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review 2019-05-22 20:38
The Dark Net
The Dark Net - Benjamin Percy

(To be fair, I actually got a review copy through Edelweiss, but didn't get to the book at the time due to... probably too many other books to read. Story of my life.)

It's a decent novel. It didn't exactly deal with what the blurbs mentions. From the latter, you'd think it's a techno-thriller involving the Deep Web, groups like Anonymous, the Silk Road, and so on. But the 'Net, while playing a part, is not as much involved as more traditional urban fantasy/horror elements: 'the Light' vs. 'the Dark', an immortal who prolongs her body's current life through blood transfusions, an ex-child evangelist now running a shelter by day and hunting monsters by night, demons...

I did like the way the Deep Net was involved: as a new turf for a war between Light and Dark, with means of action relying on people's obsession with their smartphones, GPS, and connected technology in general. That was a good plot point. I also liked Hannah's 'Mirage' apparatus, in the first chapter of the book, where it is hinted that thanks to it, she's now able to see more than meet the eye.

The story is packed with action, the characters don't really get a chance to rest, and even when they think they do, well, Evil never sleeps, right? As a result, though, it was also difficult to care much about them—so when there were dead people, I barely noticed them.

The more traditional horror/UF elements were also a slight let-down. As much as I like these in general, here, I felt that the technological angle took the back burner at times (one of the characters is actually a technophobe). Perhaps I resented the blurb misleading me more than I thought, too? I would've been more interested in a truly cyberpunk-cum-supernatural angle, rather than the contrary.

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review 2019-04-28 21:06
Internment - Samira Ahmed

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

The theme of this book was definitely scary, in that it’s not something that can never happen—it has happened in the past already, and anyone who’s studied history a little, and/or gotten interested in studying extremist movements, will know very well that even an apparently “balanced” society can give way to extreme rules, to persecuting people, and to turning your average citizen into an “I was just doing my job” person.

The story echoes the internment of many Japanese-descent American citizens during World War II, often considered as “enemies of the nation” and interned as “potential dangers”. There is no World War here, “only” the aftermath of 9/11 and growing fears of terrorism, with people being so afraid of a fringe of Muslim people that they lump all Muslims in the same basket, starting with a religion census, then moving to curfews and the burning of books. Also, the parallels drawn with early 21st century US politics are obvious (although this is not limited to the USA)... perhaps a little too much. Which leads me to what was my main beef with the book: it makes everything too obvious.

Don’t mistake me: the message IS really important, and there’s no way any decent society should let something like this happen (again). However, I often found that it was hammered through and through, and that overall, more subtlety, and a more mature treatment of it all, would’ve been welcome. It’s a little as if too much repetition, too much obviousness, weakened the message by making it tiresome, in a way. (I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself very well here. It was difficult to properly put my finger on what had been nagging me throughout my reading.)

A few other things annoyed me, too. The writing itself was fairly simplistic, with Layla’s thoughts often circling around the same things (like her boyfriend), and in general, there wasn’t really any explanation about how things came to be. I could fill in some blanks because I know my history, but more background details about the escalation of Islamophobia leading to the internment camps would’ve been great (and would’ve helped to strengthen the message)—just like it would’ve been good to see more chemistry when relationships were involved. For instance, Layla and David: we don’t get to see them together enough in the beginning to get a feeling for their relationship, and this makes it hard to really empathise with their obsession to see each other (even though doing so endangers pretty much everyone: David, Layla, his family, her family, the people who help them…).

The same goes for those people who are on the Muslims’ side: with everyone at the camp cut from the outside world, with no real news, no phones, no internet allowed, whatever happens outside is learnt through third parties. We don’t really -see- those reactions, we don’t get to read the texts that Layla manages to smuggle outside and that inspire people, etc. And most characters’ motivations are never really explored. Why is the Director such a cartoonish villain? What motivates the guards who try to help? What motivates (or threatens) the minders turned traitors to their people?

The ending, too, was… conveniently simple. And got rid of one specific plot point that otherwise would’ve needed more explanation. That was very predictable… and very frustrating.

Conclusion: I definitely agree with the message here, but as a novel, it didn’t really work for me.

