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Archive for 2015|Yearly archive page

The Girl with Ghost Eyes

In Book Review on September 12, 2015 at 4:45 am

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The Girl with Ghost Eyes
by M.H. Boroson
ISBN 978-1940456362

Set in Chinatown, San Francisco 1898 — people’s initial response to this might be “so… opium dens, and stuff?” No. This is not a historical fiction novel, or not JUST a historical fiction novel. It is an action packed, supernatural battle of good and evil.

The author describes himself as a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and kung fu movies. This might lead you to think that the main character of The Girl with the Ghost Eyes is a thinly veiled rewrite of Buffy with added martial arts combat, but no. Both Buffy and Li Lin are young women with supernatural powers who save the world … a lot. But, Li Lin and her story stand tall on their own.

I was pleasantly surprised that the story very quickly enters the supernatural realm. There is not a long “get to know the characters” build up at the beginning. We are plunged with Li Lin into a dangerous trip into the land of the dead.

We do get to know the characters and the complications of Li Lin’s life slowly over the course of the story. My favorite is Mr. Yanqiu, the ghost of Li Lin’s father’s eye, sent to rescue her. He is the best kind of companion who gives good, frank advice. Li Lin’s relationship with her father is complex due to mysteries of their past. Li Lin discovers a few clues to these mysteries along the way. By the end, however, the relationship is anything, but repaired. No happy ending wrapped up with a red ribbon here.

This is not just a young adult novel with a strong female character who kicks butt. We get an introduction to 19th century Chinese culture. Li Lin has to navigate not only the land of the dead, but the minefield of her own family and the crime based social structure of Chinatown.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more adventures of Li Lin and Mr. Yanqiu.

Disappointing Department 19

In Book Review on September 12, 2015 at 4:02 am

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Department 19

Will teen age boys like this? Yes. Will I donate it to my library? Yes. Will I recommend it? Unlikely. Is it good writing? No, most definitely, not.

It seems more like Mr. Hill was trying to write an action film. An action film that went on, and on, and on. It is a string of wild goose chases (and cliches). By page 275, I had figured out who the traitor was, but had to slog through 176 more pages for the reveal. Then, it was a Dr. Evil “blah, blah, blah” style explanation of how he had betrayed them and why repeating everything that the reader already knew.

I’m a bit surprised that it didn’t start with “It was a dark and stormy night…” It did have phases like “blood soaked room” and a three paragraph long description of a helicopter landing. There is a great deal of unnecessary description which I found tedious. Description was often lame. “Standing over Stevenson was a huge grey wolf, as large as a small car.” He seemed to think that the reader needed to know the gender and age of minor vampires at the moment they were staked. “The projectile flew high, tearing off the upper half of the head of a vampire man in his twenties.” How is that relevant information?

During the last 100 pages, I became convinced that Mr. Hill hadn’t read his own writing. During the discovery of the aftermath of the attack on the Russian base, he describes how the blood has soaked through the snow that has fallen since the attack, but the Director stumbles on the first corpse which is covered by snow which has somehow NOT been soaked with the blood of the corpse below it, even though the blood is pooled around the corpse. Which is it?

There was an interesting story hidden in there, but a serious editing would have helped. Unfortunately, it seems that editors at publishing houses don’t actually edit anything. A good story requires interesting ideas, but the execution should result in a pleasant reading experience. This was not pleasant.

However, teenage boys who like monsters, action and shoot-em-up plot lines will love this.

Jackaby and Abigail Rook

In Book Review on July 31, 2015 at 5:31 pm

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Jackaby
by William Ritter
ISBN 9781616203535

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Beastly Bones
By William Ritter
ISBN 9781616203542

These books are wonderful. Well written, smart, funny, unpredictable — all the things I expect from a good book.

Abigail Rook is a young English woman who has very bravely defied her parents’ plans for her to have a conventional life as the wife of a man with a good career. Abigail wants to have a career of her own. Even though she made a brave choice, her first adventure didn’t go so well and we meet her as she steps onto American shores with only her suitcase and a few coins and no plan.

