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review 2020-03-08 14:31
You Let Me In
You Let Me In - Camilla Bruce

[I read this book through Pigeonhole.]

A very surprising read, in that I had an (albeit vague) idea of what it’d be about, and it turned out it was actually much more grounded in dark fantasy than in the “basic contemporary” setting I was expecting. Which was, in fact, for the best, as I got sucked in very quickly into the story. I was, as usual with Pigeonhole, glad I didn’t start on the very first day, since it meant being able to read more chapters in one go. For some books, it doesn’t matter to me much; for this one, I really appreciated that.

A word of warning about the very beginning, which makes it sound like the whole novel will be told in second person POV present tense (a.k.a something I instinctively dislike): it doesn’t last, so don’t let this stop you like it almost stopped me. The story is worth its salt after that, and this point of view quickly makes sense at the end of the first chapter.

The story follows the life of Cassandra Tipp, nee Thorn, a rumoured crazy writer living in the woods, who from early childhood had a very conflictual relationship with her family. Did she commit the murders she was suspected of, or was there another explanation? Was she crazy, or gifted with a second sight? Was she a victim of abuse, and was that abuse committed by people she should’ve been able to trust… or was there something else altogether behind it? The author toys with her readers all along, because no matter which “explanation” you decide on, the other one still cannot be completely discounted, and many situations can, in fact, be read and understood both ways.

It is a gruesome story, all in all, full of blood and ancient things, with passages clearly not for the faint of heart. Disgusting and revolting? Sure. But fascinating at the same time, so very fascinating. I had a hard time putting it off when I did, and kept wanting to get back to it. And for once, while the ending is somewhat ambiguous, the quality of this ambiguity didn’t bother me like it usually tend to.

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review 2019-09-02 21:18
Everyday Day
Everyday Sexism - Laura Bates

I should've read this book sooner, but I admit that a part of me thought "I probably already know all of what's in there", while another part thought "...and that's probably why reading it would disgust me."

So yeah, it was "disgusting"—in that I unfortunately ended up ticking boxes. And I'm relatively "fortunate" in my current workplace where we can actually have discussions with people without someone throwing in a dirty joke every two minutes, and "fortunate" that I "only" got groped by random guys in public transportations. Yeah, I'm so lucky I "only ticked some boxes and not all of them", huh.

In other words:
- If you already know the problem, read it anyway, since in 2019 the problem obviously hasn't gone away yet and a reminder is a good thing.
- If you believe there is no problem, then definitely read it because... well, who want to stay ignorant, right?

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review 2019-08-29 19:23
The Kingdom
The Kingdom - Jess Rothenberg

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

Not as good as I had hoped it would be from the blurb, but still an entertaining and interesting read.

(I’ve seen it compared to/inspired by “Westworld”, but not having seen it, I honestly can’t tell, so that won’t play a part in my review.)

I definitely liked the premise: “the Kingdom”, an amusement park of the Disney World variety, with seven princesses, a.k.a the Fantasists (Ana and her sisters), and various themed areas, such as Mermaid Land, where customers can spend the day, have fun and live mini-adventures, far away from their bleak everyday life (the world outside seems in a constant financial, housing and environmental crisis). Moreover, the visitors can interact with the perfect-Disney-like princesses—always smiling, kind, helpful and aiming to please—and see “hybrids”, animals that used to be extinct, but have been re-created through a combination of genengeering and cybernetics (yes, including dinosaurs).

Of course, this immediately raised controversial questions as to the nature and role of the hybrids, whether the princesses or the animals, and the way they were seen and treated by people in general, and by their creators more specifically. The veneer of a dream-like life for the princesses is very early shattered when Ana describes how they are tied in their beds for the night, how firewalls prevent them from accessing the whole of Internet and communicate with the outside world, and how sometimes, some of them seem to lose their memories of the previous day or evening.

The story is seen through Ana’s eyes, as well as through snippets of interviews and articles, most of which are related to a trial following Owen’s death at Ana’s hands. I usually tend to like this kind of format, for several reasons (varied points of views that are easy to separate from each other, short “chapters” that are really convenient when I can’t read for long stints…), but some of those weren’t too relevant, or at least, only became relevant long after, which gave me enough time to dismiss them. These different narratives offer more and more information as to the “dark fairy tale” that unfolds throughout the novel, with Ana and her sisters developing more and more of a personality and feelings of their own, in spite of their creators claiming they cannot do more than what their programming allows them to. While we don’t get to see through her sisters’ eyes, Ana’s recounting of the story lets us see what a slippery slope it is, when AIs in human-looking bodies are meant to act like human beings, but at the same time constricted into prisoners’ roles that deny them any claim at even a scrap of humanity.

