Saturday, March 4, 2017

Bibliovile: Freaking SOB

The Hidden Family, by Charles Strauss

              The opening scene of The Hidden Family revolves around the king sneezing. To be honest with you, I don’t know why. The scene is boring, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The characters in the scene are barely mentioned throughout the rest of the book, including the king, and the whole thing feels very out of place. This scene made me incredibly hesitant about the rest of this book, which was unfortunate, because all in all, this book isn’t that bad.

              Now, don’t get me wrong. This book is... complicated. There’s some economic and political intrigue, three different worlds that intersect in various locations, but are vastly different in time and technology, and a civil war between the six families of the Clan. There’s also an adoption subplot, a hint of romance, and two assassination attempts. There’s a lot going on in the plot here. But the general premise is interesting and well thought-out, and the characters are the best I’ve seen in a TBE book yet.
              The coolest thing about The Hidden Family is the presence of complex, well-developed, female characters who have complex, well-developed relationships with each other. For example, Iris, our main character’s foster mother, is awesome. Iris was a radical civil rights protester in the 1960s, and is still staunchly radical in her beliefs. She is now confined to a wheelchair due to MS, but is very active in the community and in the life of her foster daughter. Throughout the book, Iris always emphasizes to Miriam the importance of being upfront and honest, and in tackling her problems head-on.
              Another character, Brilliana, was raised and trained to be a lady-in-waiting. However, in the world Brill is from, that requires some unusual skills. As she put it, when she was growing up, her father, “wanted her to learn the feminine virtues: deportment, dancing, embroidery, and marksmanship.” Brill’s dream as a child was to join the Marines, and her father gave her lots of opportunities to learn how to shoot and fight. She’s pretty badass, without being a stereotypical hot badass character. Also, I looked this book up on Goodreads to see what kind of reviews it got, and in addition to four stars, it also shows up on lists like, “Best Fantasy Books with Strong Women Characters,” and “Speculative Fiction that Passes the Bechdel Test.”
              Weirdly, despite the presence of fantastic female characters, who have really cool and complex relationships with each other, the female dialogue in this book is fairly atrocious. It includes many uses of the phrase, “Shut up!”  and lots of use of the word “babe,” including, “You’re a babe, babe.” Women fist bump a lot, for no apparent reason? But thankfully the uncomfortable dialogue doesn’t get in the way of the strong female characters and their relationships with each other, which thankfully are not based solely around the existence of men! It’s so refreshing.
              Overall, the plot of The Hidden Family was a little overly convoluted, and the female-to-female dialogue left something to be desired, but for the most part, this book was pretty good. My biggest problem with it was that a lot of it didn’t make sense because I hadn’t read the first book, but that’s my own fault (and my husband’s), and not the fault of the author. You wouldn’t expect someone to start reading LOTR with the Two Towers, so why would anyone be expected to start this series in book two? Basically, this book was decent. It was far better written than any book I’ve read for Bibliovile so far, so for that, I have to be thankful.

Harmony, by Jayne Ann Krentz, writing as Jayne Castle

              Harmony is actually two different pieces of writing. The first, and the main one, is the novel After Dark, and the second, of which I read about 7 pages, is “Bridal Jitters”, a 50-page novella. They’re both well on their way to being fine before they ruin what forward momentum they have.
              After Dark, the main attraction, takes place on a wondrous alien world. Human colonists came through the Curtain, which I understood to be some sort of wormhole that closed behind them, cutting them off from Earth. The cities on the world of Harmony were already built by the strange predecessors to the world, strange utilitarian structures of emerald and massive systems of underground catacombs. Humans develop psychic powers while on the planet, using these powers to navigate the ruins as they follow that common human urge to understand those that came before.

