), and whose voice I could certainly listen to for a long time without growing tired of it.

That doesn't mean the story didn't drag, and I feel that if I'd been reading a print or ebook, I would have quit it a lot sooner than I did, so this author owes this reader! But Seanan McGuire definitely seems to have a knack for attracting sweet readers to her books. Amy Landon's voice in the previous novel I listened to by this author (a stand-alone titled Sparrow Hill Road, which I rated positively despite the fact that it also dragged here and there) was really easy on the ear, too.

The problem, I felt, was that the author is so enamored of this little world she's created here that she goes off on tangents talking about aspects of it, and she forgets that she's actually supposed to be telling a story and not just describing scenery and character quirks.

I am definitely not one for those kinds of stories, and this is part of a whole series of such stories. In fact, it's number six in a series of thirteen as of this writing, but there was nothing in the blurb to indicate any such thing, which is how I came to read this one first. I'm not a big fan of series, either, and this novel is a great example of why not.

It's technically not necessary to have read the other five before reading this one, since it's a self-contained story, but there's also a history that's referred to often, and there are ongoing story arcs that cover more than one volume, and which meant nothing to me since I was got in on this in the middle.

There were more issues in that Toby was a coffee addict. Barf! Can we not find some new trait to give our first person voice detective? Please? She also had an old car that got damaged, so there really was nothing new here except that it was set in a fairy world rather than the real world, and that simply was not enough to save this poorly-told tale.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Red Hill by Jamie McGuire

Once again, the blurb lied!

Recognizing they can’t outrun the danger, Scarlet, Nathan, and Miranda desperately seek shelter at the same secluded ranch, Red Hill. Emotions run high while old and new relationships are tested in the face of a terrifying enemy—an enemy who no longer remembers what it’s like to be human.

I thought this might be an interesting story about a triangle of an altogether more realistic hue than the florid overblown ones that idiot sheep-like YA authors can't seem to keep themselves from dragging the wizened, rotten corpse of into eve3ry frigging book they write. But no, it was neither! If the blurb had simply said ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE in a massive black and fluorescent yellow warning. That would have said it far more accurately and wouldn't have annoyed me by wasting my time when I could have been listening to an audiobook that, unlike this one, wasn't total and vacuous crap.

The reading voices - yes, this was yet another novel where there are multiple first person voices which in this case served only to render the story three times as annoying as a single first person voice typically does - done by Emma Galvin, January Lavoy, and Zachary Webber, were totally unappealing and made me want to quit before I'd hardly started.

As if this wasn't disastrous enough, there was music - music - at the start of disk one. Why the hell do these imbeciles in the audiobook industry feel such an irresistible urge to add music?

Was there music in the original book? HELL NO!

Was the story about a musician, a band, an orchestra or a composer? HELL NO!

Did the story have anything - anything at all - in any way - any way at all - to do with music? HELL NO!

So why the fuck do these assholes have this OCD vis-à-vis putting music on an audiobook disk? Is it because their empty heads are stuck so far up their rigid asses that they simply can't envision what is to them a music CD without inscribing music on it? They're morons.

One thing I saw no other negative reviewer mention so I have to say something about it, especially since this is a female author, is that this novel failed the Bechdel–Wallace test (which perhaps ought to be renamed the Virginia Woolf test) disastrously starting on page one. The main character could quite literally not talk to any other female character without her love life - or lack of one - being front and center. It was truly sickening and a disgrace. Jamie McGuire should be thoroughly ashamed of herself for depicting female characters especially in this case, ones working in a professional medical setting, as having not a goddamned thing on their brains but men.

And also, it's book one of a series. I do not do series unless they're very special, and I sure as hell do not want to even read one book about a zombie apocalypse, let alone a whole series about one. Did the volume in any way convey that it was book one in a series? HELL NO! Why would the publisher do that? That would show respect for the reader, so I ask you once again, why in hell would Big Publishing&trade ever do that? It would let a reader make an informed choice without having to waste their life fully-researching every book they consider reading, so clearly the Publisher who is interested in your money and nothing else has no incentive whatsoever to consider you as anything other than a mark. I think I am not only done with this author, I'm also done with this dumbass audiobook publisher.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Bad Heir Day by Wendy Holden


Rating: WARTY!

This was a lousy story I got because it was discounted (now I know why!) at a local bookstore (aka the mother ship) and because the blurb outright lied! To whit: it made it sound like a to woo, when it was actually twaddle! I'm done reading anything by Wendy Holden.

The main character is not only one of the most weak and limp and dish-rag characters I've ever read about, I think she actually is the most weak and limp and dish-rag character I've ever read of. She cannot for the life of her stand on her own two feet, being in constant and dire need of a man, even one who treats her like crap, or a female "friend" who tells her what to do all the time because this girl is too brain-dead to figure anything out for herself. her friend then rewards herself for directing the film au revoir of this character's sorry life by making off with her fiancé! Yes, she purloined the love of her friend's loins.

I'm sorry but this novel sucked, period. It was unrelentingly lousy and unapologetically unrealistic. The girl (whose name isn't important because she isn't important) wants to write a novel, but instead of actually writing a frigging novel which is what an actual writer would do, she goes to work for a bitch of a woman who is actually a complete caricature (as are pretty much all the characters in this story come to think of it) more à propos to a Disney animation than a novel that purports to be telling an credible story. That is to say that Cruella would have been a more realistic name than Cassandra. It needles to say that the novel never gets written. But then these novels that novelists perennially write about never do, do they?


Monday, May 29, 2017

The Goodbye Witch by Heather Blake


Rating: WARTY!

I made the mistake of getting this at the same time as I got its predecessor, which I didn't like. I read the same number of pages of this as I did of that before ditching it DNF. I should have known from the blurb that this one was doomed. One of the characters is named Starla. One early dumb-ass sentence read, "I felt the warmth of his body heat."

I'm sorry but I cannot read novels that badly written. They make me physically ill. If I could stand to do it, I would write a novel composed solely and entirely of bad sentences like that from other novels, strung together. The effort would probably kill me or drive me insane, though.

Starla's evil ex, Kyle, is back in town and everyone is in a panic. The sad thing is that the main character in this novel is a witch who is a wish-granter. If someone wishes something, she can grant it. All someone had to do is wish Kyle dead - or at least in jail for life - and the problem was solved, but in the first twenty or so pages, which is all I could stand to read, no one even brings this up.

The rest of the novel hangs solely on the rank stupidity of these people in forgetting there is wish-granting witch at hand. This is the problem with writing a novel about magic. You have to think it through and the author is evidently more interested in writing nonsense than in thinking. That's when I decided this novel was far too stupid to live.


Friday, May 26, 2017

White Horses by Alice Hoffman


Rating: WARTY!

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

I had to wonder why an author of Alice Hoffman's stature found herself in the position of having to put a novel out on Net Galley to garner some reviews, and now I know - it's really not very good. I've never read anything by this author before, but I've always been curious, so I requested to review it and it was, surprisingly, granted! Now I know I don't need to read anything else by her!

