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review 2017-06-18 17:29
Bad Girl Gone
Bad Girl Gone: A Novel - Temple Mathews

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

This ended up being a very uneventful read for me. The premise felt really cool: a girl finds herself in a creepy orphanage, realises it’s actually a kind of purgatory for murdered kids, and tries to find out who killed her so that she can move on. The beginning was intriguing, especially since, like other ghosts in the orphanage, Echo first has to piece together memories of her death—reliving the trauma at once would be too shocking—, and investigating why you’re in an orphanage when last you knew your parents were definitely alive, well, that’s tricky.

The problem lied mainly in how all this was executed. Not particularly thrilling, for starters. Echo has a couple of culprits in mind, so she and the other kids go to ‘haunt’ them and see if they’re going to wield under pressure, or are actually innocent, but… it wasn’t anything scary or memorable, more like pranks, not like the really creepy kind of haunting you could get when adding children/teenagers to the mix (in general, I find kid ghosts scarier than adult ones). The mystery itself—finding the murdered—wasn’t exciting either, nor were the murderer’s reactions. Perhaps this was partly due to Echo’s power as a ghost: entering living people’s bodies in order to perceive their thoughts. The investigation part, in turn, was more about vaguely picking a maybe-potential culprit, scaring them, popping in their mind, then be gone. Then the story. And then Echo’s past as a ‘bad girl’ was revealed, and it turned out it wasn’t so much bad as introduced without much taste.

Definitely cringeworthy was the drama-addled romance. Echo’s living boyfriend, Andy, is all about moping and wanting to kill himself over her death, and… well, call me hard-hearted and callous, but you’re 16 and that kind of relationship is by far NOT the first one you’re going to experience in life, so pegging everything on it always feels contrived to me. Then there’s cute ghost boy Cole, who’s not about murdering the hypotenuse (thanks goodness), yet was strange, considering Andy is not aware of his presence, and so the triangle is… incomplete? (Its attempts at becoming a square later didn’t help either.) Also contains examples of stupid Twue Wuv/The One/soulmate 4evah/Doormat Extraordinaire. Such as Echo being so happy that her corpse was dressed in her favourite dress at her funeral… Favourite because her boyfriend Andy liked it. I still have no idea if Echo herself liked the pattern or colour or whatever. In any case, these are the kind of tropes I dislike in novels in general, and in YA even more. Why always make it look like couple love is the ultimate end, as if nobody (whether girl or boy) couldn’t have a good life in different ways?

In fact, I was more interested in the orphanage’s headmistress (whose back story plays a part for a chapter or so) and other inmates, all with their own murders to solve. These I would’ve liked to see interact more than just as Echo’s sidekicks. But we don’t get to learn much about them, apart from how they died. Too bad.

Conclusion: Nope

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review 2016-12-09 20:21
Heartless
Heartless - Marissa Meyer

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

 

Hm. I liked the premise (telling the story of the Queen of Hearts before Alice came to Wonderland), however there were parts when I was a little... bored?

Catherine Pinkerton, daughter of a Marchess, loves nothing more than to bake, and dreams of opening a bakery with her maid and best friend Mary Ann, rather than just marrying some rich nobility son that she won't even love. Of course, her plans get thwarted when she catches the attention of the King... or are they? When the new Court's joker waltzes into the play, things change again, and this time, Cath may have a chance at true love. Except... We all know how the Queen of Hearts behaves in Carroll's story, so we also know that whatever Fate has in store for those characters, it's not a happy ending.

 

It's not so easy to write a (re)telling of something whose end is already well-known, and while it was problematic, some aspects I really liked. The beginning had a certain vibrancy, what's with the cake/bakery imagery and Catherine's dreams, not to mention Jest's first appearance during the ball, and the darker parts, including the meeting with the three sisters, were creepy in their own ways.

 

The main problem I had with this novel were its characters, and I think that had a lot to do with how I knew (or at least suspected) it would end. This time, it's not even a case of insta-love—Cath's and Jest's relationship progresses quickly, but frankly, I've also seen much, much worse in that regard—more a case of characters trying to let their own personality develop and shine through, only to be put back on rails in order for the story to end up where it should. I found this too bad for them, to be honest; I suspect they would've been more interesting had they been able to live their own tale fully. As a result, Catherine especially ended up rather passive and unappealing, stuck between a sort of Regency-like society where noble girls marry noble men and must remain silent and pretty in their corsets, a holier-than-thou attitude (ironically mirroring Margaret's without never realising it), and twists meant to turn her into the Queen of Hearts, yet too predictable to really hit home. The courtship period was infuriating, what's with all her refusing the King but never telling it to his face, letting things happen, then worrying that she'll have to marry him and not be with the man she actually loves, but still not doing anything, until it was too late and whatever she'd do would just end up badly (also it's the others' fault, never hers... great).

