My First Bad Public Review: “The Princess Beard” by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Note: I did this review as contrast. This all started because I was pissed that someone dared to make a comparison of these authors to the great Sir Terry Pratchett on the back of the book. They didn’t even come close. What I learned is that what makes a best selling book is not the quality of the work, but the amount of money a publisher sinks into marketing. Potentially, there is a role for the amount of money they’re willing to sink into paid reviews.

I purposefully delayed posting this review because I’ve struggled to write it. Honestly, I struggled to finish the book. I’m really disappointed. Mostly I’m disappointed by the publication team at Del Rey. I believe that the publisher did a disservice to the authors in many ways I will explain below. The reviews used to market the book referred to the other books in the Tales of Pell series and did not refer to this book itself. Because of my experience, I am unlikely to read another book by these authors, or from the Tales of Pell. THAT’S AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE. I blame Del Rey. As a traditional publisher it is part of their responsibility to be held to a higher standard. If their publications don’t meet that standard, I can’t support them.

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

The book begins with the introduction to the future Sn’archivist, Itchmael. The Sn’archivist is inspired to finally write something new! With fiber!

In the next chapter we are suddenly whisked away to the Lady Harkovrita. She wakes with a beard and long nails. She also has a very full bladder. In the first of MANY menstruation references in the book, she wonders why that was not a problem for her while she was asleep. With no concept of how long she was asleep, we find out that she was betrothed and is ready to escape her tower once she packs and chops away her excessive nails and hair.

She changes her name to Morgan and goes off on a pirate adventure where she meets up with a series of characters: an elf, a dryad, a centaur, and many more. Each one discovers that they don’t actually want to be what they thought and that there is no such thing as fate through a series of trials. And they all live happily ever after. The End.

For the sake of keeping this review rated PG, I have to skip over any part of the story that involves characters with names of body parts or functions my husband would not want to explain to his aunt during a family game of Cards Against Humanity.

The third installment of the Tales of Pell, it is not part of a series, so much as one of three books that take place within Pell. I thought? There are references to the other books as are to be expected.

My Overall Response:

I am terrified of sounding mean. I love humor and puns. I attempted to read this book aloud to my husband on a road trip because I was genuinely really excited.

The book seems funny at first. The problem is that it beats every joke to death. The jokes are then brought back to life as zombies. Then the zombie jokes try to eat your brains. A reader really can’t enjoy a joke ever again once it has tried to eat their brains. This pattern repeats ad nauseam. If that was the only issue with the book that wouldn’t be a big deal.

But wait, there’s so much more.

These characters don’t grow much. I think the authors attempt character growth, and there are fragments of character growth visible in forced parallelism constantly used as a redundant story telling tactic ad nauseam. None of these characters have unique voices, except the parrot whose Rs are exaggerated.

One of the most egregious offenses involves the misnaming of their own characters as if there was copying and pasting of scenes between completely different, unrelated manuscripts and someone forgot to change the character names. Then this was missed by editors. In other places in the book, character names are inconsistently spelled and this is again missed by editors. In writing it looked like an attempt at a reference to “Whose on First” with too many typos to properly appreciate.

Remember that thing I said about “other laws of physics”? There is no way to lose yourself in the world of Pell. The world is cartoonishly inconsistent to the point that it is unbelievable. It is full of half-baked pop culture references (aka “TV Tropes in a Blender”) and the magic has no rules reflecting poor causation review.

The audience the book was written is inconsistent. Is there an audience? I feel bad asking this question, but I could not tell who this book was written for. On numerous occasions I checked if I the book was registered as Young Adult. At the end of the day, the book was not for me. As a reader I felt this book wasted my time and money; borderline insulted many of the genuinely difficult experiences the authors attempted to portray in a half-hearted manner.**

**I want to emphasize that I am very nervous saying this and it is part of why I have delayed this review for so long.

What did I actually like? Chapter 15. Pg 204 – top of Pg 206 and a few other bits are lovely. There are tender, well-written scenes that demonstrate the authors as capable, thoughtful and talented.

My Response To The Publisher & Marketing Team: What the heck? You spent a ton of money marketing this book on Twitter and other platforms, but you couldn’t spend that money on an editorial team?

LGBTQA+ Friendly?
The book is not inclusive of LGBTQA characters in major roles. I would not recommend this book for an LGBTQA+ reading list.

Grammar and Writing:
The vocabulary used in this book is incredibly inconsistent. As mentioned in the live tweet review sometimes it seems that the authors took the time to find as obscure a synonym as possible for a word, while at other times they then used downright overly simplistic phrasing that kept jarring the reader back and forth like a freaking concertina falling down a flight of stairs. Because of the inconsistency with vocabulary, it’s impossible to judge an appropriate age group for this book – some of the words are great for 10 year olds, while the content is appropriate for 18+, then suddenly the words are GRE level out there unexpected. I honestly don’t know what the authors were thinking with their word choice or why their editors didn’t flag this as a potential issue. Some of the word play is very forced, beyond normal repetitive pun level humor and actually gets in the way of the sentence structure.

