Calves In The Mud Room

Calves In The Mud Room

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. The entire book takes place over maybe a day, and it’s a snippet of the life of a boy in a broken home. I tend to go into books blind – sometimes it helps me judge the book for what it is. Not always, but there’s plenty of times where I dive straight into a book, and that’s what I did here. Knowing nothing about it, the title “Calves in the Mud Room” sounded a lot sillier than the book is.

The overall plot is pretty simple. Wade has been asked to go with her to a dance by Glory, a cheerleader. On the day of the dance the cows on his farm start giving birth, and because his mother and step-dad are extremely unreliable people in his life, he has to take care of the cows himself. He ends up going to the dance late and Glory is mad at him. He deals with a variety of issues, from cows’ and calves’ lives depending on him, an abusive stepfather, his peers shunning him and having to take care of his little siblings.

I wasn’t as captivated by the book as some other reviewers seem to have been. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. There’s a lot of talk about the prose, but it wasn’t really for me. It works fine at some parts, but there were a lot of lists that I thought were unnecessary.

The back of the old truck hauls scattered stems of straw and alfalfa leaves, a scoop shovel (no handle), a pitchfork, a dented spray can of DW40, a rusty set of tire chains, a flattened box of windshield wipers, one battery cable (black), an empty red gas can (no cap), a wad of bent-up barb wire, miles of orange twine, a spool of electric fence wire, rubber irrigation boots, a run-over straw hat, an empty tub of horse vitamins, and one old fallen-down cowboy boot with the spur still riding the heel (left foot).

Wade collects a bent screwdriver, an ice scraper, a heavy-duty metal cutter (you could cut a car open with this puppy), a socket set still in the red plastic holder, two Crescent wrenches (one about four inches long, the other about two feet), a hoof scraper, a flashlight (still works), an unopened can of Udder Balm, and one frozen flat glove (right hand, hole in thumb).

On the dash sits opened and unopened mail, bills and statements, a flier for a used hayin’ package (cutter, baler and rake) marked down from 25 grand to 17; a cigar box full of paper clips, rubber bands, pens, pencils, two black sharpies and four silver dollars (minted in 1896); a box of horseshoe nails, a red Conoco Hottest Brand Going to-go cup, an empty staple gun, a pocket calendar from Barlow’s Feed with appointments and the day’s temperatures, and the calving log book for the last few years (#9919 eats rocks).

He removes the garbage, recycling, dog food, bottles of bleach, detergent, household sprays, cleaners, rat poison, boots, shoes, jackets, gloves and hats. Anything the calf might get into.

There’s broken glass, pizza crust and French fries under the coffee table. On top are Burger King bags, a greasy pizza box, half-eaten slices, specks of mushroom, chunks of cheeseburger, decapitated Bud Light longnecks, a passed out bottle of Cuervo Gold and a smashed fifth of Black Jack.

This sort of listing sneaks into some of the dialogue, too.

Medium lapels, three button, single vent, silk interlining, sharp, clean lines at the shoulder, fitted under the arms, tapered at the waist with a slight flair.

Yeah, she’s going to make some wannabe mid-level-executive-master-of-the-universe dude a real good trophy wife. Get her own McMansion out there on Dry Lake, Lexus SUV hybrid, Nordstrom card, Costco membership, jet ski in July, downhill in January, a little tennis on Tuesdays, a little golf on Thursdays, a nanny, her skinny double pump vanilla latte no whip, couple of brats on Ratlin, drag her droopy boobs and sorry cookie dough baby butt to Curves for some cardio, maybe some yoga without the meditating-touchy-feely-tofu parts.

At times the dialogue was strange to me, and sometimes things were unclear. He flashes back to a discussion with his grandfather when he puts on his suit. They talked about suit his grandfather gave him and the grandfather’s time in New York after coming back from Korea, then suddenly it’s back in the present without much indicator. You might assume that a switch from past and present tense would be the indicator, but like many books that use present tense it often shifts, so in the middle of a flashback it says:

He’s too young to be familiar with…

If I were to describe the prose, for me it was reminiscent of old 1990’s roleplays on telnet. (I know, this is a pretty specific example). Way back when, people would use telnet to roleplay in text over the internet. These places were called MU*’s (MUCK, MUD, MUSH, MUSE…) People could create a character and set things like text descriptions for them, and when you ‘looked’ at another character you would get their description. The current closest thing to this would probably be something like character descriptions in WoW, but I’m less familiar with that.

Anyway, when people wrote these descriptions they would always try to make them as fancy as possible. You wouldn’t have “black hair”, you’d have a “waterfall of ebony strands”. Never blue eyes. Always “sapphire orbs shimmering in the moonlight”. It was purple prose at its finest. When I started this book that was the first thing I thought of. We start off with “juicy fruit lips,” “dark chocolate eyes,” “honey-streaked corn silk hair,” etc. Now, every sentence wasn’t like that, but it was enough that I was occasionally lost when an excessive description was used for something simple. In the very first sentence I was confused because I didn’t know where the character was and after a lengthy description of a girl it was telling me his headlights were falling on “rump roast, rib eyes, t-bones, tenderloins, flank strips, hot dogs and moo-burger…” (there’s those lists again). I thought he might have been related to a butcher or something and was literally looking at hanging meat.

To me, for a joke “rump roast” would have been plenty. It would have been short and simple. It spent so time telling me all kinds of meat that I thought he was looking at meat before it told me it was a full cow. Here’s part of the original (the first line is too long, I’m not going to copy it all):

Visions of Glory Schoonover […] vanish the instant the truck lights sweep through the pin streaks of snow and gunmetal fog and land on the smoky blobs of rump roast, rib eyes, t-bones, tenderloins, flank strips, hot dogs and moo-burger piling up at the gate and blocking Wade Summers’ way.
Stupid cows. Stand in cow shit all day cows.

I think it’s too lengthy. I’d prefer to see:

Visions of Glory Schoonover […] vanish the instant the truck lights sweep through the snow and land on the rump roasts blocking Wade Summers’ way.
Stupid cows. Stand in cow shit all day cows.

You get to the point quicker without getting too convoluted. Cows are blocking his way.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the story at first. It seemed depressing to me, and I’m not usually one who goes for depressing. Reading some other reviews though, I did see someone else’ take on it that I liked, about how one good person (his grandfather) can make a big difference in someone’s life.

Every single other person seemed to be horrible, including Wade at times. Maybe it’s just me, but the women seemed especially awful. I’m not even talking about Glory and the fact that she and her friends were upset at him for being late for their date. That, I get. Mostly. It seemed a little odd to me that she would ask if something like “giving birth” could wait. Maggie was ready to ditch her own date for him. Rochelle had sex with him and then seemed suddenly mad at him the next day (she was most confusing because nothing had happened between them in the lapse of time). Even grown women are saying things like:

“Hon,” she says in a low voice, “with a big pony like Rose Stuffle, just use a fold of blubber instead of her vagina. She won’t mind and you won’t know the difference.”

That’s not even getting into his mom being a drunkard and selling off things he was supposed to inherit from his grandpa behind his back. There’s a constant feeling of anger coming from 90% of the characters and sometimes it’s unclear why. Maybe that’s why I just couldn’t get into it.

I wouldn’t say that this was a bad book, but it wasn’t for me. As a warning for some people who might be sensitive to this, not all of the calves survive.

I’d give it a 6/10.

Another Vanishing Act: A Novel

Another Vanishing Act: A Novel

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

This wasn’t a bad book but it didn’t grip me. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think I’ve got it. It’s not the errors. Though there were a decent amount of them, they weren’t too distracting. I think what it was for me is that the main protagonist, Dan, is very passive throughout the book. It’s more things happening to or around him than anything. I’m trying to think of something that he did, and I’m not coming up with anything. He’s told to do things or things happen and he reacts.

