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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 2018-01-20 20:45
Undercover Princess
Undercover Princess (Rosewood Chronicles) - Connie Glynn

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

There were good ideas in there, and I was fairly thrilled at first at the setting and prospects (a boarding school in England, hidden royals that looked like they’d be badass, etc.), but I must say that in the end, even though I read the novel in a rather short time and it didn’t fall from my hands, it was all sort of bland.

The writing itself was clunky, and while it did have good parts (the descriptions of the school, for instance, made the latter easy to picture), it was more telling, not showing most of the time. I’m usually not too regarding on that, I tend to judge first on plot and characters, and then only on style, but here I found it disruptive. For instance, the relationship between Ellie and Lottie has a few moments that border on the ‘what the hell’ quality: I could sense they were supposed to hint at possible romantic involvement (or at an evolution in that direction later), but the way they were described, it felt completely awkward (and not ‘teenage-girls-discovering-love’ cute/awkward).

The characters were mostly, well, bland. I feel it was partly tied to another problem I’ll mention later, namely that things occur too fast, so we had quite a few characters introduced, but not developed. Some of their actions didn’t make sense either, starting with Princess Eleanor Wolfson whose name undercover gets to be... Ellie Wolf? I’m surprised she wasn’t found out from day one, to be honest. Or the head of the house who catches the girls sneaking out at night and punishes them by offering them a cup of tea (there was no particular reason for her to be lenient towards them at the time, and if that was meant to hint at a further plot point, then we never reached that point in the novel).

(On that subject, I did however like the Ellie/Lottie friendship in general. It started in a rocky way, that at first made me wonder how come they went from antipathy to friendship in five minutes; however, considering the first-impression antipathy was mostly based on misunderstanding and a bit of a housework matter, it’s not like it made for great enmity reasons either, so friendship stemming from the misunderstanding didn’t seem so silly in hindsight. For some reason, too, the girls kind of made me think of ‘Utena’—probably because of the setting, and because Ellie is boyish and sometimes described as a prince rather than a princess.)

The story, in my opinion, suffers from both a case of ‘nothing happens’ and ‘too many things happen’. It played with several different plot directions: boarding school life; undercover princess trying to keep her secret while another girl tries to divert all attention on her as the official princess; prince (and potential romantic interest) showing up; mysterious boy (and potential romantic interest in a totally different way) showing up; the girls who may or may not be romantically involved in the future; trying to find out who’s leaving threatening messages; Binah’s little enigma, and the way it ties into the school’s history, and will that ever play a part or not; Anastacia and the others, and who among them leaked the rumour; going to Maradova; the summer ball; the villains and their motivations. *If* more time had been spent on these subplots, with more character development, I believe the whole result would’ve been more exciting. Yet at the same time all this gets crammed into the novel, there’s no real sense of urgency either, except in the last few chapters. That was a weird dichotomy to contend with.

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be interested in reading the second book. I did like the vibes between Lottie and Ellie, though.

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review 2017-03-01 13:01
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow
Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow - Paolo Bacigalupi,Stephen Graham Jones,Alyssa Wong,Saladin Ahmed,Cat Rambo,Nisi Shawl,E. Lily Yu,Madeline Ashby,Joshua Viola,Jason Heller

[I received an e-copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A collection of short stories with virtual reality, AI and technology themes in general. Despite the 'cyberpunk' flair, I agree with the curators: it's not so much cyberpunk in its original meaning, as dealing with various ideas that fit our current societies more than the 'old cyberpunk' feeling.

* "Serenade:" 3/5

A hacker decrypting data on an old USB sticks realises that said data is not about future useful information, but memories.

* "The Mighty Phin:" 3/5

In a prison ship controlled by an AI, not everything is as it looks, and truth may be more difficult to stomach than the characters think at first. Bit of an abrupt ending, though, when I think about how it could've been more developed.

