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

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.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Marvel's Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail that I found at the library. It was not what I hoped for at all. Black Widow is very much a comic book character, but she was really brought to life for my by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel movies. She's going to have appeared in more of them than Samuel Jackson by the time she's done! The problem is that this novel isn't really about Black Widow. Instead, it's Ava Orlova (which you might find funny when you realize that reader Julia Whelan pronounces that last name as 'all over'!). It's about her and Alex Manor, not about Natasha. She appears, but pretty much as a minor character, so the book is rather a bait and switch deal and it's really not well written for someone who is supposed to be a best-selling author.

We're promised in the blurb that we're getting "the untold story of Black Widow for the very first time," but blurbs lie! In an introductory portion, Natalia Romanova goes to assassinate her mentor Ivan Somodorov, and ends up rescuing Ana. She unaccountably promises to be there for Ana, but then avoids her for a decade. Meanwhile Ana seems to have been doped with something right before she was rescued, so maybe she has super powers, maybe not.

Ana begins falling for Alex, who she meets by accident, but feels drawn to since she'd dreamed of him without knowing who he was. Inevitably Ana and Natalia come into contact again, but by this time I was so tired of this limp story that I quit listening, and I returned it to the library to make someone else suffer it instead of me! Mwahaha! Ivan Somodorov has nothing on me when to comes to torture!

So everything I loved about the movie Black Widow was missing from this book. The action scenes were perfunctory and unimaginative, and the story was pretty pathetic. I can't recommend it.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this was a Kirkus starred review I would have avoided it like Ebola. Kirkus never met a novel they didn't like, which of course means their reviews are utterly useless, and I take a Kirkus seal of approval as a definite sign that I should bypass reading the novel, so those reviews are quite useful really! This was more of a snivel than a novel.

It's an LGBTQIA novel which is read uninterestingly by Jorjeana Marie, and it was a disastrous audiobook experiment. I listened to it (part of it!) a while back and I almost forgot I ever had it cross my radar. I was avoiding it rather like the main character avoids her issues, which amuses me, but the bottom line is that it was mind-numbingly boring. You know I often wish I could delete some of my less than thrilling memories, but it's not yet possible to do that outside of sci-fi. The more something irritates or depresses you, the harder it is to let it go, but this book very nearly was completely deleted from my mind which gives me hope! In theory at least, it has to be possible to forget things even worse than this!

If the author's intention in writing this was that we care about Marin, then it was a massive fail. She went about this in entirely the wrong manner. There are huge looming issues in her life, and yet all we get for page after page is tedious minutiae of everyday existence down to brushing teeth and washing dishes. Seriously? It was, at the basement level, the kind of laughable novel where a woman has a disaster in her life in the big city and little wuss that she is, runs back to her small home town where she miraculously finds he love of her life - except that this book didn't even offer that. I avoid novels of that pathetic genre.

Worse than this are the endless flashbacks which even I, who detests them, admit have their uses, but in a novel like this they are a true death knell. The novel is about mental illness and can probably cause the very thing it prattles on about. Depressingly enough begins with Marin, the main character, stuck in her dorm at college over winter break. She's all alone, we're supposed to believe - not a single other person anywhere around. She supposedly has a best friend with the unlikely name of Mabel, who is visiting over the break, and the blurb tells us that "Marin will be forced to face everything that's been left unsaid" but she does everything but that. It's unlikely that she would say nothing about any of this to someone who was indeed her best friend. I suppose she does talk eventually, but the story was such a waste of my time that I never reached that point. I had more rewarding things to do with my time.

I cannot recommend this based on what I listened to - which made so little impression on me that I immediately forgot most of it! And bno, she;s not okay, and neither is this novel. KO'd more like.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Terminally Illin' by Kaylin Andres, Jon Mojeski

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a beautifully drawn and colored, and very amusingly-written bittersweet story about Kaylin Marie Andres who was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in 2008 at only 23. Instead of succumbing to paralysis and mute acceptance, she chose to fight it tooth and nail with determination and humor, and not only went on with her fashion career, but also created a graphic novel to illustrate her fight with an amusing graphic story.

The book begins with her going for her first treatment and ends with the promise of a visit to a fantasy-land cancer fun park. There never was a sequel because Kaylin had to endure four major surgeries and attendant radiation treatments to four different areas of her body. And she died a year ago last November at the age of 31.

This book is probably one of the best memorials she could have because it was an awesome read and I highly recommend it. The last entry in her blog was five days before she died - on the day before she was due to fly back home for the last time. Hopefully this graphic novel will serve as a lasting inspiration to others.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a free (as opposed to fee!) short story published as a filler between this author's Steelheart, and book two in The Reckoners series, called Firefight. The story features David, aka Steelslayer, one of The Reckoners - the people who fight against the Epics, which are the super-non-heroes. The problem with gaining super-powers in this world is that once you use them, you go bad. No one knows why. The only way to use them and stay good is to gift them to others who can use them in your name.

In this story there is a brief introduction with David and another reckoner buying hotdogs, which is rather boring. I don't get this obsession with hotdogs, so it was meaningless to me. The author should have put it in a prolog so I would have known to ignore it! LOL! David and his friend are heading to the city gates where people are screened as they come into the city. The main reason is to catch people who simply want to start a life of crime in the clunkily-named Newcago, but also so The Reckoners can catch Epics and Epic sympathizers who might be trying to sneak in. Why the Epics wouldn't simply come over the walls goes unexplained.

Anyway, David is suspicious of this one guy who comes in, and he soon discovers this guy can split himself just like 'Multiple Man' in X-Men: The Last Stand, but like Michael Keaton's character in Multiplicity, the more he clones himself, the dumber he becomes. This made no sense. Why would the cloning affect only his brain? Why would it not make his body weaker too? Or his heart? Fortunately for this rating, this was addressed.

Once the guy has split into many clones, he starts yelling the same message from different parts of the city - that he will shoot some passer-by if David doesn't show up. We're told the clones have to rejoin in order for their independent memories of what they did to be re-united, but when David shoots the first of these, all the others immediately come running. How did they know?

