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review 2015-12-06 19:43
The Thief Taker - C.S. Quinn


This is a bit of a mixed recommendation. The person who recommended it did so with the words “read it so we can discuss how awful it was afterwards”. It has to be said, though, that she’s a History researcher who specializes in 17th century (1600s) England.

Synopsis: Charlie Tuesday is a thief-taker, something like a 17th century private investigator. His business is dwindling with the outburst of plague that threatens to empty the entire city -- both because of people fleeing and because of people dying. A beautiful woman offers him lots of money to investigate her sister’s death, and Charlie is compelled to accept her offer, but once he sees the body he realizes the crime might have much deeper connections with his own life.

Overall enjoyment: I actually liked it, to the despair of my friend. I’m no historian (although I do appreciate well-done research) so the historical inaccuracies didn’t really bother me, I only cared about the story’s development. That is not to say it didn’t have problems; it did, and many, but for a first novel I thought it was a very good effort. I’ll definitely read the next one (I just found out today that it is a series...)

Plot: There is some nice suspense, and it mostly holds true through the end. I’d say it’s probably a lot more thriller than historical fiction. The story kept me turning pages until it was done. It could have been better foreshadowed, there were some inconsistencies, and sometimes the motivations aren’t very clear, but overall, it’s good enough.

Characters: Charlie is interesting, and nicely developed. Maria needs A LOT more work, though. And the other characters, nobility and commoners, are quite shallow and a bit stereotypical. The main problem here were the inconsistencies, but I’m hoping there will be less of those in future books.

World/setting: Here, I’m going to have to heed my friend’s words and give the book a negative mark. Apparently, the history is all over the place. And so is the geography. I always get suspicious of historical fiction books that don’t have a “historical note” in the end, detailing the author’s research, what liberties they took, what is historical fact, what was adapted, and what was downright made up. This book doesn’t have one, and, according to my friend, for good reason. Even when you don’t take history in consideration, there are still many inconsistencies: they are so afraid of the plague at first, but after a few chapters they will walk in plague-infested streets without taking any precaution, stuff like that.

Writing style: Pleasant enough, I suppose, although it could have been more fluid. One thing that really bothered me was how she built the romance between Charlie and Maria... Namely, there are several instances when Charlie smells her perfume, or her hair. Dude, you’ve been on the road for days. You haven’t bathed since. In fact, it’s the 1600s in Europe, so the both of you probably haven’t bathed in months. Are you seriously trying to tell me she smells good?

Representation: Not very good.

Political correctness: It’s kind of the standard thriller. The girl is only there to serve as support and love interest to the male character. She may be smart, but she’s also stupid enough to provide them with timely obstacles whenever the story needs it. She’s brave, but she doesn’t miss an opportunity to shake in fear and cling to him fetchingly (and give him a nice whiff of her perfume in the process). She’s so stereotyped she’s even supposed to smell good under the circumstances she’s in.

Up next: City of the Beasts, by Isabel Allende

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text 2015-12-06 19:07
The Last Illusion - Porochista Khakpour


Recommended by a friend who I’d rather not name. He is a very pretentious sort of person... I do like him, and I’m only saying this here because I’m confident he will never read this, but he is pretentious, and a literary snob. And it shows.

Synopsis: Disgusted by his light skin and hair, Zal’s mother decides to raise him as a bird. She locks him in a cage, feeds him bird food, and never teaches him to speak or be a person. He is rescued and adopted by a behavior scientist, who sets about turning Zal from a feral child to a “real person”. 

Overall enjoyment: God, this book is so pretentious I had to make a conscious effort not to roll my eyes at every phrase. Everyone is so Different, and full of Quirks (yes, both capitalized), there is hardly any space left for actual characterization and plot. It’s absolutely forgettable; I’ve read it less than a week ago and I’ve already forgotten how it ends. A year from now, all that will be left is a condescending smile and an eye-roll.

Plot: There isn’t one. Really. There is something about a magic number, and some romantic subplot, something that might, on the right light and with lots of good will, pass for a coming of age... But none of those are really worth noting.