The book started out intriguingly enough, went down hill a bit, came back strong, but then began a slow decline to the point where, at just past ninety percent in, I couldn't stand to read it any more because it was such an ungodly mess. I'm not going to go on about the spelling errors which were quite common, and not the kind a spell-checker would find - such as the word 'wont' (and no, it's not missing an apostrophe) where the word 'worst' was required. Only a serious read-through would find that kind of error. I just want to talk about the chaotic story and how poorly done it was.

The blurb advises dramatically (employing the tired - and way overdone - "In a world" format): "In a dangerous world, Teresa must rescue herself and rewrite her family mythology before it ruins her life." I'm sorry but Teresa is so robotic, useless, and inept that you know for a fact she's never going to get it done. She is one of the most cardboard-thin, vacuous, and utterly uninteresting characters I've ever encountered. And her world isn't dangerous. Not remotely. Her brother's is, but he was never actually in any danger!

For that matter, not one of the characters in this book was painted realistically, much less appealingly. They were all caricatures dipped in the most washed-out of watercolors, mostly in shades of gray. It's a book of stains in the place of where real characters ought to have appeared. It's like they were there, but have faded so badly, all that's left is a vague and faint imprint. Teresa, the main character, about whom the story ebbs and...ebbs, is the most gossamer and unlikable of them all. There was not a single person here that I liked in the entire book, which had people come and go as though the novel itself were just a revolving door with a neon sign flashing, 'now look at this one!'.

Note that there is an incestuous relationship running through the book which no doubt many reviewers will find disturbing - like this is something that never happens in real life so writers must never write about it! Or like this is the most reprehensible thing they can think of. Yes, it is reprehensible. It's a form of rape and abuse of authority, but there are lots of other horrible things people do to each other, and what really bothers me is that reviewers don't seem to be anywhere near as repulsed by these other crimes as they are by incest.

That's worth expending some thought on. Are we so thick-skinned now that this is the only remaining "sin" which can shock us? Personally, I don't care that authors write about incest. It's just as fair game as is rape, murder, robbery, drug abuse, road-rage or whatever you care to mention. What I care about is that there is some organic reason for it being included. Here it felt like it was only in the book because the author deemed it was necessary to give some pep to a novel that was otherwise lacking anything to recommend it. In this book, there was no motivation offered for it and ironically, the most disturbing thing about it is that the author mistakenly romanticizes it without offering any other commentary.

Unless everything was resolved in that last nine percent which I didn't read, there were plot threads set-up which went nowhere, illnesses which went unexplained, threats which were never honestly pursued, and issues which were woefully unexplored. It was like one long tease, which is a way was perfect because that described Teresa to a 'T'. The other annoying thing (aside from pointless, meandering, story-crashing flashbacks), is that the author has the story make huge leaps in time, by-passing months or even years of history and takes up the story like it's the next day, and nothing and no-one has changed. It simply was not credible.

Up to about half-way through, i had hopes for this, but after that I was wondering when something was going to happen. It felt as though there was always a possibility that something would happen, but nothing really ever did. It's like a day where dark clouds build up, the heat is weighing on you, the air gets muggier and more oppressive, but then no fresh, chill wind comes racing in, no rain pelts down, no thunder rolls and rules the heavens, and no lightning breaks. It was that dissatisfying.

In the end, this stiflingly still air was biggest failing of the whole book. Maybe it all came together in those last few pages, but I was so bored and irritated by then, that I honestly just did not care what happened next. Life is too short for novels like this, and I cannot recommend it at all.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Waking Land by Callie Bates


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher - and thank them for an ebook copy which was nicely formatted! Far too often the ebook is a second thought after the print version, and the formatting suffers, but that was not the case here.

That's where the joy ended though, because then I had to read it. You know you're in trouble with a novel when you're only ten percent in and you're asking yourself how much more you really have to read before you can DNF it and say you gave it a fair chance!
The novel started with a prologue, a thing which I never read. They're antiquated and contribute literally nothing to a story except to kill a few more trees in the print version. Maybe authors who write prologues and epilogues hate trees? The thing is that this whole business of Elanna being kidnapped and held hostage made zero sense, except in that it did herald a lot of other plot points which made no sense either! Maybe I should have read the prologue and then DNF'd it at that point?

The thing is that if I'd known going into this, that it was to be a first person YA trilogy full of cliché and trope, I would never have asked to read it, but Net Galley offered not a whisper. Such books ought to be required to carry a warning sticker. From the blurb, it had sounded like it would be an engrossing and entertaining read. Sic Transit Gloria Blurbi!

I'm very rarely a fan of first person, and unfortunately that voice is chronically over-used in YA stories. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many writers herd themselves like sheep into such a constricting voice, and one which simultaneously makes their character look so dysfunctionally self-important that it is, unless handled well, thoroughly nauseating to read.

Nor are YA trilogies any more welcome in my reading list. They're typically unimaginative, rambling, trope-filled, derivative, and bloated by their very nature. I long for a YA writer who is willing to step outside the trope and think outside the box, but they are a very rare and much-treasured commodity these days, as everyone else rushes-in like lambs to the dip, where more angelic bovines are far too wise to tread. It's all in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and it's sad; truly sad.

This novel initially had intrigued me because of the Earth magic. It's what attracted me most of all, but we were largely denied any exploration of that in the portion I read, and what we did get was accidental or incidental. This was one of the problems. Elanna has this magic, and has known of it since childhood, but she has suppressed it.

To be fair, there are reasons for this, but the fact that she's scared of it and never explores it (except for one too-brief incident we're shown right at the beginning of the novel) made me dislike her. What kind of a dullard do you have to be to have such delightful and powerful magic, and not want to at least tinker with it in private, and learn something about it? The fact that Elanna didn't, not only made her inauthentic, it also made her thoroughly boring and cowardly. There's a huge difference between teasing your readers, and denying them a story that feels real.

Elanna Valtai (often called Lady Elanna for reasons which are not clear - and which felt employed only to give her a cachet she has not earned) was taken hostage at gunpoint (pistol-point more accurately) at the tender age of five, by a conquering king who, over the last fourteen years, she has grown to love as a father. This made little sense, but Elanna is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She was more like a spork with blunted tines, and consequently neither one thing nor the other. She's fascinated by botany and so, when the king is poisoned, she becomes the prime suspect with improbable rapidity, and is forced to flee.

To me, this made zero sense. The one-dimensionally hateful and cardboard princess, who is now queen, has no reason whatsoever to fear Elanna. She considers her too low to even take seriously, so why bother framing her? We're offered no honest motivation for this at all. At this point the story was no different from the trope high-school story of the girl who is bullied.

Elanna is paradoxically presented as a charming and easy-going woman who everyone likes on the one hand, and on the other, a crudely rustic figure of fun who has no place in court and who is disliked by everyone, having no friends at all! Again, it made no sense that she would have literally no one. It felt like the author was following a rigid plot without actually giving any thought to how realistic or practical this world was that she was creating. If the king is so great, then why doesn't he put a stop to the bullying? The fact that Elanna never once questions this is yet another example of how stupid she truly is.