It turned out that David's information on the Mitosis - the cloning guy - was partly misinformation and in the end it was due to that, that he was saved. Like I said, short story, but not bad! I consider it a worthy read - and it's free, so what do you have to lose?! I'm currently reading book 2. I'll report on it when I'm done.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Solomon's Ring by Mary Jennifer Payne

Rating: WARTY!

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

"Smith flexes a well-toned bicep" Once again YA authors, it's biceps! Unless you do happen to be speaking about only one of the two upper attachments of this muscle: the long head or the short head. I favor the long head myself....

The twin motif in novels, especially young adult novels, has been way overdone, so if you want to venture into it as a writer, you need to offer something truly different or inventive and unfortunately, this novel offered neither. To be perfectly fair, this was volume two in a series, and I have not read volume one, but this seemed like it stood alone fairly well if you were willing to accept that there was baggage from the past that you were not directly party to. But every new relationship is like that, right?!

My problem with it was the writing which felt very amateur. There was nothing technically wrong with it in terms of spelling errors or poor grammar and so on, but it just did not tell the tale well at all, and some of the story seemed so poorly thought-out that it felt like reading indifferent fan fiction.

If you're going to call-up children to do a job that would normally be done by adults, you'd better have a more solid reason for it than simply "Oh she's a special snowflake" and then get all coy about why it's so, and in book two no less. It's just an insult to your reader's intellect, or did you plan on writing only for dumb readers? It's a good question to ask yourself as and author: who are you talking to? And do you really want to talk down to them?

The stakes are higher when the story is a fantasy, especially a religious one, because if you're calling on humans to do a job that a god cannot do and angels cannot handle, then you'd better have a good reason for that too! I know the Bible has countless instances of humans being called on to do a job which God can't handle, but that's a sign of really poor fiction, not of a well-written classic. Just to put it out there - that these kids are needed to fight demons - and offer nothing to support that contention is either empty plotting or the cowardice of hiding behind scores of other poor writers who've employed precisely the same blinkered plot.

The twins had been separated (in volume one) one of them being thought dead, but she was just in Hades evidently, although it's not called that here. Here it has a cutesy hipster term that I prefer to forget. Anyway, her sister discovered where she was and rescued her and now they're back together, but demons are walking the Earth! Or at least the town where they live.

There is a curfew and there are power outages, and these two sixteen-year-olds are so dumb that they let themselves get talked into staying out until dark, which is apparently (and for reasons unexplained at least in the part I read) when demons are loose. Why the demons can't walk during the day is unexplained of course because this novel cowers behind trope. You're expected to swallow all these dumb 'rules', like not crossing running water and being allergic to iron, and so on because it's always done that way! Why would an author strive for originality and to up their game when they can take the road most traveled like everyone else does?

The demons are hunting one of the twins because she's your predictable YA special snowflake although no-one, predictably, will tell her why, not even her angelic best friend, predictably named Raphael. This is one of those tedious stories with all kinds of unnecessary secrecy and poor plotting. If a city was in that bad of a shape, the national guard would have been called out, but no! Everything is going along 'normally' despite the dire crisis, the curfew, and the murders in the streets. This made no sense whatsoever.

It made no sense that one of the twins would be armed with a bamboo pole to fight demons. We're told that bullets cannot kill these demons, but this made no sense either given that the demons were occupying frail human bodies. Why would decapitation work? How do you decapitate with a blunt bamboo pole anyway?

Even were I willing to grant all of that, especially given that I'd not read book one, I can't overlook that it made no sense that the police would not find something highly suspicious in a young, rather frail-looking girl magically decapitating an attacker with a bamboo pole! It made less sense that they would simply nod their heads and say "Oh, okay!" when told the bamboo pole had disappeared. Police are not dumb. They know a lot more than you do, yet far too many authors treat them like they're clueless clowns. For all the faults that police do have, I can't respect an author who depicts all of them as idiots.

It was at the point where Raphael was being all mysterious and for absolutely no reason whatsoever that I could not stand to read another world of this book. There are people no doubt who will whine that you cannot gauge a book after reading only ten percent of it, but that is an outright lie. A book either does it for you from the off, or it doesn't; it's either smartly-written or it isn't. A novel is with worth reading or it's not, and this one simply was not. Life is far too short to waste it on a book that does not launch for you right from the beginning.

This one seemed dedicated to employing great leaps of faith as a substitute for thoughtful writing and solid plotting, and it relied on so much hand-waving to cover plot holes that I could feel a chill from it. To me, that's a sign that you should whack it with a bamboo pole. Intelligent readers deserves a lot better than this. Other readers deserve what they get.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Superb by David F Walker, Sheena C Howard, Ray Anthony Height, Alitha Martinez, Eric Battle

Rating: WORTHY!

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

I didn't like the first one I read in this series. Normally that would be the end of it, but I read a second one without realizing until the end that it was part of the same series, and I liked it. I also liked this one, probably more than any of the previous ones. The artwork was really good, the characters realistic (as comic book super heroes go!), interesting, motivated, and believable, and the writing was very good. I noted a strong female influence not only in the writing, but also in the art, and this can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of a comic.

I really like the way so called minorities are front and center. Minorities are actually the majority of people on the planet, yet they're so poorly served in comics, TV and movies that it's criminal. It was nice to see that balance being redressed without going overboard. It was also nice to see a character with Down Syndrome (aka trisomy 21) included as a major player. The relationship between him (Jonah, aka "Cosmosis"!) and Kayla (aka Amina). and the awesome Abbie, was choice. It really made the story shine for me.

Each individual graphic novel in this set is a sort of origin story, but its not your usual origin tale; it's more of a development story, which to me is more interesting, especially this one. All of the graphic novels I've read so far run in parallel, but there is no repetition. Each story advances the whole, and the only tiresome bit was the last bit which is the same in each comic. Of course you can skip this once you've read it the first time, and it does mean you can start with any comic in the group without having to worry that you missed something because you didn't start with the 'right one'.

