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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Reborn by Mark Millar, Greg Capullo, Jonathon Glapion, FCO Plascencia

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a graphic novel I got from my local library which has these days quite the selection. In amongst all the comics aimed at pleasing the Marvel and DC movie crowds as well as comic book aficionados, there are some gems that are not so mainstream even though they may have been penned by mainstream writers and artists. This is one of those.

The writer is a Scot named Mark Millar who has written quite a few graphic novels that I've enjoyed, many of which have been great successes, and some of which have been made into movies including one which starred Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, and Morgan Freeman (Wanted) and another which starred Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, and Michael Caine (Kingsman). Millar tends to lean towards writing of the fantastic and the so out there it's almost but not quite parody.

Reborn is a story relating that when people die in our world they're born again into a different fantasy world. Of course in this world there is a sharp divide between good and evil. Decent people are reborn into a world of light and friendship, whereas bad people are born to the dark side which is of course intent upon encroaching onto the light side.

In the story, this really old woman named Bonnie dies and finds herself in this other world as her thirty-year-old younger self who is supposed to be some sort of savior of this new world. She meets her father, who had died on Earth when she herself was young. He is also quite young in this world. She learns of others who are reborn at the same age they died, and yet others who are born younger or older. None of it seems to make any sense. One of her dear friends is bitter because she died after her husband, but by the time she died and came to this world, her husband had grown old and died here as well.

Animals are also born into this world, and some of them seem to have appeared with the ability to speak, including this girl's cat which has gone over to the dark side because it's resentful of being neutered. Also present is her dog which cannot speak and which is the size of a small horse. The dog is reminiscent of the luck dragon in The Neverending Story movie, but it's not quite that awful. I am by no means a fan of having cute animals in stories, but here it wasn't so bad.

The savior girl has no powers and no knowledge of why she should be the chosen one, although she seems to grow powers as time passes. The problem is that when Bonnie discovers that her husband, who had died years before and whom she has long pined for, is also here, but has been taken prisoner by the dark side because they want to lure her into a trap, she abandons her world-saving role to go find him.

The story in some ways is most reminiscent of Lord of the Rings with the hobbit (in this case Bonnie) crossing from the shire to Mordor with her magic sword in hand. There's even a tower, but no eye glares balefully from its twin spires. The leader of the dark side is predictably a Lord - in this case Lord Golgotha. At first I thought he would turn out to be her husband, but later I decided Golgotha is probably her mother or maybe the sniper from the opening panels. Whether I was right or wrong (I'm usually wrong in these guesses!) you'll have to read this to find out! I recommend it as a worthy read.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Crystal Key by Robert William Gronewold

Rating: WARTY!

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

This book was overall decently well-written from a technical perspective and it started out quite engaging, but as I read on, I found it more and more slipping into the worn-out mold of young adult fiction: the perky best friend who is either gay or a female. In this case it was a female named Margo who was obsessed, of course, with fashion. There was the trope of the girl (in this case the oddly-named Felicity Bough) finding her new and great magical power and then being thrown into the threat or clutches of evil. There was the tiresome love-triangle with the reliable trustworthy boy-next-door versus the so-gritty-he's-really-animated-sandpaper bad boy who rescues her. That's what actually turned me off the story. Not so much the ultra-predictable bad boy as the fact that this girl who was initially shown to be so strong, was rescued and thereby was rendered into nothing more than a simpering acolyte of the thoroughly nauseating bad boy.

Evidently like other reviewers, I initially thought this was a graphic novel. It is not. It's a ~400 page tome of pure text, which is way too long. The story revolves around a world which is evidently ours but projected into a future where evil has become so pervasive that even the sun has gone out. What keeps the planet alive are these inexplicable well-springs of light which fountain-up from various places on the planet, But, just like in The Never-Ending Story movie, the dark is encroaching upon the planet piece-by-piece and no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it.

This world is predictably exactly like the USA, except for the magic and the asinine transportation, which seems (for no reason I was given in the fifty percent of this novel that I read) to be based on animals. Cars are tigers and stallions, buses are bears, cargo transportation is elephants, and so on. I was rather surprised not to see the cat bus from the anime Totoro. These are not real animals, but machines named after them and which apparently have some animal traits, but the description was so vague as to leave these things a mystery. They do evidently have wheels, so I didn't get the animal reference at all. None of this made any sense to me; it wasn't entertaining or amusing. Quite the opposite: it increasingly became an irritant in short order.

Someone at Chapterhouse Publishing needed to read this because there were multiple problems with the text. In general it was not awful by any means, and spelling and grammar were fine as a general rule, but there were some bizarre oddities which ought to have been caught by an editor if not by the author himself. For example, on page 48 I read "...then is shot down and dived...." I assume the author meant, 'then it shot down'. A little later I encountered, "...verdant shade of green" on page 73. Verdant actually means green, so this is a tautology. On page 117, I read "...plain stone brick wall...." It's either brick or it's stone; the two are not the same. This is maybe a case where the author started out using one and changed to the other, but forgot to delete the one they were trading out for the other. We've all done that!

On page 128 there was a mistake of using clamored instead of clambered as in "...clamored over the old blocks....' Clamor is to make a noise, whereas clamber is to climb over. I suppose one could say that clambering over the rocks was causing a clamor, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense to do that. On the next page I read, "...who knew what something bigger could do." which ended in a period instead of a question mark. I encountered a common error on page 134, where I read "She tread quietly...." The past tense of tread is 'trod', not tread, and certainly not 'treaded' which I've actually read in more than one novel.

On page 153, I read, "...two large trees that created the top of the hill" I don't get what that's supposed to mean. The trees don't create the top of the hill; they might sit atop it or surmount it. They might even furnish it, but they don't create it. In a part of the novel where Felicity is sitting in a machine I read "...two throttles sat upright ready for steering." Nope! Throttles control speed. They don't control steering, unless the direction is also controlled by the thrust, but since this was a land vehicle, not a water or space vessel, that seemed unlikely, especially since Felicity didn't know how to drive it. Finally on page 156, I read, "I'm hungry too," this speech was followed by the word 'returned' I think it was intended to be 'he returned', as in he spoke back to her. I'm guessing by how often I was discovering these that they didn't end on that page, but that's what I found in as far as I wanted to read in this novel.

In terms of overall formatting, I once again find myself having to beg authors and publishers to have some consideration for trees. This book had very wide margins on all four edges, constituting, by my rough estimate, some twenty-five percent of the page. If the book is issued only in electronic format, this isn't such an issue (although longer novels eat up more energy to transmit over the Internet), but for a book that might go to a long print run, serious consideration needs to be given to how many trees you're going to slaughter in this era of runaway climate change. No one wants to read a novel where the text is jammed together over the entire page, but if the margins had been even slightly less generous, the book would have been shorter and eaten up less paper.

Chapter one didn't actually begin until page fifteen and it ended on page 400. Some of those fifteen pages could have been also dispensed with, instead of rigidly and blindly conforming to antiquated publishing rules created when no one gave a damn about trees and climate change. I found it ironic that the encroaching evil upon which this author discourses is actually upon us (albeit in a different form from the one he writes of), and yet publishers and authors perpetuate their blithe (or blithering) blindness to it.

If these story had been shorter, less 'maiden in distress', and the bad boy third leg of the tired love triangle been dispensed with, this would have been a lot better. In faith, methinks it too low for a high praise, too long for a short praise and too little inventive for an imaginative praise. Only this commendation I can afford it: that were it other than it is, it is unhandsome; and being no other but as it is, I cannot recommend it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Rating: WARTY!