* "Reactions:" 3/5

What a drone pilot pumped up on battle drugs goes through when the operation he's on is suddenly cancelled... but not what's still lingering in his organism. I found it interesting, although, like the story before it, I'd have liked some more development (especially regarding the soldier's decision to break his family).

* "The Bees of Kiribati:" 5/5

Chilling because even though this doesn't exist (yet), the principles behind the murders in this story could very well be applied in other ways. It also raises the old but still accurate ethical question: would you kill a few people, even babies, if it meant being able to save many more?

* "The Rest Between Two Notes:" 2/3

Promising theme (a teenager killing her mother repeatedly in virtual reality), but I found the plot too muddled in places. The resolution brought at the end wasn't too clear--I wouldn't mind in a novel, but in short stories it's another matter.

* "The Singularity is In Your Hair:" 5/5

Touching and horrible. A girl suffering from a degenerative disease, who can only experience living through virtual reality, performs jobs and meets people thanks to an AI who may or may not be so benevolent. The promise of one day being fully uploaded to virtual space, and leaving the meat behind instead of facing the prospect of her impending death, keep her going. And she desperately hopes this will come true sooner than later.

* "Panic City:" 5/5

In an underground city that is both a refuge and a prison, people have been living for generations following models and using technology that are gradually failing. When something threatens to break an opening into this 'homeostatic' environment, the AI controlling the city has to make a decision: is their original programming really ideal in this case?

* "The Faithful Soldier, Prompted:" 4/5

A veteran from corporate wars receives prompts on his augmented reality system, even though the war is over. While such defective prompts are known to be useless, and should be discarded, these seem different... and so he follows them, desperate in his hopes that the rewards will save the woman he loves. I liked the writing here--even the prompts sounded poetic.

* "Your Bones Will Not Be Unknown:" 4/5

An assassin is sent to kill a rival boss, knowing full well there are little chances of success here. But what the boss has in mind for them is not necessarily death, and could even actually be a gift.

* "Staunch:" 2/5

A group of kids-hackers-rebels, led by a doctor who used to be part of a legendary team, travel through what's left of the UK to save the life of one of their own. Though the plot itself was a bit weak, I liked the technological problems used in it (replacement organs shutting down if the firmware's outdated or the copyright has changed hands, etc.)—definitely freaky.

* "Other People's Thoughts:" 2/5

About empathy, telepathic powers and gender fluidity. Good themes, and I would've loved actually liking the story, but it was more descriptive than actual plot, and I found it too weak to hold my interest.

* "WISYOMG:" 1/5

Almost skipped that one. The style and character weren't appealing, and I'm still not sure what was the idea. Warning people against body mods and fads? It was hard to follow, so I'm really not sure.

* "We Will Take Care of Our Own:" 2/5

Of corrupt politicians and corporations trying to make money by officially solving problems, and officiously sweeping them under the carpet. Again, good theme, especially since the politician has a skeleton of her own in the closet, but in terms of plot and development, it wasn't strong nor long enough.

* "A Song Transmuted:" 3/5

A young musician comes up with a new concept to be music, rather than simply playing it—spurred by her relationship with her grandfather, his way of encouraging her to meet other people and play music with her, and this in spite of a dishonest colleague stealing her idea. Good, though not groundbreaking.

* "It's Only Words:" 2/5

A sort of neo-Luddite theme, of a boy writing his school project on paper when everybody else is constantly connected to the web and not doing anything in an "analogue" way anymore. I'm not sure where this story was going, though: I felt that something was missing, that the point wasn't strongly made enough at the end, because nothing really changes, and the people targetted may not even have understood what was happening?

* "Small Offerings:" 5/5

Horrific but fascinating. A story about the means that may be necessary, in a future and over-polluted world, for people to carry healthy children to term, by sacrificing others.

* "Darkout:" 2/5

Good build-up to something bigger, in a society where everybody's living under the camera's eye... but the end just fell flat, and nothing really happened.

