Monday, July 12, 2021

Review - Anomaly

Anomaly
(The Blood Race #0.5)
by K. A. Emmons
Date: 2020
Publisher: K. A. Emmons
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 150
Format: e-book
Source: author

14-year-old Ion Jacobs just wants to belong to a family and feel normal. But his past is a mystery, his future is a question, and his whole life is about to change.

Tossed from one foster home to another and shadowed by his mysterious past, Ion fears he’ll never fit in — until one day, when he drops a pencil and instead of falling to the floor…it floats.

Shocked and bewildered, Ion searches deeper and discovers an undeniable truth about himself: he possesses extraordinary powers beyond his control. Healing injuries, levitating objects, and superhuman strength come as easy to him as breathing. Now Ion only has one goal: make sure no one finds out what he’s capable of.

Struggling to keep his newfound abilities a secret, Ion finds himself more isolated than ever — until he meets a mysterious stranger in the woods who seems to understand Ion better than anyone else. As tensions rise at home with his new foster family, Ion finds it harder and harder to control his powers. And when he accidentally sparks a fire that nearly destroys their home, Ion is forced to face the reality of his situation: not only is he capable of healing — he’s also capable of fatal destruction.

Anomaly is the gripping paranormal prequel to The Blood Race series by K.A. Emmons.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I recently read The Blood Race, which was the first book published in this series. I was curious to try this novella-length freebie for a couple of reasons: 1) to see if the author's writing had improved over the course of three years, and 2) to see if some backstory would help me understand the characters in The Blood Race better. The answers? 1) no, and 2) yes.

I should love this series. But there are some major problems with the writing, pacing, and character development that prevent me from doing so. Anomaly moves along at a much quicker pace than The Blood Race, with fewer halts in the action so that people can have boring conversations. I did like getting to know Ion in this book. And we actually get to know something about him! With The Blood Race, it was almost as if we were missing something, and we were dropped into the middle of the story with characters we were supposed to already be familiar with (which is a problem, given that it was the "first" book). I never really got a feeling for who Ion was in The Blood Race, even though other characters kept telling us what kind of person he was. (Unfortunately, these explanations didn't mesh with what we were shown.) In Anomaly, we meet a confused 14-year-old kid who's having some very strange things happen to him. And he has no support system because he's a foster kid who's been placed with a family of stereotypes. So... life is rough.

Unfortunately, that little bit of character development in Ion doesn't cancel out all the other problems the book has. The main character's voice is off; he's supposed to be a 14-year-old boy, but he talks like a 20-something woman who reads lots of self-help and spirituality books. Most of the characters speak very formally, but it's not as bad as in The Blood Race, where you could be forgiven for thinking there'd been some sort of time-slip into Regency England. What really gets my goat about these books, however, is the editing. The continuity problems are awful here, just as they are in The Blood Race, and I'm starting to wonder if editors just skim and call it a day. A particularly egregious example of what I'm talking about can be found in chapters 15 and 16. It starts by referring to a "navy" sky. So it's probably night (or close to it). But a few pages later, we're told the sidewalk is painted a "pale pinkish-gray by the setting sun". Two paragraphs later, it's "dark". Two paragraphs after that, "the sky was getting dark". I mean, it doesn't take a professional editor to know that the sun doesn't bounce up and down like a rubber ball... but that appears to be what's happening here!

If I were to recommend this series to someone, I'd probably tell them to start with Anomaly. It sets up the character of Ion Jacobs much better than in the official first book of the series. But I'd be very careful about who I recommended this series to; if they're detail oriented and prefer characters who seem at home in their chosen genre and time period, I might suggest they look elsewhere.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 1/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review - Death by Airship

Death by Airship

by Arthur Slade
Date: 2019
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 128
Format: paperback
Source: library

Prince Conn will never be king. And that's just fine with him. He's ninth in line for the pirate throne and is quite happy to sail the skies in his airship with his crew of cheery misfits, plundering as they go. But one by one his siblings are being murdered, in tragic fires, violent cannon attacks or mysterious poisonings. Soon all fingers are pointing toward Conn as the mastermind. To prove his innocence, Conn must make his way to Skull Island, navigating his airship through a gauntlet of villains, explosions and betrayals. Can he reach his father's kingdom before it's too late? Or will he suffer the same fate as the rest of his family?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was looking for a short YA book. This is short, but my library had it shelved wrong. But I figured, "Why not?" I'd read another book by Slade before, and it wasn't terrible, so I thought I'd give Death by Airship a try.