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

I requested to review this novel because I was truly intrigued by the premise. I have to report that it got off to a bit of a rocky start with me, then I began to get into it, then it hit a slack patch before taking off again, so it was a bit of a roller-caster ride, but when you're a writer, you have to go with what your gut tells you (or your editor if you don't self-publish! LOL!) so each to her own, I guess. In the end though, I found myself becoming more and more disappointed in it and I can't recommend this.

People say you can't really review a novel if you don't read it all, but I think that's nonsense. Several times I considered DNF-ing this because I was so disappointed in it and did not consider it worth continuing. Instead I read on, hoping it would turn around. It didn't. If I had quit at thirty percent or fifty percent, or seventy five percent, my gut instinct about it would still have been right, yet once again I plugged along to the end only to discover that nothing changed for the better, especially not my mindset. This novel is apparently the start of a series and I have zero interest in following it. Let me tell you why.

To begin with, I have to report that this is one of the most overused novel titles. There are many other novels with this same or with a very similar title including: Daughter of the Storm by Jeanne Williams, Daughters of the Storm by Aola Vandergriff, Daughters of the Storm by Elizabeth Buchan, Daughters of The Summer Storm by Frances Patton Statham, Daughter of Air and Storm by Sherryl King-Wilds, Daughter of Storms by Louise Cooper, The Daughter of the Stormed by Catherine Cuomo, and so on. I recommend authors finding truly original titles for their novels even if the title they end up with isn't their first choice.

The book is volume one in the "Blood and Gold" series, and I should confess I'm not a fan of series books. I like novels that have an ending and "book ones" tend to be nothing more than a prologue to a chain of books that can be so derivative and unimaginative that they're simply boring. I avoid prologues, introductions, forewords, and prefaces like the plague, so it took some thinking before I elected to take a look at this. Like I said, the blurb was compelling, but I have a love-hate relationship with blurbs at best, and I really dislike novels that have no kind of end point at all.

I was not a fan of the blood and guts (or gold!) opening, but the story took-off after that in a more pleasing fashion at least for a while, introducing the five sisters. In some ways it felt like this was a fantasy rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. We have the five sisters and a somewhat ineffectual father (in this case because he's taken ill). There's no real mother interfering. For Elizabeth Bennet, we have Bluebell (all the daughters are named after angiosperms), but Bluebell is nowhere near as perspicacious as Lizzie Bennet. Nor as amusing.

In this story, she's the feisty elder daughter, renowned and feared for her blade (rather than her wit as was the case in P&P), but it would seem that this warrior rep, thinking only of killing and sword-fighting is literally all she has going for her. She was very one-note and this began to gall in short order. She was next in line for the throne, but she certainly was not monarch material at all, not even in a blood-thirsty world like this. Nor was she military material, proving herself a poor strategist and a very average warrior.

It wouldn't have been so bad had she merited her renown, but she did not. She was stupid and incompetent. In two fights she had after the opening - fights when she was alone facing four attackers - she gave a really poor account of herself and had to be rescued by her magical sister both times. So no, she was not even a great warrior, and I had to ask how on Earth did she ever get this reputation that we were reminded of repeatedly, when she was so bad at what she did?

Next came the Jane Bennet of the family, known in this story as Rose. She has been married-off to Wengest, king of Nettlechester to secure an alliance. This author likes to name countries with names which sound like English cities, for some reason. The author is Australian and I am predisposed to look favorably on Australiana, but I wasn't fond of these names. The seemed unrealistic. Rose was once enamored of Wengest, but now is in love (so she claims) with his nephew Heath, and she pursues him like a love-sick teenager instead of behaving like a mature monarch. She was truly sickening in her stupidity and her selfish bitch-in-heat behavior. This did not come off as a great and tragic love story as perhaps the author intended, but as hack high-school love-triangle nonsense.

Next is Ash, who is the equivalent of Mary Bennet. She joins us as a resident in a type of convent, but she soon leaves to go home when she learns her father is ill. She has some sort of magical gift which evolves somewhat as the story unfolds. I enjoyed that to begin with, but in the end it also became tedious, because it really went nowhere. Ash constantly whined about this gift and where she felt it might lead. She meets an undermagician who tells her she is also an undermagician, but at no point was it ever really explained what an undermagician is or how one might differ from an actual magician. She and Bluebell were by far the most interesting characters to me, so it was sad that both of them became ever more annoying and dislikable the further I got into the story.

After Ash come of course, the troublesome twosome: Ivy and Willow. They're the equivalent of Kitty and Lydia, with Ivy being the ridiculously promiscuous Lydia, and Willow the dissatisfied, complaining Kitty. Ivy pretty much wants to jump the bones of anything in pants. She was a caricature of Rose who at least was only idiotically fixated on one guy. Willow is secretly an adherent of an anti-feminist religion, for reasons which are never actually revealed. She's hoping to convert her father so if he dies he can enter the sunlit afterlife instead of the dark place. Or something along those lines. Neither of these girls seemed remotely realistic.

There are two villains, Hakon, a rival warlord, and Wylm, the stepbrother of the girls. Both of these felt like caricatures at best and jokes at worst. Fearing what will happen if the king dies and Bluebell becomes queen, Wylm sets off on a quest to find Hakon at the same time as Bluebell orders her father moved away from home to seek help for the supernatural illness which she believes is killing him, so we have two parallel road trips in place. Here is where thing really fell apart and suspension of disbelief with it. Bluebell precipitately takes her father, along with two other soldiers, and all of her sisters on this trip. We've already been told how dangerous the countryside is, with raiders (who always seem to find Bluebell), yet we have only herself and two soldiers protecting a sick king and four other women? And no one is left in charge at the palace? It made zero sense.

It made less sense, having brought them along, to let the sisters split-up later, dividing the party. Bluebell sends Ivy, of all people, to return Rose's daughter to her father. She sends one of her two soldiers with Ivy. That soldier then disappears and we never hear of him again. Where did he go? Why did he never return to Bluebell? And why not send Rose, the child's mother, with the child? It made absolutely no sense whatsoever, except to keep the adulterous Rose with her lover and send the promiscuous Ivy to Rose's husband. There were realistic, organic ways in which this could have been achieved, but they were not employed. In short it made no sense whatsoever, especially since Rose later leaves - alone - to follow her child. Wait, isn't the countryside dangerous? Aren't there roving bands of raiders that the kings army never seems to be interested in hunting down? Yet Rose is going to make a journey of several days alone? Again, suspension of disbelief collapsed.

There was no reason at all to have these girls all go on the trip. There was no reason not to take a garrison of soldiers from the castle along with them. There was no organic reason for Rose to go with Ash and Bluebell to find this "undermagician" who might be able to help their father, as opposed to her taking her daughter back home, so this part of the story felt so stage-managed that it really turned me off the writing. It was such an artificial attempt to keep Rose near Heath and send Ivy to Wengest that it was really laughable. It was very poorly-plotted.

Bluebell is depicted as being with a group of soldiers at the very start of the story, and these guys also disappear from the story. They never follow Bluebell back to the castle despite the country being in a crisis because of the sick king. What happened to them? Where were they when Bluebell needed them? The original departure of Rose from her husband with her daughter made as little sense. It made sense that Rose would want to visit her ailing father and perhaps that she would take her daughter with her, but we're told that "There are bandits on these roads. Violent bandits." and we've already seen them, so why is King Wengest trusting his wife and only offspring to an escort of only one soldier?

