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review 2018-04-21 19:35
Zombie Abbey
Zombie Abbey - Lauren Baratz-Logsted

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley. ]

A story with Austen undertones… and zombies. (I’ve seen it compared to ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, but not having read that one, I honestly can’t tell.)

At Porthampton Abbey, a couple of years after World War I, the Clarke family has to contend with the problem of the entail, just like in ‘Pride and Prejudice’—meaning that if one of the daughters (preferably the elder, Kate) doesn’t marry very soon and has a male heir, their family will lose their estate after the death of Earl Clarke. Which is why the latter has invited a couple of potential suitors to stay for the weekend, including an older businessman from London, a duke, and a recently discovered cousin who’s very likely to inherit anyway, considering he’s the only male heir (but here’s to hope he’ll marry Kate, and all will be well in the world). And the story would go its posh, merry way, if not for the strange death of a villager, found half-devoured… A villager whom his widow has to kill a second time with a bullet to the head.

The beginning of this story definitely has its appeal: the Clarkes display a comical mix of common sense (Kate when it comes to hunting, for instance) and quirky, whimsical inability to grasp that other people are not only their servants, they’re, well, human beings with their own lives, too. This was a conflict in itself in the book, with the ‘Upstairs’ people having to realise that they have to pay more attention to the ‘Downstairs’ people. The build-up to the part where zombies actually make an appearance was a little slow, but in itself, it didn’t bother me, because discovering the characters (and rolling my eyes while trying to guess who’d kick the bucket) was quite fun. Granted, some of the characters weren’t very likeable; the earl felt too silly, Kate too insensitive… but on the other hand, I liked where Lizzy and Grace started and how they progressed—Lizzy as the girl whom everyone thinks stupid, yet who turns out to be level-headed when things become dangerous, and Grace being likely the most humane person in her family. The suitors, too, looked rather bland at first, however a couple of them started developing more of a (pleasant) personality. And I quite liked Fanny as well, the quiet-at-first but assertive maid who refuses to let ‘propriety’walks all over charity.

After a while, though, the style became a little repetitive. The way the various characters’ point of views were introduced at the beginning of each chapter or sub-chapter, for some reason, tended to grate on my nerves, I’m not exactly sure why; and while I don’t have issues with casts of more than 2-3 POV characters, here the focus regularly went back to some action already shown in a previous chapter, but this time from another character’s point of view, which felts redundant.

I also thought that while there -were- zombies, I’d have liked seeing a little more of them. There was tension, but I never felt the story was really scary (for me and for the characters both), and the moments when a character got hurt was usually due to their being too stupid to live and doing something that no one in their sane mind should’ve done anyway.

Finally, I’m not satisfied with the ending: I don’t know it there’ll be a sequel or not, but if it’s meant to be a standalone, then it leaves way too many things open.

Conclusion: 2.5 /3 stars. I’m curious about how the situation at Porthampton Abbey will unfold, and if there were a sequel, that’d be good, because it’d mean the characters could finish growing, too.

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review 2018-01-26 19:44
Paper Ghosts
Paper Ghosts: A Novel of Suspense - Julia Heaberlin

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I had liked ‘Black-Eyed Susans’ by the same author well enough, and I thought I’d like this one as well, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the case. As evidenced by the time I needed to finish it, that wasn’t because I had too much work and no time to read, but because it kept falling from my hands and I’d reach something else to reach instead.

It started well enough, and I thought that the story would be a game of cat and mouse between the main character and the suspected killer. However, while I kept waiting for said character to reveal her hand—for instance, to show that she had made this or that mistake on purpose, in order to better turn the tables—such moments never happened. I think this is where it went wrong for me, and I believe the first-person narration wasn’t an asset in this case: with a third person POV, I could’ve been fooled into thinking the ‘heroine’ knew what she was doing, since I wouldn’t have been completely ‘in her head; but with first person, it’s more difficult to fool the reader...

So, well, I wasn’t fooled. In spite of all her alluding to her ‘trainer’ and to how she had taught herself to face various difficult situations, she wasn't really one step ahead. Perhaps in the very beginning, but this fell down the train as soon as Carl started coming up with new ‘conditions’ along the way, and she was totally taken aback, and... just relented, or protested weakly. That didn’t fit my idea of someone who had planned carefully, or whose plans were unravelling but who still had the savvy to bounce back.

Also, I wasn’t convinced at all by the twist at the end. Something you can’t see coming because there was never any hint of it throughout the story, is not what I call an actual twist, but cheating the reader. (Now, when I read something and I’m all ‘a-ha! So that’s why she did this in chapter2, and said that in chapter 6, and that character did that in chapter 14’, well, that’s a proper twist.)

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. Too bad.