The story starts off with Dan fleeing because he has massive gambling debts. He gets a job at an apartment complex for seniors, where he ends up practically being a one-man-show and doing almost everything. While he’s there he’s approached by Simon with a scheme to get money: simply don’t report it when a senior passes on and take their income when it keeps coming.

Seems simple enough, but not long after that he starts suspecting that the “natural” deaths may not be so natural after all. And he never really does anything about it. Even his role in the scheme is very passive – all he does is pass on a list of residents that don’t get visitors. He doesn’t do much else.

The apartments house many residents, including cranky folks and a pair who have finally found romance. Dan himself happens to meet a woman named Betty and falls for her. I think this is where his passivity kills it. The reason he stays at the building when he suspects Simon is highly dangerous is that he wants to flee with Betty, so he has to convince her to come with him. So, what does he do to convince her?

Absolutely nothing. I don’t think he ever even asked her. But every time he thinks of leaving he uses her as an excuse for why he’s staying, when he hasn’t so much as said, “Want to move with me?” Almost 80% through the book Dan lamented the fact that he needed to convince Betty to leave with him, and I wrote the note: “Has he even asked her yet?”

The ending wraps up a bit abruptly with the senior residents figuring Simon out and ganging up on him. Dan, again, does very little here. I think there’s a part of the story that we seem to be left out of. I would have liked to see more of how the residents figured out what was going on. We overhear a conversation about them wanting to ‘look into it’, and there might have been a time when they gave Dan funny looks, but beyond that there wasn’t anything I can remember so it felt sudden at the end. I would have liked to see what detective skills they were using, how they were collaborating, and how they got organized at the end to trap him. I was also a little confused about Mr. Fryer’s involvement. We don’t really get a summary of everything everyone did in the scheme, and Dan doesn’t even see them most of the time.

That’s not to say it was a bad book. Maybe it just had the wrong protagonist. Imagine the same plot told from one of the tenant’s points of view. They suspect something is going on. Maybe they suspect Dan is involved, and then see both Simon and Dan at one of their events. Then they could see that Dan looks rather scared of Simon and think that he might be bein blackmailed. All the while they’re putting together clues and investigating, trying to figure out what’s happening to the disappearing residents and dealing with the different personalities of the residents. How do you keep Mrs. Zimmer from blabbing? Can you trust the guy who is in charge of taking care of you? How are the residents being killed off? Worse: could you be next? There’s quite a lot to work with here and it’s unfortunate that the book felt rather distant from the plot as Dan “kind-of-sort-of suspects things but doesn’t really do anything”.

I did like the relationships overall in this book. It was nice to see something a little different. Many books I read have relationships that can be summarized as “He’s hot/She’s hot”. Here it was more based on their personalities and their situations in life.

I bet a good editor could do a lot with this book. If the author has an opportunity to hire an editor (I know it’s expensive) I would recommend it.

I give it a 7/10. A fine read that can use some tune-ups.



I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

Foehammer is the story of an unknown threat that has infiltrated several areas in the world, and how a team of people is put together to neutralize the threat when no one else can. This is set in a future where cities have been gated off and poor people have been left outside of the gates.

The group barely know anything about each other before they’re thrown into their first mission.

I think the main five characters chosen for the mission are fine. I think Jester is the author favorite and possibly overutilized, though Helga was my favorite and I felt she was a little underutilized. This didn’t go on to an extent that I hated Jester or anything like that. I didn’t mind him doing a lot in the story.

I thought the way Helga’s chapters were handled was actually very clever. She’s a large, incredibly strong Russian woman who isn’t confident in her English speaking skills. The majority of her chapters are summarizations of events rather than showing a lot of dialogue. I think that works very well for her. As someone who speaks English as a second language, she might be good enough to pick up overall what people are talking about but not catch every single word, so it’s great that writing out the dialogue is avoided in her sections. I thought that was a great way to handle it.

I’m not positive if this was done on purpose because there are other parts of the story where dialogue will randomly be cut out and summarized instead.

“Lots of very unusual stuff down there,” he told them.
Jester asked if it might be the animals Weaver had mentioned.
“If I can…”

Jester spat out a mouthful of fur and blood. “Why thank you, young sir.”
She peered curiously at Jester, and then asked him if he was okay.

She ignored him and asked Cutis what the creatures were.

“I’ll keep an eye on ya, Jodie,” he said cheerily. “Any signs of going under and I’ll pull you right out of there.”
She nodded and thanked them.

It was unusual how some of the dialogue would be left out, especially when it would take even more words than just writing it out the begin with. Like:

“and then she asked him if he was okay.”

is longer than

“”Are you okay?” she asked.”

The story goes at a fairly stead pace and doesn’t take long to get the group into their first mission. From there they’re quickly taken to other missions.

Not all of the main characters were very likable, but I liked how that was handled. For example, their hacker, Cryboy, could be summarized as “that creeper everyone runs into on the internet sometimes”. But that’s what he’s portrayed as. The book doesn’t try to tell us, “No, he’s a wonderful person, really”. He’s arrogant and creepy, but his skills are useful for the mission. His chapters often revolve around him looking down on other people and criticizing the way they’re doing their jobs. Like Helga, I thought they were handled well and were a good representation of the character.

Although this story revolves around several people, and each chapter will often switch to another point of view, the majority of it is seen from Jodie’s POV. When they go into each mission, Jodie, Jester and Curtis are the team who go down to face the monsters because the three of them can resist the hypnosis (Jodie is protected via Curtis), and most of this is seen through Jodie’s eyes. I didn’t mind Jodie overall. She was a sharpshooter who had never been in actual combat, while Jester was a veteran and Curtis was a shaman who was often quiet.

Jodie was the most normal of the characters, and while she didn’t just sit around and watch I think having everything in her POV worked against her at times. She would describe what Jester and Curtis were doing, and there were several cases where you might get an entire page of what Jester is doing. When that would happen, I would start wondering what Jodie was doing. Like, if Jodie explains paragraph after paragraph of Jester getting backed into a corner while he’s fighting, it would leave me wondering, “Are you going to do something about that, Jodie?” This was especially true when all of their opponents would be focused on someone else.

There’s times when the hypnosis is starting to effect her and mess with her mind and that was fine, because we had a reason why she wasn’t helping. I’m talking about times when she seemed to be narrating events for awhile without taking any action herself, or giving reasons why she wasn’t trying to do something.

At times that would make it feel like she was just gawking and saying how cool Jester and Curtis were, while they did everything. She also didn’t speak up at vital times. Like, when Curtis was first going into his trance and Jester decided to wander away, the entire time she inwardly complains about him moving on instead of confronting him about it. His actions are putting her life in danger, and he has supposedly dealt with a lot of trauma of losing his teammates. She should have pointed out that he was trying to get her killed because he was leaving her vulnerable.

I also felt like Helga should have had another moment in the spotlight. Towards the beginning she does something, but after that she never really gets to do much again.

Overall, I was fine with the main five characters, though. I think it’s Weaver and Maddie that I’m more confused about – namely Maddie. They’re both the “organizers”, but I didn’t see a reason they needed two of them. I can’t think of anything significant Maddie did in the entire story. She went with them, but she had no skills to actually contribute to any missions, and she didn’t even organize well. In the beginning Helga had to act on her own to save the team. She neither helped nor hindered anything in particular, so she didn’t really do anything in the story besides exist. Her character could have probably been combined with Weaver’s. Both were organizers who weren’t prepared for the situation and were nervous about their decisions.

Weaver himself was left out of the missions and often in another area entirely, so when the story switched to him he couldn’t say much of anything about the action that was going on. He often complained about the people of the world not doing anything about the situation – but the situation was a monster that would hypnotize and eat people. Did he really want people to run in and try to fight that? What exactly did he expect them to do? The majority of people would have just gotten in the way.