Again, it's because that one soldier was Heath, her lover! It made no practical sense to let his wife and her daughter, his only immediate offspring, and also his nephew, his only heir to the throne, travel with absolutely no armed guard. Again it failed to suspend disbelief. The author seemed so intent upon following a rigid course in relating this tale - in this case because it would bring these two together - that she never seems to have thought about the absurdity of such a situation in the context of her own story, and authenticity was sacrificed again.

On a technical note, drop caps aren't a favorite of mine and they usually don't work well in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. They were better on the iPad than on my android phone, and not so bad on an iPhone, but Kindle usually mangles any attempt at fancy text or fancy formatting, so it's best avoided. Here it wasn't too bad, but there were odd-looking chapter beginnings, such as when the 'T' in "The sun rose..." was dropped and enlarged, and sat squarely against the 'W' that began the next line so it looked like it read, "He sun in the Twest." It was amusing, but it should never have happened. It's an issue of which authors and publishers need to be aware when publishing ebooks and trying to make them look like their print versions. It simply doesn't work in the lousy Kindle app. It just doesn't! Keep the text simple for Kindle; it's all it can handle.

But poor formatting, especially when it's as mild as this was, can be overlooked if the story is engaging, This one was not. The silly sisters were tiresome, annoying, predictable, and not in the least bit credible as characters. None of them appealed to me as characters. I had no one to root for, and I honestly didn't remotely care what happened to any character in this story. They were all one dimensional, and therefore just not interesting. The author needs to kill off Willow, Ivy, and Rose, give some depth to Ash and Bluebell, and also keep the story tighter, more realistic, and shorter, and maybe it will work, but I have no faith in this series at all after reading this prologue. While I wish the author a fair dinkum career, because I think she has the makings of a good novelist, I can't say 'good on ya sheila!' for this novel, and I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony

Rating: WARTY!

I got interested in this novel when someone told me the main character, Bink, marries a woman who goes through phases: she's either ugly and really smart or she's beautiful and really stupid. I was curious as to how a story like that panned out. It turned out to be a little more complicated than I as told (isn't it always?!). She actually went through a monthly phase matching the Moon's cycle. As Fanchon, she was unattractive, but very smart. As Wynne, she was outstandingly attractive (all this is by Bink's standards, whatever those are), but very stupid. As Dee, the in-between phase, she was considered average in both departments. The phases cycled into one another by small amounts, and although Bink had met each of these, he had not seen them for long enough at a time to realize they were the same person. So who, really was dumber?

This was published in 1977, but there were problems I had with it almost from the off. The entire value of woman in this novel seemed to be focused around whether or not they were attractive. On page six, Bink is described as "smart, strong, and handsome." The page before, his fiancé is described as "beautiful, and intelligent, and talented. My question is, why are Bink's looks placed last in his trio of traits, but in hers, beauty is placed first? It's genderist and inappropriate, and this turned me off the book. No one has to read books like this when there are so many out there which are so much better written and which do not reduce women to object d'art.

Once I'd seen how women were rated in the Piers Anthony school of thought, I lost all interest in how the Dee trio panned out with their changing smarts and appearance and I quit reading this novel. I can't recommend it.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Goldfisch Manga Vol 1 by Nana Yaa

Rating: WARTY!

This is form an advance review copy for which i thank the publisher.

This I got thinking it looked interesting, but in the end it was truly a confusing read and contained nothing that entertained me. It's the kind of comic book which makes it clear that 'issue' has more than one meaning, and you do not want to be publishing an issue which has issues! The story is about Morrey Gibbs who is effectively King Midas. Almost everything he touches turns to gold, but there seems to be no rule as to how and when it happens. Why he has this power remained a mystery to me throughout the graphic novel.

On top of this, the story is set in Waterworld, but thankfully without Kevin Costner. Morrey has a pet otter which immediately turned me off the story. I detest stories of any stripe that feature oh-so-cute animal sidekicks, because it is way overdone. I much prefer writers who take the road less traveled, but this author evidently has absolutely no idea where that road is.

On top of that, there's the stock inventor friend, and at that point I gave up. I honestly cannot tell you what the story is about because I have no idea despite gamely plowing through to the end. It was that confusing. Morrey is apparently trying to avoid bounty hunters, but since he can create all the gold he wants out of literally anything, he could have bought off those guys (or conversely, turned them into god), and also the guy who hired them. In fact, he could have flooded the world with so much gold that it made gold literally worthless, but he was evidently too stupid to figure any of that out. Stupid main characters are ten-a-penny, especially in young adult novels. The world does not need them appearing in graphic novels, too. So the book was simply a mess and I cannot recommend it.

On a technical note, it's increasingly clear to me that comic book authors have not yet clued-in to the fact that books are published electronically and the book had better work on a pad. Instead, both they and publishers are still evidently unable to think outside the box: the cardboard box in which print issues are snail-mailed. They're landlocked in a print world, and if that's the case, they should quit trying to publish electronic versions and send the reviewers a print version.

This story was rendered even more irritating than it already was by two problems. The first of these was that the screen image was significantly smaller than my iPad screen, and the text illegible until I'd enlarged it, but once enlarged, Bluefire Reader (my reader of choice for ebooks, since Amazon's crappy Kindle app truly sucks, and virtually no one offers review books in B&N's much better Nook app), would not let me swipe the page until I had reduced it back to it's original tiny size! This was irritating at best. Publishers really need to take the time to smell what they're shoveling out to people.

A second problem was that some pages, for reasons unknown at least as judged by their actual content, were 'printed' at ninety degrees to upright, and the since pads are programmed to re-orient instantly when they're turned, the image merely shrank when the pad was turned to read it unless I took pains to keep it completely flat. Yes, you can lock the image, but his can create other problems so i typically do not do this except with Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app, which is useless for reading anything other than plain text anyway. This re-orientation once again made the images too small! Frustrating at best.

So, a note to authors and publishers: if you're going to offer your graphic novel in electronic format, give some thought to how it's created and what it will look like in the intended reading environment for the sake of your readers - if you want to keep them reading your work, that is. But disregarding the technical issues, I can't recommend this based on the poorly put-together content.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander

Rating: WARTY!

This was another boring audiobook experiment. I didn't realize it at the time but it's number two in a series, and that pretty much describes it. There was nothing on the CD case to indicate this was a series - as usual. I think series should have a warning sign on them like cigarette packs do. I think this one was read by the author, but I don't recall for sure, because it's been a while since I listened to it. I'm a big advocate of authors reading their own books, but whoever it was reading this, it wasn't great. Neither was the story.

It started out well-enough, but seemed to become lost somewhere along the way, and I became bored with it. It's a very dark story for young kids to be reading or worse, listening to in a stranger's voice. It's set in Zombay - an invention of the author's. A girl named Kaile is forced to bribe some goblins after her parents insult them. She does such a good job of debasing herself that she's given a bone flute which initially pleases her since she's into music, but it causes Kaile to become detached from her shadow, which is widely taken as a sign that she's dead. This is the kind of material we're dealing with. Her dumb-ass family refuses to countenance her now that she's 'dead', and the story goes downhill from there.

Her conversations with her separated shadow are mildly amusing, but they were nowhere near enough to save the story for me, so I cannot recommend this.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cloudia & Rex by Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Daniel Irizarri

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was a great story which I really enjoyed, although I have to say it was a bit confusing at times. The art was lovely and the story was different from the usual fare. I always appreciate that! For one thing, it presented African American females as protagonists. It was nice to see strong female characters of color, who are far too few in comic books, and strong, independent females who are equally rare. I would not recommend a graphic novel if that was all it had to offer, but I would sure be tempted! Fortunately this offered much more.

