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review 2015-04-07 18:33
Great cover, lovely prose, okay stories
Hammer and Bone - Kirby Crow

It was one of those hard-to-rate books, because while it undeniably holds quality, I also undeniably didn’t enjoy it very much. In other words, although the writing is definitely far above average and describing this book as merely okay wouldn’t be accurate,  it ended up being only an okay read for me.  I hope that the difference makes sense.


I’ll try to explain.


This is not my first read by Kirby Crow.  I’ve always had very conflicted, mixed, frustrating feelings as far as her stories are concerned and I invariably follow the same path from ecstatic marvel to bored, grumpy mood. The beginning invariably hooks me. I am invariably fascinated by the lush, palpable, visual, wonderfully evocative and detailed world building, all wrapped up in the atmosphere, waiting for the story to deliver its punch. Then usually halfway through, I am invariably losing focus and interest, noticing that the characters are a bit too flat for me to actually care for them, that the story development is a bit too predictable or basic, or that it is wandering, that the story lines are not up to the quality of the writing. And yes, it is perhaps unfair, but that’s how it is. Frustrating.


“Hammer and Bone” is a collection of short stories and although collecting tales from different worlds, from dystopia to fantasy with incursions in horror,  it is a coherent, whole work about pain, survival, about choices, about people teetering between Right and Wrong, between Lamb and Wolf, between Hammer and Bone. There is no romance in there. It is indeed about relationships, love, but always and foremost about unsettling, straining situations, with people snapping, toppling over, and ending on different ends or places on the hammer-and-bone spectrum. Fascinating topic.


I will not review nor rate each story. I really liked one of them because I am partial to mind games and pacts with the devil, I really disliked one of them because I felt emotionally manipulated, one other choice took me by surprise and I liked how unapologetically immoral yet practical it was, most of them were okay reads. My most disliked story seems to be others’ favorite, it’s all subjective. What matters is that none of the stories was bad, but none of them truly stood out either, that I sometimes wondered what was the point besides the obvious one, that I wasn’t immersed deep enough in the characters’ psyche to topple over with them, and that the turning point that is so important in such stories often felt rushed. All in all,  I followed my usual pattern. I was hooked, I waited for the punch, I grew frustrated, I grumbled. The stories are too short to wander, but it’s still like they are losing themselves in their own creepy, eery, lovely atmosphere; and although I wouldn’t scratch one word from said atmosphere, I still think that the quality, the care, the depth, the pace, the word count even for world building, characterization and story development are unbalanced. It’s not about less, it’s well and truly about more. More sharpness and focus, mainly.


It doesn’t matter how much I like Kirby Crow’s prose and how much I wish her stories would work for me, they don’t. If you’re familiar with her work and have had the same kind of frustrations, I doubt that this book will change anything.


If you are new to her work, it could be a good start, since the stories will give you samples of her writing in different kinds of setting without the feeling of hopping from one topic to another. If you mind the lack of romance and/or if you are not into dark stories but into fantasy, I’d suggest to begin with the Scarlet and the White Wolf series though.


If you are already a fan, especially a fan of  Angels of the Deep, you obviously don’t have the same reservations and my guess is that you will love it.

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review 2015-02-20 17:11
Maurice - E.M. Forster

I have never read anything by E.M. Forster, I am not well-versed in English literature classics and I haven’t watched the movie, but I still got an idea of what this story would be : a Tess d’Ubervillesque  love story with a happy ending and a young, gay, dishevelled and cavorting Hugh Grant.


If by any chance you have the same idea, forget it.


“Maurice” is not a romantic drama, and if it’s what you’re looking for, you’re going to be disappointed. I was not. Besides the fact that it was rather a relief, I can’t describe my experience better than comparing it to a growing relationship. The more I read it, the more I liked it; and even though I never disliked it, my initial temperate appreciation grew until I finished it with a kindle-hugging feeling.


My main reserve was (and nevertheless still is) about the writing style that I found rigid like a starched collar, at first. However, there is also a dry humour in this same writing that gives a deliciously ironic lighting to dramatic scenes and sketches wonderful portraits. Rigid and repressed, yet sharp and funny. It’s Forster’s humour that made a dent in my reserve and nudged me to pay attention and reach the emotions lying under his style. For all its restraint, it is never detached. Among other things, I loved his ability to tell a love story, touch me deeply and make me root for the  HEA in half a sentence. Some of his quotes are still resonating.


