Thoughts on THE ORPHAN WITCH

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? It’s the last Wednesday of September, so you all know what that means. It’s book review time. This month, I wanted something more fantasy than anything. Just something a little different than all of the cozies I’ve been reading lately. I thought that might help me get excited about reading again. My search brought me to The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher. It was released yesterday (the 28th) from St. Martin Press’s Griffin imprint. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

A nice cover.

The Orphan Witch follows Persephone May as she drifts through life trying to find her place in the world and a family to share it with. Bad luck seems to follow her around until she’s invited to spend some time on Wile Isle, then everything goes from bad to worse. There’s a curse only she can break, people who keep attacking her for no reason, and lots of betrayal and deception. But throw in a hot librarian and maybe things aren’t so bad.

Sounds fun, right? It could be, but it’s not. The plot is far too convoluted. It honestly feels like an early draft where even the author is just going along and trying to figure out what’s happening. The beginning is slow and sparse on important details. Everything is crammed into the last half of the book, which makes it super muddled. And for an island that doesn’t let people come to it during certain times of the year, it sure seems to make a lot of exceptions. If the rules of the magic system are so easily ignored, it destroys all my faith in the system to begin with, which makes the loopholes Persephone and her cohorts exploit more annoying than exciting. There was a lot of potential for this story, but the execution was lacking.

I mean… it’s not a lie.

The characters were okay. Persephone was too naive a lot of the time. And her background could’ve been explored and utilized better, but she was an okay protagonist. Hyacinth was ridiculously manipulative and selfish, but it was (poorly) explained away as her being under someone else’s influence despite the fact that she was a horrible person all along. Moira, Ellison, and Ariel all had potential to be really interesting, but were largely undeveloped. They felt like afterthoughts, brought in to move the plot along. And Dorian could’ve used a lot more fleshing out.

You can probably guess how I feel about the pacing. Ugh. Aside from the beginning being slow and the end being rushed, there were so many spots that were just infodumps. Instead of spreading the background throughout the story naturally, there are huge sections of it unceremoniously scattered everywhere. I almost didn’t get past the first chapter because of it. But I pressed on.

The writing itself was average at best and subpar at other times. Mostly, the dialogue was the cringe-y bit. It was so stilted and a lot unnecessary things were said that were strictly for the benefit of the reader. I can’t think of a specific example from this book, but I mean like when characters are talking about someone the main character knows, but the speaker goes into ridiculous detail about great aunt Muriel with the glasses and saggy jowls or whatever. People don’t talk that way. It’s annoying. Just say “Aunt Muriel died,” then do a descriptive paragraph. Not everything belongs in dialogue.

Ultimately, The Orphan Witch didn’t live up to its potential. Luckily, it works just fine as a standalone, so I don’t even have to entertain the idea of sequels. It just wasn’t for me.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Well, one and a half, really. One star because it got published (which is hard to do and means someone liked it) and half of one because it had potential. If you’re interested in it, you might like it. If it just seems meh to you, you’re not missing anything by skipping it.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Hello, hello!  Today, we have a guest blogger (kind of… technically, I wrote it, but I did so from someone else’s point of view at their request).  Normally, I wouldn’t post something so far outside of the realm of writing or crippleness, but it’s for my dad, Gary.  Say hi to Dad!  Anyway, he enlisted me to write a review of the heart monitor and exercise app he recently started using.  So, here are his issues, written out by me.

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Dad and I at a Christmas party a couple of years ago.

The Polar H10 and Polar Beat App

The Polar H10 heart rate monitor paired with the Polar Beat training app is a fabulous combination if you’re a technophile and exercising/training is a major part of your life, but what about everyone else?  What about the people who just want to track their exercise because their doctor said to lose a few pounds and to work some cardio into their schedules?  What about the people who aren’t techno-savvy and just want to jump on the treadmill without having to mess with an app on their phone both before AND after a workout, but still want to track their progress?  Honestly, the Polar H10 and Beat App aren’t designed with everyday people in mind, so if you’re not interested in becoming a hardcore workout enthusiast, save your money.  They aren’t worth the $100.

One of the features of the H10 that Polar touts on its website is the ability to connect to gym equipment (treadmills, ellipticals, etc.) via bluetooth.  As someone who admittedly doesn’t know much about computers and data transfer, I mistakenly believed that this meant the heart monitor and my treadmill would share information in order to provide me with the best exercise summation possible.  Unfortunately, after my first workout, I noticed that the Beat App didn’t track my distance or my pace (both things that my treadmill tracks).  I learned from Polar’s customer service that the H10 doesn’t sync data from the treadmill to the Beat App and the app can’t track distance and pace without the phone’s GPS (which is useless for indoor exercise).  In other words, the H10 gave me the same information my H1 gave me.  It was an extremely disappointing revelation.

At first, I thought maybe I had just pulled my own ideas of what the H10 should do out of thin air.  But then I reviewed Polar’s advertisements for the H10 and Beat App.  While they don’t technically say they can track distance and speed, the advertisements do imply that they can.  On the website, there’s a picture of the open app nestled behind the H10 strap.  The app is set to “running” and the one visible completed exercise routine lists duration and, underneath that, kilometers traveled.  Granted, the completed exercise is “mountain biking,” but a quick glance (which is what ads rely on) implies distance tracking.  Then, there’s the video of the “crossfit” training that gives you a glimpse of the Beat App in action.  There’s a spot for distance on the screen, which I picked up as I watched the video, but the screen disappears before the brain can register that the distance is 0, unless you pause it and really study the screen.  It’s not technically false advertising, but it is highly misleading.