In this story Kayla, already aware of her powers and that she's not the only one with them, is trying to keep a low profile, especially since her parents work for the corporation which is trying to capture, intern, and experiment upon those with such powers. Jonah is less retiring. He breaks into the corporate facility to finds out what they're up to, and he barely escapes with his life. Kayla protects him and this is how the two of them team up with Abbie, who is Jonah's friend. Unfortunately, Kayla's desire to live a normal life is seriously compromised, and that's all I'm going to say!

On the negative side, I have to say that this shtick with the powers-that-be coming down hard on the mutants is really reaching saturation point. Marvel has repeatedly done it with X-Men, Inhumans, and Gifted, and it's been done in other graphic novels unrelated to the DC and Marvel stables, including one I reviewed negatively recently. Frankly, it's starting to be boring. It would be nice to see something different.

In terms of this comic, it's hard at this point, despite having read several of them, to see how the foresight corporation got so much power that it can openly act as a paramilitary force and hunt down these people. That felt a little bit much, but maybe it will be explained. Or maybe I missed it in that first volume I read because I was so disappointed in it!

That quibble aside though, I really liked this graphic novel and I recommend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Faith and the Future Force by Jody Houser, Stephen Segovia, Barry Kitson, Ulises Arreola

Rating: WORTHY!

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

Now this is the kind of super-hero story I can really get with. I was thrilled by the first one in this series, so I was equally thrilled to have a chance to review another one and see how Faith is doing. She's doing fine and I'm keeping the Faith!

Once again, it's written by Jody Houser, who continues to sprinkle promos for Doctor Who (how can you not love a writer like that?!) as well as toss in other Sci-fi references. As I write this I am patiently counting down the days to the Doctor Who Christmas special, and the change over from the current Doctor who was not my favorite, to a new one who will, for the first time, be female! Squee!

On an unrelated topic, is it just me, or is anyone else amused by the superficial similarity between areola (the ring of color around a nipple, and the name of the colorist? Of course his name apparently derives from the Spanish for horse tack (or a part of horse tack, anyway!) not from coloration, but still! I love words!

This is a time-travel story featuring a time-traveling robot which is intent upon destroying the fabric of time itself. Consequently, we have with Faith being sought by some strange woman who is costumed like a super hero, but who evidently needs Faith's help (and that of a charming assortment of her super friends) to stop this machine. In that regard, it borrows a bit from Pixar's The Incredibles

What I liked about this is that it conveniently side-steps one objection I often find to time-travel stories, especially Doctor Who, who always seems to arrive in media res, which is: why not go back earlier and fix the problem before it starts? In which case there would be no show, so the Doctor always tosses out some patent nonsense about crossing his own time stream which of course he does time after time, especially in New York City where it's supposed to be all but impossible to visit. Hah! How many times has he been there now?

This story solves that problem because the robot is eating time, so they can't go back earlier - it doesn't exist! Double-hah! Faith aka Zephyr, is recruited by Timewalker (not Time Lord!) Neela Sethi several times, each time unaware that she's already been recruited and failed! Why does this keep-on getting repeated? Read it and find out! I recommend this one as a fun, sweet, entertaining, Segovially and Kitsonorously drawn, and areolistically-colored(!) story which is a very worthy read! Keep 'em coming you guys and I'll keep reading 'em!

Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle

Rating: WARTY!

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

I did not like this graphic novel. It was basically a rehash of The X-Men, or The Inhumans, or The Gifted, or New Mutants, or whichever simplistic, derivative Marvel Comic series about mutants you wish to name. This novel brought literally nothing new to the genre unless you count that in this case, the only people with the mutation are black! To me, it was racist.

All the "good guys" were black. All the "bad guys" were white. Neither side was anything more than a caricature. It felt like I was watching a so-called 'blaxploitation' movie from the early seventies. Since this was a graphic novel, and given that a potentially interesting premise failed to be effectively exploited, I found it hilarious that the color scheme was gray-scale! It felt ironically appropriate, but not in the way the creators intended, I'm sure.

While on the one hand I can understand this - and work like it - constitutes a backlash against the inexcusable racism inherent in comic books, movies, and TV shows where - unless you're prepared to be the token person of color - please don't show for the audition, the way to fix a problem where the pendulum has swing way-the-hell too far in one direction is not to swing it equally far to the opposite side, it's to stop it dead in the middle and weld that sucker down so it can never move again. Period.

I think the comic would have carried a much more powerful message had it been less comprehensively biased. As it is, it runs a dire risk of being viewed by too many people - and those are the very ones who most need to get an education - as being nothing more than sour grapes. It didn't help the cause that one of the freedom fighter leaders was named Caesar, the same name given to the chimpanzee in the Planet of the Apes saga. That sounded insulting to me.

Even that aside, it was not well-thought out. Rather than go with Marvel's asinine "x-gene" ploy, the creators (and I admire them for this) tried something different. Unfortunately, it wasn't something new! They made the mistake of taking the easy way out by simply making the quantum leap. It didn't work. The idea here is that some people (all black!) have unusual arrangements of quarks in their body. Quarks are the foundations of hadrons, which most people unknowingly know as protons and neutrons, and which form the nucleus of every atom.

There are six known quarks, divided into three up-types, named (with characteristic physicist quirkiness) up, charm, and top, and three down-types, named down, strange, and bottom. We're told that gifted black people (who may not necessarily be young!) have a hexaquark, like this is something rare, but it really isn't. Their expert is very confused and talks bayrons rather than baryons. But that, with its unintended allusion to Bay Watch, works given how some of the women are portrayed in this story. Which is another problem.

There's precisely one female super hero, and one transgendered one. The only other females are background or ancillary personnel. There is one professional assistant, one cop, and one lab technician. Two of these unaccountably wear eyeglasses whereas not one other person in the entire book does, and one of them - the so-called quantum particle expert - wears a lab coat. Barf.

The comic is hypocritical in this regard. On the one hand it's admirably, if ineffectively in my opinion, championing black characters in graphic novels, but on the other hand it's keeping "bitches" down. That's inexcusable, especially given that the women's liberation and black civil rights movements have historically often worked hand-in hand, because both sectors of society have been oppressed and in disturbingly similar way in some regards (such as having no vote, for example).