In the same way, this story is about Maurice, whom I didn’t dislike but didn’t like either, at first. I liked how E.M. Forster brushed his portrait, but I found that it was hard to grow attached to him even though it wasn’t really a problem for me. Maurice is a bit of a snob without being totally insufferable, he seems a little low on the uptake without being totally stupid, he can be a domestic tyrant without being totally mean. He is average without being ordinary.  Maurice doesn’t entertain intellectual considerations about homosexuality or love or life; he is tuned to sensations and feelings, may they be desires or longings, happiness or pain, and he doesn’t shy away from them. Somehow, his body and his heart precede his mind, and because he is fundamentally honest, they jolt him into reflecting,  learning, then making choices. That’s how E.M. Forster develops his character and stays true to his nature all along, with the best of results. Not only does Maurice develop as a character, but he grows as a person. You are so going to cheer him! It doesn’t have to be easy though; what would we hold our breath for, otherwise?


I’ve read in Forster’s final note that a friend of his found that the book dated and could only “have a period interest” for modern readers. It definitely reflects its time and it is quaint, but it is not a museum piece. It’s a beautiful journey toward owning one’s own soul with the underlying idea that if love is a beautiful emotion, the path toward happy ending is through growing into oneself. That is not out-dated.


It will probably not be your cup of tea if you’re dead set on forefront romance and lots of emotion and sex, but definitely give it a shot if you like character-driven stories. Not a romantic drama, but still holding its fair share of dramatic twists and romantic moments, this book was nothing I expected it to be. I wasn’t hard into it from the get go, but I ended up loving it and I enjoyed the journey that brought me there.


Source: www.boysinourbooks.com
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review 2015-02-01 11:12
fun & confusion
Liesmith: Book 1 of The Wyrd - Alis Franklin

3 stars : “like not love”. Or -to develop a bit – I enjoyed it, but it didn’t totally work for me because I’ve had issues with the execution and because my tastes got in the way.  I found that it showed undeniable qualities, such as a brilliant idea to begin with, inventiveness,  an underlying joy at telling a story, and a good writing. The author had fun, it is contagious and it is great. The story is complex enough to be interesting and it is great.  However, I also found that it was sometimes tiring and more confusing than intriguing, which is not so great. As for my tastes, I’m not overly fond of ‘cute’.


So. The story. Let’s sort things out, ‘cause there’s a lot going on. This is urban fantasy with a dash of horror. This is also :


  • A fluffy romance between a dork and a god that plays with the predestination trope.
  • A group of nerds experiencing the end of the world for real,
  • A tale of lies and fluidity that remains slippery and twisty until the very end,
  • The Good, the Evil, and the In-between,
  • People trying to bypass Fate,
  • A Norse mythology fanfiction and it’s perhaps what defines it the best. It’s about an author playing with her favourite stories and characters, twisting the myths, bending them to her whim, and filling the void of untold stories with hers.


It’s a lot, but not too much. I won’t spoil you with the details, but the general idea is that all those threads fit nicely together. If the starting point is well and truly adorkable Sigmund meeting cool and good-looking Lain, and both of them having a cute romance, the core points are the Wyrd (fate with a big F, don’t sweat on it you can’t fight it), the Ragnarök (Armageddon à la Norse) and the lie smith.  Lies, fights, doom. Enough said.  My poison.


I found the execution confusing though, and that’s not because of my weak knowledge of the Norse lore. I know Loki from the Avengers,  the Wyrd  and the Ragnarök  from Wikipedia and some info dumping here and there, that’s saying. It was enough to follow, and regarding words I didn’t understand and was too lazy to investigate about – I am not totally averse to keeping a part of mystery in my fantasy as long as it’s not total darkness.


So, not too much, not too cryptic, but still confusing,  meaning something between unfocused, vague and all over the place. How very informative, I know. Words fail me, okay! The problem is that this story is supposed to be elusive, which is tricky to execute. The author did a fine job with tying up her threads, the ending is definitely not an issue; but there is a fine line between elusive and muddling, and we crossed it just a little bit too often for my liking. This is my most objective issue along with the fact that I wished for something a little more solid in the characterization. I admit that Sigmund dorkiness was funny (I’ll get to that) and cute, but it wasn’t enough for me to grow attached to him and to care for his romance. Lain is an amazing opportunity at complexity, but, again, elusiveness was at work.


Let’s get to the fun. Nerds playing at the Norse version of Resident Evil for real, Sigmund’s obliviousness and awkwardness, Lain’s flippancy are fun, and the author is never short of good lines. I smiled. Often. A lot. Really, the author can write; she can change her voice when needed, and she can be hilarious. However, too much of the same humour kills the humour, and I also often wished that she would tone it down a notch. I may have lost sight of my early twenties, but Sigmund sounded a lot more like a teen than a young adult, and I’m not crazy about the whole high school retards flavour. That is subjective though.


