Friday 29 April 2022

Review: Nine Tenths

Nine Tenths Nine Tenths by Jeff Macfee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard-boiled, thoroughly so. In an alternate version of our world in which "augments" (superheroes) exist, the narrator ekes out a precarious living as a repo man, repossessing augmented technology from superheroes, supervillains, and people who just think the stuff is cool, but can't afford to keep up the payments on it. He himself is struggling to pay for his daughter's cancer treatment, which is his motivation throughout the plot. This drives him to conceal key information from his partner, to get himself into multiple dangerous situations (causing him to be beaten up and otherwise maimed), and eventually to (view spoiler).

It's not a happy story, which made it less than completely to my taste and dropped it down to the bronze tier of my Best of the Year list. It is a well-told, well-written story, though, with a strong and believable set of motivations for a flawed yet relatable character to continue to struggle against the odds.

I never did figure out what the title refers to.

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Monday 25 April 2022

Review: The Haunted High Series Complete Boxed Set: Books 1-5

The Haunted High Series Complete Boxed Set: Books 1-5 The Haunted High Series Complete Boxed Set: Books 1-5 by Cheree Alsop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An adequately engaging and admirable protagonist kept me slogging through the seriously inept copy editing and occasional timeline, plot, and worldbuilding issues, but all of those did detract significantly, and took my rating down to three stars.

Not just another Potterclone, which is what got me to buy it. You could make a few parallels, but they're not close; more a matter of characters that are superficially similar in their role but are taken in a completely different direction. That's good. There are too many made-from-box-mix supernatural school stories and not enough original ones.

In the first couple of books, the MC skips an absurd number of meals and nights' sleep. He's a 16-year-old boy, an athlete, and a werewolf; you'd think he needed a lot of food and rest. Fortunately, that settles down a bit after a while. Also in the first book, (view spoiler) The kids never seem to face any consequences from absenting themselves from school without permission to do things that adults couldn't do, either (though the question of "why can these kids do it if the adults can't?" is at least addressed).

The main character is a bit of a paragon, but not a complete Gary Stu; a lot of people dislike him (at least initially, though they do tend to become his allies too easily), he can't automatically do everything (though sometimes he, and other characters, suddenly develop previously unforeshadowed capabilities at convenient moments), and things often don't go his way, at least not without a lot of effort and suffering (though sometimes he comes up with solutions on the fly which work despite, again, no foreshadowing of how they would do so). There's an in-universe, plausible explanation for why he's always getting into the situations he gets into: (view spoiler)

The copy editing is woeful. Mostly homonym errors (including multiple instances of it's/its and you're/your), but all of the common issues turn up at one time or another. One of the teachers is named Briggs, and when his name is used in the possessive it's almost always punctuated as "Brigg's" instead of "Briggs'". A number of missing commas before terms of address, which to me always screams "amateur". Lots and lots of sloppy typos, too, and several fumbled idioms. I have definitely seen worse, but this is a shockingly low level of quality for an author who claims to be bestselling and award-winning. If it was copy edited at all, it was either by someone who wasn't good at their job, or else started out so incredibly awful that even after a lot of work it's still bad.

The Kindle book is not formatted into chapters in a way that allows you to navigate between chapters or see how much reading time is left in the chapter you're reading.

A warning, too, that there's a great deal of suffering, violence, cruelty and torture in this one. There's a group setting out to destroy the "monsters," and I'll give you one guess as to who the true monsters are. I got a bit sick of all the cruelty after a while, and started to wonder how, given the death rate we're shown, the obviously large population of "mythics" manage to keep themselves hidden from modern society, especially when many of them can't pass as human. Also, why the school isn't bigger. Maybe there are several, but if so, wouldn't there be more separation of the different groups, since they supposedly can't work together at all? Even though going to school together (or anything that gets different groups interacting) is one of the strongest ways of breaking down exactly that kind of prejudice? There are several very large groups (and at least one individual) equipped with headquarters, vehicles, weapons, fancy and (presumably) expensive stun ammunition (necessary so that the protagonist is not a mass killer and can be shot repeatedly without dying, but not all that plausible otherwise), and no visible means of support. Are they dealing drugs? Knocking over banks? If so - or even if not - why do they not ping the radar of the mundane authorities? The worldbuilding doesn't bear close examination, in other words. In an action movie, you might get away with it by keeping the explosions and chases going as a distraction, but in book form it works less well, especially since the many prose errors kept throwing me out of my immersion, so the thinness of the logic in both the plot and the setting became especially noticeable.

Overall, it's a somewhat original and engaging story with a promising premise that unfortunately fails to reach a professional standard of quality in the execution. I won't be looking for more from this author.