Why are there so few important black characters in graphic novels? Because most of those novels have traditionally been written by white folks and it never occurs to them to include non-whites. It's not that they hate black folks and what to keep them down or actively exclude them; it's just that (and this is no excuse) they just don't think of it. Why are there so few women of note in graphic novels? Because most of them are written by men - who don't hate women and don't wish to keep them down; it simply never occurs to them to include women. They just don't think of it. That's what happened here.

The main character is named Kareem Jenkins. He's shot for two reasons. The first of these is that it's a case of mistaken identity because all black folks evidently look alike to New Jack City cops, as a sorry history of shooting deaths in New York has shown and continues to show. The second is that when he's told to freeze, by armed cops, he's too stupid to do exactly that. Instead, he rabbits and is shot and ostensibly killed. A dozen or more black men have been fatally shot by NYPD in the last twenty-five years, and very few cases have even gone to trial, let alone ended in a conviction, but this novel repeatedly refers to NYPD as New York's finest. I don't know if that's meant to be ironic.

Kareem is unique because he rises again, and then is kidnapped by a character who far from being Straight Outta Compton, is straight outta The Matrix movie. He's Morpheus by another name, and he even sits with legs crossed in an armchair when we meet him, and effectively invites the kid to take the black pill. Yawn.

This leads to him discovering a hitherto totally unknown world of back mutants, all of whom have powers of some sort, but there are then so many of these characters so quickly introduced that they become lost and meaningless in the crowd. The irony of course is that here, all black people do look the same, not because they're all drawn the same (the artwork was pretty decent), but for no other reason than that this comic book has failed to differentiate them by giving them distinctive personalities and back-stories.

Having some of them speak in what in some circles, and for better or for worse, has been dubbed 'ebonics' is not giving them a personality. It's not giving them character. It's not making them individual. It's just cynically pigeon-holing them. There should have been fewer of them initially, and they should have been properly introduced instead of being treated like so many nameless, interchangeable slaves. This was a serious fail.

The plot doesn't work because we're expected to believe that a handful of white folks have pulled the wool over people's eyes for literally centuries, working in concert with the black community! I'm sure this isn't what the creators intended to convey, but it's very effectively what they achieved, because as the white community has, we're told, systematically sought to wipe out this 'black threat', the black community has been trying to hide the mutants, and neither side has ever let anything get out to the public! It's simply not credible.

Even if we allow that it worked before, it sure as hell would not work now! Have the creators of this series not seen the black community? Everyone is a showman or woman. There are pop divas and DJs with monumental egos. There are sports personalities with attitude, there are movie stars all about showmanship and conspicuous consumption, and there are so-called 'reality' shows and talk shows which are all about self-promotion.

None of this is confined to the black community, but we're not talking about how white folk might behave here. There is no way in hell, if any of this community had these powers, that they would all consistently keep them secret! It's simply not credible and this unarguable fact brought the whole story down and gave the lie to this farcical 'secrecy' claim. Besides, it made no sense to begin with - not in this day and age. If the white folks are trying to wipe-out the gifted peeps, then the best way to stop it is to go public, not go private. "Morpheus" is a moron!

Neither is it credible that the white folks would be able to continue their pogrom of extermination into modern times when much of the world is now ruled by non-white leaders. Are we supposed to believe that black leaders in African nations were in on it with the white folks? Bullsh! (More on that shortly). This is a classic case of failure to think outside the box, the box being the United Whites of America. Far too many of these kind of dystopian or secret society stories are far too hide-bound by 'American' thinking, or constrained by 'The American Way'.

What far too many authors fail to grasp is that there's an entire planet outside the USA that doesn't think about the USA from one week to the next because they have more important things to think about! They do not conform to US norms or patterns of thinking! They do not live the way US citizens live! They do no view the world like US people view it. Any story like this, which has global implications, yet which tries to pretend the entire globe is just like the USA is doomed to failure, and this one fell right into that trap.

There was almost cussing in this story! It's not credible. Almost all the time, when a cuss was about to be issued here, it was cut off. Instead of "Fuck!" we got "Fu-". Instead of "Shit" we got "Sh-" hence my "Bullsh" comment above. It's not realistic. It maybe be practical for some readerships, but people don't talk that way in real life, and everyone, even kids and churchgoers, knows it. You either have to include it to make it real, or you have to skip it for the sake of the readership. You can't have it both ways without it sounding truly dumb, and suspending suspension of disbelief. In short, either sh or get of the po.... Yeah! That's dumb it sounds.

A brief lesson in genetics: Not all mixed race couples have exclusively black children. Even a black couple can legitimately have a white child. Nature is color-blind! The reason for all this is that there is no difference, at the genetic level, between black people and white people and Asian people and whatever people.

Just like in real life there is no X gene, there is no B-for-black-gene either. There are gene networks wherein many genes acting in concert can achieve remarkable ends, but there is no 'negro network' than can make a person black or pigeon-hole one as such and more than there is a 'honky network' that can make a person white. This begs my last question: why did this affect only black people? There was no rationale given for this. We were expected to take it on trust.

Maybe the authors had some plan to work this out later, but forgive me for having little appetite for swallowing that when I'd already been asked to swallow much that was unpalatable in this graphic novel. I got the impression that they were winging it; tossing in some quantum nonsense and hoping to get by, but as we've seen, there is nothing in our genes to confer powers on one race and not another, so how much less credibility is there in ascribing this same effect to something even more fundamental: sub-atomic particles?

Quarks do have a property referred to as 'color', but it has nothing whatsoever to do with actual color as we perceive color day-to-day at the macro level. It's just a word; not a meaningless word because it has meaning to physicists, but it doesn't convey the same thing to them when they talk about quarks as it does to the rest of us when we talk about LED TVs. There is quite literally no color at the sub-atomic level as any electronic microscope image you can find online will show. Some of them have artificial-color added for clarification purposes, just as those glorious space images do, but in reality the sub-atomic world, just like the outer space world, is a very colorless one indeed.

