Monthly Archives: March 2014

BookReview: Gravettian Goddess, by B. Alexander Howerton

Gravettian GoddessAuthor, B. Alexander Howerton sent me an e-copy of his novel Gravettian Goddess. I’ve also seen it on the KDP free list.

Description from Goodreads:
What if the Holy Grail were real? What if people could truly live forever? Gravettian Goddess will appeal to fans of both The Da Vinci Code and Clan of the Cave Bear. It is the story of Greg Janeszco, a self-made internet multi-millionaire with a penchant for archaeology, who discovers a mystery that reaches back into the dim mist of prehistory, when humans first migrated into Europe at least 40,000 years ago during the ice age and created the wondrous cave paintings found there. Can he solve the ancient riddle before the pursuing members of a shadowy international organization, who want to exploit the find for their own dark purposes?

Review: ***spoiler alert***
This book has a truly interesting idea and, I think, an honorable aim. It should be stated up front that I appreciate that about it and the right reader will probably find a lot of worthwhile information and an interesting story here. This is important to state up-front, because I obviously was not the right reader. I intend to spend a page or so detailing, in excruciating detail, why not and I don’t want it to come across as an attack. I’m not pulling any punches, but I’m not trying to be mean.

I recognise and give credence to the fact that others love this book. I didn’t, which was surprising to me. I’d have thought this would be right up my alley. My first degree was anthropology, with minors in archaeology and religious studies. So, I obviously have an interest in the subject area. But no, despite being right in the middle of my interest grid, this book didn’t do it for me. It is possible that same educational history made much of this book redundant to me and affected my enjoyment of it, since there is A LOT of theory presented here in a rather academic mien.

The book begins with a number of solid and, frankly, annoying textbook-like info-dumps, broken up by a number of characters’ history info-dumps. In fact, I’d say the 1st 25% is pretty much ALL info-dumps, back to back. It got repetitive quickly. (However, I’ll acknowledge that if you know nothing about human evolution and migrations or the various cultures that revered the Mother Goddess, this might be riveting for you. It’s an interesting topic after all.)

Further, many of the historical info-dumps resulted from a convenient knowledge gap on Greg’s part. He’s a Ph.D. level student of archeology at a renowned school. Even if he did focus on underwater archaeology, much of what he needs explained to him (for the benefit of the reader) would be undergraduate anthropology 201 level stuff. He should know it and it felt artificial that he didn’t.

As the book progressed and the guise of a mystery was dropped all together, the info-dumps  morphed into actual lectures. I didn’t particularly enjoy this, nor did I find their flow particularly natural. As an example, Greg repeatedly attempted to interject humanist objections about the interpretations of pre-historic mythology. This simply came across as scripted attempts to pre-emptively counter some ethereal social arguments.

At one point he questioned if the Venus of Willendorf figure is actually just an early form of degrading sexism and objectification of women instead of a representation of the divine. It felt very much like he did this just so that Malenka could then lecture him on the dangers of assigning our value set to other cultures. This is an important anthropological lesson and true, but its inclusion at this point in the story (in a conversation between four anthropologists who shouldn’t need it in the first place) felt forced, as if part of some ulterior motive.

It’s this ulterior motive that really irked me in the end. The book is initially presented as a bit of a mystery. Comparisons to Dan Brown are made and the first couple chapters set it up to be of a similar sort of book. Then that mystery is dropped completely! In fact, both the man Greg is seeking and the woman who prompted him to action and joined him on the search die—no more action/adventure mystery. What’s left is Greg’s transformative experience with the Great Earth Goddess. This is the focus of the book!

All that mystery preamble feels like a bait and switch to get you into the lessons on the sacred feminine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Goddess, but I don’t like sneak proselytising from her followers any more than I do when the Jehovah witnesses knock on my door at 8:00 Saturday morning. I don’t know that the author meant the book to feel like this (or even if he’s an actual follower), but it did.

For the most part, I found the writing perfectly passable, but there were times that it fell apart. Names and endearments were used too frequently in dialogue to feel normal. Some descriptions were painfully over-detailed and there were a number of run-on, or extreme compound sentences. (Just read the first in the book for an example.)