 

Other problems were the writing (not bad, but nothing exceptional either), and the pacing: especially in the second third, the story dragged and felt padded out—that was when I started struggling to keep on reading, before getting to the last/darker part. While the kingdom of Hearts had a 'cutesy' and colourful side that I quite liked, it didn't enthrall me (Chess with its warring Queens seemed more exciting?), perhaps because half the book at least was devoted to parties and balls and a more traditional "arranged marriage" plot, instead of playing on a more Wonderland-like atmosphere.

 

Conclusion: Well, I expected more, and this is clearly a case of a story whose characters would have been better left to their own devices.

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review 2016-07-29 22:37
Machinations
Machinations - Hayley Stone

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

1.5 stars. Not quite an OK story for me. There were several deal-breakers here, including the "bland" narrator, the romance part, and the 1st person POV present tense narration, not to mention the science & technology parts that weren't detailed enough.

First, present tense: I find it very difficult to make this type of narrative voice work, and often it just doesn't at all. I can't exactly pinpoint how exactly, but I know it made me cringe often enough that I stopped counting. It doesn't bother me so much in short stories, although I suspect that's because they're short and I don't have to trudge through that tense for a whole novel.

Second, Rhona herself. I couldn't bring myself to care. Sure, we have that first chapter scene, and it seems intense, and... that's all? After that, she wakes up as the "new" Rhona, yet it's difficult to compare her to the one she has supposedly replaced. Perhaps because the novel doesn't show us enough of the "original Rhona". Perhaps because the new one is too self-centered and not active enough to stand by herself, watching from the sidelines half the time. Of course there wouldn't be any point if she immediately found herself again, was the exact same person. I just wish she had been more than a woman who mostly behaved like a somewhat shy teenager—and this brings me to...

...The romance: too much of it, and, as in too many novels, the only real form of validation. The whole quest-for-humanity part, Rhona having to find out whether she IS Rhona or merely a carbon-copy without humanity nor soul, is definitely an interesting theme... but why do such things -always- have to be presented in the light of romance? As if only True Love (whatever that means) could validate one's existence. Who cares that Sam, her best friend, is with her all story long and doesn't give a fig about whether she's Rhona or not (for him, she's his friend, period)? The really important part is to find out when The One True Love finally acknowledges her. And I feel all these stories completely miss the point: that there is so much more to a person than their so-called significant other, that they're the sum of so many more factors than just that one restrictive form of love. Meanwhile...

... the machines, the science, the technology: too few and too little of those, considering the blurb that made me request the book at first. This story would've benefitted from more explanations when it came to the cloning part, considering how it permeated the whole narrative. Rhona is a physical clone, but her memories (or part of them) were also transplanted. How? A chip to map neural pathways and transfer data is briefly mentioned, yet much more was needed here to satisfy the vague scientist in me (I don't think I'm asking for too much here). As for the machines, they weren't present enough in order for the human survivors to be truly pitched against them, as well as for Rhona to be fully confronted to her new "nature" that, in a way, made her a biological machine. They felt more like the threat in the background, over-simplified, although they could've been made more "alive" (no pun intended here: I really think there was potential here for a chiasmus between human-Rhona-turned-thing and things/machines-turned-sentient).

This novel should've grabbed my interest, for sure, but it turned out it wasn't for me. Alas.

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review 2016-06-15 20:48
Riverkeep
Riverkeep - Martin Stewart

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

A coming-of-age adventure in a world that is both threatening and full of wonders, following a boy who embarks on a journey to save his father: after Wulliam witnessed his dad being possessed by a river spirit, he decides to take his only parent to the sea, hunting down a legendary beast whose fluids are rumoured to have many healing properties. And even if it means abandoning his duties as the keeper of the river, Wull feels he doesn't have a choice: either that, or let his father wither and die.

There were quite a few magical, poetic descriptions and moments in this book, and I never found it hard to picture the characters' surroundings, or to imagine the mormorach, diving in the dark waters, preying on ships and crews bent on taking it down. Nor was it hard to imagine little Bonn, or Tillinghast's strange body (bodies?).