Oddball congregations of quarks, which are the components of all matter, living or not, cannot grant powers to one race without granting them to all. It's another case of failure to think through. I mean, do Asians have powers? They're not white, but they ain't black either! How about the Latinx community? Deal or no deal?! What bothers me about this is that the authors seem to be saying that black people are somehow fundamentally different from all others, which is patently not true, but by saying it, they're risking undoing what decent, good-faith people of all races have been trying to accomplish for decades: true color-blindness wherein all are equal, all are one family, and all are brothers and sisters. The plot for this novel seemed like a very negative step to me unless it was handled better than it was here.

Black folks do have something rare and it is a real superpower: they have greater genetic diversity, especially those resident in Africa, than do any other humans. The reason for this is that all humans started life in Africa, not in Eden. We're all black. Unfortunately, the pale skin minority has forgotten this, and instead of seeing it as something unifying and something to be proud of, too many people see one color or another as a fault or a defect, something to be despised and rejected. Americans are often proud of their Irish, or German, or English, or native American, or whatever ancestry. What a pity they arbitrarily stop it at some point before it ever gets all the way back to eastern Africa where it all began.

So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this story as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it including endless excessive violence, but at least it was gray-scale so there was very little red ink to deal with. The one positive sign I saw was that in the end, Kareem took off on his own, rejecting all the bullsh- he;d witnessed. I commend him for that, but for me, it was too little, too late.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

Rating: WORTHY!

Being a big fan of well-done plays on words, I loved the title of this book and I also loved the book itself. It was a smart, well-written and beautifully-plotted work, and the main character was a strong female who is a good role model. She's is very withdrawn when the novel starts, but comes out of her shell naturally and admirably as the story grows.

Bea (Beatrix) is a schoolgirl poet of Taiwanese extraction, but she is painfully shy, and sensitive to people noticing her. She tries to be invisible but she also wants to be involved with the school paper for the experience, yet she doesn't want her poetry to appear in it! In short, she is trapped in a strange maze of her own making, and she needs to find her way out. It's fortuitous then, that she starts forming a friendship with an autistic boy (maybe Asperger's) who also works at the paper and whose ambition she learns, is to navigate a private labyrinth.

He likes to keep files to help him categorize things, and he's very precise in all his thoughts and behaviors, so he lectures Bea on the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. Since the labyrinth is private and no one is allowed in there except the family which owns it, he is a bit at a loss as to how to go about it, although very exacting in his plans where he can make them. Bea discovers a secret that will give them an 'in' to the labyrinth, and this is where things begin to unravel and Bea really needs to step-up to save the day. She does not fail.

I love the way Bea is very physical about her poems - mostly haiku which were fun - writing the words in the air before her as the poem materializes, working through the beats and the rhythm. Unfortunately, this gets her noticed, so she starts writing them in invisible ink and posting them in a hole in a wall in the woods near the school. It's only when someone starts writing back that she is jolted out of her private world. So she is dealing with her shyness, her loss of a dear friend who now seems to be hanging out with a new crowd, and the arrival of new people in her life with whom she does not know how to interact.

I loved the characters in the newspaper office, and how they were very individual and slightly quirky and how they all interfaced with one another. I am glad the book did not say 'quirky' in the blurb because I immediately walk away from books that do and tell them to go jump into Lake Woebegone as I leave, but this was just the right amount of quirk to appeal to me without being idiotic or painful in how hard it was trying. The story was wonderfully-written and well-worth reading.

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook, but atypically, not much of an experiment for a change. I'd read the print version many years ago and largely forgotten what happened in it as it turned out. It was almost like reading a new book listening to this version, and I enjoyed it. I felt the ending was rather cut short, but that was no big deal.

Levin wrote a sequel to what was probably his most famous novel, Rosemary's Baby, which I have not read. I doubt I will read it because that novel, it seemed to me required no sequel and it feels to me like he only did that because he was out of ideas for writing anything original. This novel, the only one of his first six novels which was not made into a movie (which is quite a record of success!), might have made use of a sequel had it been written well.

This is an "in a world" kind of a story! Chocolate gravel voice on: In a world where life is controlled down to the finest detail by a computer called Unicomp ("Thank you!" - "No, thank Unicomp!") and people are maintained in a passive and submissive state through regular injections of a lithium-based concoction, where movement is tracked through scans of identity bracelets, and even visits to one's parents are is controlled, and where even parenting itself is restricted, one man stands up the the faceless machine!

That man is nicknamed Chip, but his 'real name' is Li RM35M4419. He has had only minor infractions against decorum (aka Unicomp until he joins a band of rebellious people who find ways to get their treatments reduced and so to come alive, but this band is quickly uncovered and disbanded, with everyone including Chip, being put back on their treatments.

It's only many years later when Chip recalls Lilac, the girl he was attracted to during his brief rebellion, that he really and truly begins to rebel. He kidnaps Lilac and treats her rather violently, including unforgivably raping her one time. Nevertheless, when she recovers from her submersion under Unicomp's drug routine however, she forgives him and sides with him. They make it to a rebel island only to discover that all is not quite what they had thought it would be.

Not sure how to feel about the rape scene as part of the bigger story, frankly. That kind of thing should neither be treated lightly nor thought of lightly. There really is no forgivable rape, or if forgivable (by the person who was raped) certainly not excusable not even by arguing that he knew no better given the way he was raised (and then not raised, as it were). The whole story had people operating under unbearable circumstances while not even realizing it as they did, so things were warped throughout the story. I can't help but wonder how a woman might have written this story. But that issue aside, I liked the writing in general, and the pace of the story and Chip's smoldering desire for lilac, although not how he acted on it. To his credit, I should add that he did not fall to temptation despite being plied with it to betray Lilac at a later point in the story. Chip was stronger than Winston Smith, but then he did not have to face the terror that Smith did!

Good Food, Strong Communities edited by Steve Ventura, Martin Bailkey

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher; because it is an advance copy though, the chapter headings I listed below may have been changed before publication.

According to Wikipedia, the "Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators" and by these measures, the USA ranks tenth. It is also the is twelfth richest in the world according to, yet according to Do Something 1 in 6 people in America face hunger. How is this possible?