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review 2019-02-10 15:04
The Flower Girls
The Flower Girls - Alice Clark-Platts

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

Interesting (albeit disturbing) theme: that of ‘the Flower Girls’, two children suspected of the murder of a toddler. The elder girl, Laurel, went to jail, where she’s still rotting many years later; the younger, Primrose, was considered as too young and traumatised to stand trial, and given a new identity. The story follows the two women nineteen years after the gruesome murder, when on New Year’s Eve, 5-year old Georgie disappears from the hotel where she’s been staying with her parents. A host of other characters quickly get tangled with the case: DC Lorna Hillier, writer Max, Hazel Archer and her boyfriend Jonny, the cook who was the last person to see the little girl alive, but also Toby Bowman, Laurel’s uncle who was the only one to stick with her, and Joanna Denton, the aunt of the murdered toddler. Of course, during the investigation, revelations start to surface, hinting at something else going on.

The first part of the novel was pretty engaging, as the search for Georgie takes place, and DC Hillier starts suspecting that the truth is not so nicely packaged as it seems. We’re also given to see snapshots of Joanna’s fight to keep Laurel behind bars, as well as Laurel’s relationship with Toby, who’s trying to get parole for her.

However, after that, the story started to peter out for me, and I found the ending rushed and lacking. I get the later twists (predictable, but I get them), and that novels don’t all have to end up tied with nice little bows, but I felt that too many characters were either ushered out the easy way, or left hanging to dry. Those I liked the most, all in all, were Laurel herself; Toby, who in spite of being reviled in the eyes of the rest of his family for helping his niece, was probably one of the most human ones; and Hillier, who wouldn’t let go and really tried to figure out the real truth behind it all. Unfortunately, they were all part of these characters who were left out in the cold, with their storylines “unfinished”. (Yes, I know, that’s how it often is in real life; but see, the thing is, when I read a thriller/mystery, it’s not to see a mirror of real life: I want an actual resolution at the end.)

So I reached the last page thinking “wha, that’s it?”, and that’s how it remains, which is too bad, because there was a lot of potential in this story.

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review 2019-02-10 08:51
Vox - Christina Dalcher

Something like 2.5 stars, as I'm on the fence with this one. It has powerful messages, including a reminder that often, all it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing. Not that you always have that much of a choice (I've spent all my voting life picking the lesser evil candidate for president in my country, because there's just no 'good' candidate at all), but nvm. And while these messages are delivered in a not-so-subtle way, well, at least that makes them easy to see and to contemplate. The book is also a fast and easy read, with short chapters, and the first 100 pages are quite anger-eliciting, which is good in a book IMHO regardless of its other flaws—when the book leaves me indifferent, that's when I have a problem.

The issues I had with "Vox" were more of the literary kind. For starters, the characters weren't so likeable. Some are definitely not meant to be, of course, and that was not the issue; but for a story where women should be the ones reclaiming power, Jean relies so much on the men around her, including at the end, and that was disappointing. Plot-wise, the scientific premise demanded too much suspension of disbelief (one week to develop a medication, that kind of thing), and the ending was very rushed, which weakened the story for me.

In spite of my rating, though, it is a story worth reading for its message.

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review 2019-01-30 20:13
Child of Nod
Child of Nod - C. W. Snyder

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

The story of a late teenager/young woman who finds herself stranded in a strange land, not knowing if she’s alive or dead, “Child of Nod” is sort of a retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, although it gets far enough from it that it’s not -that- close. It also draws on famous fairy tales and on mythology in general, but here, too, more as an inspiration than for full retelling purposes, so that the book stands on its own here. There’s madness, and horror, and memories, and strong imagery (like the Queen of Blades—this one screams to be drawn), and side characters, too, that I found oddly endearing, such as Dog.

The tone is overall quite dark, in that who and what Alice meets are usually not friendly, and even when she meets people who help her, the latter also have their own darkness to contend with: one suffers from leprosy, another is very likely dying from cancer, the Hunter himself didn’t exactly have a shiny childhood, etc. Nod as governed by the Red Queen is clearly not an enchanting place and there’s always something ready to devour something else around the corner. So, not a story for kids.

The story was definitely interesting, but I had trouble at times with the style (some sentences being abrupt and repetitive), and with the pacing. 90% of the book is spent on Alice’s travels through Nod, with brief insights into the lives of a few people she meets along the way, and by comparison, the final scene and the aftermath got very little screentime, and the ending felt rushed. I would’ve preferred something more balanced here, as well as seeing Alice’s journey and the other characters’ stories more solidly interwoven.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars

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