While the technical writing was fine, the book is quite repetitive. The reader is told “Greg awoke,’ or some variation of it about 4,000 times. Similarly we’re given some form of  ‘an indeterminate amount of time passed’ another 4,000 times, or so. This was noticeable both in it’s repetition and because the information was often irrelevant. If Greg is off doing something, anything, he’s obviously woken up.

Additionally, both Dr. Tillmans, Zorian and Ellsington all teach in the exact same manner, by asking “are you sure’ whenever Greg regurgitates ‘common knowledge.’ It became an obvious ploy to force the reader to consider their own opinions on the matters in question and, hopefully, see the error of their ways. But seeing  four seperate people pulling the same schtick again and again didn’t feel believable. In fact, I got down right annoyed at it. It came across as incredibly arrogant. A number of the questions they highlight are worth consideration, however.

There was also very little character development. The bad guys are wholly evil, lacking any redeeming qualities (including basic sanity, apparently) while the good guys are saints. You’d think none of them even ever woke up grumpy. These extreme dichotomies were disconcerting. As was the fact that Greg, a 30-year-old American man, was a touchy-feeling, huggy, crier, who even fainted at one point. How many men do you know like that?

I generally like a little romance in a book, but here I don’t think it contributed to the story. If there had been a single strong connection, it might have. Instead, Greg meets and within a couple days falls in love with Eleni, judging by how he grieved for her when she died a week later. A few (conscious) days after that, he meets and immediately falls in love with Alaia. By dint of their mere replaceability, these relationships seem transient and unimportant, though they aren’t meant to. The time dedicated to shining eyes, swaying hips, blinding smiles, etc (not to mention sex) only distracted the reader amidst an already flagging plot. It didn’t have room for such detractions.

Lastly, I see from the previous reviews (and the author’s responses to them) that the book has taken a lot of flack for it’s/the character’s critical treatment of Dan Brown’s work (surprising since the author chose to site him as a comparable read). I highlighted a number of these passages without realising this. My issue, however, was not any kind of offence on Brown’s behalf or indignation at one author slamming another, more well-known author, in his work. No, mine was a much more personal complaint. I hate, HATE seeing these kinds of pop references in books (if pop reference if the right phrase for it).

When characters say things like, “Whoa, this is too much. It’s almost like we’re living through the Da Vinci Code or something,” no matter the source material, I groan. I just hate it. To me it only highlights the improbability of a plot by pointing out that it resembles a well know fictional account. Why would I want that? I want to FORGET that it’s fiction and impossible so that I can immerse myself in it. Totally personal, that, but still.

So, again, there is an interesting kernel of an idea here. It’s obvious that the author did a lot of research before writing the book. He ties a number of different cultures together in a considerable way.  Some people will no doubt enjoy the hell out of it. As for me…if you’re interested in the Goddess Cultures portrayed in this novel, I’d recommend skipping the attempt at fiction and just reading Baring & Cashford’s The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image.

…and that, my friends, is a 1,300-word review….

Review of Touched By Venom (Dragon Temple Saga, #1), by Janine Cross

Touched by VenomI picked up all three of Janine CrossDragon Temple Saga books from my local library.

Description of Touched by Venom:
Like her half-breed mother, young Zarq Darquel can’t always hold her tongue. A peasant on a large dragon estate, she goes unnoticed by the Dragon Temple-until she captures the attention of a dragonmaster. Her clan is plunged into destitution, her sister Waivia sold into slavery, and her mother lost to madness. Desperate to find Waivia, Zarq and her delirious mother flee. Zarq then develops a taste for the highly addictive venom of the dragons she has been taught to revere-and with it, she imbibes their memories and a glimpse of a plot for social revolution. But to achieve it, she must defy not just sexual taboos and patriarchal society, but the Emperor who rules her nation.

Good lord, this one keeps you wanting. It’s beautifully written, seriously intense, harrowing, with amazing world-building and an admirable, strong heroine. But it moves at the speed of molasses. I mean it’s slooooow.