As I mentioned, despite being repeatedly given the appellation 'Lady', Elanna is never shown to be one. I have no problem with a character being portrayed as having emotions and sensitivity. I think we need more male characters like that in fact, but as usual in YA, the author overdoes this with their main character, so instead of showing her to be a reasonably empathetic young woman raised to be nobility, not a princess, but at least with some spine, she comes across as a weak, limp, and as a weepy, clueless little girl. It was pathetic to read about her.

Once she realizes she's going to be blamed for the king's death, and instead of taking control of her destiny and facing down the charges, which would have actually made for a much more engaging story, Elanna betrays her entire upbringing, and runs away like a scared little girl. Worse than this, she's manhandled by her love interest (and yes, it was ham-fistedly and loudly telegraphed as soon as he appeared in the story), so immediately, all control over her life is removed, and she becomes the toy and plaything of a complete oaf of a man named, inevitably "Lord", as in 'Lord and Master' no doubt as we see her weakly complying with his every demand.

Not only that, she takes the usual abusive and utterly sick YA route of falling for this patronizing and condescending dick like she's an air-headed thirteen-year-old. This is entirely the wrong message to send to young girls, and the fact that so many female YA authors do this so consistently is as scary as it is dangerous. People who talk about a rape culture seem ignorant of this facet of it, in which women are taught, in story after story, that's it's not only okay for a guy to take control over your life, but that you should go along with it mindlessly, and even fall in love with him no matter how he treats you; then we look askance at those women who end-up in abusive relationships.

The saddest thing about this is that all the hots she has for this man take place when she is quite literally fleeing for her life. What kind of a pathetic, misguided specimen do you have to be, to be having hot flashes for a guy when your very life in in peril? It made zero sense and cheapened the whole thing. It was so badly done that it ruined all hope of an intelligent or realistic romantic relationship.

For me, it did nothing but keep reminding me that I was reading a poorly written YA novel into which romance had been jammed for no other reason than that the author and/or publisher determined it was a requirement rather than that it might naturally and organically grow out of a realistic relationship. It suggests that the author either doesn't trust her characters, or she doesn't trust her writing skills, and it sends the wrong message yet again: that all women are Disney princesses who are useless without a man to be a father figure as well as (sickly!) a lover. It says that no young woman can stand on her own two feet - she always needs a studly guy to validate her and shore her up. I call horseshit on that one.

I've read this story so many times that it turns my stomach. The author might change character names, and set them in a new locale, and even give then magic, but it's the same story. They're exactly the same characters going through exactly the same empty motions over and over again. Can YA authors not come up with something new for once? Really? It's pathetic how unimaginative and uninventive YA authors are. Here's a choice quote: "Don’t they realize I’m a scholar as well as a lady of fashion?" What?! Where the hell did that come from?

There are a few, a precious few, a band of sisters, out there who honestly do get it, and who write great stories. They get that this isn't the Victorian era, and that weepy, lovelorn princesses are not only obnoxious, but they are antiquated and inappropriate. They do these stories right: making them fresh and original, but the rest of those authors are doing nothing short of writing cookie-cutter "Harlequin" romances for teens, chasing the easy buck, and that's all there is to it. This is one such story, it saddens me to report. And it could have been so much better.

So, while fleeing on horseback with a group of riders, the wind whistling through her hair, Elanna conducts a whispered conversation with her BFF, who is pretentiously named Victoire. It's described as a "whisper-shout", yet everyone seems able to hear it over the wind and the pounding horse's hooves! At one point they're told, like naughty children talking in the classroom: "That is enough, all of you! No more talk. Do you want to put us all in danger?" Seriously? They're racing through the dead of night on horses with hooves slamming into the ground, and this idiot is worried someone might overhear them talking? Who, exactly, is listening? This is another example of the story not being thought through.

The sad truth is that a lot of the writing leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. We get that Elanna is afflicted deeply with the wilts and the vapors over J-Han, We don't need to be gobsmacked every few paragraphs with yet another account of how she's is hanging on his every breath and touch, and the heat of his body. It's painfully obvious who the murderer is, so there's no mystery there. We know Elanna is going to win in the end and get jiggy with J-Han, so what's the point of reading this again?

Instadore how do I hate thee? Let me count the brays! Well, for one, she has to share a horse with him, yet there's not a word of his sweating or stinking of horses. Seriously? Just how pathetic do you want her to appear to us? Elanna doesn't notice any of his smells, which were rife in that era, even in a fantasy land, but she does notice mundane things like the color scheme in the house she visits - things which seem very odd to have been taken note of by a scared woman who has never paid attention to furniture before, and who is fleeing pursuers who want to put her through a sham trial and then kill her. At the same time, for a botanist, she notices almost nothing of nature! Again, it's not thought through.

Another oddity is that Elanna seems to have perfect, if selective, recall! Despite being gone since she was a very young child, she had no problem understanding her native language, which she last heard - and spoke - when she was merely five years old. We read, "Hugh has switched into speaking Caerisian, which the Count of Ganz evidently understands, and my ears are too tired to deny they know the words, as well." Now I won't try to argue that she would have forgotten her native tongue completely, but at the very least, she would have been extremely rusty in it, and not know many of the words spoken by adults, since she never learned those as a child, yet she appears to have a completely unencumbered grasp of it.

Again, this is not thought through. It's especially bad when it's compared with the time when Elanna goes back to her childhood home. She recalls nothing of that at all! So we're expected to believe that she has a perfect (and adult!) grasp of a language she has neither spoken nor heard in well over a decade since she was barely beyond being a toddler, yet she recalls literally nothing of her childhood home? It's simply not credible.

Her respite at the house is short, because they are quickly - and unaccountably - discovered by the palace guard. How the guards knew exactly where they were goes unexplained, but even that isn't as inexplicable as why Elanna, who was desperate to escape her initial captors with her friend, fails to take Victoire with her! She decides to find the "lay of the land" by herself, first. It's just a house! What's to know? They need to get out, get a couple of horses, and leave.

It's really that simple, yet this limp dishrag of a friend leaves Victoire behind, so that when the palace guard arrives, Victoire is abandoned upstairs. Elanna whines about getting her out, but instead of growing a pair and insisting on rescuing her best friend, which would have made for some great drama, and would have given Elanna some street cred, she's portrayed as spinelessly complying with Lord Almighty J-Han's dick-tates. Once again what we're shown is that she's his property now, not her own. Once again this is entirely the wrong message to send. I truly detested Elanna by this point in the story.

While fleeing for her life, Elanna observes, "I won't be made to use my magic - the magic that puts me in mortal danger" Excuse me? She's already in mortal danger! She's already been declared a witch and a murderer, and had that broadcast across the land. How could she be in any more danger? This is exactly what I mean about Elanna being a profoundly stupid woman, and the last thing I need to read is one more YA novel extolling the 'virtues' of stupidity, in a female main character.