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The picture I mentioned.

Because of the lack of distance and pace information, my daughter (she’s the techno-savvy one in the family) has to manually input my information.  This would be fine, but once she inputs a new training result, she has to delete the entry from the heart monitor so that I don’t have multiple workouts listed and skewing my data.  That means I lose the actual tracking of my heartbeat anyway.  If it were possible to edit/add data to a completed session, it would make life much easier.

Along with all of these issues, there’s also the fact that the connection between the Beat App and the H10 is iffy at best.  I’ve used the strap and app six times now and twice the app informed me that I had no training sessions stored on the monitor after I finished my cardio workout.  The first time, I chalked it up to me making a mistake during the startup, but then it worked fine for a few days before saying that I had no sessions once again.  I know I did everything properly that second time.  Needless to say, I was more than a little peeved that day.

Speaking of the H10’s session storing capabilities, I find it really odd that the strap supposedly holds up to 30 hours of information, but will only store one training session.  I don’t know anyone who trains for 30 hours.  Maybe in future incarnations of the heart monitor Polar could replace some of that useless storage power by figuring out how to transfer data from gym equipment to the Beat App instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who buys something without doing as much research as possible, then complains when things don’t meet my unrealistic expectations.  I tried to find out everything I could about the H10 before I bought it, but there is very little information available.  I’m a larger man, so I didn’t want to buy it only to find out the strap didn’t fit me.  It took me three different Google searches to find something as simple as measurements for the strap.  Finding reliable information about the actual abilities and limitations of the H10 and Beat App was virtually impossible.

Despite the lack of information, I went ahead and purchased the H10 and downloaded the Beat App.  Why?  Because I’ve owned three Polar watches as well as the H1 and have never had issues with the brand in the past.  I trusted that the H10 was an improvement over the H1 and that it would do what the advertisements implied.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t meet my needs or my expectations.

Like I said, if you’re super into working out and you want to keep track of your heartbeat and burned calories (but nothing else), the H10 and Beat App are perfect for you.  If you’re just looking for an easy way to track your exercise while you lose a few pounds, I suggest just sticking with a fitness watch or something like that.

Thoughts On KUSHIEL’S DART

Hello, hello!  Welcome to August.  Where has the year gone?  Recently, I’ve been trying to read Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, which was on my short summer reading list.  While it’s a relatively long book (900ish pages), the fact that I’m still stuck around page 100 doesn’t bode well for me finishing it.  In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t be reading the rest of it.  I feel bad, because a good friend recommended the book, but I just can’t get into it.  So, I thought I would give my thoughts on it thus far before I stash it away, deep in my bookcase, and grab something else to read.

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“Sophisticated” = too mature for me, I guess.

First, I want to say that I had high hopes for this novel.  The plot sounds really interesting and the way the main character, Phedre, was described to me made her sound amazing.  I’m sure when she grows up (she’s currently 16 where I stopped), she’ll be a badass.  But there’re a lot of things that I just can’t get past about this world.

For starters, the Court of Night Blooming Flowers.  It’s basically a bunch of high-end brothels, which I am totally fine with and was intrigued by.  At least until it started getting into the details where the children that the houses take in, either because the parents can’t care for them or they’re born into the house, are coerced (they make it sound like it’s a choice, but the kids are groomed for it from day one) into learning the “ways of Naamah” (sex) when they hit the age of 14 in order to pay back the debt they incurred by being raised in the specific houses.  Granted, Phedre escapes this by being purchased by someone who puts off her actual training until she’s older (she’s 16 and still a virgin when I stopped reading).  If it were a normal bodily exploration thing, I wouldn’t think twice about it, but these are kids being used to make money. I can’t get over the icky feeling I get from it, even though I understand that this is the norm in that world.

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This is me trying to read this book.

There’s also the background story about how an angel, Elua, decided to go on a walkabout to find people who would accept him and was followed around by some companions because even other angels worshipped him.  While on this walkabout, Naamah prostitutes herself to get the stuff Elua needs (from his freedom when he’s imprisoned to his food).  Because that’s what women do, apparently: they sell themselves to take care of a perfectly able man.  Thus, prostitution became a holy act and that’s why the Night Court exists.  Which is actually a pretty cool story (except the whole doing it for a guy part).  And no one is supposed to be forced into prostitution lest it sully the act.  But, like I said, when a kid is groomed for it their entire life, it certainly feels like coercion to me.

Despite all of that, I would probably keep reading for the main storyline, but the writing style is what’s really stopping me.  There’s a lot of flowery, purple prose.  It seems like every sentence contains at least one adverb.  Most of the time, I feel like the author is just trying to show off how big her vocabulary is.  And that’s a huge turn off for me.

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It’s true.

I apologize to my friend and anyone else who loves this book, but it’s not for me.  Maybe it gets better.  Perhaps in a few years, I’ll be mature enough to appreciate it for the “sophisticated fantasy” it’s claimed to be.  But for now, I’m putting it away and turning my attention elsewhere.