In the story, two young girls, the eponymous Cloudia and Rex, and their mother run into ancient gods who are seeking safety which can only be found in the mortal world. An antagonist named Tohil wishes to destroy those same gods and is hot on their heels.

Somehow the gods end-up being downloaded into Cloudia's phone, and some of their power transfers over to the girls. Rex is somewhat bratty, but she finds she can change into an assortment of animals. It's amusing and interesting to see what she does with that. Cloudia is a bit strident, but maybe she has reason when her life is screwed-up so badly and unexpectedly.

Daniel Irizarri's coloring is bold and pervasive, and it really stands out from the comic. It's almost overwhelming, actually, but overall the story was entertaining and the characters were fun, I recommend this one.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrighi

Rating: WORTHY!

This was another winner from Net Galley's 'Read now' offerings, where you can find some real gems if you look carefully. This therefore is an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher.

In this graphic novel, Morrigan Moore is dragged along to yet another new town, behind her older brother and mother, who are co-authors of a series of novels based on assorted local folk-tales and legends. They're about to start a new novel, and are here for research.

Morrigan isn't happy, but is trying to make the best of a bad job. As mom and bro start to investigate the local legend of the voracious and predatory 'King of Crows' and his foe, 'The Scarecrow Prince' Morrigan finds herself not researching the legend, but living it, as she gets the mantle of The Prince thrust upon her, and discovers that it's she who must stand and defy the King of Crows - and not in some fictional work, but for real.

Morrigan grows into her role and starts making her own rules as the story careers to its uncertain conclusion. I really enjoyed this graphic novel for the feistiness of its main character: a strong female to be sure, and for the originality of the story and the excellence of the artwork. It's well-worth reading and will give you something to crow about!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, John Green

Rating: WORTHY!

There seem to be an awful lot of reviewers (even positive ones) who simply didn't get this book. It was a parody, and on top of that, it was gorgeously illustrated and on top of that, it was funny.

The stories were off the wall, but were also played for serious effect even as humor came squeezing through at every tack. Frankly, this is something and I might have launched in all seriousness to get my kids going and make them think their dad is really losing it - as they accuse me of so often (especially after I released Baker Street), but these guys (Dave Roman writer, John Green - not the John Green who makes me barf - artist) actually produced it. It's about this teenage guy who can turn into a boat! It was pretty funny, and consistently so through every story.

This foreign exchange student comes to the school and her name is Nina Pinta Santa Maria. Teen Boat (his actual name) falls for her, but she only has eyes for the school jock, who is a jerk of course. Teen has a best friend, a girl named Joey, whom he takes completely for granted. He is so oblivious of her that it's truly funny rather than annoying, although it does make me wonder why she puts up with him.

But then Joey has a secret of her own which isn't revealed in this volume. One of my sons, who seems to have inherited my wife's power to divine these things long before I ever do, thinks she's secretly an iceberg, and I'm on board with that. She's definitely a cool character.

Teen Boat runs for class president, falls in love with a Gondola, crashes into a gas tanker on his driving test, and has a run in with pirates, and therein a sequel lies! One which I shall track down ASAP and hopefully find it on sail..... If not, I may well end-up on the dock before the judge and be propelled with a stern warning into the brig for failing to bow! If looks could keel!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Rating: WORTHY!

This is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read and enjoyed very much. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read the sequel even though I am not much of a reader of series, because the first book was so good. I am pleased to report that this (an advance review copy, note) was very much up to the standard of the first.

In this story, Vasilisa Petrovna decides she wants to travel rather than be confined in one place, especially since it is a place where she is disliked and at risk of being labeled a witch. The frost prince, Morozko, who effectively created her in the earlier novel, building on the young and gifted child that she was at birth, objects strenuously to her plan, but unwilling to bow to anyone, she forges ahead with it anyway.

On her journey, she encounters a village which has been burned by bandits who have abducted several girls, and Vasya decides that she's going to retrieve them. This in turn leads to her joining the prince's party from Moscow, which is hunting these same village-burners, and she becomes a favorite of the prince. The problem is that he thinks she's a young man, not a girl! And that scandalous situation isn't the worst thing which happens to her by far. And no, this novel is not a romance except in the very old fashioned sense of the word, I am thrilled to report!

I have to say this got off to a rather slow start for me. I do not read prologues or introductions or what have you, but the opening chapters felt like one, and I wasn't sure what they contributed to the book, but as soon as we left that part behind and joined Vasilisa as she sets off with her magnificent horse Solovey in the depths of a Russian winter, everything turned around for me, and I was engrossed from that point on. I loved that magical Russian folklore characters pop-up unannounced every now and then, some of them important to the story. They make for a rich and charming read.

Vasya is at her core a particularly strong female character, independent and not tied to any man, nor will she chase any. This feisty independence appeals to someone like me who has read too many trashy YA novels where a woman can't be a woman unless she's validated by a man. There's none of that here: Vasya will not be reigned in by anyone. She's strong, but vulnerable at times. She is almost fearless and she tries to do what she thinks is right, although it is not always the wisest course for her or those around her.

But there is a point where Vasya's gender deception is uncovered. You know it's coming, but even so it's hard to see her fall so fast and so hard, just when her life had been perking up. She's every bit up to the challenge, though she's confronted with some difficult choices and some obnoxious male figures. Despite all this, she remains strong and valiant, and I really loved the way this story went and how she made it through these obstacles without selling out.

This was a gripping and entertaining story about an awesome female character of the kind we see far too few of in novels, so yes despite my aversion to series, I should like to read more of her in the future, but for now this satisfies admirably! It's a worthy read, and I recommend it highly.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Squawk of the Were-Chicken by Richard J Kendrick

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This book was hilarious and I recommend it, although for me it went on a little bit too long to be perfect. It was beautifully written and full of characterization, quirks, fun, amusing asides, and an actual mystery. It was also weird, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It was weird in the sense that it seemed to straddle two completely different time periods simultaneously: the rustic of the Jane Austen, and the modern. For example, while bicycles were apparently new inventions, screenplays were not, so it made for a rather mind-boggling read, the reader never quite knowing what to expect.

As I mentioned, it felt rather long for a book which appears to be aimed at a middle-grade audience. Despite being amused and entertained by it, I have to say I was often wondering why it was taking me so long to get through it! I read it frequently and I'm not a slow reader, but I always seemed to be making awfully slow progress through it which was frankly off-putting. This drag effect was offset by the interesting story.

The relationship between the two main characters, Deidre, who leads us through this tale, and Fyfe, who is her sidekick, is choice and beautifully done. The two of them are an item and either don't know it yet, or are in serious denial, but it was a pleasure to read of their interactions. They were not the only two characters though, and rather than have a pair of startlingly realized actors playing against a backdrop of an otherwise bland ensemble, this world was full of equally engrossing and quite complex people, particularly the eccentric were-chicken investigator.

Even minor characters contributed fruitfully, as in when I read this, which made me laugh out loud despite not being a fan of fart jokes or stories:

Of course, then there'd been tea. And, apparently, the Master Seamstress was just about the only person Deidre had ever met that was completely impervious to Fyfe. In retrospect, maybe Deidre should have figured on that. She had once told Deidre, rather cryptically, to 'never trust a fart, dear.'
That felt so off the wall to me that I really did laugh out loud.