Disclaimer: I am not an eleven-year-old boy.

Maybe, if I had been, I would've liked this more. Maybe I wouldn't have been bothered by the physics-defying feats or the lack of logic. Maybe I wouldn't have thought it was so darn goofy. Maybe I wouldn't have seen the villain coming from miles away. Maybe I would've given the lacklustre resolution a pass. And maybe I wouldn't have seen the cover as a reject from a self-publisher's reject pile. (The book is not self-published... but that cover is doing it no favours.)

Still, if you like puns, snark, and silliness in a quasi-steampunk setting, you might like this more than I did. It's a quick, amusing read... but it definitely wasn't what I was expecting or looking for.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Review - The Blood Race

The Blood Race
(The Blood Race #1)
by K. A. Emmons
Date: 2017
Publisher: K. A. Emmons
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 321
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

All Ion Jacobs ever wanted was to be normal. But when you’re capable of killing with your very thoughts, it’s hard to blend in with the crowd.

Running from his past and living in fear of being discovered, Ion knows he will never be an average college student. But when Hawk, the beautiful, mysterious girl next door unearths his darkest secret, Ion’s life is flipped upside-down. He’s shocked to discover a whole world of people just like him -- a world in another dimension, where things like levitation, shape-shifting, and immortality are not only possible… they’re normal.

Forced to keep more secrets than ever before, Ion struggles to control his powers in the real world while commuting between realms -- until his arch enemy starts a fight he can’t escape. Now he has sealed the fate of the Dimension, severing their connection to the real world, and locking himself inside forever. But a deadly threat hidden in plain sight may cost Ion more than just his freedom -- it may cost him his life.

The Blood Race is the first book in K.A. Emmons' riveting new sci-fi/fantasy thriller series. If you like epic urban fantasy, fresh takes on super powers, deep allegories, raw emotions and intricate plots that surprise you at every turn, you'll love the first novel in Emmons' page-turning series. Grab your copy of The Blood Race and delve into a new dimension today!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's taken me over two months to read this book. Given that it's not very long, that should tell you something. I wish I could say that I'm not the audience for this, or that it just wasn't my cup of tea. Unfortunately, this book has a lot that's objectively wrong with it.

K. A. Emmons is also known as Kate Emmons, sister of Abbie Emmons who wrote and self-published 100 Days of Sunlight a couple years ago. (You can read my review for Abbie's book here.) The sisters host a podcast called The Kate & Abbie Show where they gab about writing and storytelling. Given this, and after being impressed by the brief sample on Amazon, I bought The Blood Race and hoped to enjoy it. Let's just say that I expected a lot more from someone who purports to be some sort of writing guru.

I think the first problem is that she's marketing this as YA sci-fi/fantasy. It's not. It's NA crossworlds fantasy... but with a weird insistence on keeping things squeaky clean. Nineteen-year-olds are chastised for using the word "frickin'", for example. The very worst language this book offers is three instances of "shit" (and yet, that was enough to get some reviewers' panties in a terrible twist; it makes me wonder if they've ever been around real 21st-century teenagers).

The second big problem is the obvious mismatch between chosen genre and writing style. I was misled by the sample, because that first chapter is an action-packed one. But from there, things slow to a crawl, and the reader is treated to session after session of stilted dialogue that sounds like it would be more at home in a Regency-era drawing room. (Kate has admitted in the podcast that she doesn't read a lot of fiction. She does, however, watch BBC historical dramas. These two points are reinforced through her writing style.)

Much action is skipped over with dry paragraphs of the characters telling us what transpired. And it's not even linear. As the point of view switches back and forth, so does the timeline jump around so that we're often thrown back a few hours so that we can see a scene from the other character's point of view. This threw me a few times, and I wondered if I'd missed something... only to realize that it was just another clumsy transition.