However, I was a bit disappointed in the “adventure” itself, for it was rather sluggish in more than one place, and some events and character arcs felt put on a bus after a while. Most of the people Wulliam meets have their quirks and an aura of mystery: from the undertaker to Tillinghast the man who's not alive, from Mix and her strange tattoos to Remedie cradling her strange baby, from the solitary scientist in the Deadmoor to the silent Mr Bent. The problem is that some of those people were given their own adventure... yet said adventures were never really concluded: only Wull and Tillinghast seem to have an ending of their own (as well as a few other characters, but let's just say that their ending is a little more, uhm, permanent). As a result, it felt less like an open ending, and more like the author wanted to get to Wulliam's ending mostly, with his quest being a little... on the side? I may be mistaken, but that's how I keep on feeling about it now. I still don't know why Mix doesn't eat, or what happened to Remedie and Bonn.

Wulliam was also pretty annoying as a character. On the one hand, I could understand his desire to save his Pappa, along with his underlying somewhat selfish reasons (he wants to save him because he loves him, of course, but also because he doesn't know how to be the Riverkeep in his stead, and wishes for his guidance some more); I could also understand how he'd come to be angry, considering everybody seemed to hitch a ride and not lift a finger to help. On the other hand, well... those characters helped in different ways (Till does pay for the trip, after all, and Mix does have a knack to gather resources unseen), and Wull after a while became more the annoying, tantrum-throwing type than the rightly-annoyed, unfairly-treated one.

Conclusion: ~ 2.5 stars out of 5. I liked the atmosphere, the depiction of the river and of the places travelled in this novel. Nevertheless, the pace was rather uneven, and unless it's the first book in a series and we're bound to learn more in a second one, not bringing closure to other characters' stories made me feel unsatisfied.

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review 2016-06-07 22:01
Dear Amy
Dear Amy - Helen Callaghan

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

Entertaining but not much more than that, I'm afraid. I liked reading this novel, only the mystery wasn't so deep, and I kept wondering why other characters didn't challenge this or that plot point more.

It started well enough with Margot, our narrator, struggling in her personal life: her ex-husband wants the house, she's pondering her own anxiety-related issues (not to mention “shouldn't I go off my meds now that I'm feeling better?), and one of her former students has vanished in strange circumstances. On top of her job in posh St. Hilda's school in Cambridge, she also manages an agony aunt column, “Dear Amy”, in a local newspaper. So when letters are sent to her mailbox at said newspaper, from a girl who was abducted and probably killed some twenty years ago, this only adds to Margot's confusion, while nevertheless pricking her curiosity. There could be a life at stake here... and perhaps even more.

The original abductee, Bethan Avery, was never found, and it's clearly weird for her to be writing letters, all the more because, from their tone, it seems she's still captive! So is she a victim, or an accomplice? I thought this was quite a challenging premise. I still think it is. However, two issues arose while I was reading:

1/ I found it easy enough to guess the outcome of the mystery around Bethan.
2/ This part of the novel led to several plot holes that were never filled. For instance, it was never made clear whether the police tested the letters for fingerprints, and too many people either dismissed them as a prank, or didn't wonder enough about how Bethan-the-captive-girl could've sent them. As a result, it diminished their importance, made the whole thing seem far-fetched, and I think that's part of what allowed me to sense what was wrong here, and take an eductaed guess (turned out I was right).

My other gripes in general concerned:
- How the characters weren't so much fleshed out as placed there like “token psychological thriller chars” (the psychologist, the potential love interest who helps the narrator...);
- The handling of mental disorders, both through the narrative and through other chars (that Greta psychologist was rather inept);
- Some cliché plot devices, like the culprit's actions (creepy but could've been handled better), or both landline AND mobile phone cut at the same time (is GSM cover so bad around Cambridge, and do all batteries die so quickly? I never kill mine like that, and that's after spending commuting time playing games on it...);
- And, to be honest, I didn't really connect with Margot or anyone else in the novel. Mostly they were too infuriating, in one way or another, and didn't redeem themselves much through other actions or personality traits.

That said, I liked parts of the second main arc (the abducted girl one). It highlighted the plight of all the murdered girls, as well as Bethan's. It allowed for a thrilling intruder-in-the-hope scene. Its ending was sort of predictable, but somehow that didn't matter too much, because it's kind of what I wanted to read anyway.

On the side of writing: I don't know if this was because I read an ARC—maybe this was changed in the published version—but often present and past tense mixed in a scene or even a paragraph without the narrative justifying it, and I found this jarring.

1.5 stars? I can't say I hated this book, but it's a mix between “OK” and “slight dislike”—I really wish the idea at its root had been handled better...

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