The sad thing is that it never stops in this novel! At one point Elanna reveals that "I know how terrifying it is to walk into a room full of strangers." This is a woman who was raised in a position of nobility, taught to expect deference from everyone. Never before have we been given any indication that she suffers terrors at walking into a room, and now suddenly she knows? Again it makes no sense.

The root problem here is that this novel offers nothing new, which begs the question as to why it was even written! The romance is cliché, the bullying is cliché, the main character is a walking, YA female lead, cliché. At one point very early in the novel, shortly after the studly J-Han arrives to take Elanna into his possession, I read this: "He swings me around, making the world spin, and then we go inside together, my cold hand tucked into his big warm one" so immediately the process of infantilization has begun right there, and this main character is now no more than a weak child in the hands of a trope, strong, manly man. This is one of the biggest problems with YA - the girl becomes a toy for the boy, a plaything, a piece of property, to do with as he wishes, and the girl goes right along with it. Elanna is one of the most stupid, vacuous, compliantly empty characters I've ever encountered. The more I read about her the less I wanted to read about her.

So when did I quite reading exactly? It was right on the cusp of thirty percent in, when I read of a character's eyes that they were "flecked with gold." I cannot even number the times I've read this exact phrase in a YA novel. What the obsession is with gold-flecks in a character's eyes completely escape me, but it's been done ten trillion times if it's been done once, and if I'd read this any earlier, I probably would have quit right then. Admittedly, the phrase is usually employed to describe the male love interest of the female MC, and in this case it wasn't, but does that make it okay to copy? No! That description needs to be summarily banned from YA literature.

It should be needless to say at this point, but I will clarify it anyway: I cannot recommend this story, because it's really just a clone of far too many others that I have also been unable to recommend for the same reasons. I don't care if she gets better as the trilogy goes along. I really don't, because for me she's already a failure, and if it takes her three books to grow a pair, then that's two books too long. The problem with trilogies is that the first book typically only ever is a prologue, and I don't read prologues. Novels like this one have been steadily nudging me to the point where I'm ready to forsake reading YA stories altogether, which would be sad, because once in a while there's a real gem to be found among the base rock.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee


Rating: WARTY!

This is a debut novel by an author who really didn't seem able to get into the mind of an eleven-year-old smart girl. So naturally this book has been nominated for awards which in turn spawned a trilogy when one book was far more than this particular subject ever merited. The problem is that the author is confusing genius with autism, and 'child-genius' with 'humorless adult'. Consequently she makes Millicent look like a moron rather than a genius, or to put it more charitably, she makes a girl who in reality would need some professional psychological help, look like she was dropped on her head at birth.

This is why I have absolutely zero respect for literary awards, and normally (when I have advance warning!), avoid like the plague anything which has won awards. Once in a very rare while such a book is worth reading, but in my sorry experience those books are a lot harder to find than the lousy ones, and the ones we typically are unfortunate enough to run across are for the most part pretentious and clueless drivel. For the awards people to constantly rate this garbage as merit-worthy only leads me to believe that they too, were dropped on their collective head as a baby.

The author makes the idiotic assumption that a kid stops being a kid if they're an especially smart kid. That's utter nonsense. They may see life through a sharper lens than most kids do, but they're still children with childish (in a benign sense) - impulses and drives. They still enjoy children's games and toys. They are not, simply from the fact of being more intelligent than most (in academic terms at least) an adult or humorless, or superior in a mean sense.

One of the most glaring problems with this book is that the main character has Spock syndrome. The Vulcan from Star Trek (original or reboot, it doesn't make that much difference) is supposedly of very high intelligence, but is routinely made to look like a clown because he simply (and inexplicably, given how much exposure he's had) cannot grasp human idiosyncrasies. In the same way, this novel is constantly telling us how smart Millie is, but what it's routinely showing us is how dumb and clueless she is. Worse, it's rendering her as borderline autistic in her rigid and utterly inexplicable inability to cope with human interaction. If she is autistic, that's one thing, and might have made a great story - one worthy of an award, but this author never suggests that. What she does is inexcusable. She presents Millie as lacking completely in not only social skills, but in any sort of clue as to how to develop them, yet she offers no reason - other than how "intelligent" she is for this deficit.

Millie's parents are the worst parents ever, since they seem utterly clueless in diagnosing Millie's condition. Fortunately it's a condition which exist only in the author's limited imagination. Millie is just one in a parade of one-dimensional characters, each representing an extreme of one sort or another, and the novel is so trite and so completely predictable that it's not only fails to offer an intriguing read, it also isn't even remotely realistic. These people are robotic, as simple and limited as the mechanical arms on an assembly line, each going through pre-programmed motions, and not a one of them capable of exceeding their programming, and living and breathing.

Millie meets Emily at the same time as she is forced into tutoring a boy she hates. Desperate to keep Emily as a friend, Millie elects to lie about her intelligence and gets herself into a situation that is unrealistic and which is dragged on for far too long. Predictably, Emily blows up, even though given what we've been told about her, this blow-up is out of character and comes off as false. It was at this point that I gave up reading this book, because I could see exactly how inauthentically it would continue to play out, and I lost all interest in it offering anything new, fresh, or credible.

Millie's extreme intelligence, despite that fact that we've repeatedly been shown that she can diagnose problems with the facility of a particularly sensitive and empathetic adult, is betrayed time and time again by the author as she makes her character fail in such diagnoses where it suits her, so that she disastrously assumes her mother's obvious pregnancy is a disease. The writing is amateur, rigid, inconsistent, and poorly done. I cannot recommend this. The only purpose it served for me was to once again provide a convincing example of how comprehensively blinkered are those people who give out literary awards.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


Rating: WARTY!

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

This novel did not work for me. It had some real potential, but it felt far too dissipated - like it was trying to drive in so many different directions at once that it went nowhere - and it took its sweet time doing it, too! I had to give up reading it about eighty percent in because it had become such a chore to read. It was far too dismal and never even seemed like it was interested in going anywhere. In the end I really didn't care what had happened to the mother and wife of this family. I really didn't.

The novel starts at almost a year from the point where "Billie" Flanagan went hiking and was never seen again - unless you count one lone hiking boot as a sighting. Her daughter, Olive and her husband, Jonathan, are barely holding it together. Olive starts seeing visions of her mother and after the first of these is so convinced her mom is right there, that she runs into a wall trying to get to her, and all but knocks herself out. I started pretty quickly hoping she would do it again and end up in a coma so I didn't have to deal with her any more.

Jonathan was no better. He never saw his daughter when mom was alive because he worked all hours. This begs the question as to who was raising Olive since mom was evidently always gone as well. Once mom was gone for good, Jonathan quit his job to spend time with Olive, but then he had no money, so they were living hand to mouth.

He got an advance to write a memoir of Billie, but we were never given a single reason why anyone would want to read it or why any publishing company would be remotely interested in a memoir about a woman who was very effectively a non-entity. The advance has been spent, and there's no prospect of more until the memoir is finished, but he's never depicted as actually working on it. In short, he's a truly lousy dad.