That's what the whole story seemed to me: clumsy. I can see the glimmer of a good idea here, but it's hidden behind weak plotting, white-room syndrome, and underdeveloped characters. Much of the character development of our leads, Icarus and Hawk, consists of other characters making observations about them... even when those traits aren't shown to the reader. And I was never quite sure who the main character was supposed to be. The blurb makes it sound like Icarus... and yet, it's Hawk (I'm assuming) on the cover, and Hawk who's the more developed of the two. Abbie had the same problem in 100 Days of Sunlight, with her secondary main character of Weston kind of stealing the show. Unfortunately, Hawk isn't anywhere near as likeable as Weston, and yet we're forced to be in her head for half the book.

This review is already way longer than I intended, so I'll just mention one more thing, and that's the editing. I realize this is a self-published book, but when so many of these indie authors are so adamant about the necessity of using outside editors, I really expect better in the way of typos and errors. The continuity errors, in particular, are some of the worst I've ever come across. It makes me wonder if people don't actually read books anymore, but merely skim; am I the only one who's noticing when people are lounging on a picnic blanket, and the next instant they're standing on the edge of a cliff, about to head back to their picnic blanket? (There was a gaffe like this in many of the chapters, which made for some frustrating reading.)

I'm in the minority, though. People seem to like this book, judging by its overall rating. The ending is a "cliffhanger"... but I have no desire to continue with the series. If you like clean NA fantasy with little swearing and aren't a nitpicker when you read, you might get more out of this than I did. If, however, you're looking for YA sci-fi/fantasy with teenagers who actually talk and act like teenagers, you're liable to be disappointed.

(All that being said, I would be interested to see what Kate could do if she tried her hand at writing historical fiction or high fantasy. The overly formal dialogue style she seems to be fond of would work much better in those genres than it does in a contemporary fantasy setting.)

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 1/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Review - The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel

by Mariah Marsden
illustrated by Hanna Luechtefeld
Date: 2021
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Green-growing secrets and magic await you at Misselthwaite Manor, now reimagined in this graphic novel adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale.

Ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at a secluded estate on the Yorkshire moors with a scowl and a chip on her shoulder. First, there’s Martha Sowerby: the too-cheery maid with bothersome questions who seems out of place in the dreary manor. Then there’s the elusive Uncle Craven, Mary’s only remaining family—whom she’s not permitted to see. And finally, there are the mysteries that seem to haunt the run-down place: rumors of a lost garden with a tragic past, and a midnight wail that echoes across the moors at night.

As Mary begins to explore this new world alongside her ragtag companions—a cocky robin redbreast, a sour-faced gardener, and a boy who can talk to animals—she learns that even the loneliest of hearts can grow roots in rocky soil.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite classics, so of course I jumped at the chance to read this graphic novel adaptation of the story. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations, it doesn't do the original story justice, and it's liable to annoy people who are tired of whitewashed history.

The main problem I see here is that, if you don't know the original story, you're going to be confused because the format leads to a glossing-over of many plot points and the character development is weak (and inconsistent with the original). For some reason, the decision was made to remove any mentions of India from the story (purportedly because "they don't do justice to the history of British oppression in colonial India"), rendering Mary an inexplicable orphan with no backstory and no reason for her appalling behaviour toward those she feels are beneath her. The British were in India and they acted like racist jerks; can we please not try to "fix" the problem by ignoring it?

In the original story, Mary is a lot more sour. Here, we see a badly developed child character going through the motions of the story. Even the artwork doesn't really convey the emotions of this hurt little girl very well, as the drawings make everyone look much the same. Colin is probably the best developed out of all of them, but only because he's such an over-the-top character to begin with.

I can't put my finger on the intended audience here, either. There's not a ton of text (there are many panels with no text at all), so it might be okay for younger readers. However, like I mentioned earlier, those who are unfamiliar with the original story are liable to be confused and/or underwhelmed by the rather thin plot as it's presented here. There is some historical information at the back, along with a strange glossary that defines many words that are only used in the author's note. While the factual information about Frances Hodgson Burnett, India, and the English countryside is nice, I don't really know why we needed a glossary. (And I don't know why India was too taboo a topic to include in the graphic novel itself, when it was okay to put in the notes at the end.)