She answers a peculiar job ad and meets the very peculiar R. F. Jackaby, a Sherlockian detective who possesses perception of the supernatural. (The publisher has pitched this as Sherlock/Dr. Who.) Jackaby uses his supernatural perception to solve unusual cases, but he actually lacks a perception of the non-supernatural clues. This is the gap that Abigail fills. She is very good at the skills of deduction as applied to “normal” observations. They proceed to have grand investigatory adventures.

Abigail Rook is a very strong female lead character. That isn’t so uncommon in YA literature these days — Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games, Tris of Divergent, etc., — but Abigail really stands out. (Book Riot has a great list of books with strong female characters and I agree whole heartedly with what they say about Abigail in Jackaby. Read the whole list here.)

Quote from Book Riot:

It [Jackaby] also features a headstrong, yet realistically written female protagonist name Abigail Rook. She doesn’t fall in love with the male lead, R. F. Jackaby. She doesn’t pine after him. She voices her opinion and comes to her own conclusions. If you want a little escapism without that annoying damsel-in-distress or love triangle distraction, read Jackaby.

In the first book, Abigail meets and becomes friends with Jenny, a kind of older sister figure. Jenny picks up on the fact that Abigail is attracted to the handsome, young police officer, Charlie, and encourages Abigail to follow her heart. Jenny is a sweet old fashioned girl. In Beastly Bones, Abigail meets the fiercely independent Nellie Fuller who advises Abigail that “men are never worth it.” Nellie is certain that a woman must choose between romance and career. Never the twain shall meet. Abigail is torn between the two extremes that women are often presented with. We must choose family or career. Jackaby gives Abigail the best advice: “So often,” Jackaby said, “people think that when we arrive at a crossroads, we can choose only one path, but — as I have often and articulately postulated — people are stupid. We’re not walking the path. We are the path. We are all of the roads and all of the intersections. Of course you can choose both.” (p.187)

In the world of YA, this is a breath of fresh air. YA novels are fraught with crushes, break-ups, and, worst of all, love triangles. Even when a female character is strong, romance usually means sacrifice. I have a feeling that our Miss Rook will get to be both great and happy.

Tiger’s Curse

In Book Review on July 31, 2015 at 2:37 pm

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Tiger’s Curse

Contemporary Oregonian girl meets ancient Indian curse. That sums it up. Kelsey stumbles into a summer job with a traveling circus that comes to her town. Her duties vary, including being involved in the care of the white tiger, the circus’s only exotic animal. The tiger is actually an Indian prince under a centuries old curse. Kelsey is soon involved in a journey to break the curse.

This is the second book I have read this year (2014) in which the plot idea is good, but the execution falls short. This book could have used more editorial assistance; blunt, honest criticism. The traveling circus is just a device for getting contemporary American girl together with cursed tiger/prince. I happen to be an Oregonian and I haven’t seen a traveling circus there (with actual exotic animals) in decades. There would be too much protesting to make it viable. The thought that a summer temp worker would be charged with handling a dangerous animal pushes the credibility limits. Despite this, I thought, it’s just an awkward set up, maybe the story will improve.

Then the story moves to India and it soon became clear to me that the author had not actually been to India. Unfortunately, fantasy writers think they don’t have to write about what they know. They can invent imaginary places. That is true, but does not apply if they set their story in real places and cultures. According to the acknowledgements at the end of the book, the author ran the manuscript past an Indian reader/editor for accuracy. It still would have helped if she had actually taken even just one trip to India.

There were also strange writing choices, like a four paragraph description of the private jet restroom versus a single paragraph description of the tiger morphing into a man.

Then there is the romance aspect of the story. I will admit that I do not read romance novels because I find them tedious and uninteresting. Same holds here. A passionate and strong bond forms between Kelsey and Ren with a love triangle option in the brother Kishan. Kelsey repeatedly jerks Ren around. Then Ren decides two can play at that game and becomes a smarmy jerk. Kelsey keeps jerking him around and then breaks it off and runs away, because she thinks it will never work out. Most of this should have been cut out. It was thoroughly annoying.

There are three more books in this series. I will not be reading them. I suspect it could have been edited down into a single, really good story. Unfortunately, we won’t get to read that story.

(I delayed publishing this review because it is so negative, but having had time to gain some distance and re-read it, I stand by every word.)