The story chapters are interspersed with "excerpts" from this memoir, but I have zero interest in story-halting flashbacks, because well, they halt the story, so I read none of the excerpts. I can't say I ever felt like I needed to go back and read them, which begs the obvious question as to why they were even there in the first place.

Olive's visions were so unrevealing of anything of value that the point of them was a mystery to me. They were all so vague and useless that they became simply annoying in short order. Any sympathy I had for her over her lousy parents was quickly smothered by her endless needy self-importance and habit of constantly and tediously regurgitating her situation for everyone and anyone who would listen.

There's talk that she might have a brain lesion which could explain the visions; then there's talk that maybe that's not the case; then there's talk that the pills she's given are stopping the visions, so maybe they were caused by the lesion, but one of these visions came before she hit her head. Seriously? Which is it? It was never explained and I couldn't stand to keep reading this stuff in the hope that maybe some straight-talk would come out of this story in the last twenty percent when there's been zero evidence of it in the first eighty!

I honestly did not care about any of these people at all, and I really could not have cared less about what had happened to Billie. The blurb (and I know this isn't on the writer, but the publisher) says of Billie that she's "a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom" and I have to ask yet again, what the fuck her 'beauty' has to do with anything? Would it have been somehow less of a tragedy had she been plain or even ugly? Would this family's loss have been easier? "Yeah, mom's vanished without a trace, but she was an ugly bitch, so who cares? Let's move on!" No, I don't think so.

Seriously, I am so tired of women being reduced to 'a pretty skin', like they haven't a damned thing to offer other than their beauty or lack of it. That sexist blurb writer should be fired for that blurb. If the novel had been about a man who disappeared, would the blurb have harped on how handsome he was? No! You're damned right it wouldn't. 2017 and we're still mired in this swamp: that a woman better equal beauty or she equals nothing.

I left this observation until last because it has nothing to do with my judgment of this novel. Normally, I pay little attention to the covers because they have nothing to do with the writer, unless the writer self-publishes. It's what's between those covers which interests me, yet you can't ignore the blurb because this is our lead-in to whether a particular novel might be of interest.

That said, I also have to bring the writer to book on this same score, because she also reduces women - particularly Billie - to skin-depth on far too many occasions:

  • "Billie was beautiful..."
  • "...Billie's mother would have been beautiful too..."
  • ...her mom was the most beautiful, most creative, the most interesting..." - note how beauty is listed first since it's quite evidently the most important thing about her!
  • "...being beautiful and strong..." - being a beautiful woman is more important than being a strong woman!
  • "...being married to a beautiful woman is that other people are going to notice that she is beautiful..."
  • "And while Billie was more beautiful..."
  • "You're a beautiful woman."
  • "...His beautiful wife.."
  • "...Olive's beautiful mother..."
  • "Billie, tanned, glowing, and beautiful..."
  • "This beautiful girl from nowhere..."
So maybe the blurb writer took their cue from the interior after all? Not that they shouldn't have known better. What's just as bad though, is that Olive is compared with this ridiculous standard, and negatively so: "...she's not beautiful, like her mother...", and "She is not conventionally beautiful...." This is sick. I'm sorry, but it is.

If the novel had been about runway models or women competing for a role in a movie or a TV show, then I could see how beauty would play into it. It would still be wrong, but it's the way Hollywood is; however, that doesn't mean that writers have to buy into it so readily. It's diseased writing to keep harping on this for page after page. It's a form of abuse. People who do this have no idea how much damage they do to women the world over by repeating this insane mantra that all that's important is looks, and if you ain't got 'em you ain't got nothin' worth having. Bullshit.

This novel ought really to be condemned on that alone, but sick as this world is, negatively reviewing a book for that would fall on deaf ears. As it was, this novel condemned itself in too many other ways.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Girl Undone by Marla Madison


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with A Girl Undone by Catherine Linka, or Girl, Undone by Kendall Aimee Kennedy, or JJ Girl Undone by the amazingly-named Nicole Crankfield-Hamilton, this is volume three in a series of which I have read neither of the previous volumes, but it seems you do not have to have read those in order to make take-up this one. I was going to phrase that as 'make sense of this one', but decided that was being too generous!

The main characters are TJ Peacock, a security consultant (read private eye wannabe), and Lisa Rayburn, a clinical psychologist. Didn't like the first. Not interested in the second. They're hired by a woman who has a shady mob-related past, and whose niece was kidnapped for three-days and then let go, but who has no recollection of what happened. The only clues are the fact that she was dating an older guy, who then dumped her for his wife, claiming that they were reconciling, and a shady roommate who subsequently disappears.

In addition to this, there is a blogger who is being threatened apparently by a serial killer. Since he's had bad things to say about police competence, the detective who is assigned to his case is not all that enthusiastic about it. This detective is married to TJ. This was a pleasant surprise because it's unusual for a PI (which is what TJ obviously is, despite her career title) to have a relationship worth the name, but other than that, I wasn't moved by this story, and saw no reason to pursue a whole series.

It didn't begin well, with a kidnap victim showing up in a shopping a mall, yet no one thinks to check the security video? She's discovered and identified by a security consultant, who is evidently too stupid to think of doing basic detective work to see if anyone can be tied to this girl. She was wearing a hospital gown, and someone must have seen something out of place somewhere!, but TJ is too stupid to follow up, so the story started off lacking any credibility as a professional work. The problem as that it never improved.

It did pick up for me when I learned that a possible motive for the kidnapping was harvesting eggs, but that wasn't sufficient to turn it around, because it started going downhill after that, and the harvesting rationale was mundane and didn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. I really didn't like these characters, not TJ, not Lisa very much, and not TJ's husband, nor did I find myself really caring about Kelsey, the kidnapped girl.

One issue was the derisory tone of the writing. I read irksome things like, "Her posture carried her tall frame with nearly military precision although there was nothing remotely masculine about her." Excuse me? You can't be feminine and in the military? What an awful thing for a female author to say about her gender!

It got worse. Later I read, "The man's voice hinted at homosexuality, with a soft lisp that almost sounded deliberate." What? This kind of thing really dropped me out of the story and made me not want to read any more. Note there's a difference between an author's character saying things like those: people are dicks at times, after all. Some people make a full time job of it, but when it's the author including these comments in the narrative, as was done here, then it's highly unlikely I'm going to ever be much of a fan of that author's writing.

Another oddball one was "The inside of the house definitely lacked a woman's touch," which is on oddly genderist thing to say whichever way you look at it: every home needs a woman? Not necessarily! Every home that has a woman ought to evidence a distinctly feminine touch? Again, no!

Some of the police procedural behavior here was laughable, too. I don't mind that, if the author's intent is to show a bad or sloppy cop, but this is TJ's husband investigating this crime, and I assume we're not supposed to consider that he's inept, but he is, and appallingly so.

There's a blogger in the story who is being harassed by someone who appears to be a serial killer. At one point, the killer breaks into the blogger's place when he's not home and steals a couple of his rare potted plants. The blogger discovers the killer left a note for him on his computer. It's never explained how the guy got past the blogger's password, but the problem here isn't so much that, as the fact that there's no talk whatsoever of the machine being fingerprinted! Yes, the intruder probably wore gloves, but here, with the keyboard, and elsewhere, with maybe a hair sample or something, was a chance to potentially get forensic evidence of a killer, and the cop is completely lackadaisical about it.