There were also flashbacks to Curtis’ past sprinkled throughout the book. I think some were interesting, but it was jarring that they would switch to present tense. I’m not sure every single one was needed, either.

There was a chapter that described him going into his trance and having to battle fear. From a character who didn’t show any fear during the story it would have been nice to expand on that more. Did he have to battle his fears when he went into a trance every time?

I liked a lot of the action in the book and the overall story was good. I was actually surprised to see that sequels are planned because it was mostly wrapped up at the end. There were a few errors, like things being pulled “taught” instead of “taut”. I think it needed a second eye on it to point out things like that, as well as the odd spacing that occurred at random intervals between paragraphs and parts that could have been tightened (like having Jodie do something instead of gawk, or pointing out when dialogue would flow more naturally than a summary). But it was a good, enjoyable book, and if the summary intrigues you I would recommend it.

I give it a 8/10.

(8/25/2015 Note: The author has mentioned that he’s updated the book and made correction since I’ve posted this review.)

Reagan’s Ashes

Reagan’s Ashes

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

This was a good book. Paced well, and the plot was fairly solid for the most part. Reagan’s father has left her a parting wish – to copy a hiking trip she took with him and dump his ashes in the lake. Reagan loves her father very much and wants to find some sort of closure about his death, so she gets ready to go immediately. When she gets there, she finds that two of her cousins are suddenly planning on tagging along and much more is going on.

There were things I appreciated, like Anne. Though she’s at first painted off to seem like the evil step-mother, that gets left behind and she’s not evil so much as someone who has had to deal with a lot while being married to Reagan’s father, and she feels abandoned when he leaves her with nothing.

It has a good setup with Reagan hiking and being isolated from help, and with Spoon being injured and far from his home. It puts both characters in vulnerable and stressful situations. On top of that, Reagan has forgotten the medication she needs for her bipolar disorder, and after several days she starts falling apart, making her a loose cannon when it comes to making decisions.

It does have a few things that annoyed me about 75% of the way in. Spoon, Reagan’s boyfriend, gets beaten up by Tyson, the man who wants to get his money back from Reagan’s dad. He then wakes up outside of a hospital. There was a lot of flaws with that setup, the most obvious being that he’s five second away from being able to contact the police. He decides not to go to the hospital or contact the police because he thinks he’ll be stuck for hours being interrogated while Reagan might be being tracked down. But Spoon has a broken leg and doesn’t know where Reagan is anymore than the police know. What exactly is he going to do?

That part irritated me because it set up an easy fix for a main character, who then chose to walk away instead. He does realize that it’s possible to tell the police that the men who beat him up are after Reagan and she’s in danger, right? And he could tell them where she went hiking and that she may have forgotten her medication. It’s not like the police don’t check on people who might be in danger. They do welfare checks all the time.

I think the second thing that got me was that I didn’t feel like her mother’s absence was explained well. I still don’t understand why she wasn’t able to call for 6 years. She doesn’t get much of a chance to speak about it, but from what I gathered her and Reagan’s father weren’t getting along and they split up. She says that “her father wouldn’t let her” or something like that, but we don’t get much else. I know that she had an oddly close relationship to Tyson, Reagan’s uncle and the man after her, but I didn’t get the impression she was cheating with him or anything like that. We know Tyson is a drug dealer, but there weren’t any hints that I saw that she was doing anything like that. We also know she talked to Anne sometimes. The book paints it out like she desperately wanted to be in Reagan’s life but she couldn’t, but I didn’t feel like I had an adequate explanation of why not. Especially when Reagan’s father was a gambler, but everyone kept saying he was a decent guy, he was a nice guy, so it didn’t sound like the type who would intimidate or threaten her mom to keep her away.

The third thing was probably the “timer/the main characters putting themselves in harm’s way”. There wasn’t actually any need to pick up the money immediately. They could have gotten away from danger and gone back for it later, but they keep immediately going straight for the next clue when the bad guys can still follow them and putting themselves in unnecessary danger. For example, they know they just escaped from Tyson, but they immediately drive to the next spot – a crowded public area, where they manage to isolate themselves from the rest of the people so that Spoon can be beaten up. Once again, all they had to do was stay in an area that was full of people and they would have had witnesses/assistance/could have called for help. At least the text talked about how there was no parking left, but somehow they kept ending up out of sight of everyone when they would get assaulted.

Otherwise, it’s a solid story and if it looks interesting to you then you should pick it up.

I give it a 8/10.

Manwha Review – Bride of the Water God (volumes 1-4)

Bride of the Water God, Vol. 1

I bought this for my niece because the cover looked great and I was told it would be fine for someone her age, but I wanted to read it first before I gave it to her.

The artwork, overall, is beautiful. Just like the cover, I found most of it pleasing to the eyes. There were instances of things like awkwardly long torsos or stiff poses, but for a comic I would say it’s better than average in the art department.

The story is what really hurt it. The basic plot is something we’ve probably all seen before: Somehow girl ends up with powerful guy, powerful guy is kind of a jerk but he has a heart of gold really (or so we’re always told in these kinds of stories). Everything felt incredibly rushed. For example, it probably wasn’t even ten pages in and she had been sacrificed. So, as you can imagine, when she’s calling for her mom later on because she misses home it feels incredibly flat. We didn’t spend any time with her family, how could we feel invested in her mother? Or any other family member?

Characters just popped up out of nowhere, announced themselves, and then were gone often, and sometimes they looked similar to other characters and it would get confusing. I guess Soah had a female friend in Suguk, but I don’t know what her name was, and she looked a bit like Soah to me so I wasn’t always sure who it was.

What this book really needed was to slow down. I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if the entire first volume was spent setting up the fact that she was going to be sacrificed, and how horrible that was for her, her family and the village. If we got to see the people suffering and why they would make such a decision. And then, maybe at the end of the first volume, she ends up in Suguk. It would have given the reader time to get engrossed in the story and understand what’s going on. If I hadn’t read the summary for volume 1, I think I would have been extremely confused. I was confused at points even when I did know what was supposed to be happening.

I think the author might have been so excited to get into the cliche ‘love triangle’ portion that the rest of the story suffered. Very little actually happens, and yet the entire volume bounces around in a hectic dance of mini-scenes. She’s in Suguk meeting the water god? Oh wait, suddenly three new people. Who are they? We get some names thrown at us and I guess they’re characters now, even though I couldn’t tell you a thing about any of them.

Then maybe she’s suddenly getting lost and stumbles upon another new character. And at one point suddenly she’s going out with her friends or something, and suddenly dog. Just just appears and happens out of nowhere constantly. This story needed to stop and focus on one area for a little bit, establish that, and then move onto other things once it had a solid foundation.

From my understanding this is her first attempt at storytelling, and you can tell. It’s possible she’s improved her skill, so I plan on reading the next couple of volumes to see (I have 1-4). There are some cute asides/jokes in it, it’s just doesn’t have a strong enough narrative.

Bride of the Water God, Volume 2 (v. 2)

In the art department, it still looks pretty good as a whole. The main problems I have are that it can be hard to tell what’s going on when there’s action, and it can be hard to tell where characters are actually supposed to be. I am getting the kind of feeling like they’re floating around in space, because you can have panel after panel of nothing behind them. There needs to be more establishing shots that give a clear understanding of where they are. I barely ever have a clear idea of where they’re standing beyond what the character might say.

The story-telling has improved from the first volume, while the story itself hasn’t really. In this volume it finally slowed down to give it some focus. I had a better idea of what was going on, and there weren’t new characters being constantly shoved in my face. Some characters started to get some more backstory to them. So, it was a noticeable improvement in that way. The story itself, on the other hand, was sort of cliche and didn’t go very far. She spends most of the time trying to figure out if Habaek and Mui are the same person. It goes slow enough now that I can keep up with what’s supposed to be happening for the most part (although it still has issues with lack of transitions and bouncing around), but it really doesn’t take advantage of its setup.