Characters: Ugh. You know the fake-deep thing? Stuff (and characters) that aren’t deep at all, but try so hard to be... Asiya (white girl, of course), the romantic interest, is the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, down to the romanticized eating disorder. Zal is bland and indefinite. None of the characters have true depth, but they have Quirks a-plenty in an effort to hide it.

World/setting: Doesn’t have any importance in the story. Near the end of the book she tries to make different references to 9/11, and there are so many of them they start to get wild and unintentionally funny. 

Writing style: Again, you know when something isn’t deep but tries so hard to be? There is no substance, so she plays tricks to make up for it.

Representation: Zal is supposedly Iranian, but he’s light-skinned, with blue eyes and blond hair. 

Political correctness: There is an attempt at reflecting what makes a person “normal” and, specifically, what makes a man a “man”, but it’s very much lost among all the pretentiousness. And the (very little) science she tries to use as background is factually incorrect.

Up next: The Thief Taker, by C. S. Quinn

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review 2015-12-06 18:01
Half World - Hiromi Goto


Recommended by Juliana. It was a breath of fresh air after Three Princes... A book that promises something different and actually delivers it!

Synopsis: Melanie, an awkward, chubby, and socially inept teenager, arrives home from school to discover her mother has disappeared. She receives a creepy phone call from a man calling himself Mr. Glueskin, and he gives her a set of instructions to follow if she wants to rescue her mother. Not knowing what to do, she seeks the help of her neighbor, Ms. Wei, and embarks on her adventure.

Overall enjoyment: It was very good. Some parts were a bit rushed, this is one of those rare books that would’ve been better if they were longer, but overall it’s very refreshing and imaginative. Not to say this is a light read, though...

Plot: It is quite well constructed, but it could have been better developed. There are two prologues, and I can’t help but feel that they could have been worked into the story proper, so the reader could piece the information together, rather than given at the beginning. As it is, the story takes a while to start, and some things that could have been plot twists (because Melanie has to discover them) are already known to the reader and you just have to roll your eyes and wait patiently until she figures it out. Also, the quest in itself, the tasks that Melanie has to perform to achieve her goal, are over too soon. She could have fleshed this part out a little bit, have Melanie work for it more. It’s traditional in a quest story, isn’t it? There is one kind of plot hole, though (and not really a plot hole, just something that REALLY should have been explained and isn’t).

Characters: They are well developed enough. Melanie can appear bratty and inconsiderate at times, but that’s just how her character is. Others, like Mr. Glueskin, are supposed to be stereotypes. Once again, there could have been a better development if the book had been longer. I sure would have loved to read more about the Half-World people.

World/setting: There is some amazing world building in here. The three planes of existence are clearly based on Buddhism, but she doesn’t concern herself much with the higher level (or the mortal level, for that matter). The story is set in Half-World, a dreary place full of monstrosities but no color at all. This is an amazing world, even if violent and grotesque.

Writing style: Very concise and straightforward. 

Representation: It’s a book about a Japanese character, based on Japanese mythology, written by a Japanese author.

Political correctness: No big gaffes in here. Like all good coming-of-age stories, it tries to give some idea on big concepts, like death, suffering, loss, and justice. 

Up next: The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour

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text 2015-12-06 16:54
Three Princes - Ramona Wheeler


Another recommendation from Maria, plus it has awesome cover art. This one was a miss for me, though.

Synopsis: In an alternative reality, where the Egyptian Empire flourished and went on to dominate the world by what would be our 16th century, Lord Scott Oken is a spy for the Empress against her enemies, Victoria and Albert, who want to bring the empire down. Along with his mentor Mabruke, he is sent to the New World of the Inca Empire to investigate strange happenings.

Overall enjoyment: It was a bit pointless. There was so much that could have been done here, with the supposed steampunk setting plus the alternate history, but those two elements almost weren’t used. They are basically bright lights to advertise what, in the end, is a poorly constructed, quite unoriginal, and, frankly, very boring spy story.