This book takes a look at one issue in a bigger picture of food security and sensible nutrition. Written by an assortment of people in the know about urban farming and related topics, this book, subtitled " Promoting Social Justice through Local and Regional Food Systems" is a great starting point for anyone thinking of trying to start a locally-sourced food community or of joining one that already exists, or even just learning about these topics. it "shares ideas and stories about efforts to improve food security in large urban areas of the United States by strengthening community food systems. It draws on five years of collaboration between a research team comprised of the University of Wisconsin, Growing Power, and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, and more than thirty organizations on the front lines of this work in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Madison, and Cedar Rapids."

In short, it's quite comprehensive on a vast and wide-ranging topic, and one which is of grave importance to very many people. The chapter headings are these:

  1. Connections Between Community Food Security and Food System Change
  2. Land Tenure for Urban Farming: Toward a Scalable Model
  3. Growing Urban Food for Urban Communities
  4. Distribution: Supplying Good Food to Cities
  5. Food Processing as a Pathway to Community Food Security
  6. Markets and Food Distribution
  7. The Consumer: Passion, Knowledge, and Skills
  8. It All Starts With the Soil
  9. Uprooting racism, Planting Justice in Detroit
  10. Achieving Community Food Security Through Collective Impact
  11. Education and Food System Change
  12. Community and Regional Food Systems Policy and Planning
  13. Cultural Dissonance: Reframing Institutional Power
  14. Innovations and Successes
There are many subsections to each chapter, which can be seen on Google Books.

There were two technical issues I had with the review copy I got. This doesn't include my usual complaint that it was in Amazon's crappy Kindle app, but I believe it is connected. Amazon's conversion system is barely adequate, and while this was readable on my phone, some of the chapter headings had bizarre capitalizations which seemed to be tied to the same few letters. here are a couple of examples: ConStraintS on the deMand For FreSh FruitS and vegetaBleS, and SoMe eConoMiC Context: the Supply oF MarketplaCeS and Marketing. You can see how it's the same letters each time (B, C, M, S) which are capitalized regardless of where they appear in the word. The other issue was the images. They were not enlargeable on the phone and were consequently too small to really see anything of value in them. Other than that it was readable on the phone.

Food security - in a local and personal sense as oppose dot a federal sense, is critical, and good 'business'. It's far better for a community to rely on itself rather than faceless and nameless remote suppliers. Be warned though that this book is very academically inclined, so it is dense and packed with information. It is not light reading, but it is good reading for anyone who is seriously interested in getting involved. I recommend it.

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.

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a compendium of issues 1 though five of the originally published comics and runs to about 180 pages in the print version. I read this in Bluefire Reader on an iPad where it looked good but the text was a bit hard to read, especially the one character Walter, who is painfully shy and reserved. His speech was deliberately written under-sized in a regularly-sized balloon, and it was hard to read, so I didn't appreciate that. I think Tyler Boss's art told Walter's story well enough; it would have been nice if writer Matthew Rosenberg had had more faith in it (or the designer - or whoever decided that this was a good approach!).

That said, the characters: Paige, the tough feisty female, Stretch, an abnormally tall expert in irony, the irreverent Berger, who in some depictions seems slightly pudgy, but in others seems a lot more trim, and retiring almost to the point of self-effacement Walter, are all interesting to read about and even more interesting to see interact with each other. They all bring their own strengths as characters, but Paige is a dynamo.

The story is that four thugs from Paige's dad's past show up wanting her father to resume his role in their history of thieving. Dad isn't interested, but the four idiot wannabe robbers won't take no for an answer. The kids decide the only way to save Paige's dad is to rob the bank first so the thugs can't. Great idea, huh? The entire story leading-up to 'will they or won't they?' was entertaining and at times completely hilarious. I really enjoyed it. That's not to say I didn't have a few problems with this.

Paige was an oddity to me because in many panels she looked distinctly male. There's nothing wrong in a female having male characteristics or vice-versa; nothing at all in real life, but in the case of a minimally-drawn comic book character, this can be confusing. At least it was to me.

I found myself at one point honestly thinking there were two characters, and wondering who this new guy was and where he came from, because it wasn't Paige! Except that it was. It just didn't look like Paige. When I realized that, for a short while, I found myself thinking I had misunderstood and Paige was actually a guy, not a girl, but no, Paige was very much a girl. It was just the graphical depiction of her that confused me. It made for an unpleasant reading experience on occasion because I was happy that she was a girl!

This surreal experience wasn't helped by two other events both towards the end of the novel. The first of these was the random addition of a fifth person to their four-person team towards the end of the novel. I had no idea who this fifth person was. Maybe I missed something, but I had no idea where this person came from!

The second incident was the very ending of the novel, where Paige and her dad meet up at a prison. I had no clue whatsoever whether she was going into jail or getting out. I honestly and truly did not. I even looking back through many the pages trying to figure it out, but I couldn't, so I was unhappy with the ending. But the rest of it was great. Mostly! I recommend this, anyway. Maybe you'll have a better handle reading it than I did!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen

Rating: WARTY!

Sofonisba Anguissola was a real person who lived during the time of Michelangelo and in fact studied under him for a short time. She was a gifted artist who deserves much better than this author gives her. The prime mover in Sofonisba's life was art yet here, the author reduces her to a love-sick YA character, stupid with anguished love for Tibiero Calcagni, a fictional sculptor she purportedly knew from Michelangelo's studio.

There is an incident with Tiberio, and the book doesn't make clear what happened. Some reviewers believe they had sex, but I am not convinced that they did. Whatever happened, Sofonisba is upset by it and feels shamed, but instead of moving on, she agonizes over this for half the freaking book (which is as far as I could stand to read)! It’s tedious. Tiberio is Michelangelo's boy toy (I'm guessing - I don't know for sure) and you were merely a diversion, Sofi. Move on!

She is put into the service of the French wife of the Spanish king as an art tutor. He is in his thirties and she is barely into her teens. That story could have been interesting, but we’re supposed to be getting Sofinisba's story which is also an interesting one. The author seems to have forgotten this and rather than talk about Sofonisba and her art, she depicts the artist as merely an observer, relating the story of the Spanish triangle between Don Juan, the king, and his wife. It’s boring. Most love triangles are, especially in YA literature.