The killer was in that very room and may have left other evidence, but the cop doesn't care. Later, this same psycho sends the blogger an email, but nothing is done to follow up on it because, we're told, the email was sent from "... a big-box appliance store south of Milwaukee that sold electronics." This detective never once considers going to the store and looking at security video to see if they can identify the killer! Maybe there was no such video, but to not even consider pursuing the possibility is bad writing that makes cops look like idiots. Trust me, they're not. Well, okay, some are, but not a large number! This one, unfortunately, is, which makes him a joke that's not funny, and certainly not someone worth reading about.

The author is using this big-box store as an excuse to not be able to track the guy down via email, but stores don't simply let you use free email. The guy would have had to have accessed some email account in order to send the message, even if he was sending it from a random computer, yet there is no follow up on this, either! This struck me as appallingly bad writing, with the author so focused on pursuing this step-by-step plot she's worked out, that she either didn't care or never noticed that some of it made no logical sense.

All of this was by a only one third of the way through this, so it didn't feel at all promising, I pursued it a bit further, but finally lost patience and DNF'd it once I realized the egg harvest was no real mystery, the young girl was an idiot, and the identity of the serial killer was obvious to everyone except the people looking for the killer! Maybe I'm wrong on that score since I didn't finish the novel, but it seemed to me that for Bart, the blogger, the wolf was in the kitchen.

As I said, I'm usually bad about figuring these things out, so I probably am wrong, but the thing is at that point, I really didn't care who the killer was or what happened next. Life's too short for books that don't grab me by the entrails, and my reading list is long! I can't recommend this based on what I read.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui


Rating: WARTY!

I can't give you a full review of this one because I grew tired of it so quickly and simply didn't want to read on when I have so many other books calling to me. I read about a tenth of it and I simply couldn't get interested in it. It moved so slowly and was so self-obsessed that it was tedious to read.

The basic plot is that psychiatrists are using a new device to invade dreams to try to help people with mental issues, but are being overtaken by the dreams and driven insane. Well yeah, since dreams are essentially meaningless drivel, it would be a nightmare for even the dreamer to try to unravel them - assuming that's even possible - let alone some stranger try to figure out what it means, so the premise wasn't exactly a charmed one and in the end, it just didn't appeal to me at all.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reinventing Mona by Jennifer Coburn


Rating: WARTY!

I was thinking that after reviewing Becoming Zara back in July 2016, and now having read Reinventing Mona, all I need do is find a title like Uplifting Abigail, and I'll have the whole span of the alphabet pretty much covered; however, I think I'm going to retire from reading this kind of novel having struck-out twice. To coin a baseball metaphor, since I'm not having a ball, I'm going to take a walk! Frankly I haven't had a lot of success with novels which have a female name in the title. I'm beginning to think they're bad news bears all around.

This was unabashed chick lit and my inner chick wasn't impressed. I don't mind the genre if it has something positive and interesting to offer, but when it gets deep down in the dumb, I'm outta there. That's what spoiled this one for me. I was initially impressed and interested in Mona, who is an engineer undergoing an early midlife crisis. It's not often we have women portrayed as engineers in fiction, and it's something I welcomed.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a genre of chick lit where the main female character doesn't own a cupcake shop or a coffee shop, but instead is an engineering consultant or a mathematician, or a biochemist or something? Must we confine our females to trivial or clichéd occupations? Come on authors! Why take the easy route of wallowing in someone else's tired genre and way overused trope party when you can strike out on your own and create a compelling new genre that celebrates diversity in women's occupations instead of similarity, and which celebrates smart instead of dumb, imagination instead of rote, and energy in the form of something novel instead of same old story?

Unfortunately, the revelation that Mona was an engineer was all we got. It was all downhill from there. Offered a generous lay-off package in a downsizing, Mona jumps at it and decides she's going to change her life around. All well and good, but instead of say, starting her own engineering business, she reads a male chauvinistic column in a magazine and buys into macho guy Mike's bullshit, hiring him as a consultant in how to be a guy's ideal chick. I am not kidding you. This is how pathetic Mona is. She isn't a person. All she is, is a walking need for a guy. Not even walking. Limping.

She evidently doesn't have a mind of her own and notwithstanding her hard-earned engineering degree, she apparently has zero smarts. This is not merely my opinion - it's what Mona shows us through her every action. She ignores her friend (about whom I have some agenda suspicions, but also whom I would trust more than this guy), and she swallows everything the guy tells her while ignoring everything her best friend tells her.

The problem is that her goal isn't to win over Mike or anyone like him (although it's obvious from the start that this is where the story is going even if you didn't read the blurb). No, her goal is to win the love of an accountant (Adam) whom she's known forever, and who is Mike's polar opposite and Mona's inane girlhood crush. We're never given an reason why she hadn't pursued Adam before now if he's such an attraction, nor are we told why she feels she needs to turn her whole life around in order to get him. But he stupidity did give me a great idea for a novel (well, maybe not great but good enough!), so my time in this one wasn't all wasted.

For someone who has lived a subdued, even monastic life thus far, Mona really isn't going very far out of her comfort zone and someone is holding her hand the whole time. The truth is that she's failing to direct herself and make her own mind up, and instead, merely taking direction from someone else as she has done all her life evidently.

Instead of dating Adam and finding out what they have in common, she takes Mike's advice which is to take a short stripper course to learn how to tease and please, and to hire Mike's kid sister to go shopping and buy come-on outfits. She also goes jogging. The problem with all this is that it's all outward. She literally does nothing to change herself inwardly which is precisely where her problem lies. Her best friend even complains about this and Mona lies that she is changing herself inside and out, when all she's actually doing is to have herself conform to one guy's puerile image of what a woman should be and frankly, this was sickening to read.

When she finally feels like she's "good enough" to keep Adam's attention, she still doesn't let things happen naturally. Instead, she engineers (yes, I guess that schooling was good for something) fake situations in order to try and impress him. Without asking if he's interested in heavy metal music, she claims she has tickets for Ozzfest, and then has to pay a thousand dollars on eBay to buy some. Not content with that, she hires an actor to play a fictional ex heavy metal boyfriend without discussing with him how he will play the role. He overdoes it and she looks like a moron, and none of this is remotely funny.

Having learned nothing from this disaster, she then hires another actor to fake a heart attack at the zoo so she can step in and do "CPR" and impress Adam. Again, she comes off looking like a moron. Not surprisingly. It was at this point, where she was being ever more stupid, clueless and brain-dead, and the so-called humor was face-planting in its own ass that I quit reading. This novel sucked. If you're going to write a self-help novel can you not make it smart and uplifting instead of demeaning and pathetic like this one was?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman


Rating: WARTY!