Why I didn’t give more than 3-3.5 stars to this book was, first, how the romance itself unfurled. I get what happened, I get what the characters did, but I never really got a strong feeling for their relationship, nor did I feel strong chemistry between them that would justify, well, an actual romance. I also found Ana’s narrative style somewhat dry and bland, which in a way fits well with her nature as an artificial intelligence, but didn’t do much in terms of gripping writing. And the last third of the book lacked coherence at times, as if everything collided together at the same time without tight reasons in the background—so in the end, it felt rushed, and poised on the edge of unfinished (“was that a standalone or will there be a sequel?”).

Conclusion: Not as gripping as I had hoped, although it does lend itself to interesting discussions about AI, artificially created beings that are nevertheless sentient, and how they should be treated.

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review 2019-07-15 19:14
The Escape Room
The Escape Room - Megan Goldin

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

A quick read, in that it’s not complicated and you don’t need a lot of focus. I didn’t find the story compelling, and the writing style was quite dry, with much more telling than showing.

The initial idea, that of four people trapped in a lift masquerading as an escape room, and forced to be together when in fact they’d probably much prefer to kill each other, was a good one. However, it was also difficult to execute—there isn’t much room in a lift, which limits action possibilities—and after the first couple of “lift chapters”, the thrill here dwindled down to our four bankers not doing much with the few clues they were given. I think there was an element of “things didn’t turn out exactly as the mastermind behind it had envisioned they would”, but it fell flat for me. It was also pretty obvious from the beginning who said mastermind was, and with this removed, the remaining “how” and “why” weren’t able to fully carry the story afterwards.

This said, I could’ve worked with the above under certain conditions: the twin narrative of Sara Hall and what happened within Stanhope a few years prior to the escape room scenes had interesting ideas, exploring the ruthless world of investment banking, colleagues smiling to each other but trying to undermine each other from behind, backstabbing, the women vs. the “old boys’ network”, and so on. I could’ve worked with this… if the characters had been compelling, only they weren’t. Almost all of them (except the one that dies mid-story) weren’t likeable people—and when I say likeable, I don’t mean that they necessarily have to be kind, positive, etc., but that they have to make me feel for them, and keep interested, in spite of their flaws. Here, though, they were just unlikeable, without many redeeming qualities; their more human aspects (struggling with their relationships, divorce, and so on) mostly make them look like what mattered to them wasn’t so much the relationship, but the standing that came with it; not so much saving one’s marriage, but avoiding losing alimony money; and so on. In other words, whether they got out of the lift or not, I didn’t care.

As for the plot behind the whole escape room, it felt more contrived, and a little ridiculous, than thrilling, and the few twists and turns didn’t awe me either.

(On the plus side, I did like the characters who died. Unfortunately. I mean, for them, because, well, they’re dead.)

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text 2019-07-01 18:58
Whisper Network
Whisper Network - Chandler Baker

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

I enjoyed this novel for its theme and its message, along with the format: interspersed with interviews gradually unveiling more of the “present time” plot, while the chapters themselves started some 2 months before and showed what led to this point. I guessed some things, I didn’t guess some others, and all in all, piecing things together was fun.

The topic at hand, of course, wasn’t fun. It balanced between office politics and double-standards—how female employees are (often) viewed vs. the “old boys club” feeling—, between deciding whether to complain about potential harassment or shut up for fear of retaliation, between wondering what does constitute harassment and whether or not one is “overreacting”, and let’s not forget also the usual “these women are lying and destroying lives” (funny enough, the people complaining about this don’t seem to react as often about how rapists are ruining lives as well). All well-made points, including the latter, because it -is- true they come forward right as the guy is poised to become the new CEO, in reaction to feeling suddenly even more threatened, but also one of opportunism… but not everyone would think about it this way, since there’d be lots of money involved as well. All uncomfortable topics, too, yet that need to be pointed at and discussed.

This said, I really had trouble empathising with the characters. I don’t have much in common with them for starters—apart, that is, from encounters with sexist douchebags and other run-ins involving the usual patriarchy-fed bull, although I’m aware I haven’t had it the worst either (fingers crossed). But I’m not a new mother, nor a single one, nor someone who cheated on a partner, etc., so I usually need a bit of extra connection with such characters, a little dose of something else, something more, to relate to their problems, especially their rich people problems, and… that didn’t really happen here. The impression I got out of the main female characters was more that they weren’t very pleasant people, who yet kept trying to justify their behaviours to themselves, a little like “but at least I do this better” and “but -I- am not like that, right?” Kind of weak in my opinion.

The story also dragged in parts, and even though I read it in 3 days, at times I wished it would get to the point faster. And I’m still unsure of who the narrator exactly was. The author? Not one of the characters, or at least, it doesn’t sound like it. (Their voices were quite similar, so I needed to see them named in each chapter anyway in order to quickly get who it was about.)

Conclusion: 3 stars. I did like the story, but never really connected with the characters.

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