* "Visible Damage:" 3/5

A hacker goes on the trail of a nascent AI, in the hopes of finding it before everyone else obliterates it. Interesting, but a bit confusing.

* "The Ibex on the Day of Extinction:" 4/5

A man far from his family comes home to find everybody and everything gone—no GPS, no radio, no internet, and only empty clothes left behind.
I kind of suspected what had happened early on. Still, I liked this story. Sometimes all I need is for the conclusion to vindicate what I'm already thinking.

* "How Nothing Happens:" 1/5

Kind of what it says on the tin? I get the basic idea, but the way it was developed didn't grab my attention.

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review 2016-05-19 19:42
Of Scions and Men
Of Scions and Men - Courtney Sloan

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

First volume of what seems to be an interesting series. Not the best urban fantasy novel I've ever read, sure, but it has political hooks that could very well lead to a few big bangs in the future.

When the world went to the dogs, vampires revealed themselves and stepped in to keep the cattle, sorry, the humans in check—after all, there's no point in letting your bloodbags kill each other with mass-destruction weapons. Decades later, in the aftermath of that explosive situation, Earth is pretty much governed by said vampires, some of them using more human employees than others, but all determined to keep their own just as much in check. Well, at least in some parts of the world, including the USA, where the DEC (Department of Energy Conservation) sends people patrolling the streets in order to stop rogue vampires from feeding illegally and killing their preys.

Rowan Brady is one such agents, partnered with shapeshifter Lyle, and also the scion of vampire Devon: a human bonded to a vampire, able to use part of his powers, but also never, ever truly alone in her mind anymore. A sure recipe for a clusterfuck, especially since a lot of "purely human" people tend to view scions as blood whores, a lot of scions play the part as well, and Rowan does her best not to become a walking cliché. All for the sake of her little brother Will, after their parents' sudden death in an accident left them orphaned, and Rowan unable to take part in the Cup (a competition that, depending on her final rank, would have opened her a lot of doors... and conversely).

In general, I quite liked the relationships between Rowan and the male characters. Rowan/Devon bordered more than once on the vampire romance-type relationship, but it never become the infuriating kind of romance that makes me roll my eyes. Devon's a pretty decent guy, all things considered (even though his "cherie" speech mannerism was annoying, I guess the French in me just finds this a bit silly), playing the social and power-related role that a lot of vampires thrive in, however he never veered into the territory of "domineering alpha-male who abuses his partner/servant". And when he tries to play white knight and protect his scion by telling her to "stay at home for your own good"? He ends up needing her anyway, and she ends up kicking ass anyway. Then there's the werewolf pack leader and a fellow DEC agent: a positive alpha male, maintaining his position through benevolence and thought-out decisions, and not strutting around being all "me big strong violent male, me is your boss, female". Yeah, I am rather tired and jaded when it comes to male characters acting all over the place in very macho ways (or the "I'm dark and dangerous and I'm seducing you through coercion and being rough" type).

On the downside : some info-dumping, and a tendency on Rowan's part to be slightly exaggerated (too sarcastic and mean at times, too obsessed, too bent on doing things absolutely alone even if it meant running into trouble). Not many other female characters in there either, apart from Nadia who, so there's a risk of having a more typical woman-surrounded-with-male format in later books. I was also less satisfied when it came to Lyle, because I think there's a lot more to him than just "flamboyant gay blue jay shifter"—hopefully there'll be more in the next book ! His relationship with Rowan is sweet, in a "best friend/I have your back" way, and it'd be great to see him more developed: where did he find the strength to make his coming out in a society like his, did anything happen in the past that threatened him or, on the contrary, made him stronger and able to stand up to his peers ? Etc. Finally, I couldn't care less about Curtis. I can only hope he'll remain a secondary character, and that he won't end up being part of some dreaded love polygon.