Deidre lives in a quiet village which nevertheless has a thriving market. Almost all of the activity in the village seems to revolve around making and selling things, and most of those things seem to revolve around wheat, chickens, and eggs, but which came first, I can't say. Deidre has no interest in that. Instead, she's focused on inventing, and by that I mean engineering, and she's really focused on that. Her father is supposedly trying to get her the position of smallest cog at the clock shop, a venue she loves, even as she detests its owner.

So she occupies her time inventing things, usually with disastrous consequences, and then trying to figure out how to solve the problem or whether she should move onto something else. The latter option tends to win, because her mind is all over the place. Into this orderly, if messy life, comes a kleptomaniacal were-chicken. Or is it merely someone impersonating a chicken? And whence cometh the bravery if they're impersonating a chicken? That last question may be irrelevant and/or ill-considered, but only Deidre and Fyfe can find the answer - and determined they are to do so.

There was a minor writing issue with this, and since my blog is more about writing than it is about reviewing, I want to add this in, if a bit belatedly. I read:

Deidre trailed after the two men as they trudged across the stricken yard, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Now you can argue it's fine the way it is, because it's clear what's intended here, and I accept that, but I believe it could have been written better, and thereby have avoided the question of who it was who trod more carefully: the two men or Deidre! How about:
As they trudged across the stricken yard, Deidre trailed after the two men, treading rather more carefully than they did so that she wouldn't trip.
Small change, big difference, No reader in their right mind is going to ditch your novel for one or two infractions of this nature, but suppose you've made a dozen through inattention? This is why reading helps - to clue you in to how other writers tackle it and to what's acceptable and what's nonsensical. It's why re-reading your own work often before publishing is a tedious but worthwhile expenditure of your time!

I really liked this novel and I recommend it although as I said, it may be a bit long (and even a bit mature in reading style) for many middle-grade readers. Although the author has an annoying habit of omitting question marks from clearly interrogative sentences, the writing overall was excellent and appreciated, and even Amazon's crappy Kindle app couldn't ruin it for me!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Girls & Panzer by Ryohichi Saitaniya

Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Greg Moore, this was another quirky graphic novel from Japan, which has elements in common with Tank Girl. I couldn't not pick this up from the library shelf with a title like this! Japanese schoolgirls in their sailor outfits driving humongous and obsolete tanks from World War Two?! Competing against other schools in an all-out war? No injuries??

It was weird but oddly compelling. Miho Nishizumi is a new transfer student to Ooarai All-Girls High School. She had departed a previous school where she was involved in "tankery" as this activity is amusingly referred to. She had a falling out with her older sister and left on somewhat bitter terms. She evidently is looking for a quiet academic life, but she's denied it! Her new school is reinstituting its tankery program, and because of her experience, Miho is drafted into putting together a tankery team for an upcoming national contest.

With some oddball teammates, and a limited selection of tanks, Miho has her work cut out for her, but she wins through in the end. The story was amusing, but I'm not sure if I want to pursue it beyond this volume. I think there is only so many tank battles I can stand to watch, especially since it was rather confusing at times. The bulk of this graphic novel was black and white line drawings, and the characters looked very much alike, so there was very little in the way of distinction not only between the two teams but also between the members on the same team, and parts of this were hard to follow, for me at least.

Overall, though, I consider this to be a worthy read. It was fun and feisty, and I will perhaps dip into another volume at some point. What's not to like about girls with tanks?!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Blue Sky by Audrey Wood

Rating: WORTHY!

Couldn't fail to review a book by a namesake now, could I?! Not that I know this author, or am any relation to her (as far as I know!). This book was about what's in the sky and how beautiful and fulfilling it is to contemplate it in all its facets. The book is very light on text and very heavy on vibrant colors and eye-arresting depictions.

What little text there is though, is quite gripping, because it also illustrates the very idea it conveys: 'cloud sky' is made up of clouds, rather like my own Cloud Fighters (evidently it runs in the Wood family! LOL!), and 'rain sky' is dripping with precipitation, and so on.

You'll want a cold drink and ice cream after seeing 'sun sky'. The book is slightly whimsical and doesn't fail to consider a dream sky towards the end, inviting children to fall asleep and experience it for themselves! Great idea! I loved this book and thoroughly recommend it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Heathen Vol 1 by Natasha Alterici

Rating: WORTHY!

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

You never quite know what you're going to get when Net Galley has a 'read now' offer, and it's often a mixed bag, but in this dive into the mixed bag of fortune I came out ahead! This is the second graphic novel out of three that I really enjoyed, so I have no idea why it would need a 'read now' offer. I guess people don't appreciate quality when it comes stealthily in on a longboat and attacks their insular little village of life, huh?!

This is a beautifully illustrated (by the writer in rather fetching sepia-like tones) series which collects several individual issues into one volume. It's about Aydis, a young female Viking who kissed a girl and she liked it! Whether this really was the punishment for this "crime" in Viking times, I don't know, but apparently Aydis's sentence was either marriage or death. Knowing the one would be no different from the other in Aydis's case, her wise father took her out of the village and returned claiming she was dead.

Meanwhile alive and well, Aydis vows to free Brynhild, who was imprisoned behind a wall of divine fire by Odin. A quick chorus of "O-Odin can you sear...." Okay that was bad, Scratch that! Moving on...Aydis's hope is that with Brynhild and the Valkyries on her side, she can take on Odin, bring an end to his not-so-divine patriarchy, and finally get some freedom and independence for women!

Riding her talking horse Saga, who isn't above having the odd adventure him- or her-self. I wasn't sure, and maybe that was intentional. Or maybe I wasn't paying sufficient attention! Aydis is quite a distraction with her mind rampaging in six different directions at once. Anyway, she sets off for the mountain wherein Brynhild is trapped. The last thing she expects is to be kidnapped by the goddess of love, Freya, and despite her proclivities, she's not happy about it! And so the story continues!

I loved it, and if you have a liking for a Viking like none you've met before, set your course for this Norse and you'll love it too. A Norse! A Norse! My Vikingdom for a Norse! Okay, no, that didn't work either. Never mind! Seriously, this was a true pleasure to find and read, and I recommend it unreservedly. Besides how can you not want to read a book by a woman with a grand name like Natasha Alterici?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Rating: WARTY!

This was a bloated audiobook which I came to by way of the excellent TV show. I find it disheartening that authors like Gaiman (who is evidently channeling Stephen King here), so routinely get away with padding novels with extraneous material that's not even relevant to the plot, let alone moves it along. If this had been submitted, as is, by an unknown author it would have been slashed and burned by the editor or publisher, assuming they even deemed it publishable.

Gaiman needs to take a few editing hints from the writers of the TV show, because for me, this bloating is what ruined what could have been a fine novel. I made it about a third of the way through, and hit one section after another that was padded with material that seemed to come out of deep left field - which is saying something for a story that is entirely out of left field! - and I gave up on it. I'll stick with the TV version. It's better done.

For example, an entire half-hour drive to work listening to this audiobook (nineteen disks!) was ironically occupied in the novel by a drive which Shadow, the main character in the book, undertook simply to get from point A to point B. It did nothing to advance the story. Gaiman could have simply said "and he arrived somewhat worse for wear from the long drive, but he got there" or words to that effect and that would have been it, but instead, we got thirty minutes of prose and dialog occupied with his buying a crappy old car to make the trip, driving the car, sleeping in the car, taking a leak in the morning (yes, Gaiman described this!), having this random woman show up to beg a ride from him, driving the car, stopping for a meal, driving the car, and then dropping her off at her destination. What exactly, was the point? Just so's he could hook up with her at the end of the story?