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Tuesday 19 April 2022

Movie Review: Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

My wife and I have enjoyed the Miss Fisher mysteries (and the spinoff Ms Fisher mysteries, set 50 years later and involving a character who is somehow Miss Fisher's neice). They have excellent production values and are amusingly written and acted, but we weren't so enamoured of this one. 

It's not so much a Miss Fisher mystery as a piece of Miss Fisher fanfic, in which two of the established characters participate in rather a silly pulp adventure plot that's full of holes. I don't recall the supernatural being real in Miss Fisher prior to this, but this one has Indiana Jones-style mystic curses. Not to mention obviously misspelled Greek on a pillar that somehow always points to the same star even though the stars move around on a daily and annual basis and have shifted significantly since the time of Alexander the Great, when the pillar was supposedly set up; and an astrolabe from Alexander's time (the astrolabe was invented a century after Alexander's death) that somehow guides the characters to an exact place based on observations of the sun (I assume; it was being used during the day), even though there's no indication that they have anything to tell them what latitude they're looking for, and an astrolabe can't tell you longitude. There's even an occurrence of the hoary old trope of a fall into quicksand (popular as a hazard in adventure movies of the 1960s, but almost unheard of now, not least because humans can't actually sink all the way into quicksand), in the middle of the desert, where quicksand is unlikely. A character turns up, for dramatic purposes, near the end, even though there's really no plausible explanation for how that character could have followed the other characters and caught up to them. It's pretty dumb all the way around. 

Also, what is it with emeralds right now? There are two emeralds (including an implausibly large one, cut in an anachronistic manner) in this movie; there's another implausibly large one in Sonic 2, I believe; and they even came into the Agatha Raisin Christmas movie we watched yesterday. Has someone come up with a superior method of making prop emeralds or something? 

Anyway, it was amusing enough if you took it for what it was, but monumentally silly and not really a Miss Fisher story. I got the feeling that the writer wished she had the rights to Indiana Jones and made do with another property that was more accessible. Even the sets felt more like sets than the original series. 

Miss Fisher fans should probably avoid this one. Three stars, for being somewhat amusing. 

Tuesday 12 April 2022

Review: Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimers: I received a review copy of this book via the author's publicist and Netgalley, having become aware of it because the author is on the same writers' forum as me.

I greatly enjoyed the medieval Indian fantasy setting as a change from a medieval European fantasy setting, and (given that I have almost no prior knowledge) the setting felt well-researched without becoming the focus. There's a glossary at the back, but my Kindle's dictionary and Wikipedia between them adequately explained to me what the various foods, trees, items of clothing, and supernatural beings were, so I was able to follow the story and get a feel for what things looked like with minimal disruption to the flow. This isn't always the case with settings that are unfamiliar to me.

The plot took a stronger turn for the tragic than I was anticipating about a quarter of the way through (not that the blurb didn't warn me), and the protagonist had a really bad time of it. However, she persevered with courage, intelligence and resourcefulness, and made good use of her allies, all of which is what I look for in a protagonist.

I did struggle a little with suspension of disbelief about a couple of the key plot elements. The protagonist is betrayed, and to me, it was difficult to believe that the people who betrayed her could have concealed their treachery so effectively for so long. (view spoiler) However, everything else in the plot was well justified, including the romance (both people involved were actually admirable).

The adventure portions, which took the main focus, were varied, well handled and suspenseful, with action scenes that meant something and weren't just there for their own sake. The minor characters I found a little difficult to keep straight sometimes, since they're not strongly individual, but the major characters acted believably and developed over the course of the book.

All in all, sound and solid. I enjoyed it, and will look for other books by this author.

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Monday 11 April 2022

Review: The Little Nugget

The Little Nugget The Little Nugget by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought I'd read this before - I vaguely remember a hard-copy version kicking around somewhere, years ago - but I didn't remember it when I got into the text, so maybe not.

Another early Wodehouse, and one of the better ones, for my money. The use of blatant coincidence to get a small cast connected in multiple ways and into the same place at the same time is still there, but it's somehow not quite as obtrusive as in some of the other early books. The narrator of most of the book is less of a prize ass than most of Wodehouse's narrators; he makes stupid errors, yes, but he's well aware of how stupid they are, and learns from them. He's brave and resourceful and loyal, and has a backstory in which he's changed because of a painful event, and he experiences some more character growth in the course of the story. Nor is he the only character to do so.