I wish this this artist had been paired up with a good writer who could have taken the exact same ideas and made them incredible. I feel like she’s just interested in a love triangle and everything “big” about the story gets pushed into the background. The fact that Soah has been separated from her family and is in a new world is barely felt at all. As is being surrounded by dangerous gods. ‘Plot points’ always seem to come back around to how it effects her love interests, rather than being explored or developed on their own.

While I wasn’t wowed by the story in this volume, I did feel better about it than the last volume. If the author continues learning and improving with each volume I could see how she became very popular, because the art is quite nice to look at (mostly just needing more backgrounds, better establishing of the area around the characters, and better transitions). Long ago I read the first volume of “From Eroica With Love”, and while that series had a mediocre start the author learned quickly and at about the third volume I couldn’t put it down. This is Mi-Kyung Yun’s first try, and I can see improvements in the pacing in the second volume. While I’m not invested in the romance, I do hope that I see her honing her skills more in the next volumes, because there’s a lot of promising raw talent in her.

Bride of the Water God Volume 3

Like with the second volume, the story itself hasn’t really improved but the pacing is better than the first volume. In this volume, there’s more melodrama as Soah is sent back home and her memories are taken away. Of course, she’ll only remember Habaek if she really loved him. That’s pretty much it.

I got really confused with the part with Yeon-Hwa. When Soah goes back home, the villagers accuse their family of running some sort of scam to get money, and because of that she’s hated by the villagers. Of course, Habaek is hoping that she’ll remember his name when she sees him. Then, suddenly, there’s a girl telling/singing stories to kids and acting as a musician to earn money. Habaek appears to her and starts following her around.

I thought maybe this girl was supposed to be Soah, taking on another name and changing her look a bit to try and earn a living because the village hated her, and figured that’s why Habaek followed her all over. But then she ends up in jail and then she’s out of the story? I’m so confused. What did she have to do with anything? Why did Habaek follow her around? I have no idea.

The story still suffers a lot from obsession over who everyone loves and nothing else. For example, after three volumes, I couldn’t tell you a single thing that Soah is interested in. Hobbies or whatever. All that matters is who she thinks is hot. Same with Habaek. I can’t tell you anything about what he likes to do except be grumpy. As you can imagine, the same could be said for all the other characters, too.

There has been far too much saving of damsels in distress. In this volume in particular I felt like women were getting grabbed and guys were demanding ‘you know what’ before someone would dive in and save them. I’d like to see some of these characters take more initiative. Oddly enough, Yeon-Hwa probably showed the most initiative and I don’t even know why she existed. We can at least see her holding a job and demanding pay, even going as far as trying to rob people. With everyone else things mostly seem to just happen to them and they react.

Even with her being with her family we still see almost nothing of them, and when we do see something it’s pretty flat. I wish Soah would at least say something like, “Yeah, Dad, I kind of do hate you for selling me off” instead of puttering around passively. At least it would show some feeling besides pining for someone.

The artwork is the same as the last couple volumes. Nice, but also not necessarily good at showing backgrounds and space around characters. There’s often a lot of nothing behind characters.

Bride of the Water God Volume 4

So, this is the last volume I have and I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with the series. I enjoy the artwork, but the author needed a lot of help on this series. This volume dove back into being more confusing again. For example, Mui and Soah were talking when she was back at home. Suddenly, a girl who wasn’t there in the previous panels is clinging to Soah’s leg and yelling at Mui. I had no idea who she was or where she came from. It was only later that I figured out she’s probably Soah’s little sister. Who I didn’t know existed. It’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with this series. Because things aren’t set up, characters just appear and we’re told how they connect to Soah and that’s it. We aren’t shown anything to establish how they feel about each other.

Dong-Young appears and is apparently a childhood friend of Soah who is of a higher status and loves her. He proposed to her in the last volume and in this volume she accepts. There’s a bunch of melodrama about Mui being jealous that she’s going to marry someone else and wondering if they really love each other and such.

The story needed a big overhaul. She really needed a good writer to help her pull things together. Everything is flat because the story doesn’t do anything for characters to earn their accolades. Habaek/Mui talks about being deeply in love with Soah, and Soah is supposed to be in love with him, but what have they ever done? They’ve sort of grumped at each other a couple of times and that’s it. Does he even know her last name? (Does she have a last name?) We’re told how characters feel about each other but aren’t shown it.

Same with Dong-Young. He just appears out of nowhere and we’re told he’s her childhood friend, and that’s about the extent of his character. He exists to be a plot point and make Mui jealous. He just pops out of nowhere suddenly and we’re informed of their history, and there’s no feeling of a real connection at all because we never see them as childhood friends or anything.

Once again the story bounces back and forth between flashbacks and current times and it’s hard to tell what’s happening sometimes.

I haven’t talked about it before but I’m going to address the translation here. I do this all the time so I feel fairly confident talking about it. I should probably say I’m addressing the ‘localization’ in particular. I don’t know Korean and I haven’t seen the original comics, so I can’t say how accurate the translations is. It seems like it’s pretty competent.

There’s occasionally some awkwardly worded phrases. Generally, when translating something like this, I consider the goal to be making it sound smooth enough that it doesn’t sound like it’s a translation. I’m not talking about leaving honorifics like “-nim” in, though. That’s a choice, and something I’ve done in the past with certain translations.

There are places in the dialogue where it feels a bit too directly translated. To explain, usually what I do is I translate and then I smooth it out. This means cutting out awkward words to make it sound more like what someone would say (and it’s done even more extensively in subbing, because then people have a limited amount of time to read the text when it appears on the screen). So, to examine a bit of dialogue, here’s a line from the book:
“Sorry to say this, but I’m not going to back off. She was mine first.”

In this situation, Mui is arguing with Dong-Young over who Soah should be with. It’s perfectly understandable, but the wordiness of it takes away from the impact it could have, and it sounds more like a direct translation than how someone would speak in English. You could say the exact same thing something like this:

“Sorry, but I’m not backing off. She was mine first.”

Or something along those lines. It’s more direct, curt, and probably reflects the character more.

Does that mean I’m saying the localizer did a bad job? Not really. It sounds like an easy job but it’s not. It’s constantly balancing how much you want to change the original text, often worrying about losing the meaning or straying too far from the source, and using a lot of your gut feelings when it comes to what it sounds like. This can be especially painful when you love a work or have a lot of respect for it and don’t want to change anything. It’s more like an art than a science, and you want to do the original work justice.

I’ve also heard horror stories before about people translating/working on manga who were getting painfully underpaid, and to make anything close to a living wage they’d have to churn out a ridiculous amount of pages in a day. I have no idea what the job market is looking like in this field right now since I freelance and make my own schedule, but I could imagine there’s still some amount of expecting people work for low pay out of love for comics.

So in these volumes you do see lines that sound like a direct translation, but it is generally understandable (when you aren’t confused by the story itself, anyway).

The author has been pretty successful and made many more volumes of work since these. I hope she got some help with her storytelling in that time. Paired up with a good writer she could make some pretty incredible works. I’m not completely turned off from reading any of her works in the future, but I will stop reading this one and maybe check her out again with one of the later works.

I give it about a 6/10. The art is great, but it’s confusing and cliche. The author has a lot of potential that hasn’t been fully taken advantage of.

The Rental

The Rental

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

The Rental is a fairly dark noir-type short story. Just to warn right now, there’s torture, murder and rape in the book, so if those aren’t things you want to hear about you should avoid it.

