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review 2017-08-06 19:37
Nothing
Nothing - Annie Barrows

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

Well, this book captures ‘nothing’, which is both good (the character Charlotte intends to show nothing exciting happens in her life, and she does that well), and not so good, because in the end, it made for a fairly plotless novel that read like a journal, quite slice-of-life, and it wasn’t exactly exciting. So I’m on the fence here, in that I get the intention, but don’t really enjoy it?

The author nailed the ‘teenager narrator voice’—also both a good and a bad thing: good for characterisation, bad for... hm, let’s say that 20 years later, it’s not particularly interesting (yep, I wasn’t interesting myself in my teens, hah). The intended audience being YA, possibly the latter won’t be too much of a problem, as younger readers may relate to Charlotte’s views on life... or maybe not? I tended to like Frankie more, in any case, because at least she sometimes -does- things, and tries to initiate change.

The awkwardness of relationships is also well-portrayed, for instance Charlotte’s relationship with Sid, how they met through internet and kept texting each other, and Charlotte likes him but is convinced they’ll never met and it’s doomed to fail anyway, and so on.

Of course, the book shows that the ‘nothing’ Charlotte complains about isn’t such a truth; little things happen, opportunities arise, the girls are just so convinced their lives are boring that they don’t notice those things are being important, through the way they add up. But that’s also something I wasn’t really at ease with.

First, the girls are quite similar, and it was difficult at times to know if a chapter was about Frankie or Charlotte (at some point I just went with 3rd person = Frankie, 1st person = Charlotte); they’re not helped in that by their common background, there isn’t much diversity in here, nor in the friends they mention, most often in passing.

Second, there’s a subplot that Charlotte sort of... brushes over as if it was trivial, and I’m sorry, no, I don’t think anyone would go through such an event and then just leave for home and not realise even for five minutes that what they did was awesome and, yes, important.

That’s the part where Charlotte prevents a school friend from getting raped by a boy who clearly saw she was drunk and didn’t know what she was doing anymore. Way to trivialise attempted rape, and way to show how selfish and shitty a person can be, I mean, hello Charlotte who won’t stay with her because, oh my God, then she has to tell her parents she was at a party and her parents will think she was drinking too and she’ll be grounded... Yeah. I get it, ‘nothing’ happens in your privileged little life. And let’s not mention the ‘wai things would be more interesting if we were gay’. Nope, no love from me, girl. Can we stop using LGBT relationships as plot devices, and use such characters as, you know, people with personalities?

(spoiler show)



Conclusion: At least it was a quick read, and points for writing teenager characters fairly well, but I can’t say I enjoyed reading Charlotte’s parts.

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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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