Plot: It takes a really long time for the story to start, and it drags all the way to the end. Scott and Mik are supposed to be superspies, but they actually do nothing at all, they only watch as the story unfolds. The third prince, who is the one who brings the start of the action with him, only appears halfway through the book, and leaves right afterwards. The events are disconnected and there is no suspense at all. 

Characters: Scott is a brushed-up James Bond who doesn’t play cards. All he does is objectify, seduce, and abandon women who, of course, can’t help but sigh when they think of him for missing him so much. Mik is likable, and that is his only true asset as a spy. All the characters are shallow stereotypes, and I couldn’t care less about any of them.

World/setting: My biggest disappointment. It should have been where all the work was truly done -- you have both steampunk and alternate history going on here -- but it was just used as a gimmick to get attention and there was no depth to it at all. There is no explanation, or even a hint, as to how Egypt managed to dominate the world; or how, for that matter, the Inca Empire survived (in our reality they had already been destroyed by the Aztec at this point, but in the book the Aztec aren’t even mentioned). There are some flying machines, but calling this book steampunk is a really big stretch. Overall, there is lots of decoration but very little foundation: she spends pages describing how the women paint their breasts, how they dress, the appropriate form of address, the decoration of the houses, and what the flying machines look like; and very few or no pages at all telling us how the machines actually work, or how it was that this society became possible, or how it works in practice. Any engineer can tell you that you have to lay the foundations first and then build upon that, otherwise the whole thing will fall down on your head.

Writing style: It wasn’t too bad, considering how bad the other stuff was.

Representation: The Incas could be considered dark-skinned, I suppose. And she hints that Mik may be gay. She misses a couple of perfect opportunities to make lesbian couples, though. (And it’s not just that she could have put them together but chose not to, the story would actually have been better and the plot neater if they had been couples.)

Political correctness: This reads exactly like a James Bond novel, especially in the misogyny, hypocrisy and self-importance. I won’t even bother listing all the problems I had with this, I’ll just leave a general comment: argh.

Up next: Half World, by Hiromi Goto

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text 2015-12-06 14:36
The Anatomy Lesson - Nina Siegal


Recommended by Nina. She’s an art student who has a lot of interest in the history of famous paintings. After she recommended it to me, she was infuriated to discover this was the fictional, and not just fictionalized, story. I decided to read it anyway, since I’m not as hung up on true historical facts as she is…

Synopsis: The fictional backstory to Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, starring Aris Kindt, an unfortunate boy with a tragic story who could never get a break, and who also had been Rembrandt’s neighbor in their childhood, as the body.

Overall enjoyment: It was nice. Not one of the best books I’ve ever read, but not one of the worst, either. 

Plot: The plot really isn’t the most important thing here. She’s mostly trying to paint a picture herself, of the particular moment when this painting was made. I’ll admit that there wasn’t a lot of engagement for me. There is an attempt at suspense with Flora’s story, and her wanting to save him/get his body, but that’s mostly ruined because you know from the start that she will fail.

Characters: They are mostly well constructed. Flora’s character, though, which I was hoping would be a good one, was too much of a stereotypical angelic woman. I do like that there are no evil characters, just a few people who can’t be bothered to care about people they don’t know.

World/setting: This was probably the best part of the book. The portrayal of the time and place was vivid and colorful, even in its repression and puritanism.

Writing style: The whole book is told in first person, but the narrating character changes from chapter to chapter (sometimes within chapter too). The problem I had here is that they all sound like the same person talking, not like different people at all. She uses some very few markers on each different character (like having Flora say “were” every time she means “was”) but those were so few and incongruent (Flora would use it in very complex and refined phrases; that would be the only grammatical error she would make) they seemed gimmicky and fake. It honestly would have been better to just have them all talk the exact same way.

Representation: Quite poor, as you would expect.

Political correctness: I did not like Flora’s character. I had very high hopes for her, and she turned out to be a stereotype. It’s even worse because Flora is the only female character (if you don’t count Tulp’s wife, but she’s even more stereotypical than Flora).

Up next: Three Princes, by Ramona Wheeler

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