The next disk after that became bogged down with the minutiae of running a funeral home. I pretty much skimmed every track on that disk, and quickly decided that this novel, which had started out so well, was not for me. None of this padding was necessary, giving how fat the book was. Frankly, I was annoyed and resentful that a writer felt he could so casually waste my time like this. This is why I don't typically like to take on long novels because they're almost inevitably larded with this kind of thing, and it's boring and irritating to me.

The story in outline is that the old gods - those which are familiar to anyone who knows anything about mythology or comparative religion (although some reviewers seemed sadly ignorant of the mythology which begs the question as to why they even started reading this book in the first place!) are at war with the new ones.

Gods such as such as Odin, Kali, and so on, are being forced out in a take-over by the new gods of television, videogames, technology and so forth. Odin resents this and decides to embark upon a fruitless war against them. He endeavors to recruit the other old gods to help him. This means we meet a lot of characters (if there is one thing humanity truly excels at, it's inventing gods). I notice that in his recruitment of gods obscure and common, Gaiman carefully avoids names like Yahweh, Allah, and Brahma so as not to piss off any fanatics. Other than that, he has no rules and no boundaries.

Some of the story was good, well-written, sacrilegious, and fascinating, but it was nowhere near good enough, well-written enough, or fascinating enough to make up for the dreck. I cannot recommend this. Go watch the TV show instead. be warned that both novel and TV show are explicit and violent.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Rating: WARTY!

I got this as a wish granted on Net Galley - for which I thank the publisher. I'm not normally a fan of novels that obsess over looks and fashion, because those things are as shallow as the people who focus on them to the exclusion of all else, but this one was more of a dystopian novel where beauty was a magical power given to some to bestow onto others. In fact, it was almost a weapon.

This interested me initially, but by the time I was about three-fifths through the novel, I became thoroughly disappointed as I learned this was essentially no different from any other of the LCD young adult novels I've read and the author was in fact betraying her own premise. Instead of being different, the novel was just the same, and employed the same tropes and clichés, as all the other poor YA novels, the most egregious of which was the triangle between the first person narrator, a 'bad' boy, and a 'good' boy, and it was truly nauseating to read.

In very general terms, the novel was set in a quite well-realized world, with some beautiful writing and elegant descriptive prose, but the more I read, the more this was sadly let-down by some glaring holes in the logic, and some truly nonsensical and clunky inventions. The novel was also far too long. This was caused by a rambling tone in which everything took forever to get underway. This wasn't so bad in the early pages, but the more I read, the less I wanted to be swamped with yet more descriptive prose as another page went by with literally nothing happening unless you count strutting, and preening and posing as events.

Additionally, there is only so much mystery and so many unanswered questions you can heap upon your reader before your reader starts to suffocate, and you need to start offering answers - or at least look like you're about to do so - but by sixty percent in, there continued to be questions, and not an answer in sight. This was deeply disappointing and made me feel, since this is the start of a series, that no real answers would be forthcoming until the final volume of the trilogy or whatever this ends up being.

At one point early in the reading, I'd been prepared to suggest that there's a raft of YA writers who seriously need to read a few books like this before they write any more of their own, but I changed my mind quite quickly. I know this is an ARC, and so is unaccountably sent out for review with no guarantees and insufficient vetting, but this author has a masters, and some of the issues I came across made me despair for our education system. And they had nothing to do with it being an "uncorrected proof" and everything to do with being poor writing or poor word choices by someone who should know better.

While I readily acknowledge that language is a dynamic thing, especially in this era of sound-bites and texting, I think there are some things which didn't ought to change so readily! How many times have I read an author (particularly in YA writing) using 'bicep' (as this one does) when the term is biceps? There is no excuse for this, not even the ever-convenient UPE (uncorrected proof excuse).!

Chaise longue is dyslexically rendered into 'chaise lounge'. Now I have come to grudgingly accept this as an Americanism which isn't going away, and normally I would just roll my eyes and read on, but here, in a novel which is explicitly set in a heavily French-accented milieu, I found it inexplicable that the author should resort to the lazy Americanism instead of the French original!

In another instance combining poor writing and bad French, I read what was supposedly a note from Camellia's mother in which she instructed her in the use of a magic mirror (more on the 'borrowing' habits of the author later!), "Prick your beautiful little finger and drop the blood onto the handle, and it will show you what you need to see. I love you, ma petit."

The first problem with this is that it read so false to me to suggest that Camellia's mom would write "beautiful little finger". It was quite literally sickening to read, and it felt completely unrealistic. Maybe there are some idiot moms who would write such flowery prose like this while trying to convey something of vital importance to their daughter, but it made me laugh because it was so bad.

It was not as bad as the wrong-gender French in a novel set in a French-flavored world. 'Petit' is masculine. It goes with mon as in: mon petit. The phrase the author needed here (since the message was addressed to her daughter) was the feminine: 'ma petite'.

I've never seen fleur-de-lis rendered as fleur-delis, which makes it sound like the name of a sandwich shop! After consulting this same novel in Bluefire Reader though, I discovered that it had been rendered correctly as fleur-de-lis, and it was Amazon's crappy Kindle app which had randomly deleted hyphens (and spaces, I discovered as I read on), so this was not the author's fault at all, except in that she and the publisher had placed far too much faith in Amazon not to mangle their hard work. Amazon had, with its usual disregard for literature, once again let them down. This is merely one reason why I have neither time nor patience for Amazon, and partly why I quit posting reviews on Goodreads, Amazon's unholy-owned tributary.

The story itself began as an interesting one. In the fictional Kingdom of Orléans, a tiny subset of young females, known as Belles have special powers known as Arcana. In this story, the Belles, only six of them, are considered sisters even though they are unrelated, and they all adopt the same last name: Beauregard. The first names of the other five are: Ambrosia, Edelweiss, Hana, Padma, and Valeria. I saw a writing opportunity here which was badly wasted. More on this later.

Camellia is the sixth girl and the first person narrator. She bears the name of a flower, but it's an Asian flower, so why she had that name in a French-influenced novel, I do not know. She does go by Camille, but this name, storied as it is in history and literature, has nothing to do with the name of the flower (which is after a guy named Kamel! LOL!). This is why names are important, so this whole naming thing was a bit confused in this novel.

This was one of many things which started tripping-up the world-building for me. To me, names mean things and far too many authors ignore that in their blinkered rush to choose either a trope name, or an overly-exotic name for their character. In this case I wondered if the author had chosen the name like I would do, to represent something, since Camellia is known for the tea which can be made from the leaves, and the oil which can be pressed from its seeds. I guess I'll never know! For me though, I could not hear that name without thinking of a camel which, and this is just a wild guess, is probably not what the author had intended.

On the brighter side, the first person voice wasn't awfully bad in this novel for which the author has my sincerest thanks. I've read some truly horrendously-written first person voice novels. Why authors, particularly in the YA world, are so sheep-like in their addiction to this voice is a mystery to me since it's so limiting and so fake. I guess I'm just going to have to quit reading any YA novel told in first person if I am to escape it.

Anyway, each of these six girls has within her some sort of ill-defined blood-power, which evidently resides in proteins they get from leeches, which begs the question as to why anyone cannot slap a leech on themselves and get the power. We're told the girls are born to be Belles, but we never learn how or why that is so, or why there are so few of them. And why only girls? Maybe this comes to light in a future volume. Although it's denied that these girls perform magic, this is exactly what they do, employing blood-magic to transform people's physical appearance.