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review 2017-11-14 21:18
The Library of Light and Shadow
The Library of Light and Shadow: A Novel - M. J. Rose

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

When I requested this novel, I hadn’t realised it was the third instalment in a series; however, it turned out you can read it even without having read the previous ones, since the narrator does summarise well enough what her family is about, and that’s what you mostly need to know as far as background is concerned.

I liked the premise—Delphine’s gift and how it can turn out badly, the family with witchcraft gifts... I also liked how most characters felt like they had a life of their own: they definitely weren’t just plot devices, but had relationships, past experiences (sometimes together, sometimes not), and generally breathed and lived.

A lot of descriptions, too, were vivid, and allowed me to picture the places and scenes quite clearly. I’m definitely not sure about all of the fine details, though (avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt in Paris in 1920... uhm, it was avenue Victor-Emmanuel III, but even without knowing that it doesn’t make sense), so I advise not getting into that with a historian’s mind. Unless those were corrected in the final copy, that is. Anyway, the prose does have its charm, and whether New York, Paris or Southern France in the mid-twentied, it conjures the needed images easily.

I had more trouble with the pacing. For a good half, Delphine doesn’t do that much, to be honest, apart from being depressed because of her gift (which she probably wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t been such a doormat to her brother) and remembering her love story. I don’t know about the format it was told in (a diary), background info was needed here, yet on the other hand, it felt disjointed from the story. Moreover, while in terms of relationships the characters had a life, indeed, their actions and decisions were at times... silly. I could guess the turns and twists, and seriously, Delphine, that vision you had, that made you run away to the other side of the world... it was so obviously opened to many interpretations that it being a misunderstanding was a given here.

The story picked up after the characters arrived at the castle, but at that point I wasn’t ‘in’ it anymore.

Still, I may try the first book, because the parents’ story could be interesting (there’s a duel and a bargain with the spirit of a dead witch, apparently?).

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review 2017-07-13 20:34
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire - Rosamund Hodge

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss.]

Hmm, not sure about this one. It’s a retelling of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, in a city that is the last one standing while the rest of the world has been invaded by ‘zombies’, where three families share the power, and where the religious order of the Sisters of Thorn has to perform yearly blood sacrifices in order to keep the undead at bay. It has a mysterious plague that makes people rise again after their death if precautions aren’t taken, and in that city, ‘the Juliet’ is actually a warrior bred from birth through magic rituals, with the ability to sense if someone has shed her family’s blood, and the compulsion to avenge said family member in turn (in other words, she still does a few other things than feigning death, thinking Romeo is dead, and promptly killing herself in turn). Also, she’s doomed to turn mad at some point

All in all, why not? This was interesting. The story itself, though, was kind of confusing, and although it did end up making sense, there were quite a few things I would’ve seen developed more in depth. Such as the Night Games, or the Necromancer (who kind of turned up at the awkward moment), or the Romeo/Paris/Vai trio relationship.

I’m not sure about the characters. I sort of liked the Juliet? Because she had that idea that ‘I’m already dead, and Romeo is dead, so I don’t care about dying because it means I can see him again’, yet at the same time she was quite lively and determined and not actively trying to take her own life while moping; her story is also rather sad (stripped of her name/real identity in a family whose beliefs in the afterlife involve having a name in order to be saved... nice). Romeo, though, was kind of stupid, and Paris way too naive; of the power trio there, the one I definitely liked was Vai (with a twist that was a bit predictable, but eh, he was fun to read about, and I totally agreed with the way he envisioned problems and how to tackle them!). As for Runajo... I don’t know. Determined, too, yet there were several moments when I thought her decisions should have her get killed or cast out or something, and she wasn’t because Plot Device.

(And very, very minor thing that probably only peeved me because I’m French, but... ‘Catresou’ sounds just so damn weird. I kept reading and ‘hearing’ that name as a French name, which sounds exactly like ‘quatre sous’—that’s like ‘four pence’—aaaand... Yep, so bizarre.)

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. To be fair, I liked the world depicted here in general, and that this retelling is sufficiently removed from R & J as to stand by itself; however, it was probably too ambitious for one volume, and ended up confusing.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-19 14:54
Update - Things that should stay in the closet
The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen

I couldn't go to sleep last night, and The Sugar Queen was within reach.  Even though I had signed off on it, I needed something to settle my brain for a few minutes.

 

I opened to a random page, read a few lines, and nearly heaved this library book against the wall.

 

P. 126

 

Josey went to her purse on the chaise lounge and took out her checkbook.

 

 

I dislike books that contribute to the dumbing down of our language.

 

Of course, by then I was angry and even more awake, so I skimmed through some more of the book until I finally discovered the big secret.  Oh, give me a fucking break!  The main character, Josey, couldn't figure out that

the woman living [sic] in her closet was a ghost?

(spoiler show)

 

I guess maybe this sort of nonsense appeals to readers, since the author is very popular.  It doesn't appeal to me.  I'm glad I only wasted a half hour on the rest of this book.

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