Additional concern, particularly for a major publisher such as Del Rey: this book does not meet the 1 error/10,000 word industry standard.

Twilight Zone Moment:
There are so, so many. I lost count. I will focus on this example:

The authors seem a bit confused about whether or not the character of Captain Lucre is able to make facial expressions as a bird. Sometimes the descriptions are correct – feathers flattened as a sign of emotional expression.

Other times they refer to a parrot making human facial expressions readable as emotion, then go back to talking about the parrot not being able to make human like facial expressions and therefore not able to have readable emotion. This inconsistency is one of many that was difficult, particularly for anyone that likes birds.

Why did I review this book?

This book is an example of why I switched to reading only new, emerging, and indie authors. When I bought it as an example I had no idea it was going to be this bad. The Amazon reviews showed it 4.4/5 stars. Later, I realized that the majority of these reviews received complimentary copies. I wanted to have an example of a “traditionally” published book and expected pristine editing. Instead, I learned that the only thing supporting traditional publishing is the power of money driving marketing.

Support New, Emerging, and Independent Authors. Ditch Traditional Publishers.

November 2019: “The Moon Hunters” by Anya Pavelle

Plot Summary (Caution Spoilers!):
The year is 2065, and a scientific research vessel is currently tracking dolphins affected by an earthquake in the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Deanne Ambagu and her nurse, Tomas, are examining the belongings of two assumed refugees they found drifting in a rather unusual boat. While both are unconscious, the doctor tries to find clues to the identities and origins of the two individuals. She finds a journal, a religious text, and references to a bizarre calendar so different from her own. In the journal, she finds mention of a pandemic 50 years prior that killed off a large portion of the world’s population. While the world has recovered and moved on, the doctor has a horrific realization: these two people are refugees from somewhere cut off since the pandemic.

Yet, when the strange woman with red hair and tan skin awakens, she is alarmed, surrounded by foreign materials like plastic and cotton. She panics at first. Once calmed, she slowly begins to tell her story of an island with three cities founded by three siblings named Samsara, Chanson, and Rekin Ani. Each sibling founds a city on the island and populates it with the friends they can save from their old home in California. Assuming that the world as they knew it has ended, they set up trade agreements and try to create a way for the world to continue in quarantine.

So why did the two flee? How did they end up where they are? Why are they together? The doctor has so many questions for the young woman as she awakes and reveals her name, Leilani.

Leilani was raised in the city founded by Rekin Ani, her great grandfather. The child of aristocratic parents that died of drowning, her only actual female role model is her space-case grandmother, a former queen. Her twin brother, Irin, is the head of the house by religious and cultural standards. Additionally, since the passing of their parents, he holds a place as a prince of their village and works as a leader, having to fulfill the duties expected of him.

This society has expectations of women as well that are rigid and unforgiving. Her best friend is a servant within her household yearning to change in status and live a more comfortable life – something Leilani promises she will help make possible at any cost, a promise that will lead to her downfall. But she is lucky! Her family and status have blessed her with a job, comfort, and finery that brings her some semblance of joy. Enough so that she is complacent with her situation.

There would be no story if things didn’t change, and so her brother, with her best interests at heart, makes it so. She is surprised to find that she is to change jobs and instead become Elegance, a member of the Queen’s Virtues. The Virtues represent the traits of the Ethereal Queen, the subservient female counterpart of Lehom, the volcano god. While this is beneficial for rank and status, there is something suspicious – Elegance is a position once held by the queen’s sister, and these are positions held for life. Why would the queen dismiss her sister?

So when the former Elegance suddenly shows up dead, and the King begins proposing changes to the government’s structure, a metaphorical and literal earthquake begins to shake things up on this island, putting the lives and safety of everyone in danger. In this incredible work of fiction, Leilani battles cognitive dissonance, finding herself beyond her religion, and discovering a world outside her own.

My Overall Response:
“The Moon Hunters” by Anya Pavelle is the best book I’ve read this year. Pavelle brings together stories within stories, showing the reader contrasting views, multi-dimensional characters, betrayal, forgiveness, and the representation of a grandmother’s love to a degree I have never before seen represented so poignantly in literature.

This book required writing at least 3 or 4 different books that merged into one cohesive story. Readers, this takes time and effort. This is not an easy task. It means that an author plays around in the world to ensure that the reader can too. Between writing the religious texts referenced, the journal entries of various people, the histories, and developing the context for all of this information to be discovered and put together, I’m sure there’s enough information for more books to be written about this island and the other characters mentioned. I would love to read more books about the people of Ani Island, particularly Samsara and Chanson. I have a fairly keen sense that the author has all of that information ready without asking based on the level of detail provided to readers.