This began a host of unanswered questions notwithstanding the world-building and in the end, the weight of all these loose threads began to drag the story down for me. For example, on the one hand science seems to be quite advanced in this nation (they know what proteins are), but there's no electricity to be had. We're supposed to believe that Belles are celebrated and revered almost to the point of being gods, but on the other hand, they're universally treated like slaves. The belles are supposed to be experts in how to mold people, literally, into personifications of gorgeous, yet these people treat them like dirt and order them around, telling them what to do instead of allowing the Belles to do their job. None of this made any sense at all to me.

These powers they have come in three "flavors" or forms: age, aura, and manner, but later there's a hint, which may be just a rumor, that there is a fourth form. This hidden fourth power is straight out of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy.

These powers enable the girls to physically transform other citizens who are known as 'gris' (the French word for gray), and who are dismissed as plain and even ugly, into what is considered the epitome of beauty. The ideas here seem perhaps to have been borrowed from the citizens of Panem, as depicted in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, but whereas the extravagant beauty (so-called!) in Panem was merely a backdrop, here it takes center stage. There are other ideas borrowed from Hunger Games such as the 'post-balloons' which deliver items much like the parachutes delivered gifts to the competitors in Collins's trilogy.

Camellia is one of the six finalists for a position at the royal court. It's her lifelong dream since her mom held that same position, which lasts, inexplicably, only for a year. She travels with her competing 'sisters', who while they sometimes fight and snipe at each other, are like family, but only one of these Belles can take the coveted royal position.

We know it's going to be Camellia, since she's the one narrating the story in first person and you can't tell the reader what's going on if that first person narrator isn't present - unless you want to admit your poor choice of voice and switch to third person periodically, or have major info-dumps to bring the main character up to date about things which happen out of her ken. Thus the weakness of this voice.

What made me truly start feeling nauseous in this novel though, was the introduction of your standard love triangle. I had, when I began reading this, not only hoped, but also genuinely believed that here was an author who was above this sort of cheap shot. Consider my disappointment then when I saw her launch with gay abandon into proving that even she had no qualms about descending to the level of hack YA writers when it comes to asserting that every woman desperately needs to be validated by, in this case, not one man, but two.

The reason I found this so totally obnoxious here is that the whole basis of this book, so I'd been led to understand, was that it was ultimately to be an indictment of the shallowness of the beauty and fashion industries which are an appalling bane on the lives of women, and particularly young women, everywhere. These women are told that unless they're rail-thin and gorgeous, they're pretty much useless and have nothing to look forward to. That's what fashion and cosmetics are all about: telling you that your face is ugly and must be disguised if not covered with a beauty mask, and your clothes are trash and must be replaced regularly with these which we will happily sell to you, assuming you can lose enough weight to fit into them.

The sad fact is that nowhere did I see any evidence of any indictment. Even if that is still to come though, say in volume two or three, or even if it curiously took place upon the very page after I quit reading this novel, my question is: how is it to the benefit of young women (talking of getting the skinny) to rail at the cosmetic industry on the one hand whilst simultaneously undermining their independence by asserting confidently that your YA female is utterly worthless unless some guy adores her? It was sick quite frankly, hypocritical at best, and a sorry betrayal of women everywhere at worst, because here. the author is telling us that Camellia is so comprehensively useless that she needs male validation.

These purveyors of barefoot, pregnant, and in the bitchin' kitchen were Rémy the studly, upright bodyguard, and Auguste, the standard trope YA bad boy. As for Rémy, there was no reason whatsoever for his existence. There's no threat to Camellia, unless you consider someone putting old rose petals in her bathroom to actually endanger her life. So why does she need a permanent 24/7 personal bodyguard - except of course to put her into close proximity to one third of the triangle?

This was done so clunkily that it was truly pathetic. I mean it was farcical in the extreme. Poor Rémy never even gets to sleep - I am not kidding - he's on the job all day and night every day and every night. It was absurd. And how did his sisters ever get into the palace? Do they have a 'bring your sister to work day' for palace guards? The writing had gone from sublime to substandard at this point.

Auguste was even less explicable than was Rémy. As is tediously trope in this lower class of novel, Auguste shows up out of the blue, putting Camellia in danger, having no respect whatsoever for her, and being far too 'chummy' and familiar. In what is the vomit-inducing trope for these novels, she does not reject him out of hand as anyone in her position actually would were the story true to its roots and framework. Instead, she gets the hots for him immediately. Evidently the camel is in estrous. All-bluster continues to stalk the camel - and yes, that's exactly what it is, but the author wants us somehow to think this is playful flirting and courtship. Well there's a humongous bot-fly in that stodgy ointment: he's one of the three suitors for the princess.

Yes, there are guys in real life like Auguste, so this was not the problem. The problem was Camellia's reacting like a bitch in heat to his advances. It was her complete lack of not only morals and propriety, but her total disregard for others. Despite the fact that she knows he's Sofia's suitor, she sees absolutely nothing wrong, neither in his behavior nor in her own! If this tells me anything about her, it's that she's a moron and certainly not someone worth knowing. much less reading a whole series about.

Despite the fact that she could get fired for associating with him, Camellia is so profoundly stupid that she just swallows everything Auguste says. She purposefully flirts with him when she's not endlessly describing what are evidently Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterflies stomping around in her stomach.

The biggest fail though was that on one occasion, the stalwart Rémy was right there with her, her bodyguard, yet he did nothing whatsoever to break-up her flirting with Auguste. He's guarding her because of dead roses, yet here is a guy hitting on her right in front of him - a guy he doesn't know, and one who could be concealing a knife, yet he says not a word. That's how completely useless he is. even if the guy was not a threat to her life, he is a threat to her career and reputation. Rémy cares nothing for that? The name derives from a Latin word meaning oar, so it's hardly surprising Camellia's up the creek without a paddle.

Auguste is quite literally nothing save overly familiar and worse, controlling, and comes with not a single thing to recommend him as a viable suitor for Camellia, let alone for Sofia, yet never once does a single thought enter her pretty little head that what she is doing is not only mean to Sofia, but also self-destructive to her own career aspirations. Never once does any thought along these lines enter her empty head! That's how clueless a character she truly is, so maybe I was wrong: maybe she's one of the tiny minority of co-dependent women who actually do need a couple of guys to validate her.

This is entirely the wrong lesson to teach young women: that your ideal lover is a guy who has no respect for women, who never balks at risking Camellia's job or reputation, or at getting her into trouble, who is controlling, and who has no respect for the fact that he is potentially betrothed to Camellia's employer, The fact that this author is, on the one hand supposedly calling-out the cosmetics industry, yet on the other, is actively undermining the independence and self-determination of women is a disgrace, and I have no desire whatsoever to read any more of this novel or to read anything else by this author. I cannot recommend this by any measure.

If the author had been serious about her writing, and really wanted to make a go of this, then what she ought to have done is kept it to a single volume, told it in third person, and switched between the perspectives of all six Belles. That, right there, would have been a story worth reading, but instead all we got was a silly little palace love triangle about a vacuous girl, and it's a story that has already been done to death a billion times over.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Prym and the Senrise by PS Scherck, Sheng-Mei Li

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a simple story which I was unsure about when I began it, but which I ended up enjoying immensely even though it’s written for a younger audience than I represent. I felt the story was slightly lacking in 'magical' although now I think about it, I have a hard time trying to define what I mean by that, and I'm not going to let vague feelings get in the way of a positive review for a story that well deserves it. The writing was engaging, and Sheng-Mei Li's artwork was a joy - one I would have liked more of.