My conclusion is that this story had the deflects of its virtues.  My guess is that the ratings it will get will be all along the spectrum from mild enjoyment to absolute adoration. I doubt that many readers will hate it. Give it a try if you have a weakness for adorkable characters stuck in a creepshow with sneaky twists, I think that it’s worth a shot.

Source: www.boysinourbooks.com
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review 2014-11-20 23:01
Counterpoint: Dylan's Story - Ruth Sims

Many of my favourite artists poured their tortured soul in a sculpture or on a canvas, and I am as saddened by their torment as thrilled by their work. There’s a specific violin concerto that puts me into some kind of transe. One of my favourite songs is titled “La Bohème”. I may roll my eyes at characters going through the 10 Plagues of Egypt before finding their HEA, but I like epic stories, tales of loss and love against all odds, I thrive at resilient characters struggling and snatching victory.


I thought I met all the requirements to enjoy a romantic saga featuring a doomed artist fighting for recognition, love and happiness.  That’s “Counterpoint” all over : Dylan is a misunderstood composer, a genius who will have to make hard choices for the sake of his music; a lover who will have to face sorrow and trials. Except for one detail. “Counterpoint” is an epic tale allright, but “Counterpoint” is also a melodrama. 


Ow. I don’t like melodrama.


And I don’t use this word as an offensive remark. I refer to the actual genre whose etymology means drama with music (how fitting). Melodrama exaggerates plots that pull on emotional strings. Heros are put through the wringer,  innocents are tortured by a cruel fate and wronged by stereotyped villains,  the world is black and white and an angst fest. It doesn’t aim at any musical performance, but uses music among other scenery effects to emphasize the drama. In short, melodrama is caracterized by excessiveness, stereotypes and pathos.


That is “Counterpoint” all over. Sure, the quiet between two storms had its moments, names and details give this story a stamp of historical authenticity; but from countless tear-jerker plot devices to characters stopping mid-scene to soliloquize their anguished feelings, and the doubts of creation being dealt as a brat’s temper tantrums, this story belongs to this genre. 


So, wrong reader, wrong book. Actually, a fair amount of five stars and a Rainbow Award show that this book has a fervent readership who loved it as much as I disliked it. It all depends on what triggers your tears and elation. I get that it genuinely moved people, but the only genuine feeling I could muster was irritation. That would be my conclusion.

Source: www.boysinourbooks.com
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review 2014-11-14 20:10
"The weight of the world is love"
Fadeout - Joseph Hansen

What a wonderful, wonderful surprise this story was!


You go in there thinking that you’ll read about a mystery and that’s about it. Indeed you do : what happened to Fox Olson? This is what it is about.


But as the story goes, and the insurance detective Dave Brandstetter worms his way into homes and lives, you discover that you’re reading about people. People who didn’t write the books they ought to have written, who didn’t live the life they ought to have lived, who did their best or worst, made mistakes, went along with the flow or tried to swim against the current, who were, are aiming at happiness – whatever this word means to them. What of them all? That’s what it is about too.


All those lives and their own stakes weave a tangled web Dave has to untangle to find the truth. And we’re back to the mystery. You may think you have things figured out way before the end, but the development keeps a few twists and turns in store. Many suspects, many motives, but who did act on them? Did anyone act on them?


Now, what about Dave Brandstetter? He is a clever detective and a decent man.  He is also mourning the death of his long time partner; hurting and full of regrets, but moving through grief, straightening up and looking ahead. Beyond cleverness and decency, I like how lucid and healthy he is. Just like this story is, despite its undeniable bittersweet flavour. And that’s just the thing : it reflects human weaknesses, struggles, highs and lows, but it is not wallowing in self-pitying angst. Yet, how moving it is at times!


In the same way, it is about a gay character, and it doesn’t make a fuss about it. The cherry on the cake is to read in 2014 this book that was first released in 1970, and try to grasp the casual audacity Joseph Hansen showed in writing a gay MC  back then,  making it sound nonetheless like he is saying : “Dave Brandstetter is my main character and he is gay. So what?! I have a story to tell, let’s get to it.”  Hansen’s style is economical, deceptively simple; the sentences are short,  the prose is anything but over-the-top. The story development is efficient and smart, the pace doesn’t falter, the carefully chosen words ring loud and clear, and strike home. The whole is a beautiful piece of craft.


Don’t go there looking for a romance. The ending hints at something that may be developed in the sequel, but Dave is not quite there yet. That doesn’t mean that you will not read about love, though.  As a matter of fact, I'll quote Dave quoting poetry  to conclude :


“The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction, the weight, the weight we carry is love.”


Strongly recommended.

Source: www.boysinourbooks.com
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