The story sort of follows Cole, a writer who was once a sensation but has since been buried by the success of other rival writers. A woman’s car breaks down in front of the trashy place he’s renting and he decides to help her out. In exchange, she takes him home and let’s him stay in her pool house.

What he doesn’t expect is to be the entertainment for her parties, where she invites a series of deplorable people who do everything from grope him to setting his shoe on fire. If he wants to keep his temporary financial boost in life he has to put up with it, but as time goes on the guests start dwindling in numbers.

It was an interesting enough story. I don’t think there was a single innocent person in it, at times to an unrealistic extent (you would think everyone participates in a little murder now and then the way things go in the book. Everyone ever apparently has a rap sheet they can be threatened with to keep them silent). There’s also unrealistic things like Constance being able to guess he was a writer. Her exlanation was just that he had a look of resignation (are writers the only ones who deal with that?). I would have believed it more if she had recognized a picture or something.

There was also a point I remember where he asks two sisters if they read Shakespeare, and even though one is an avid reader and they’ve heard him on the radio, the instant response is “Who?”. I would have believed them not recognizing “Chaucer” or something, but not knowing who Shakespeare is would be like roaming America trying to find someone who doesn’t know who Batman is. Not only did the one who asked like to read, but they listened to one of his plays on the radio, so the book didn’t set up a reasonable explanation for them to not know such ordinary knowledge.

I noticed another odd thing in a chapter with Jennifer Finch. She and Dale North go on a killing spree. They start out by poisoning everyone at a youth detention facility, where Dale exclaims:

‘It worked, baby… it worked!’

And then he calls her a genius, seemingly giving her credit for coming up with the plan. It’s actually the first bit of dialogue in the chapter. It goes on to describe them going around and continuing their killing spree, but at one point it says:

…although his darling had never spoken a syllable for as long as he’d known her…

What? How did they formulate a plan if she never spoke to him? Was she writing him notes or something? It never said. And all this time they traveled together, did he think she was mute? It really felt out of nowhere, especially when not long after that they formulate another plan (again, it doesn’t explain how they plan things out if she doesn’t talk to him) where she talks just fine. And it doesn’t surprise him at all, there’s no mention of her suddenly using her voice.

Although there were interesting aspects to that chapter, I actually don’t know how it fit into the rest of the story, either. I don’t remember her being mentioned before or after.

There were a few small errors in the book, but the biggest error seemed to be that a chapter was copy and pasted into the wrong spot in the book. In chapter 8, about halfway through the chapter, there’s this:

Claire went to bed to read, leaving Clarissa behind to seethe and wonder what the hell happened to the spineless lackie she’d spent a lifetime cultivating.

Then when I got to chapter 10, I noticed it started out in a familiar way.

Claire went to bed to read, leaving Clarissa behind to seethe and wonder what the hell happened to the spineless lackie she’d spent a lifetime cultivating.

And it continues on exactly the same to the end of the chapter. Somehow chapter 10 got copy and pasted at the end of chapter 8, so the entire thing was in the book twice.

The last issue I had was transitions.

…Claire stood in her sister’s bedroom, staring at the coat while Clarissa snored.
‘You should be mine,’ Claire whispered, ‘you will be mine.’
When Eunice Chambers ran out of bullets, although she could have sword she packed them, she reached for the bag that lay on the ground next to hers.

There were a few instances like this that completely lost me. Claire is inside, looking in her sister’s bedroom, and then suddenly in the next paragraph it’s somewhere else completely without any explanation. Whenever this happened it would take me some time to figure out where the heck it was suppose to be again. It made it easy to get lost.

The stories themselves were good for a short novel. They were interesting and kept me invested, though if it was longer I would have wanted more out of them. Knowing that it was a short novelette, I was fine with them being on the simpler side of things. There were some clever twists and interesting tales of comeuppance. For awhile I was wondering why Cole needed to be there at all, but I think they way he was tied into the last murder was fine.

If you’re willing to suspend of disbelief, it’s a quick, dark read. I do hope some of the errors get cleaned up, especially that pasted in chapter, and some transitions are made clearer.

I give it a 7/10.

Mental Damnation – Dream

Dream (Part 1 of Mental Damnation)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

This is a fantasy novel where vazeleads – lizard people – have been banished underground for centuries by paladins. One of the young vazeleads is Krista. She’s lived as street vermin, trying to survive by stealing scraps with her friend, Darkwing. They live in a violent society, so life is difficult. Then, she’s targeted to be infected with the illness “Mental Damnation” by one of their leaders who has become crazed with the disease himself. She tries to flee, even going as far as to join a cult just to survive, but she’s eventually caught.

Somehow, after she’s infected during a ritual, she ends up back on the surface world, and the last remaining paladin finds her. Slowly she starts seeing things that no one else can, and she’s being told all sorts of different things about the disease. A ghoul she starts seeing, Malpherities, tells her about the god called the Weaver and Dreadweave Pass. Paladin believes that it’s a spiritual disease, and the doctor believes it’s an illness of the body that has stayed so similar in all of the victims because it hasn’t gone through many mutations. Her hallucinations keep getting stronger and more dangerous, even causing harm to her, and no one has a solid answer or a cure.

Before I started reading I glanced at some other reviews. One of the reviews said “It seems rushed in a lot of parts, like the author had plans to come back and fill in the rough draft, but then forgot.” Now that I’ve read it, I understand exactly what they mean. Especially in the first part of the book, there are many parts where pieces of the story are quickly summed up in a sentence or paragraph. Things that seem like you could write entire chapters about.

For example, here’s an excerpt:

Through a series of events, she met an outcast – a half-breed named Abesun exiled by the vazeleads for being half-human.

That’s it. She just suddenly met him somehow.

There were also parts where it feels like the author might have adjusted how events went later on. At one point, Krista is part of a cult, and another member tells her they’d been summoned to meet the high council.

…Saulaph was acting strange. He informed her they’d been summoned to meet the high council.
But instead of the high council, it was Danil…

That’s the scene. Later on, the same event is recounted by her friend, Darkwing. In his version, the cultists are being mass slaughtered by the guards, Krista is being forcefully taken by Saulaph, and Krista is screaming for Darkwing while cultists stop him from getting to her. None of that was mentioned when it was summed up before. I had thought that Saulaph told her that the high council wanted to see them and she simply went – maybe nervously, but willingly. There was no mention of everyone being killed by a raid or her fighting him or anything. It gives me the feeling that the author had originally glossed over some events and went back to give them more detail, but missed some parts.

There’s also infodumps, especially at the beginning, where huge portions of the text and dialogue are exposition. There were a few times where this exposition made the character’s feelings seem strange. Paladin, for example, was thinking about how they had rounded up the vazeleads hundreds of years earlier and banished them. He thinks it was justified. But then, when it goes into an explanation about what happened, it sounds very sympathetic to the vazeleads, which didn’t sync with his thought that “they deserved it”. I wasn’t sure if we were suddenly taken out of his thoughts for an infodump or if the explanation was supposed to be coming from him.

Another one was when Krista is thinking about the humans and, again, she sounds far too positive towards them for someone of her position. They banished her people, killed the dragons (who had been good to her people and freed them from slavery), slaughtered her family, she’s terrified of paladins and other humans, yet she thinks this:

It was depressing to hear that the humans now fought one another after they had banded together and brought an end to the dragons.

Along with some text that came before, this sounds far too much like describing the humans as the heroes of the situation rather than being horrified that they had murdered the dragons. It sounds like how a human would describe the situation, not how a vazelead should.

So, does that mean this is a bad book? No, actually. There’s a lot of solid and creative ideas. I liked the explanation for why the Weaver needed blood. I liked that the book makes you wonder exactly what Krista is suffering from. There are signs that she’s just hallucinating, like when she sees Malpherities pound the stone wall and create cracks in it, and then she turns up with heavily damaged hands. It makes you wonder if she caused all the damage and her mind is making him up.