Seriously, the first 50% of the book covers Zarq’s life as a 9-year-old. The next 40% is age 10-17 and a whole heck of a lot of hard living and sacrifice. The next 8% shows her coming to grips with her situation and in the last 2% something finally happens. Yep, all that social revolution stuff hinted at in the book blurb happens in the last pages…THE LAST PAGES…and then, and THEN holy hotcakes, Batman, it’s a big ol’, rage-inducing cliffhanger. Grrrr!!

I have all three books in this series and spent most of this book thinking I wouldn’t bother with the second and third. I mean, even though it really is an astonishing piece of writing, it’s also a major downer. As and example, at one point the fallout of the actions of one 9-year-old boy destroys the lives and livelihoods of an entire village, with devastating, irreversible, long lasting affects. Honestly, what do you do with that? This is not a book to pick up for the feel-good factor. There isn’t any.

But, that last 10% gives me hope that the plot might FINALLY be picking up and I’ll see where book two goes. Ms. Cross can string a tale, she can weave atmosphere, she can bring you to tears—laughter maybe not so much, but heart-rending agony, sure—and she can create a believable fantasy world. Worth reading.

Note: I reviewed book two, Shadowed by Wings, here.

Review of Dark Indiscretions (Dark Indiscretions #1), by Shakuita Johnson

Dark IndiscretionsI downloaded a copy of Dark Indiscretions, by Shakuita Johnson, from the Amazon free list. 

Description from Goodreads:
What happens when your whole family is scarier than any nightmare and you have no desire to be anything like them? Do you stay and go along with the family plans or do you rebel and have them possibly turn their viciousness on you?

Jennifer Johnston experiences first hand why whispers are spoken in the dark about her species’ being evil when she was just a century old. What should have been another family dinner spent arguing over why she didn’t want to keep the bloodlines “pure” by being married off to her older brother turned into a nightmare and left her with more than tortured memories.

Jackson Dawls and Taylor Durham had been pack mates, best friends, and the other’s mate for as long as they could remember. They were a deadly species all their own but even they feared the Mystics and their overly cruel and barbaric ways, but unforeseen circumstances bring them face to face with not one but a few. Will there lives be in danger or is something great and unexpected awaiting them?

They also have to stay under the radar of the human society that is set out to destroy those they believe to be “Tarnished” and a danger to mankind.

When the three meet long ago secrets are brought to the light. Secrets no one but Jennifer knew. Not only do they have to learn to get along with each other because they are fated, someone is also stalking Jennifer and preforming sinister acts without her being any the wiser.

Jennifer must seek guidance from old acquaintances and form alliances with those she never thought she would. She is met with riddles and startling revelations that she never would have imagined possible.

Will they accept their fates and work together or will old fears destroy their lives? Will Jennifer be able to reclaim what was taken from her right from under her nose?

Years ago, when my husband and I were young and had time for such things, we used to enjoy something called Good Wine/Bad Movie night. It was exactly as the name implies. We would take turns picking out a good bottle of wine and a bad movie. The idea being the better the wine was, the worse the movie could be. We had a lot of fun on such nights. You couldn’t take the drack we were watching seriously (serious B grade sci-fi was a favourite), but when paired with high quality alcohol you would have been laughing at it too. It was fun.

If Dark Indiscretions was a movie, it would have been a prime contender to pair with an excellent Côtes de Bordeaux. It’s bad. I mean, really bad. I wish I used star ratings here so that I could say that the only reason I’m not giving this a one star is because it’s so bad it trips over into the ‘so super-bad it’s funny’ category and since I’m the sort who enjoys staying awake to watch the cheesy late-night fantasy fair I actually got a kick out of this.

I cringed at the writing. The dialogue just about killed me. The plotting was a disaster. The editing was MIA. The character development was nonexistent. The sex was brutally blunt, brusque even. The POVs and tenses were erratic at best. But it was like a train wreck I just couldn’t look away from. Not once did I consider putting it down and not finishing it. I was too busy being amused at it’s horridness.

I highlighted a number of examples that I had intended to include here, but I think at this point it might just seem cruel. Instead, I’ll link to my Amazon highlights. And despite my assertion that the book is a rolling disaster, I’d still recommend it to people like me who enjoy a good cheese-fest on occasion, maybe a little WTFery thrown in on the side. This is the book for you.