This was a quick fail for me. I listened to the first part of the audiobook which was read averagely by Todd Haberkorn, and the last part, and neither was remotely appealing, so this one was a speedy return to the library. I really don't know how you can make a novel about necromancy boring, but this was dead boring and I make no excuse for the pun!

It also contains some bad language right up front, and while I have no problem with that normally in a novel, it really stood out here starkly and appeared to be employed for no good purpose, so it just felt like one more bad choice on the part of the author.

The plot sounded interesting, but the execution of it was the death of it. Andrew Blankenship is the necromancer who has "a treasury of Russian magic stolen from the Soviet Union thirty years ago" so we're told, now also has a monster (so-called) from Russian folklore is coming for him. The "monster" is Baba Yaga, and I'm sorry but I simply can not Baby Yack-up seriously. The whole idea of this wicked witch of the forest who lives in a house that sits on chicken legs is so pathetic that it inspires belly-aching laighter and not one iota of terror in me whatsoever, so this was a huge fail. Admittedly I listened to only about third of this, but it felt more like a turd, and that was more than enough to make me dis-recommend it.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster


Rating: WARTY!

This author is a veteran of sci-fi. He's written scores of novels, and done many novelizations of movies (such as the rebooted Star Trek, the Alien movies, the Transformers movies, and so on). This makes it intriguing that I found poor writing and errors in this novel, such as his use of the term 'googolplex' which he renders as 'googaplex'!

Midworld is a 1975 novel set in a Foster-created universe and is a part of a series comprised of almost a dozen standalone novels. Why Foster never launched a lawsuit against James Cameron and others associated with the 2009 movie Avatar is a bit of a mystery, because the similarities between this novel and that movie are quite startling.

The borrowing (to put it politely) from Foster's book is extensive, including six-legged native species, an intensely harsh jungle environment with luminescent plants, arboreal living quarters which are actually named Hometree, interloping humans intent upon exploiting the planet, the planet's living things all connected in a web of life, and so on. The differences are also notable. In this case, the natives that the interlopers encounter are actually humans from a colony ship who were stranded on this planet centuries before. They have quickly evolved somehow to be smaller, although they still speak English. There is also a second species on the planet which is both native and sentient (and six-legged), and which seems to have partnered-up with the humans who have now become native.

That said, I adored the Avatar movie. I discovered recently there is now a planned four sequels to it, running through 2023 for release dates, and I'm really looking forward to them. The first Avatar earned almost three billion dollars. My guess is that they're going to re-release it when the sequel comes out, so it could top three billion when it's done. I'd certainly like to see it in 3D again in the movie theater. It's the best exponent of 3D in a movie that I've ever seen.

But I digress! This story is of a tribe of diminutive humans (not hobbits!) living in a hellish hostile jungle, where the ground is deemed too dangerous to inhabit, so the humans live in the trees, hence the name 'Midworld": there are several levels in the canopy from ground to sky, and this one has proved the safest, despite it still being a nightmare. Here's where problems may arise for some readers because although Foster evidently understands evolution, which is a refreshing change from a disturbing number of other authors, particularly YA ones, he still had inexplicable organisms which make little sense even in context.

Just as it is in Avatar, although less extreme there, this earlier work has nature so hostile that it exists at war zone levels. You can argue that it's dangerous on Earth, for example in a jungle where plants, insects, and predators make life highly risky, but here in Midworld, it's like every single step risks an encounter with a virulently deadly organism of one sort or another, each of which seems to have highly-developed poison or predatory traits.

I found it hard to believe that anything could survive on a planet like this except for the apex predators, who would quickly be forced into cannibalism as their hapless prey became extinct. Normally organisms only evolve to a level at which they can survive (or they become extinct because they fail to adapt). There is no impetus to evolve beyond that because evolution involves no intelligence whatsoever, regardless of the clueless claims of the brain-dead creationist community, and no planning for the future.

You can argue that snakes have no need for their venom to be so potent, and this is a good argument if your 'science' background consists of the book of Genesis, but in the real world, this view actually ignores evolution. For example, snakes did not evolve with mammals, which are a big component of their prey today. Snakes evolved with other reptiles whose metabolism was much slower than that of mammals, and so the toxins needed to be overwhelming and fast-acting. Snakes which had such toxins survived better than those without them.

When mammals came along later, these poisons worked even better on the hyped metabolism of this new prey. This is why you cannot ignore evolution when world-building in a story like this. For me it was more of an annoyance than it was a fail initially, because some of it was interesting and inventive. It was the extension of this into sheer idiocy which turned me off the story eventually. The real problem though, was that the author seemed to have become quite carried away with his own creation and like a parent obsessed with their young child, expended far too much time telling us stories about it, writing pages on the locals' battle with flora and fauna, at the neglect of getting on with the larger story.

Another issue I had was with the names given to the local life. Historically, when humans have expanded into new areas, they have carried with them the baggage of their previous life, and this would have been the case with the colonists who landed on the planet all those centuries ago, so it made no sense that the local life was not named after life on Earth. I can see some new names coming along for things which had no good counterpart on Earth, but when we're introduced to a creature described as reminiscent of a pig, which lives in the trees, why was it called a Brya instead of a Tree-pig? From a writing perspective, it bears thinking about, and evidently this author didn't think enough.

The way Foster would have it is that pretty much everything in this world is an apex predator and that's impossible. You can't have organisms this deadly without having a completely different ecosystem than the one that's presented here. Predators must necessarily be fewer than their prey otherwise they would die out from lack of same, yet here we see only predators, they're always hungry, and there's virtually no prey save the small group of indigent humans! It makes no sense. It was done only for "drama" but it was way the hell too dramatic to be either realistic or entertaining.

Additionally, Foster seems to forget that you not only have to give a serious nod (and no winking!) to evolution, but you also have to stay within the bounds of physics, unless you're positing an entirely different universe than the one Foster created here. One example of this is the ridiculous height of the 'trees'. The tallest known tree on Earth is close to the maximum limit. It's around 115 meters, and the limit is about 122, so it's pretty much there already. Taller than this, the trees cannot suck up water to the top, but Foster is claiming the trees on this world are half a kilometer, or over four times as tall as is practical and realistic. That's not gonna happen!

Here's a poor writing example from about sixty percent through the novel: "The Silverslith was moving slowly, deliberately, playing with its intended prey." The intended prey were the humans who were sleeping and unaware of the predator, so how, in any sense, was this playing with them?! And what's with the Silverslith name? Was this a snake of some sort? The description is too vague to determine properly what it was, but whatever it was, why was it called a slith instead of a snake or whatever?! Worse than this is that this is yet another example of the dangerous wildlife hijacking the story, and some of the wildlife, such as this and the ant-like (in behavior but not in size) Akadi hoard are far too improbable to exist in any reality.

Of course, the Silverslith is only a poor excuse to make the humans travel to a lower level of the forest so Foster can exhibit even more insane predators than the ones which exist in the upper canopy. It was so transparent and amateurish that I began to dislike the story at this point. Even when the danger of the Silverslith was over, these people stayed down there! I'd had it repeatedly drilled into me, during the entire first half of the story that it was far, far, far too dangerous to travel down to the lower levels, yet this group of travelers stayed down there for several hours for no reason! I'm sorry, but this was not only unnecessary, this amateurish approach rendered all the previous talk into pure bullshit! If a first time writer had submitted this story, it would have been rejected, but because Foster was established by then, he could get away with it.