On the other hand, there’s also signs that point in the other direction, like when Malpherities reads something while Krista is very poor at reading, so it’s an something she would have trouble doing herself.

It’s a colorful, fleshed out world, even if there are spots that are rushed. Krista can be weak, but she’s not so bad that I dislike her. She still tries to be positive, she still takes some actions on her own. The romance is weak (you can see who the love interests will be a mile away), but I did like how Darkwing handled his. He openly admitted that he wasn’t sure if he just felt that way because the other girl reminded him of Krista, instead of hiding it.

There are also some lovely illustrations in the book, at the end of some chapters. It’s formatted nicely and looks great.

People who are sensitive about rape may not want to read. It’s not shown, but it is brought up rather suddenly, and then its mentioned again several times after that.

Anyone interested in a fantasy with some dark aspects may enjoy this. Rather than “bad”, it feels “unfinished” at parts, and is still overall enjoyable. I’m also confused about the order of this series. I see in spots that “Dream” is “volume 2” of the series. In another it’s “part 1” and “Fusion” is “part 2”. I didn’t feel like I needed to read another book before reading this one, but I’m not sure if there’s something else that comes before it.

I give it a 7/10.

The Claims Adjuster

The Claims Adjuster (Volume 1)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

On opening the file I received for this book I was confused. On the title page, not only was it oddly spaced so that the title looked like this:

Claims Adjus

but the part that is underlined was linked to a random article on Wikipedia. It didn’t really bode well for the rest of the book when there were major issues with the title page.

I’m extremely forgiving of errors in indie books because I know most authors can’t afford an editor, and it’s easy to miss some things. Especially with common errors, many times I won’t even mention them so long as they aren’t overly frequent. This book is littered with errors, some of which I don’t think I’ve seen in a book before.

The writing felt flat right from the start. Emotions never really came across to me. It was more like I was being told a list of emotions that the character was feeling than it being conveyed in the writing. It’s hard for me to explain why it came off as flat, but I’ll try to give an example. Here is a summary of his boss explaining what his job is with some stuff cut out.

“What we offer is not really a job in the way that most people view careers”, [sic] he explained. “You won’t have an office but you won’t be working from your home, either”. [sic]
“You won’t draw a pay check but you won’t have any bills to pay”,
[sic] he offered…

“Your coworkers will be all around you but you won’t really know who they are. Your assignments could be emailed to you or you could come by in person”, [sic] he continued.

“First, this is legal. Well, not really from the law enforcement point of view but then again, how many cops follow all the rules,” he was questioning me now?

“We don’t sell anything. We don’t buy anything. We don’t repair anything”. [sic]

“We don’t break things, either”. [sic] He stopped.

“I guess you could say that we end things so that they won’t have to end themselves”. [sic]

“You won’t get a company tee shirt or name plate. You won’t have a badge or a pass card”, [sic]

Look at all of that text describing pretty much nothing. It goes on and on and most of what he’s saying is a list of negatives. I could have easily added to the list with anything. “You won’t be selling ice-cream. We don’t sell books. You won’t need a Category D driving license.” It’s not building up tension, it’s wasting time telling us about all the things that won’t be needed or won’t be happening.

Second, just as a testament to the first thing I mentioned, just look at how many times I had to put [sic] in there. There’s plenty of other types of errors, too.

So, the overall story is that the main character, Doug, has been unemployed. He gets a job offer as a “claims adjuster”, which is essentially the government hiring him to kill people who would be too expensive to pay medical costs for. The chapters then have him kill a variety of different people. This sort of set-up has been done before and it can be interesting, I just don’t think it worked here.

The main problem is that the main characters aren’t likable. They’re not nice people and there doesn’t seem to be any insight that they aren’t, and scenarios are strange and judgmental. For example, there’s a time he went to the emergency room, and he describes everyone else as having “nice shoes” (he’s obsessed with shoes) and cell phones and ring tones and wearing shirts that he couldn’t afford, etc etc. At first I thought the point was that only rich people could afford the emergency room, though it’s still strange that he would be the only poor person who needs emergency care.

Later on it’s said that all of the people he’s complaining about aren’t paying for their healthcare – he is. It was a strange assumption to make, and it wasn’t the only time he jumps to the conclusion that he’s paying for someone else’ bill.

The main character’s moral compass is deranged and his reasoning is bizarre.

I thought back to a particular drunk driving arrest I had made years before. I was asked, on the stand, under oath with God as my witness, if I ever had even took a sip of alcohol and then operated a motor vehicle. I lied.

Okay, so he felt bad about lying on the stand. It’s a bit melodramatic, but I can accept that he would feel bad about that. Later, he’s assigned his first person to kill, and he thinks this:

I convinced myself that, if it was ok to lie on the stand years past, it’s ok to end a life for a good cause.

I don’t understand what one has to do with the other or how they’re even remotely equal in how bad they are. He’s comparing telling a small lie on the stand to following and murdering an elderly woman. “I told a lie once, so it’s okay to kill someone”. I don’t follow the logic.

Parts of this book made me uncomfortable in the way they were presented. The character seems to try and come off as “I don’t have a problem with women/gay people,” and unfortunately that seems to be followed by a “but” and then proceeds to be offensive.

The character doesn’t just have lewd thoughts about attractive women. Fine, people fantasize, whatever. But he has nasty thoughts about a lot of other women, particularly women he doesn’t find attractive.

Here’s how he described women who were waiting at the hospital with him:

The women were dressed in much the same fashion. Somewhat slutty, as I recall. They were the ones who needed the condoms. Several had three or four kids, all crying and asking for things like gum or candy from mom’s purse which seemed to never be empty.

He’s unpleasant. He’s knows nothing about these women except that he saw them for a few minutes while he was in a waiting room, and he’s jumping to the conclusion that they’re “slutty,” “need condoms,” and the way he mentions how many kids they have is disparaging. Even more, he’s complaining about these women who have “three or four kids” needing condoms and he has three kids himself, with two different mothers.

Later, he goes to beg for a job at the unemployment office because he promised his wife he would. He describes the receptionist as a “portly white female,” and goes on to say:

I doubted that there were that many men who ever got down on their knees for her, much less made her promises.

The thought of being on my knees with her and the lingering pieces of chips were leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

…she began to loosen up, coyly smiling at me as she tossed her chemical dried hair…

..exchanging glances with the secretary that seemed to go from shy to slutty…

This is not a character I want to root for. He’s the one who goes to this place and insists on begging on his knees for a job, and then he pushes all of these derogatory thoughts onto this woman who just happened to be there.

He’s not particularly nice to men either.

I was then called back by a gentleman who looked like he was better fit for selling cheap jewelry or waiting tables at a bistro in the French Quarter.

The lack of logic continues in another scene where his wife complains that he doesn’t have a job, and later on in the same scene he tells her that he has to go sign a new policy at his work. I was confused because he had already told his family he was an insurance agent, so she shouldn’t have thought he was unemployed. I thought maybe I missed something, but then suddenly he was doing things for ‘work’ again.

One of his targets is a gay man with AIDs. The book says this:

I had friends who were homosexual

But it has the worst kind of stereotype for a gay man, who isn’t even a character. I can’t call him a character because he doesn’t act like any human would. It isn’t just the fact that he starts sexually harassing the main character the minute he comes through the door, even goosing him (how is this man not in jail if this is how he acts?).

The man owns a pet store and is a snake enthusiast. However, he has several kinds of pets available. When the main character enters, he clearly expresses a fear of snakes. Most people, especially shop owners, would realize that the main character is not interested in snakes and would see if he was interested in something else. Not this guy. Since snakes are sexual he continuously goes on about the snakes and decides to feed them in front of the man who doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. Then he starts asking if he wants to hold them, and when he doesn’t want to hold the first one he asks about another one.