              This set up, frankly, rules.
              The book, frankly, is terrible.
              All that fantastic sci-fi world building sets us in an open world that promises 500 different kinds of stories. We get a murder mystery romance about the two most boring people on the planet. There are no details uncovered, no backstory revealed. Which, you know, I don’t want all of my questions about the strange alien world laid out minute one, but I’d like to join in the thrill of discovery with the characters instead of just going about their day in a world they’ve written off as unknowable.
              Our main characters, Lydia and Emmett, are each one of the seemingly two types of people on Harmony. Lydia is an expert in “untangling” the traps and obstacles the aliens left behind to protect their catacombs, and Emmett is a ghost hunter. The ghost hunters typically work as body guards or muscle to the tanglers, protecting them from quasi-electrical ghosts in the catacombs by conjuring their own private ghosts. Once again, that sort of balanced professional relationship that puts us in a world that seems like it makes sense and works well together.
              And then they fall for each other for no reason. Blech. They don’t even seem to like each other. They don’t seem to be drawn to each other except when the male character is like “oh, wait,” and then flips the switch on his neck.
              The murder mystery isn’t overly interesting, but not overly dumb. There’s so much awesome stuff here to play around with. It’s like when you buy your kid a huge new toy with all the best features and accessories and then they play with the box. But not, like, cute imagination playing, but sitting and then crying because they can’t figure how to get out.
              Please, for the sequels to this book, please, have a science fiction story in this science fiction world. But, actually, less science fiction words. I don’t need to see someone playing “frequency ball” or holding a “magna-rez” gun.


              All in all, much like the furious murderous man at the end of this book, I just felt like a “freaking SOB”.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bibliovile: Of Course There's a High Council

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The Internet is Not the Answer, by Andrew Keen
              The Internet is Not the Answer begins its preface with the statement, “Some may say the internet is the answer” and ends its preface by saying, “So no, the internet is not the answer.” I am dead serious about this.
              I am also dead serious that it never got any more surprising.
              I could have stopped with just that preface and written the whole book for him. But I didn’t. I read a lot, agreed with most of it, but hated all of it.
              There was nothing surprising or noteworthy in the book. The internet (which is not the answer) was promised as a democratization of wealth and information but has only concentrated wealth and ruined our idea of objective fact. Yeah, totally, man. Oh wait, that’s it, that’s your entire book.
That's the about-the-author photo I reference in the podcast

              Oh.
              Well, um, great. Sorry that you’re editor made you spread out a single blog post into a huge book and all, but frankly, I wish I hadn’t read any of it.
              It wasn’t bad, just severely predictable and up its own ass. You’re not blowing my mind, my dude. In fact, I’m not even sure the internet was worth it all in the first place.
              Now we’ve got increasing specificity of everything from news media to music. I don’t think there will ever be another Beatles, for instance, because the internet has made it impossible to achieve actual popular culture success without someone working to take you down from the inside. Our shared cultural values are now shared with people exactly like us, instead of across the country as a whole. I get to find any support for any idiotic belief I might have, and the stupidest person in the world to represent anything I despise. It’s like the internet was made for strawmen.
              I’m not going to get political here, because I get pretty political on the podcast, but suffice it to say—Whoops done looks like we appeased human nature a bit too far and don’t like what we got out of it.
              So no, the internet is NOT the answer.
              To what question, you ask? Oh, I don’t know, that’s not what the book was about.

Burned, by PC and Kristin Cast
              Remember the phrase “Write what you know”? It’s advice that’s often given to new writers, or sometimes more experienced writers who find themselves facing writer’s block. It’s good advice, really. If you’re at a loss of words, try writing about something that you’re familiar with or knowledgeable about to help get you started.

              The authors of Burned did not follow that advice. Burned is the seventh book in the House of Night series, written by mother-daughter duo P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and these two seem to have a penchant for writing about things they are completely unfamiliar with.
 
This book's cover is so generic. "Fine!",
says Magazine
              One of the most obvious subjects about which the Cast duo are oblivious is human language, both dialogue and dialect. The way the characters speak in this book is unbelievably frustrating. It seems like the authors assigned each character an archetype that they should fill: Aphrodite is the rich, spoiled, mean girl; Stevie Rae is the down-home country girl, Seorus is an ancient Scottish warrior. And each of these characters has a very particular accent and speech pattern that is just infuriating to read.