Perhaps fans of the novel who want to read every adaptation will get more out of this than I did. I love the original story... but this graphic novel definitely did not measure up.

Thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Review - The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

by Charlie Mackesy
Date: 2019
Publisher: Ebury Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

Discover the very special book that has captured the hearts of millions of readers all over the world.

'A wonderful work of art and a wonderful window into the human heart' Richard Curtis

A book of hope for uncertain times.

Enter the world of Charlie's four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared millions of times online - perhaps you've seen them? They've also been recreated by children in schools and hung on hospital walls. They sometimes even appear on lamp posts and on cafe and bookshop windows. Perhaps you saw the boy and mole on the Comic Relief T-shirt, Love Wins?

Here, you will find them together in this book of Charlie's most-loved drawings, adventuring into the Wild and exploring the thoughts and feelings that unite us all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not usually a fan of picture books that are aimed at adults. And despite the fact that this is about a little boy and a trio of animals, I can't really see this appealing to very young children. It's mostly just a collection of insights and sayings, accompanied by rather abstract, scribbly illustrations, that would be perfectly at home on coffee mugs and t-shirts.

But, you know what? It's still incredibly charming.

Aside from the questionable grammar and the sometimes hard-to-read text (cursive-impaired millennials should have fun!), the book is strong, with a lovely premise and engaging characters. The plot is thin, but this is a book that's focussed more on "being" than on "doing"... so it works.

This is a book that's pretty much all quotable moments, so it was hard to choose a favourite! But I think the horse's advice is very wise...

Quotable moment:


Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Review - Camelea Like a Seagull

Camelea Like a Seagull
(Camelea #1)
by Frank Chaput & Suzanne Gohier
illustrated by Suzanne Gohier
Date: 2013
Publisher: Camelea inc.
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

After a great birthday celebration for her brother, Camelea is too excited to sleep. Replaying the events of the day in her head, she finds a way to calm down. Camelea’s fantasy hairdo helps her fall asleep easily.

Using the power of her imagination, Camelea finds within herself the confidence to face her fears. Her enthusiasm and resourcefulness are an inspiration to children as they learn to meet the challenges of everyday life.

Immerse yourself in the fantasy world of Camelea. Discover the ways she has found to build her confidence and feel good about herself.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm really not sure what to make of this. It's free, inoffensive, and colourful. It's also not that interesting.

The actual book really doesn't deliver what the blurb promises. Basically, Camelea is waiting for her brother's birthday party. She sees some flowers. Her mother braids her hair to resemble them. She sees a seagull and gets mesmerized by the waters of the lake. She dances at the party. There are fireworks. Everyone is too excited to sleep... so Camelea imagines that her hair is water.

Got that?

The "plot" (such as it is) is meandering and rather vague. The ending is trippy. And the whole thing reads as if we're dropped into the middle of the series, when this is actually the first book. Characters are just named, and you're supposed to figure out who they are. (I'm still not sure who Carl is. Uncle? Cousin? Who knows?)

The illustrations are... strange. There are drawings combined with photographic elements, and while the end result is colourful and not awful to look at, it also has a weird, surreal sort of quality, and all the characters look like Lilo from Lilo & Stitch. (I did like the illustration of all the boys in their sleeping bags, though. That was cute.)

Overall, this is probably a book I'll soon forget. It's not completely terrible, though, and it's free, so there's no harm in giving it a try.

Premise: 1/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Review - Spring Stinks

Spring Stinks

by Ryan T. Higgins
Date: 2021
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Ruth the bunny is excited to share the smells of spring with Bruce, but Bruce thinks spring stinks!

Fans of the best-selling Mother Bruce series will cheer for this festive book blooming with visual humor just right for our littlest readers.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

While this isn't quite at the same level as the Mother Bruce books, it's still an entertaining little book about an exuberant bunny named Ruth who tries to engage Bruce the bear with all the scents of spring.

There's not much of a story like there is in the other books. This would probably be more suited to very young readers. The illustrations are great, though, with funny facial expressions and cute critters romping through the pages. I can't really find much to fault there.

While I was hoping for another story about the curmudgeonly bear and his geese kids, I'm not too disappointed by this little diversion. Fans of Bruce will surely eat it up.

Quotable moment:


Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5