The book blurb is misleading, as usual. It says, "...after a scandal involving one of Michelangelo's students, she flees Rome and fears she has doomed herself and her family," but this greatly exaggerates what happened. The blurb also tells us that "Sofi yearns only to paint," but this is an outright lie since she's rarely shown painting or even thinking about painting. The way the story is told here, the only real yearning Sofi experiences is over Tiberio.

Set in the mid 1500's, the story is superficially about this remarkable and talented painter struggling to make herself known for her art in a very masculine world where women were tightly constrained everywhere. The story could have been equally remarkable, but this author destroyed it. We got no sense of frustration or struggle from Sofonisba and precious little of her art as she's reduced to being a documentarian of the life at the Spanish court.

That life is tediously repetitive. The foppish young men at court are laughable. The main character in the book could have been anyone, including the chamber maid, and the story would have been largely the same. Don't look here for art; there's precious little of it, neither in the narrow sense of Sofinisba's life ambition, nor in the larger sense of the word. Artless is more accurate.

We're told that women are not allowed to paint nudes but there is a nude (Minerva Dressing) painted by artist Lavinia Fontana in 1613. Fontana was influenced by Anguissola, so whether things changed in the fifty years between this novel's setting, and Fontana's painting or the author just got it wrong, I don’t know. Fontana does seem to be the first female artist to paint female nudes, so maybe she was a cutting edge girl, in which case, a well-written story about her would be worth reading, and certainly better than this one! I cannot recommend this novel.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Mila 2.0: Renegade by Debra Driza

Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 in a series, which was not known to me when I picked it up, otherwise I would have put it right back down. It looked interesting from the blurb (but doesn't it always?): an android on the run. Count me in! Why they don't call the female ones gynoid, I don't know any more than I know how there can be such a thing as a female android - or even a male one for that matter since they are robots and incapable of reproduction (one assumes!). I just did not get along with this novel at all though. The blurb online says it's "Perfect for fans of I Am Number Four and Divergent" which would have turned me off at once had I read that on the back of the book.

So Mila is on the run from General Holland and Vita Obscura, whoever they are. She's hanging with a guy, who to credit the novel where it's due, is not your usual type of studly YA male, although he does sport the ;laughable name of Hunter which is one of the go-to names for YA novels. The two of them are supposed to be looking for a guy named Richard Grady who is evidently someone who can tell her about how she came to be, but neither of them is smart enough to get that he is undoubtedly being watched and she will be captured as soon as she shows up in his neighborhood.

This was the biggest problem. Mila is dumb and she's obsessing on Hunter and none of that made any sense, but the dumb part was what really got me. She's too dumb to know that these people who are trying to track her might be using her own Internet searches to pin down where she is. I can't stand reading novels about dumb girls, and YA is replete with such novels. If she starts out dumb and wises up, that's one thing, but to be dedicatedly dumb is a huge turn-off for me, especially when the novel spends more time focused on how pretty Mila is than anything else.

Not for me. Not for me to recommend.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Rating: WARTY!

Another audiobook experiment that failed. I get a lot of these because I tend to experiment more with audiobooks, but I was a bit surprised to find so many in the last batch I tried from the local library! Hopefully the next lot I pull out of there will have more winners than losers.

The story is that this plague of some kind attacks children and kills many of them, but those who are left find they have some sort of psychic power. The story was supposed to lead to a bunch of these kids being on the run with these powers, chased by the authorities, which sounded interesting to me, but I couldn't stand to listen to it any more and I never got that far.

The problem was that the writing was so awfully bad that I wasn't inclined to listen to any more of this, or anything else by this author for that matter! On top of that, it was in worst person voice - that is first person, which is typically nothing save an irritation to me. In this case the reader, Amy McFadden, wasn't so bad, and I would have been happy to listen to her even in first person if I had to, but not with a novel as poorly thought-out as this one was.

I can get with the plague and the deaths, and the arrival of these psychic powers. That's fine by me. What made zero sense though, was that suddenly, without any preamble or lead-in whatsoever, young children are being hauled off to concentration camps and they're being treated brutally. One young boy gets a rifle butt in his teeth, twice, for complaining he's hungry! This was way out of left field because there was nothing to preface this at all!

I'm like, wait, how did this deteriorate so quickly that this is considered to be the way things are now? Of course, in first person, you can't tell a good story because you can only tell what happens directly to the narrator - either that or you have to lard-up your story with info-dumps from other people, or you have to admit you made a stupid and limiting choice of voice and start trashing the story with other first person voices or with a third person which is what you should have used in the first place!

It was so pathetic and ridiculous that it told me the author was trying to set this vicious conflict in place without wanting to do any of the work to get it up and running sensibly. It's one thing for an author to slowly ramp-up to this kind of a situation, but to have it just precipitate out of nothing without any kind of rationale or overture made no sense at all to me and this is when I gave up caring about this novel.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Hollywood Daughter by Kate Alcott

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook experiment. It sounded interesting from the blurb: a girl who idolizes Ingrid Bergman growing up in the era of McCarthyism, and from a cloying Catholic background, discovers, hey, guess what? No body is perfect!

Things start coming apart in her perfect life when her idiot parents decide she's subject to bad influences at her prestigious Hollywood school and hypocritically send her to a Catholic girl's school where she's going to be brainwashed that there's a loving, long-suffering god who quite cheerfully condemns people who piss him off to hellish suffering for all eternity. Yep.

Her father is a Hollywood publicist who happens to be in charge of Bergman's account, so when it comes to light that she's having an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and later is having a child by him, the witch-hunt starts, aided and abetted by this same Catholic church which on the one had teaches people to love their neighbor and turn the other cheek, but on the other slaps people it dislikes in the face with a tirade of abuse, recrimination, and rejection. They still do this today. Hypocrites.

The truth is that this 'scandal' lasted only four years before Bergman was working for Hollywood studios again. Just four years after that she was presenting an academy award in Hollywood, so this 'end of the world' scenario in which Jessica - the first person narrator - is wallowing is a bit overdone.

Worse than that, it makes Jessica look like a moron that she is so slow to see consequences of actions and how things will play out, despite spending some considerable time with her new best friend at the Catholic school, who knows precisely how things will pan out and spends their friendship trying to educate Jessica, who never seems to learn to shed her blinkers.