              For example, Aphrodite’s prayers to the goddess Nyx sound something like this, ‘I’m not real sure how this Prophetess stuff works, so it won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t know how to use the gift you’ve given me to help Stark -- but he does need my help. I mean, the guy’s being sliced up in one world and flailing around trying to use poetry and an old guy’s confusing words to help Z in another. Just between us, sometimes I think Stark’s more muscle and admittedly good hair than brains.” I mean, honestly, where is the substance in any of that? Why was any of that necessary. It’s just fluff masquerading as biting wit.

              Another thing that the duo unsurprisingly doesn’t know much about is people of color. Out of all of the many characters in this book, only one is specifically described as black. Her name is Kramisha, and she’s actually my favorite character in the book, despite the authors’ best efforts. At times, it seems like the authors just googled “stereotypes of black female teenagers” and wrote those into Kramisha’s character, because it’s fairly evident that neither of them have actually met a black person. It feels like they decided they needed a character of color and then thought, “Um... braids! She likes rap music! Let’s make up our own version of how black people talk!”

              Amazingly, though, there is one moment of cultural sensitivity related to Kramisha and the concept of race. Kramisha knows that Stevie Rae is keeping a secret about a boy, and she asks if the boy is black, and if Stevie Rae is keeping the relationship a secret because she is ashamed to be dating a black man. The boy is not black, and that is not why Stevie Rae is keeping things a secret (the boy is actually half-raven, but that’s a whole other thing). But the two characters have a decent conversation about how wrong that would be, and Stevie Rae assures Kramisha that she would not do such a thing. It’s one brief good moment in this otherwise fairly bleak book.

              Finally, it seems like the authors have only the most cursory understanding of the setting, which is disappointing because according to the book jacket, they are from Tulsa. It could have honestly helped this book if the authors had communicated their knowledge of and sense of community in Tulsa throughout the book. Instead, it just seems like they looked up Tulsa on Google Maps and figured out what cross street the Gap is located and threw that into the book for no reason.

              Overall, this book was disappointing. Not only was it poorly written, but it was poorly written in a way that made it seems as though the writers didn’t know what they were writing about, and that they didn’t even care.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bibliovile: Trixa For Kids

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Jamaica Me Dead, by Bob Morris
              A successful and good book needs interesting characters, a lived-in setting, and a worthwhile plot. Jamaica Me Dead succeeds on all of these fronts. However, none of them successfully connect together.