There's a strong romance thread to the plot, complicated in good ways by believable character motivations. There's action, as is frequently the case in early Wodehouse, with gangsters and guns. (Wodehouse makes an error here, describing a Browning automatic several times as a "revolver".) There are several memorable characters, including Ogden, the objectionable 14-year-old of the title, who is a magnet for kidnappers because of his father's wealth. (He recurs in another early novel, Picadilly Jim , in which he finally gets the comeuppance he so richly deserves for being a complete little sod.)

The hero is deputized by his manipulative fiancée to kidnap this boy on behalf of his mother, who is the fiancée's friend (the fiancée also has a financial motive which she doesn't disclose to him); the boy's parents are separated, and his father has custody, because his mother is a fool about him and spoils him abominably. The hero therefore takes on the role of an assistant master at the school where Ogden is enrolled. While there, he meets someone important from his past, and encounters several professional kidnappers who are after Ogden: the aptly-nicknamed Smooth Sam Fisher and his hard-boiled competitor.

An oddity of these early Wodehouse books - which were published, often with different titles, on both sides of the Atlantic - is that they pretend that an educated English accent and an educated American accent are indistinguishable by ear. At least, nobody ever seems to figure out that an educated character is American just from hearing them speak.

While they're not as farcical and constantly comedic as his later and better-known work, I find these early works make up for that by including more interiority and character development, more developed romances, and more action and suspense. I could almost wish that Wodehouse had continued to develop these aspects of his craft, though the farces are hilarious and perfect of their kind. While this one has his usual effortless prose, it doesn't offer quite as much in the way of language play and fun as others of his books; the voice of the narrator is more serious and less foolish. I didn't feel the comedy was lacking, and enjoyed the other aspects, but others will have a different view of the balance.

This makes my annual Best of the Year list, though in the lowest tier; the author still had plenty of development of his craft ahead of him, but I did enjoy it, and I recommend it to other Wodehouse fans.

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Tuesday 5 April 2022

Review: Manners and Monsters Collection, #1-3

Manners and Monsters Collection, #1-3 Manners and Monsters Collection, #1-3 by Tilly Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Entertaining, but falls a little short in several ways.

There are four main threads going on. One is an extremely slow-burn romance (view spoiler), so slow-burn that it doesn't qualify as the driving force for the series in my mind. One is a mystery in each of the books; in the first and third, especially, the murderer was very obvious to me long before the characters worked it out, and I guessed the second one before they did too, so the mystery plots, though filled with good investigative process, were not as satisfying as they could have been. One is finding a cure for a curse enacted by the French during the Napoleonic wars, which has resulted in a number of highly-placed members of English society, including the main character's mother, becoming undead; little progress is made on finding the cure during the first three books, though it's always being worked on and kept before the reader's mind. And the last thread is the Regency setting, which occasionally stumbles over an anachronism. For example, the author brings the craze for seances forward from the mid-19th century to the early 19th century, and gives us, at one point, a Ouija board (not called that, but obviously that), which wasn't invented until the 1880s. Sure, it's historical fantasy, and there can be some anachronisms, but those particular anachronisms seemed not to have much purpose, and I had to wonder whether they were deliberate or accidental. There's an anachronistic-seeming piece of scientific method at one point, too.

More significant is the fact that, although it's mentioned at one point that the heroine can't visit an unmarried man unchaperoned, she wanders around half London unchaperoned with the hero and nobody seems to care at all.

Punctuation is usually correct, but there are a few dangling modifiers, comma splices, and vocabulary errors, including "omnipotent" for "omniscient" and "minds" for "brains". The author frequently refers to people being "interred" (which means "buried") in a facility where they are in fact "interned" - kept locked up to prevent them possibly doing harm.

She confuses gentry and nobility at one point (though at least she doesn't refer to nobles as "royals"), calls someone a "peer" who does not herself hold a noble title, and several times has people address the hero as "milord" when they have no way of knowing he's a viscount. In one case, it's specifically noted that he's not dressed "like a toff".

She misspells the name "Jonathan" consistently as "Jonathon". A (rather amusing) disembodied and self-aware hand is euphemistically named a "Romanian hamster" in one book, and in the next book has, without notice, become a "Hungarian hamster".

All these are minor irritations, but they added up, for me, to an overall impression of something a little bit scruffy and sub-par. That's a pity, because the big strength of these books is the characters- who are appealing and well drawn, and whose concerns engaged me.

They engaged me to the point that I happily read all three books, and that I want to read the next three. But the scruffiness means that I'm not quite prepared to pay full price for them. I don't feel that the quality is there to justify it.

It also means that, while this collection just squeaks in to my Best of the Year list, it comes in at the lowest tier. I've read far, far worse Regency novels, but the standard of the fantasy Regency novels I've been reading lately has generally been higher than this.

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