The characters were delightful, and interesting, even though the story has its roots in established mythology of supernatural and fantasy characters. I had never heard of the Steigens, so this was a fun and new revelation, and I liked how they were represented. They're a sort of underwater fairy people, who live in the deeps and are related to vampires in that they cannot be exposed to sunlight on the surface, or they will suffocate.

This limitation does not please Prym, who has heard tales from her fishy and mollusc-y friends Daeggar and Seffy, that the senrise is the most beautiful thing, full of joy and color. Prym, who loves colors, cannot get the idea of watching a brilliant senrise out of her head, and so she sets about learning how it is she can get to see one.

I loved Prym, who is sensible despite her adventurous streak. She's a strong character who is possessed of self-confidence and derring-do, and she starts her quest in a library, which is admirable. And she succeeds, not by machismo, but by thoughtful approaches and inventive solutions.

There were a couple of minor issues with the text. I read, " arrow of pure energy would appear, knocked and ready...." An arrow is 'nocked', not 'knocked'. This is a common error and no big deal; most people probably wouldn’t even notice it. The other issues is more of a pet peeve of mine rather than an outright error because I've seen this done so often it’s actually becoming an accepted part of the language, but to me a book is 'titled' - not 'entitled'. Entitlement is something different entirely. Or is it tirely?!

The book worked both on the smart phone and on a tablet in a Kindle app, although the cover was broken inexplicably into about fifteen pieces on both devices. The rest of the artwork looked fine, especially on the tablet. One odd thing I noticed on both the tablet and the phone was the appearance of strange capital letters such as 'P' and 'H' apparently randomly in the text, such as at location 81, where it read (or red!): P"You know what I said...", at location 159, where I read, "...a skull Pthat looked...", and at location 180, where I read, "Cold hands Phad wrapped...".

There were several instances of this kind of thing. In the iPad they were red letters, on the phone they were the same color as other text (white on black by my choice because it saves the battery!). Part of the problem in my opinion is Amazon's truly crappy Kindle app which cannot handle anything that contains pictures or fancy text with any reliability at all. Barnes & Nobles's Nook does a much better job in my experience.

I don't know where the 'P's and 'H's came from, but the red 'I' at location 6 appears to be a drop-cap from the top of the page. It was missing from the start of the chapter, which began, "n the farthest reaches...' rather than "In the farthest reaches...". The 'I' which should have been up there was several lines below, between "In the beginning," and "there was only one magic creature". Weird, but that's Kindle for you. This is why I detest Amazon. The book was viewed on an iPad in the Kindle app and on an LG smart phone in the Kindle app.

But hopefully these issues will be fixed before publication. Or you can play it safe and buy the print version! I checked this out in the PDF version in Adobe Digital editions on my desktop computer and it looked beautiful there. The text looked (I imagine!) exactly as the author imagined it, and the images in particular were gorgeous, especially the one of Prym watching the sunrise. That needs to be a screensaver or a wallpaper!

In conclusion, I recommend this book for a fun read for younger children. It's great fantasy tale, well told, and even adults can enjoy it, especially if they're young at heart.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lightning Thief by Rick Rordan, Robert Venditti, Atilla Futaki

Rating: WARTY!

I failed the original novel because it simply was not entertaining, and this is no better. It's the same as the novel so if you came to this via the movie, be prepared for the two to be nothing alike. The movie was significantly better, even though it was average for a movie - and just as racist as this novel.

There is no Gorgon in the novel, which was sad, nor is there a visit to the faux Parthenon in Nashville, and no fight with a hydra. There is no lightning bolt hidden in a shield here, and no wise-cracking Rosario Dawson playing Hades's wife, which was a real highlight in the movie. The final battle isn't between Luke and Percy, but between the token black guy and Percy. Zeus is dressed in a business suit, and in the one single touch I did appreciate, Poseidon is dressed as a surfer dude!

Grover is white in the graphic novel, so I guess they made him black in the movie for no other reason than the one Hollywood always employs: we must have a token black person in this movie so they can't say we're racist. Well guess what, guys - and let me put this in an 'in a world' scenario so you in Hollywood can grasp it - In a world where the vast majority of people are not white, anything that doesn't fairly represent those proportions is racist, period. Get a fucking clue. Even the US is a quarter non-white, so where was that represented in this book? Yeah, you know it.

Every single person in the entire graphic novel was white except for one token villain, who has daughter who was white! I was done right there. This novel sucked and should be boycotted.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ocean of Secrets Vol 1 by Sophie-Chan

Rating: WARTY!

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

Despite her name, this author is not Asian as far as I know, but chooses to tell stories and illustrate in that style. I have to say, to be fair, that I am not a fan of manga, but this one sounded interesting. In the end I was quite disappointed by it. I think this artist can draw, and draw well, so I believe she has a career, but I am far from convinced this is the best story to launch it with.

For some reason, the author chose to put a message in between the introductory pages and chapter one, which I found annoying and inappropriate, and which completely took me out of suspension of disbelief. I actually quit reading another ebook just a few days ago because the author did something similar (and misspelled 'shekels' in doing so!). In this case I decided to continue on since I don't normally read introductions anyway, but when I did, the story did not thrill me at all. I quit before the end because it was not entertaining me at all. The story made no sense, and reading it 'backwards' for no good reason did nothing to put me in a favorable mood!

There was a watermark on each page which interfered with appreciating the art (and I realize that this isn't the author's doing). I cannot see the point of the watermark because if lowlifes out there are going to abuse this, then a sorry watermark isn't going to stop them, while for the rest of us, the majority of us, it's nothing but an annoyance which interferes with our appreciation of the writer's work, and worse in this case, with the artist's work.

To me the story was very weak and derivative, using as it does the baseless magic of the four 'elements' of air, earth, fire, and water (as does The Last Avatar for example), which have never made any sense at all to me. I do realize they are a popular go-to for authors who are too lazy to think up a new system, but they're way over-used and unless you're going to do something truly original with them, I think you need to find something else.

Worse than this, though, the story was very much an info-dump, which is a problem with series, and which is one of several reasons why I'm not a fan of series in general, although I'm always holding out hope that I might find one that breaks the mold. The plot made little sense to me and having to read it backwards (as compared with the norm in the west) did not help.

I don't get it in an English version. I can see how an author might be so enamored of the manga form that she might want to try her hand at it, and it would need to be that way if Asian sales are hoped for (who wouldn't want to go on a book tour in Japan?!), but in the electronic age, we could have a regular version for those of us in the west and a reverse version for those in Asia. It's not like it's difficult to achieve this with current technology.

In the print version it's easy-enough to read backwards with little effort. You can even number the pages accordingly, but in the e-version, the pages are numbered wrong because the e-reader is doing the numbering (there are no numbers on the actual pages themselves, and is all-too-common with comic books). Technology has yet to reach the point where you can simply flip your tablet and start at the back! Instead you must navigate to the 'end' to start, and then you have to overcome your swiping habit to go backwards! All of this detracted from focusing on the most important thing - for me more important than the art - which is the story! It was there that my biggest disappointment lay as it happens.

Note that I'm not saying you can't follow your dream and write a manga that has nothing to do with Asian culture, but I think you have to keep in mid that it's your dream, and your potential readers may not be willing to buy into it unless you give them some really good reasons to do so. For me there were insufficient. This is an English book throughout, set in the US (or more accurately in the air above central America), and it has nothing to do with Asia or any Asian topics so for me the justification was weak. If the story had been engrossing, I would have been happy to overlook other issues, but as it happened, taken as a whole, the package simply didn't work for me. It felt annoying and pretentious. I do wish the author every success in her career, but I can't recommend this one.