              Setting: Jamaica Me Dead takes place, naturally, in Jamaica. It bounces between tourist main streets in places like Montego Bay and Kingston, rural backwaters and jungle paths, and an island resort called Libido. Libido is a fantasy, bawdy, sexual resort, full of people looking to get laid with everyone else all the time. The rest of Jamaica is, well, imagine if TV’s JAG went to Jamaica, and that’s about how it’s portrayed. Every ‘tings airee!
              Plot: Except for a twist that I called on the VERY FIRST PAGE the real plot begins, the plot of JMD does a pretty good job of keeping us moving at a good clip without ever overwhelming us. The twists and turns outside of the big one were enjoyable. It’s got political murder, fraud, blackmail, explosions… it’s pretty good! Just seriously, man, that main twist. A friend of our main character is killed in a car bomb explosion that leaves a major crater and vaporizes the cars. Oh, here’s his wallet, to prove he’s dead and all. Uh, buddy, if his wallet is intact than he is, you idiot. Two hundred and fifty pages later, yup, ohmygosh!
              Characters: The main character was the weakest part of this book. I can’t remember his name and I’m not looking it up. The supporting characters were fine-to-good, however. A girlfriend with a job and a plan outside of the relationship, a seedy, reclusive resort owner sexpot dude, his two children, one an upright politician in a dirty game, the other a struggling rebel fashion artist who chafes at having to rely on her rich father. A couple seedy federal agents, a weird mystical sidekick (?), and a Jamaican driver. Nothing to sneeze at; all seemed developed and connected with each other as well as with our main character, an oasis of character attributes in the Bibliovile desert.
              All three of these segments are good and well, except each piece is undone by the other two. A book with this plot and setting, but a main character who isn’t tied down and straightedge would make a FANTASTIC erotic book, and I don’t even like erotic books. Imagine, trying to solve this murder while constantly embonered and distracted back at home base. Man, the twist perp ending could be one of his favorite bone chums!
              A book with this character and this setting would work great in a comedic novel, a man out of water at an island nookie paradise, struggling to keep sane as vagina is constantly thrown at him and he has to keep it away. By the way, there were several mentions of sex or people having sex in this book, but no engaging in it during our peeks into the character’s lives. What a waste.
              A book with this character and this plot would also work, a man way over his head in political violence, trying to keep beneath it all and just get through. But, like, that could be in Arizona for goodness sakes. Then we could avoid the *waggles hand with the palm to ground* amount of racism that comes from putting patois into writing.
              All in all, I never threw this book, never got mad at this book, never wrote in caps, or shouted, or anything. It was well constructed, well written, and utterly meh. Change one of the three main parts and you’ve got a book I’m recommending. Keep it as it is, and I’m going to forget I read this in two weeks.

The Grimrose Path, by Rob Thurman
              The first page of The Grimrose Path inspires no confidence at all, as it is entirely comprised of five sentence-long words and played out cliches, including, “Life is a trick, and the tricks are lessons in disguise, and I’m a teacher.” Apparently our narrator, and the author who writes her thoughts, are both incapable of picking one metaphor and sticking to it -- they have keep adding in additional metaphors until we’ve lost track of the thread completely. And that, funnily enough, is a pretty apt metaphor for The Grimrose Path.

              This book centers on Trixa, who is a trickster, and owns a bar named Trixsta. Say that five times fast. Trixa used to be a shifter, but then she temporarily lost her powers, so now she’s living out the next five years as a regular human. Temporarily human along with her is her business partner and friend, Leo, who is actually the Norse god Loki currently living in the body of a Native American man who can turn into a raven at will. Trixa’s two best friends are an ex-demon named Griffin and an ex-angel named Zeke, who are in love.
              At the beginning of the book, Trixa is confronted by longtime rival Eligos, a high-level demon who enlists Trixa’s help in figuring out what has been killing all of the demons lately. We have to wonder why Trixa cares, because she and her friends kill demons for fun. But apparently she does care, because she gets involved in the mystery, the solving of which involves tricking Lucifer himself, playing checkers with a Titan named Cronus, stealing artifacts from a Los Angeles museum, pulling a gun on a septuagenarian medium, and throwing an intoxicated Thor out of a moving vehicle. This book is .... a lot.
             That’s one of the reasons why the above metaphor works so well. Not only can Rob Thurman not make up her mind about what figures of speech she wants to use in her exposition, she also can’t make up her mind about what plot elements she wants to include in her book, so she winds up using all of them. Neither the exposition nor the plot benefit from this method. The book is just exhausting to read. There’s so much happening at all times that it’s hard to know what to care about and pay attention to, and what to just ignore.
              For example, in the middle of the book, we spend several chapters finding a missing Griffin, defeating his captors, sitting in the hospital while he heals, and sorting through the argument he’s having with Zeke. Several chapters later, we realize that all of that was ancillary to the plot, and doesn’t have any bearing on Trixa’s plan to stop the demon killer. It’s essentially just a time waster until Rob Thurman decided she was ready to move on with the real plot, the rising action of which lasts for approximately four pages.
              You got that right: four pages. That’s the entire length of time it takes for Trixa to lure Cronus to the desert, wage a battle of united angels and demons against him, stab him with a metaphysical water sword, kill him, and work out her interpersonal situation with Eligos. This was particularly frustrating, not because I wanted more of the rising action (at that point, I was practically begging for the book to be over), but because we had wasted at least twenty times that page length on the absolute drivel of Trixa’s thought process.
              The exposition of this book tries to be witty, snappy, quick, and clever, and it fails miserably, in a manner that is so over-the-top that I almost melted my husband’s insides with my rage stares. The sentences vacillate between discussions of the events that are currently happening to Trixa lamenting her recent weight gain to ruminations about her past as a trickster to complaints about the tourists in Las Vegas. It’s indecipherable. It’s hard to give a good picture of the craziness of the writing without including full paragraphs, but here are a few sentences (that occur IN A ROW in this book) to give you somewhat of an idea: “Except for geese. Geese feared and respected no one. No ankle, human or otherwise, was safe. It could be even Titans like Cronus bowed to their pure, feathered evil. It was worth thinking about. And I did as I thought about other equally ridiculous things. I liked ridiculous things. I avoided the pond and jogged to the mesquite flats for a real run. Once there had been homeless people there, but the police had run them off some time ago and I often found the flats empty except for jackrabbits and ground squirrels. It was quiet company, although at least once during every run a chipmunk tried to commit suicide by diving under my feet. They weren’t bright, but they were pretty to look at ... Much like Leo’s dates.”