Conclusion : 3 stars. I found myself wanting to keep reading, and interested enough in the world and its characters. There's real potential for intrigue, in more political ways than is usually found in urban fantasy. Some of the foundations behind that world, though, are a bit flimsy (at some point you need to exert suspension of disbelief and focus on the "now" rather than the "then" and "why"... but I've seen worse), and it could all just as well devolve into cookie-cutter UF. I'll keep an eye on this series, even if I won't buy it.

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review 2016-02-16 20:34
The Dark Days Club
The Dark Days Club (A Lady Helen Novel) - Alison Goodman

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

3,5 stars. A bit slow, but I realised I didn't mind this: mostly it was due to the depiction of Regency Era daily life for a young noblewoman debuting in society, and considering that this was one of the stakes in the narrative, it felt appropriate.

In 1812 London, with London wary about the advance of Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe, Lady Helen Wrexhall is coming of age under the watchful eye of her aunt and uncle, who brought her and her brother up after their parents drowned at sea. While Helen's life seems perfect in many ways considering the times and her place in society (she has, after all, a title, fame, and money), her family's history keeps casting a shadow on her reputation: her mother was rumoured to be a traitor to the crown, and because of that “stain”, it is of the utmost importance that she remains a proper lady in all circumstances. And “proper lady” involves many things that she is not, and not so many things that she is—that is, full of wit and energy, and eager to learn (she is skilled in Latin and natural philosophy, among other things... all matters that were tolerated when she was a “girl”, but won't fit a “grown-up woman”).

The writing style in general was fluid and the descriptions pleasant. A great deal of the narrative deals with the dichotomy in Helen's life. She tries to conform to what her aunt and uncle expect from her, but with a certain degree of unease: should she shun her mother like her uncle demands her to, publicly denouncing her as a traitor, or keep her head high and remember the loving mother she only for the first eight years of her life? And all the while, she discovers more and more troubling truths about the world she's always taken for granted. Truths involving a dark and dashing young lord rumoured to have murdered his wife, a group of people with noble and less noble motives, and perhaps also her mother's activities.

I liked Helen in general: headstrong but not too stupid to live; willing to discover the truth but also frightened by it and trying to understand what she really wanted (and wanted to do);doing what she could to fit in yet frustrated by all the limitations placed upon her both by society and by her family. Her relationship with Darby was strong, a beautiful budding friendship rather than a simple maid-and-lady relationship, with mutual respect and trust.

The supernatural aspect is fairly “easy” and traditional—creatures living hidden amidst humans, feeding upon them, vs. a group of men and women dedicated to fighting them—but all in all, it worked, and it brought enough dark elements and secrets to keep me entertained and interested. Obviously enough, Helen finds herself embroiled into their activities, and torn between her perceived duties as a lady and her perceived duties regarding those truths she uncovered. Trifling matters? Perhaps, but to be expected in relationship to her social position. Balancing supernatural activities in secret when you're still dependent on a male parent (who also controls all your money and watches you to make sure you're not going to turn “evil” like your mother)... Well, it's not so easy, and more is at stake than just being grounded for a few days. Helen's struggles to come to terms with what *she* wanted to do—she, not her uncle, or her brother, or her aunt, or Carlston, or even her mother—felt true, and highlighted the general struggles of other women of that era: does one have to remain stuck in a role defined by others, or can she hope to decide on her own life?

I got a bit tired of the overall slowness (and some info-dumping) around the middle of the novel, to be honest—although it fortunately picked up in the last part, there were some places where I wished the plot would move faster, or that the action scenes were more intense (Helen wasn't exactly a fighter in those, and her being a spectator rather than an actor also impeded the narrative's rhythm). The descriptions and everyday life would likely be good for a reader wanting to read about those, but not so much if one is in another mood.

I also found that other characters weren't as fleshed out as Helen, and I wish I could have gotten to know them better. In a way, I'm glad that the romance part was far from being a huge subplot, because I would've needed to feel more about Carlston for that.

All in all I liked this story and will gladly pick the next volume... although I hope its rhythm will be a bit faster.

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