One amusing part was when one of the visiting humans felt death was near. The panicked statement came out, "Not like this...not this way" which was very reminiscent of what Belinda McClory's character Switch's last words from The Matrix said, right before she died! But that kind of humor was unintentional and very rare. Unlike in Avatar there was no humor here, and the story suffered for it.

Part-way through chapter ten, or around 65% in, I'd had enough of this endless onslaught of absurd and improbably predatory creatures and lack of a direction to the story, so I quit reading this as a waste of my time. I can't recommend it. It's #4 in the so-called 'humanx' commonwealth series, but I will not be reading any more. I recommend watching Avatar instead. It's more realistic (for its framework) and inventive, and it tells an amusing and much more engaging story.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Evelyn After by Victoria Helen Stone


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"She smile sheepishly" (smiled, not smile)
"Evelyn dug hem out of her drawer and put them on" (them, not hem)
In chapter 22, third paragraph beginning "Evelyn found herself strangely disappointed..." is repeated as the fourth paragraph.

I had mixed feelings about this book, which started out strongly, but seemed to come unraveled rather quickly. In the end it was a disaster. Around sixty percent in I really wasn't feeling it at all, and I kept hoping it would turn around, but it went further south by eighty percent. I should have quit but I foolishly didn't and the ending was the worst part of all. It read more like bad fan-fiction than a professional novel.

The book was replete with routine flashbacks (chapters were labeled 'Before' or 'After', but I didn't always notice that on the Kindle version on my phone, and so sometimes the text was a bit confusing, although I admit in those cases it was my fault). The problem with flashbacks in general though, is that they bring the story to a screeching halt and I am always immensely resentful of that. Sometimes a flashback can serve a useful purpose, but usually to me they merely indicate laziness or incompetence on the part of the writer. In this case the flashbacks were unnecessary and should have been dispensed with. What little they revealed that was not about stalking and that was not boring could have been woven into the story

My biggest problem however, was with the main character Evelyn (a name apparently is pronounced the British way, as three syllables as in Evelyn Waugh). I really did not like her at all. She was far too self-serving and whiny. I don't think it's impossible to enjoy a novel whose main character you don't like, but I do assert that it's much harder to do so, and Evelyn kept making things worse by behaving stupidly, or irrationally, or obnoxiously. She isn't someone I would want to know. She's two-faced at best and a low-life at worst.

The story begins with her discovery that her husband Gary has been having an affair. I don't blame Evelyn for this but there are things she could have done, but failed to do, which would have improved her lot. She's whining that the baby fat she has from the birth of her son is a problem, yet it's been seventeen years. She could have shed it if she'd put her mind to it. She whines that she gave up on her art, when the fact is that she has never needed to work. Her husband is a highly paid psychiatrist, and she could have worked on her art projects all day long, but she chose not to. She dug this hole for herself and didn't even realize she was in one until things went sour in her marriage.

There is another much more serious issue which I don't want to get into for fear of giving too many spoilers, but this issue is worse and Evelyn's reaction to it really turned me off her. When she confronts Gary over the affair, he claims it's over and that he wants to put this behind them and get on with their life together, but while Evelyn claims she forgives him, it's clear she does not. she claims she still loves him, but it's clear from her behavior that there is no love there, and there hasn't been for a while.

This kind of thing made her dishonest at best and a liar at worst. She refuses to let Gary back into her life even though they continue to share the same house. Her motive is ostensibly that she cares too much about their son Cameron to break-up her marriage, but her behavior isn't conducive to a reconciliation - it's quite the opposite - so her behavior and her stated aim were completely at odds. She claims she doesn't trust him, but she believes everything he tells her, and never once questions his account of the more serious event. Not too smart!

I don't get why her husband stays with her. He has no reason to want to be with her whatsoever, yet he hangs around putting up with her crap like he's totally dependent upon her. His character made no sense whatsoever, and the "big twist" at the end, about about what really happened came as no surprise even to me, because it was so patently obvious. Once again, Evelyn ain't too smart.

Worse than this, she turns into a stalker, both of Juliette Whitman, the sylph-like diminutive blonde her husband was unfaithful with, and that woman's husband, Noah, with whom Evelyn herself has an affair. This isn't just cyber-stalking either; she literally spies on these two people, and harbors the most abusive attitude towards Juliette, referring to her repeatedly as a whore, yet she never describes herself in those terms no matter how many times she goes at it with Noah. The sex scenes were quite well done, but the joy of those is tarnished by the fact that I really was starting to dislike Evelyn before they began, and they were juvenile.

Abandon' scarcely begins to describe this couple's approach to getting it on. At one point I read, when Noah offered to get a condom: Evelyn shook her head. "I have an IUD.", but no IUD is going to protect against venereal diseases, and neither of them stops for a second to think about this. She knows who Noah is, and evidently assumes he is clean because he's been married to the same woman for many years, but she has no idea if he's been faithful, and she knows for a fact that his wife has had at least one affair, so she has no idea what Noah's sexual health is, and he hasn't the faintest clue about hers, yet they go at it like rabbits without a hint of discussion regarding health. The only concern is that she might become pregnant (which is possible. She's only forty-one after all).

I never did get the back and forth over going to see a therapist about fixing their marriage. Evelyn mutely chides her husband over dithering on it, but when he pursues her about it, she reveals (to the reader, not to him) that she has no intention of going to one because she considers the marriage to be over! But the author herself forgets what the status is of their therapy plans. At one point in chapter eleven, and later in chapter nineteen, then again in chapter 24, Evelyn discusses with her husband the prospect of choosing a therapist from a list she's prepared and given to him. He says he likes the first one on the list, but then in the next chapter, he's saying he got her list, like they've never discussed it before. Later still, in chapter thirty, they're still harping on this. It made no sense at all!

When Noah abruptly breaks it off with Evelyn purportedly out of guilt, after their weekend "retreat" - or more like a weekend advance - she coldly dismisses him from the hotel room with every overtone of finality, but then she frets over why he's not calling her or sending her a birthday greeting? She's a moron. he feels so little guilt, evidently, that he goes at it agian with her as soon as she calls him to remind this guy whom she threw out of the hotel, that he forgot her birthday! No, I'm sorry, but no. Why should I want to read about a callous and selfish bitch like this, let alone empathize with her?

I'm sorry, but that's exactly what she was. Over the course of the story She turns into a creepy stalker, which is really where she's being going this whole novel. That's her only growth. She's vindictive and selfish, and gives precious little thought to this son she's supposed to be protecting. She helps cover up a serious crime and feels no guilt whatsoever about it. In the end she gets away scot-free with her behavior and is in fact rewarded for it. No. This novel is not worth reading, and I felt resentful of the time I wasted on it hoping it would improve or that there was some big moral lesson coming. Neither option happened.