              THAT IS BONKERS. If I wanted to listen to the incessant ramblings of a high-maintenance person who didn’t realize that no one cared, I would go to the bars in a college town. This is supposed to be a fantasy action book; please leave out the commentary on chipmunks and geese. She just jumps from one thought to the next without any semblance of a train of thought, and we’re expected not only to follow, but to be interested in it. That is just beyond me.
My favorite example, and the one I’ll leave you with to close out my review, is this, “I was justice. Eli was only Hannibal Lector crossed with a T. rex -- a sociopathic carnivore. I killed the wicked, if necessary. He would kill anyone and anything. But he was gone before I could tell him so. Not that I would’ve bothered and not that he would’ve cared. No, I wouldn’t have bothered and he wouldn’t have cared, but I would’ve cared... a little.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Bibliovile: Bespoke Literature

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Sex, Lies, and Vampires, by Katie MacAlister

              S, L, and V is not the worst book I’ve read as a part of this ongoing project. It is, however, perhaps the most eyerolling. The pure Hot Topic-edness of this novel is unending. It never once ceases to make you groan at it. Frankly, I admire its tenacity.

              It begins early, with hamfisted mentions of the main character, Nell, and her huge knockers. They’re overstuffing her bra you see. This was written by a woman, you’d think she’d have a better idea about when to include knocker-based details. Maybe during one of the several sex scenes.
              Oh, and there’s also vampires. And just like every other vampire novel, this author gets to make up her own fun interpretation of vampires. Why are vampires the only mythical creature we allow to just be all sorts of crazy crap? It’s not like we rewrite a wolfman every full moon! Heyo.
              There’s also imps. And poltergeist we never see. And sylphs. That we never see. And unicorns. Hints at ogres and giants. We don’t see any of these things. Why include their mention? To us, they don’t really exist?
              The most groanable moments were, at the very least, consistent with an awful character, and unfortunately it’s our love interest. Our two lead characters love each other because, um, my publisher told me this book had to have sex in it. Adrian, a Dark One (ugh), is also the Betrayer (ugh ugh) because he’s cursed by a demon lord to sacrifice his people, or something, we don’t ever see him do that.
              You might notice a running theme about telling and not showing. It’s why this book is really hard to sum up- all the stuff you want to bring up doesn’t actually happen in the book. It’s just talked about in the book. It’s an incredibly confusing book, but without all the complexity or intricacy that would make that a good thing. It’s just we don’t every really get ANY SORT of bead on anything, like a small breasted nun during Mardi Gras. We simply groan and move along with the story as our characters do exiting things like... I’m sure there was something.
              The entire romance is based around “I need to fix this broken man!” which is never a good place to start. Adrian himself is just so very eye-rollable. “My Beloved does not exist because I am not allowed to have one. TO have a Beloved would imply that there is hope for me, and I can assure you from many centuries of experience, hope is one grace that has forsaken me.”
              He also, at one point, wears a fedora, because of course he does.
              The female protagonist is no better.

