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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 2017-07-13 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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review 2017-03-14 13:01
The Apothecary's Curse
The Apothecary's Curse - Barbara Barnett

(I got a copy through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.)

The story of "The Apothecary's Curse" intertwines different plots, mostly mid-19th century London, a short early 20th century stint, and 2016 Chicago. All feature Gaelan and Simon, two men who became accidentally immortal through ingesting an alchemical compound, and struggle to lead a life of their own. Condemned for a crime he didn't commit, Gaelan was tortured for years by a mad doctor, before fleeing abroad, while Simon pines for his dead wife, unable to join her in death. As the decades pass, they find themselves remaining that strange brand of friends who can't stand to be in each other's presence for too long, yet always gravitate back towards each other. Until a strange book and a geneticist fall into the mix, and both men realise they may be about to know worse than one single mad doctor in a now closed asylum.

All these plots aren't only concerned with alchemy and immortality, but also with love: love for a woman, love of friendship, love of knowledge (even though gained in twisted ways), love of family, love of life itself... because when all's said and done, Gaelan still doesn't want to die, still finds wonders in the way science has been progressing.

In general, I found the main characters compelling, especially Gaelan, who never really loses hope in humanity in spite what he's been through. I found the contrast fairly interesting: Gaelan, who tried to help and was tortured and killed for it, called a criminal and a madman, forced to flee, but kept enjoying life, becoming a dealer in old books and antiques, nevergiving up in spite of his struggles with PTSD; and Simon, who seems to have everything (respect, fame and money as a doctor, then as a famous author), but cannot find peace, haunted by the memory of his departed wife—his story was tragic, though I admit I tended to side with Gaelan much more because, well, who can fault the guy who tries to live instead of wallowing in despair for a whole century, eh? As for Eleanor and Anne, they had their own struggles to go through, their own decisions to make, trying to fight evil as they could, even if it sometiles meant resorting to another kind of evil.

If anything, I was a little disappointed in the 2016 part. The 1842 and early 1900s one felt more vivid, better developed, whereas the modern era plotline, while interesting, was also a bit lackluster. Perhaps because I kept thinking there wasn't enough danger in it, considering what was at stake and the 'evil genetics/pharmacy company' that sooner or later would be after Gaelan. I guess I expected more development here, more of a feeling of urgency, especially towards the end.

Conclusion: Still a solid 3.5 stars. I enjoyed this novel.

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review 2017-01-04 18:53
The Girl Before
The Girl Before: A Novel - JP Delaney

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

When Jane applies to live at One Folgate Street, a minimalist house designed b y famous architect Edward Monkford, after recently suffering bereavment, she doesn't know yet that another woman, Emma, lived there before her, and that events surrounding her were not of the good kind. What matters is that even though the house comes with two hundred rules designed to make it the perfectly ordered and uncluttered, the rent is cheap, and it's an opportunity at starting a new life and letting go of a painful past. But Emma's shadow is everywhere: in the place she inhabited, in how the landlord used to perceive her, in how the house started to shape her... and the same thing may happen to Jane.

Well, this novel was quite readable, and I took pleasure (and was thrilled) at discovering gradually, through a double narrative, what happened to Emma and what is now happening to Jane: their reasons for moving into the house, their personal lives, what tragedies befell them and how those kept affecting them, as well as the parallels slowly drawn between them. There's a constant game of similarities intertwining here, only to better highlight the differences and subsequent reveals, for neither Emma nor Jane are exactly who we think they are at first.

Granted, some of these revelations are a little convoluted. In hindsight, there's also nothing invalidating them, and provided one's willing to take a "what if?" approach, rather than expecting answers and explanations set in stone, well, it can work. They are problematic in some ways, though, for reasons I won't explain here as not to spoil, but let's just say that these are unreliable narrators we're speaking of here, and lies or at least things unsaid are a big part of this story. Including infuriating lies.

I wasn't satisfied with the ending—to be honest, I much preferred the beginning and the gradual increase in tension, when I was still wondering if there had been a murder or if it was suicide, and if the culprit was who I thought it was, or not. The ending... well, let's say it was a bit of a letdown, with a last, questionable twist related to 'perfection vs. imperfection' that I found callous and uncalled for. Again, no spoilers, but frankly, it was unnecessary (and I don't think it plays very well either into the theme of 'sterile perfection and narcissism' in Edward's little world).

Conclusion: Enjoyable throughout, only it didn't reach its full potential in the end.

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review 2016-11-10 22:44
Dark Matter
Dark Matter: A Novel - Blake Crouch

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

 

Reviewing this book without spoilers is hard, especially since some of those spoilers would illustrate my “buts…”. I’ll try.

 

In general, I did enjoy this story. It plays on the endless possibilities offered by other universes, and on the conundrums they entail—i.e. that our lives rest on the many choices we make, and that one tiny choice can be the trigger to a huge event. Jason’s trials in that regard constantly force him to consider this aspect, this grand scheme of things, because in that, too, the tiniest mistake can have terrible consequences.

 

Jason as a character had his highs and lows. There were moments when he made some pretty bad/dangerous choices, making me wonder if he had turned too-stupid-to-live (I’ll just mention the red and black squares here—emotional and very humane moment, but I seriously expected Jason and his companion to drag that baggage further into the story, and they were just uber lucky, I guess?). At other moments, he proved himself to be a kind and decent person, who made choices not based on what he would like, but on what the people he loved would prefer. And yet nothing is all black and white here, because the way the last quarter of the story turns out, it makes you wonder: could he have changed, become different, if life had treated him differently?

 

A lot of emotions in there, for sure. Some very poignant scenes. Others that were both frightening and somewhat funny at the same time, towards the end, considering the people Jason has to face. The explanation as to what triggered what was behind the “doors”, well, that was interesting, and in fact logical, considering the explanation given about those.

 

I liked Amanda as well, and to be honest, I would’ve loved to see more of her. (I kept wondering if something would happen; part of me is glad of how it turned out, and another part keeps wondering “what if”. What’s her story exactly? What will it be? In a world with endless possibilities, not knowing at least one is… troubling.

 

I guess this is one of what I’d call weak points here, in that the narrative being Jason’s, we only get to see a very subjective view of it all, and characters who deserved to be fleshed out more, whom I sensed could be and do more, were thus sidelined because those other aspects of their personalities and lives weren’t what Jason considered. (Also, the use of a couple of tropes in order to get rid of some characters; it’s like they weren’t so important in the end to the author, but to me, they were, and would’ve deserved more screen time, even though I totally get why these tropes were used, and to what effect.)

 

The narrative style as well felt problematic—as usual with first person present tense, as far as I’m concerned. While it does lend a sense of immediacy and urgency to the novel (especially with the short sentences or even one-worders interspersed throughout), it also felt too abrupt, and conflicting with the more introspective pages. But then, as I mentioned in other reviews, this specific tense choice is a pet peeve of mine.

 

Finally, I’m not too sure about the scientific theories underlining the story. I’m not too knowledgeable about that, so I can’t really tell if they were definitely interesting and believable in terms of quantum mechanics, or if they’re just grazing the surface. I suspect the latter (I did have that feeling I wanted to know more, see those theories described in more details), yet in terms of plot device, well, it worked well enough for me to go along with the ride and enjoy it.

 

Conclusion: 3.5/4 stars.

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