This is why I can’t even fathom him as a character. If someone goes into a shop and says they hate fish, you don’t proceed to go on about all the fish you have, and keep asking which fish someone would like to see. You would ask if they want a kitten or puppy instead. The only reason this character is sexually harassing the main character is because he’s gay. The only reason he’s obsessed with snakes is because he’s gay. He has AIDs because he’s gay. There’s nothing about this caricature that can’t be explained by saying “because he’s gay”.

And it goes on. He takes his wife to a fancy restaurant where he plans on telling her the truth about his job. The first thing I noticed was something small.

There were doctors and lawyers and men who had inherited their father’s fortunes and the women who chased those men.

No women are big earners? I thought maybe I was being nitpicky there, but it doesn’t take long for it to get worse. They’re in the restaurant and start talking.

These colors,” I said … “look more like pelican puke than a speared tune.”
She laughed. Loudly.
“That’s seared tuna and pelican’s don’t puke, they regurgitate…”

Several patrons and one of the waiters look our way and sneered. I hadn’t been sneered upon since I was unemployed and wearing clothes that were sneer-worthy. Tonight, I was not sneer-worthy and neither was my wife.

This man is a horrible, horrible person. Clothes aren’t what make a person sneer-worthy or not. The fact that he entered a restaurant and immediately started insulting it does. How are the people there supposed to react? Is that supposed to be charming?

This is the part where I realized the only reason his wife isn’t just as horrible is because we don’t see her as much as him and don’t have to listen to her inner dialogue. He tries to explain his job and it becomes a convoluted discussion about insurance and how they’re paying other people’s way. His wife then questions the waiter.

“If you get sick, who would pay for your doctor’s visit,” she fired at the smug young man.

The waiter retreated rather quickly but she followed him with her eyes.
“Cock-sucker probably doesn’t even have insurance,” she stated with disgust. “I wonder how many times we’ve paid for his colonoscopy.”

Charming. They then start discussing the other patrons and how he would kill them if they left without paying their checks as an example of what he does, sometimes being degrading in their descriptions of them. And when they’re leaving:

“Don’t you leave that cock-sucker one dime in tip,” she demanded. “We pay for his medicine; we shouldn’t have to pay for him to pick up my fork.”

So. They go to a restaurant. They immediately insult the decor. They start making a scene. She demands to know about a waiter’s personal insurance information, and when he’s startled and leaves she calls him a gay slur. They spend time being insulting about almost all of the guests, and when it’s all done they leave and don’t even give the waiter a tip.

These are terrible people. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that he murders people for a living.

This is followed up by something else terrible by his wife, Kim. She’s mad about his job. He comes home one time and she’s at the table with the kids. She tells him that they discussed his new job and what they thought about it. Why would anyone do that? He could very well think that she told them about his illegal job and he might say something that spill the beans in front of children. There was no point to it except putting the children in danger of learning something awful.

It turns out she cheated on him. Considering he’s been murdering people behind her back I don’t think he has much room to get mad, but he does and even thinks I had killed for this woman.

He gets his last case and decides to kill the man she had an affair with as well as his target. For some reason the fake e-mails in the text are underlined and linked. We get more flattering descriptions of women as he says the new target’s breasts are more like a 36 long instead of 36 C. When he gets both in one place and kills them, he makes fun of the dead man who had an affair with his wife by ironically saying:

“You spelled besmirched wrong”, [sic] I added. “I hate bad spellers”. [sic]

He kills them both and it ends shortly after that. There isn’t much of a conclusion.

There were a few other smaller things in the book like a part where Kim describes how their son, Jase, couldn’t understand that they couldn’t afford to buy a fancy pair of shoes and other people could. Jase is a teenager. Jase should be able to understand the basics of how money works. In another part the main character was looking for someone to mow the lawn, saw an ad that had a ‘hot chick’ riding a lawn mower, and he seemed surprised that it was only for advertising. A grown man should realize that an ad like that isn’t true to life.

There are other instances of him talking about women and calling them things like “bitches,” “two dollar whores,” or calling Jase’ biological mother a “piece of crap”.

And, for positive, I do believe I found my favorite line in the book.

I could play one instrument and that was the radio.

When I first finished this book I thought maybe I would give it a 3 or 4 out of 10, thinking that I might have looked too deeply into some things. But when I went back and looked over what I had highlighted and wrote up the review, I realized that I wasn’t nitpicking. There really were some major problems and I don’t think they were purposeful. It wasn’t just the narrator who carried certain beliefs, but when other characters opened their mouths the same things would come out, which was why his wife was suddenly terrible to other people. The way a gay character was portrayed was probably the most offensive part, with him being little more than a pile of stereotypes.

The cost of healthcare can be a good setting for creating a story like this. Unfortunately, the impression I got was that this book didn’t look kindly on women or homosexuals, and it was more than just a flawed narrator. That’s why I ended up giving it a 1/10.

King Callie

King Callie: Callie’s Saga, Book One

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

I’m writing this review before this book is available for sale, so it’s possible some things that I mention will be fixed or changed before its released.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the cover. I’m sure all of us are used to fantasy armor, and especially fantasy armor that looks ridiculous on women (bikini armor or other vulnerable areas being left uncovered, breasts shaped onto armor that would get them immediately killed if they were struck…). So the cover drew my attention when it had elaborate armor for her that did neither of those things and she was holding an axe.

I love medieval fantasy type settings and that made it look promising, so I opened it up.

When I read the summary of this book I thought that Valric, the brother, would die within the first couple chapters and the rest would be about Caliandra taking over the throne. It’s not. The majority of this book deals with inner politics, people trying to hide their own dark secrets while trying to discover each others, and groups working against each other. It’s not until the end that Caliandra actually finally gets the throne, and that’s after much effort.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone is presented with their own motives. The man who usurps the throne isn’t just painted as a bad guy, but as someone who actually cares about the kingdom, and he does worse and worse things as he tries to keep the throne. Valric probably got the least fleshed out.

The book starts off as Valric is asking the Seer how they can save the ailing king, because when the king dies their status will be lowered. Royth, the Seer, has a horrible vision of the future with Valic in charge, and then sees peace with Caliandra, and decides that Valric has to die before he becomes king. He sends Valric off on a dangerous fool’s errand to get him killed – but not without feeling guilt over it.

From there the book takes its time setting everything up. Valric goes with several men, including the captain of the guard, Kells, and ends up being killed by Kells’ hand. The king’s favorite Minister, Marrol, decides it’s safest for the kingdom if he takes over instead of letting a magical axe decide, and he has the axe hidden. Both men are opposing each other and both don’t want their secrets to get out.

Characters are well built and their positions are understandable. But, there were a few places where I felt like it didn’t hold together quite as well, or where I was waiting for someone to bring up something and they didn’t. For example, when Valric is leaving on his quest he passes by the room his father is in. He hasn’t looked at his father in months because he doesn’t want to see him sick. Caliandra intercepts him and demands that he say goodbye to their father while they leave. They argue about it. I was waiting for Caliandra to bring up that in the time they stood a few feet from his door and argued, he could have said goodbye to their father several times.

Just a little after that I thought there was a bigger slip. Valric is irritably leaving and he thinks this:

the longer Father stayed alive, the better Callie’s offers might be, and the more she was worth as a wife. It was simple. And for all her love of logic, she refused to see it.

Caliandra actually never showed any misunderstanding about this. She knew perfectly well why he was going, and she knows her status will be higher as long as the king is alive. Their argument was about him taking a minute to say bye to the king. It didn’t have anything to do with her not understanding their social positions and what the death of the king entailed, and she never said anything that implied she didn’t get it.