One of the beautiful things about how Pavelle structured the story is by contrasting the different cities founded by different siblings. There’s Samsara, the liberal, compassionate, free-thinker whose journal calls her brother, Rekin, out on his crap. There’s Chanson, the mediator, and “middle ground” where the other two siblings’ cities must meet. Then there’s Rekin, the former Hollywood party-kid turned cult leader that has forced men and women into his ideal images of both.

The multi-dimensional characters make the story realistic, and the example I will choose to focus on is Leilani’s brother, Irin. Irin initially comes across as a complete asshole to an American reader. Except, as the story continues, this view changes. We realize behind the scenes that the reader doesn’t get to see Irin at his actual depth and instead sees him falter out of artifice for the benefit of his family and position of power. By the end of the book, I was proud of Irin’s growth and change to genuine expression.

One of the themes of the book is betrayal and forgiveness. What constitutes betrayal, and what deserves forgiveness? When does one let things go? When has someone been punished enough? As a reader, we see this repetition with differing results specific to the antagonist’s circumstances and Leilani’s internal state. This thematic element blesses a reader with reactional emotions such that we escape no consequences.

This is the second book I have reviewed that has made me pause for tears (the first being Then Came Darkness). The particular scene that made me cry was when Leilani’s grandmother reveals to her that she wants Leilani to know she can leave her life and have something else if she wants. She wants Leilani to see that she can have happiness and gives her the gives to secure that happiness. My grandmother, named Lillian, did this for me.

I genuinely think this is the best book I’ve read this year and maybe one of the best humanist works I’ve ever read. I cannot recommend this book enough and hope that everyone reading this review purchases a copy.

LGBTQA Friendly?
100%. One of the contrasting foundational elements of this book between societies shows heteronormativity versus complete acceptance of a spectrum of relationships. I would absolutely recommend any LGBTQA reading list.

Grammar:
While I think the writing is otherwise impeccable, the author mentioned she found two errors in the printed version. As a result, I went back into my notes and decided to be nit-picky on the two mistakes I did find for this reason. I did see notes for:

  • page 231, where the word “had” is missing.
  • page 279, where the word “my” should be the word “I.”

To be clear – this book meets the 1: 10,000-word error editorial standard and the errors are not memorable.

Twilight Zone Moment:
The unanswered questions I have that I wish had been addressed more in the book are what are the stereotyped traits of the founding families, and how did the class structure of the Village of Lehom arise? Perhaps this is something that could better be addressed in prequels if Pavelle so chooses to indulge an eager fan.

Want to Know More About the Author?
To read more about Anya Pavelle, read more of their work, or contact them, you can visit their website or visit their Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. You can purchase the book here.

Chandra Press, LLC, published this book. For more information, you can visit their website at www.chandrapress.com.


November 2019: “Kitty’s First Day of School” By Sarah Linx

Plot Summary (Caution! Spoilers):
It’s Kitty’s first day of school, and she doesn’t know what to expect. As we progress through the school day, Kitty learns how the school is structured. She meets Ms. Whiskers, Mr. Clef, Mr. Geo, and Ms. Star. Additionally, with a new friend Kitty makes an effort to improve the school’s sign when a child brings up its dilapidated state. When kitty returns home, her mother asks how her day went.

My Overall Response:
Many children don’t know what to expect when they encounter their first day of school. Sarah Linx takes the time to explain this in a child-friendly manner with fun illustrations. While the structure of the school day in this book is one of many different structure options, it still provides an excellent overview for the mind of a young child.

This is the kind of book that could easily have many sequels as we explore Kitty’s experiences with the world 🙂

LGBTQA Friendly?
This book is not unfriendly, nor does it approach the topic of identity. Given that the focus is the structure of a school day, it would be off-topic to include in any LGBTQA reading lists.

Grammar:
The grammar and word choice are simple and easy to follow. Perfect for a young audience! I appreciate that the author recognized that the parent/adult would be the narrator and uses second-person point of view to engage the listening child.

Twilight Zone Moment:
As an adult reading a children’s book, it’s not appropriate to attempt to find a twilight zone moment. I expect discontinuity in children’s books.

Want to know more about the author?
To read more by Sarah Linx check out her Twitter account. If you are interested in purchasing the book you may do so here.

Upcoming Reviews for November 2019

Happy November! I’m excited to share the following upcoming reviews:

If you would like to be among the future books that I read, please let me know! Requirements:

  • Print Edition Must Be Available (preferably paperback)
  • Under $20 (USD)

You must respond to either one of my calls on Twitter (the 15th of each month) for new books to read in the upcoming month. Occasionally, I will not make calls because the 4 slots for the next month are already full.

OR

You can send me an e-mail with the subject line: Only a Hippopotamus Will Do (e-mails not including this subject will be ignored)

In this e-mail include:

  • a link to where I can purchase your book.
  • a brief introduction to yourself
  • a link to your Twitter and/or personal website (if applicable).

IF you are interested in sending me a copy of your book, please send me an e-mail with the subject line: The Buffalo Seem Fine to Me and I will respond to each inquiry on a case-by-case basis.