I started out not being sure, then starting to like it, then going off it, then warming to it, then completely going off it at about the halfway point when it became clear that Jessica was an idiot and showed no sign of improvement. It's yet another first person fail, and worse than this, the story is framed as a flashback so the entire story is a flashback apart from current day (that is current day in the story) bookends. I do not like first person, and I do not like flashbacks, so this was a double fail for me, although Erin Spencer did a decent job reading it.

There were some serious writing issues for a seasoned author or a professional editor to let slip by. I read at one point that Jessica was perusing an "Article entitled..." No! There was no entitlement here. The article was titled not entitled! At another point she wrote: "verdant green lawn." Since 'verdant' means green grass, it's tautologous and a good author should know this. 'Verdant lawn' works, as does 'green lawn', but not both! The part of the story where Jessica is required to see Sister Theresa, the head of her school, is larded with heavy-handed foreshadowing. I expect better from an experienced writer.

Jessica wasn't really a likeable person. I read at one point: "he was a year younger and an inch shorter" which made her sound arrogant, elitist, and bigoted. How appalling is it that she should think like this? Too appalling for me. I didn't want to read any more about her, because I didn't care how her life turned out.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Rating: WORTHY!

Jane Austen is batting a .6 with me at this stage. I really liked Pride and Prejudice, not so much Emma or Sense and Sensibility, but then I enjoyed Lady Susan and I loved Northanger Abbey! What a lot of people do not seem to get about this novel is that Jane wrote it when she was just 28, and still very much a playful youngster in many ways. It was her first real novel that we know of, but it was put aside as she worked on others. Though she began re-writing it later in life when she was more than a decade older, she died before she could finish it.

The story revolves around Catherine Morland, in her late teens, and fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Bath (evidently one of Austen's favorite locales) by the Allen family. It's there that she meets two men, the thoroughly detestable James Thorpe, and the delightful Henry Tilney. While Thorpe pursues the naïvely oblivious Catherine, she finds herself very interested in Henry and his sister Eleanor.

In parallel, James has a sister Isabella. They are the children of Mrs Allen's school friend Mrs Thorpe, and Catherine feels quite happy to be befriended by Isabella who seems to be interested in Catherine's brother John - that is until she discovers he has no money when she, like Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility, transfers her affection to the older brother - in this case, of Henry Tilney. Captain Tilney, not to be confused with his father, General Tilney, is only interested in bedding Isabella, who is in the final analysis every bit the ingénue that Catherine is. Once he's had his wicked way with the girl, she is of no further interest to him whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Catherine manages to get an invitation to Northanger, the Tilney residence. Catherine is a huge fan of Gothic novels, and Ann Radcliffe's potboiler, The Mysteries of Udolpho is mentioned often. Arriving at Northanger, she is expecting a haunted castle with secret passages, but everything turns out to be mundane - the locked chest contains nothing more exciting than a shopping list, and General Tilney did not murder his wife.

Henry Tilney is a lot less miffed with Catherine in the book than he was depicted as being in the 2007 movie starring the exquisite Felicity Jones and the exemplary JJ Feild, but as also in the movie, the novel depicts a lighter, happier time with General Tilney absent, but when he returns, he makes Eleanor kick Catherine out the next morning to travel home the seventy miles alone, which was shocking and even scandalous for the time, but by this time Catherine has matured enough that she's equal to the burden.

It turns out that the thoroughly James Thorpe (much roe so in the novel than in the movie), who had been unreasonably assuming Catherine would marry him, only to be set straight by her, has lied to General Tilney about her, and whereas the latter had been led initially to believe that she was all-but an heiress, he now believes her to be pretty much a pauper and a liar.

Henry bless him, defies his father and makes sure that Catherine knows (as does Darcy with Lizzie!), that his affections have not changed which (as was the case with Lizzie). This pleases Catherine immensely. Despite initially cutting-off his son, General Tilney later relents, especially when he realizes that Catherine has been misrepresented by Thorpe.

There are a lot of parallels in this book with the later-written Pride and Prejudice. You can see them in the dissolute soldier (Captain Tiney v. Wickham), the rich suitor (Tilney v Darcy), the break and remake between the two lovers, the frivolous young girls (Isabella v. Lydia) and so on. Maybe Northanger Abbey is, in a way, a dry-run for the later and better loved novel, but I think that Northanger Abbey stands on its own. I liked it because it seems to reveal a younger and more delightfully playful author than do her later works. I dearly wish there had been more novels from Austen from this era. She could have shown today's YA authors a thing or two, but I shall be content with this on treasure.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys The Big Lie by Anthony Del Col, Werther Dell'Edera

Rating: WARTY!

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

Well, this was certainly not what I expected! I thought this was a modern take on a couple of series which date back to 1927 (The Hardy Boys) and 1930 (Nancy Drew). In the late seventies, there was a brief and disastrous run on TV featuring both story lines intertwined, but I thought this would be truer to the roots. It was far from that.

I recently reviewed a book about Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters Harriet and Edna, how these series came to be, and who wrote them. It made for an entertaining read, but apart from seeing a TV movie about Nancy drew, I have very little exposure to the actual stories themselves. That's why I thought this might be interesting. I'm sorry to say it wasn't.

the first hint that something was off here was when the Hardy Boys get arrested (apparently out of the blue) for questioning over the death of their father - and the police officer was slapping one of them around. This just felt completely off kilter. It's not to say you can't have a story where a kid is slapped around by a rogue police officer, and it's not to say you can't update an antique story that's badly in need of a make-over and get a better one, but in this case, it felt so out of place and so lacking in rationale and motivation that it kicked the story right out of suspension of disbelief.

It didn't work either, to have this on the one hand and a really old-fashioned style of illustrating the comic book on the other. The two simply didn't work together, especially since the art was lackluster and poorly rendered. I don't know if this was merely in the ebook, which is all we amateur reviewers usually get to see, or if it would have been just as bad in the print version, but the art was poorly delineated, scrappy, sketchy, muddy, and drab. Overall, the the experience was a poor one, and I could not stand to read past the half-way point in this story. Based on what I read, I cannot recommend it.