There’s another small lapse like this later. In another kingdom, Valric and Kells are forced to fight each other to the death because Valric attacked children. Kells kills Valric. The soldiers react oddly to this. At first they seem angry at Kells for killing him, and even ask him if he’ll slit their throats (they were forced to fight or else all of them would be killed). I thought maybe it was a bit of a leap of logic just because they’re trained to lay down their lives for the prince. But then not long after that, when Kells makes up a story about Valric having an honorable death to tell people when they get home, one says this:

“Why keep that a secret?” the bitter soldier asked. “Tell the kingdom. Let them know what a bastard he was. He deserves it.”

After they were just being angry and bitter about Valric’s death. It seemed like a sudden shift in being on Valric’s side and hating Kells to being on Kells’ side and hating Valric.

There are some things like how much women are worth as a wife, and Fenwyn, a gay minister, being said to have the soul of a woman. I wrote all of this off as beliefs that were part of the setting, but if you don’t like those sort of narratives the book may not be for you.

Then there was Hanne, who was maybe the only one less fleshed out than Valric. There’s Caliandra, and Caliandra’s younger sister, Eliya, and Hanne is Eliya’s friend. Hanne doesn’t like Caliandra, which we’re given no explanation for at first. Then, we do get a hint why. Eliya and Caliandra are suffering after the loss of their brother, and Hanne yells at Caliandra for expecting her to be nice to her when Caliandra gave her no kindness when Hanne’s brother died years ago, and criticizes her and her friends for spying on the guards after her brother’s death.

Keep in mind, Caliandra would have been twelve or something when this happened, so I did expect her to look back at it and realize she was a little pissant when Hanne’s brother died, but there’s no such self-reflection or even much of a thought spared about this revelation. Instead, without even thinking about what happened to Hanne, she says this:

But I’d still take their company to yours. Witch.

The way Caliandra treated Hanne after Hanne’s brother died is never brought up again after that brief mention.

Later on, some assassins sneak into the castle disguised as maids. They’re there to kill the Seer, Royth, and take Caliandra hostage. When she finds out who they want to kill, she wants to kill him, too, because she blames him for Valric’s death. She more willingly leads them to the dungeon. They kill some guards. Then, when they go down to kill Royth, they end up fighting against Kells as well. Caliandra is upset that something might happened to Kells and second guesses her decision to help the assassins just because she wanted revenge.

She did second guess herself, but I was expecting it a bit sooner. She had previously watched some innocent guards died, and she was more excited by the fighting. She didn’t really show concern that innocent guards were being slaughtered in front of her until they got to Kells.

I think the largest lapse for me was with Sophine. She hires mercenaries to find the stolen axe pieces and find information on the culprit. When she meets with Dyern, the mercenary, he delivers both things, and they’re both legitimate. What I really didn’t get in this scene is the way Sophine treats him. She has him hold up the axe so she can test that it’s the real thing- fair enough. But during this whole scene she’s not particularly nice to him, and his hand is even broken while holding the axe.

Why was she being so mean to him? She hired him and he delivered the goods, and didn’t try to scam her. They did exactly what she wanted in good time. Sophine has been queen for a long time and is still a duchess, and she seems generally smart, so I really didn’t understand why she would burn this bridge. What if she needs to hire him again in the future? Why would she want to make an enemy? She should want to have a simple business transaction, keep thing neutral, and if she needed him in the future he would know she was good for the money and she would know that he can do what he says.

Nonchalantly getting his hand broken and not caring in the least seemed out of place, because I couldn’t think of a reason why she would do that. Now, maybe it could be a complete accident that his hand was broken while testing the axe – that’s fine. But she should try to smooth things over. Offer him a healer, offer extra money, something to keep things even.

There was one other lapse. Eliya has fled the country with her fiance, Mas, and gone back to his kingdom. When they’re in front of his father, the father says this:

When you gave into cowardice, and fled Barra, and left your servants behind.

They argue, and the king is eventually impressed that Mas survived the conditions he did to get home. A bit after that Eliya is talking to him and says:

He thought you had run with your entire retinue, and enjoyed luxury on the run.

But he already said that Mas left his servants behind, so he should have known he didn’t have his whole entourage with him.

There’s one more little thing. It also talks about how handsome the young soldier, Darryn (Caliandra’s crush), is a bit too much. Certainly not the worst I’ve seen in a book, but it was coming up often enough that I made a note about it.

Now, for parts that I liked. The things I mentioned before this are, for the most part, minor things. There was a lot to like in this book.

When Eliya is fleeing with her fiance some of their servants stay behind to distract the guards and will die doing so. I liked her thoughts on this.

The sight chilled her. As a child, she’d heard men had lain down their lives for her family, but until that moment, never had she seen it occur in person.

I mentioned earlier that I thought it mentioned Darryn being handsome too much. That’s because I think it’s fine to say that Caliandra thinks she’s hot, and it could be said once in awhile, but once we’ve established that fact the character should be able to hold his own without having to remind people that he’s attractive. And he’s all right, I don’t think he needs the extra support. Maybe a little informal and cocky for his position when he’s talking to nobility, but he’s okay.

It’s on the side of the “experienced arrogant man and the virginal woman,” but Caliandra at least has plenty of other things to think about and doesn’t obsess over him all the time. I did like one of his lines, where she insists he goes into a tunnel first and he says:

At least one of us is getting a good view.

After her coronation, Caliandra has a serious discussion with Fenwyn’s husband, and I appreciated that he said this about her previous relationship.

“Not all love lasts,” Josske said. “I’d be willing to say you had it. But it can fade. But it will find you again, Your Majesty.”

Too often books go with a “one true love” route, so I appreciated that he didn’t brush off her former love as nothing or fake or something. This is probably one of my favorite lines in the story.

Overall, it’s a good book with plenty of motives on each side, well fleshed out characters, and a pretty good medieval fantasy story. If you’re looking for something in this genre I’d recommend it. It’s not perfect, there are a couple things that I think got overlooked, but they might be changed before it’s put up on Amazon.

I give it a 10/10.

Bunny and the Grizzly Bear

Bunny and the Grizzly Bear (United Shifter’s Alliance Book 1)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

This book is pretty much exactly what it presents itself to be. If you’re interested in one pure smut scene, that’s about what you get. There’s some mention of shapeshifters and some background story given for the main character, but the vast majority is sex.

The main character is a rabbit. Though I like the idea of shapeshifting into humans, I do wish there was more description. I figured she looked like a regular human, and then some of her thoughts and actions were rabbit-like. I think she was in human form during the whole story but I’m not positive. I also wasn’t positive about the bear when he showed up. She says a naked bear is in her den, but then it seems like she describes a human form later, and I don’t know if he was in human form from the beginning and she can just tell he’s another shapeshifter or if he started as a bear and shifted at some point… Basically, for what plot it has, it doesn’t necessarily explain clearly.

For an adult book it also uses a lot of exclamation points. There were a few errors, which is a bit much for such a short book. It was also written in present tense, which isn’t my favorite tense to begin with, but switches a lot for flashbacks or suddenly switches to past tense.

I click my tongue at him. Gave him a good frown. Scolded…

I think it would be best just to switch it to past tense and avoid the issues.

It’s all shameless. The main character, a bunny shapeshifter is horny. A grizzly bear shapeshifter with a large penis pops up in her house. They have sex. It is what it is. It’s all consensual. The sex read fine to me, though I suppose there could have been more description, but I wasn’t put off by it or left confused.

Some of the misunderstandings Bunny had were amusing. Although the summary mentions falling in love, I didn’t really see that. I saw more of a carnal longing than anything loving.

If you’re just interested in some quick smut and don’t need much else, then you may enjoy this book. I would like to see it polished. It has a good basis for a fun adult series. It’s not even very long, so it’s possible getting a good beta reader who is interested in some smut or even hiring an editor is a possibility.

I give it a 7/10.