              “I have a question for you.”
              “You should not be out of room,” he said in a heavy German accent. “What is question?”
              “What’s the difference between a bird and a tractor?”
              He blinked at me. I smiled as I swung the statue down on his head. “They can both fly… except for the tractor.”
 
My reaction to this joke
              I… What? Shoot, now I’m mad and groaning again. This book took forever to read, even if it wasn’t that long. You may notice this book report has been all over the place, but like I said, that’s because the whole friggin thing is so disconnected and shoddy, it’s like my cable company’s Christmas lights. Now there’s a joke.
              At the secondary climax (that we miss, as if the book didn’t have the budget to record it), the secondary antagonist shows up with a bunch of neo-Nazis, totally out of the blue. Just wanted to mention that. They’re quickly turned into slugs and then forgotten about.

Midnight Sins, Cynthia Eden
Midnight Sins II: This Time It’s Supernatural
Mick found another book called Midnight Sins and I had to read it. Thankfully it was slightly better than the OG Midnight Sins, otherwise my insides might have melted, and then there would have been no one to write this blog post. That would have been a travesty.

Would you like to know what else is a travesty? Cara Maloan’s life. Her twin sister was brutally murdered by an ex-lover years ago, and Cara still misses her terribly. Not to mention Cara’s terrible luck with men. She can’t get one to stick around for very long, and her recent string of breakups has led her to the decision to permanently give up sex, which might be a problem, given that Cara is a sex demon who feeds on sexual energy. That’s right, this Midnight Sins is paranormal. This world is populated by vampires, succubi, charmers, and -- of course -- shifters.
Of course, most of the population of Atlanta (of course it’s Atlanta, where else could this take place) lives in blissful ignorance of the presence of the Other. For the last thirty-some-odd years of his life, so did Detective Todd Brooks, until the night he saw his partner transform into a wolf. Now he’s trying to come to terms with the presence of otherworldly beings in his city, as he works to unravel a series of brutal murders that someone is peskily trying to frame on his new ex-murder-suspect-turned-girlfriend, sex demon Cara Maloan.
Yep, you got that right. The new Midnight Sins has all the murdered sisters, gross sex scenes, and weird power dynamics of Lora Leigh’s classic, but this time with police drama, an other-worldly psychiatrist, and level-ten demons thrown in for good measure. The large majority of this book was bonkers, because demons can apparently do some crazy stuff like start fires inside a person’s heart and burn them to a crisp from the inside, but there were actually some pieces of the book that were pretty entertaining, which I did not expect from a book that has the misfortune of sharing a title with the biggest heap of word garbage ever written.
              This new Midnight Sins has a plot that is exciting and contains a few twists, but is actually decipherable and able to be followed, unlike Lora Leigh’s calamity of the written word. One of our main characters is framed for murder, the actual killer is kind of a surprise, the final action scene is really good, and the scary parts actually gave me the shivers. The biggest flump in this book was the romance, which didn’t really do much for me. The characters seemed really one-dimensional and it was hard to believe that they were madly in love with each other because they didn’t seem to have much in common, and when they spoke to each other, they never really seemed to say anything.
              That complaint aside, however, I was pleasantly surprised. When Mick announced that he had found another book called Midnight Sins in the bargain bin at the Dollar General, I thought I had been given a one-way ticket back to the woeful fiasco that was Cami and Rafer’s sex grossness. Instead, I got to read an over-the-top paranormal romance that was essentially fine. Which is the best you can hope for with that title. So, in closing, a word of advice to author Cynthia Eden: The next time you write a book, do some research to make sure you’re not giving it the same title as the worst book of all time.