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review 2018-04-18 19:26
The School for Psychics
The School for Psychics - K. C. Archer

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

An enjoyable fast-read when it came to the ‘psychic powers’ theme. I really liked the premise: a young woman who’s been making questionable decisions, and gets a second chance in a school for people with psychic abilities, where they’re trained to protect and server… but a few people on the inside have different agendas, and it’s a constant game of trying to figure out what’s at stake, and if it’s going to be a bunch of revelations, or something much more lethal. The powers the students have are varied, ranging from precognition to telepathy and even pyrokinesis, and I liked how the novel tried to bring a scientific approach to it: after all, they’re training people who’re going to end up working for the FBI or NSA.

The first scene also engaged me from the beginning, what’s with Teddy being banned from Las Vegas casinos, but still sneaking into one, disguised as a different woman, to hopefully win the money she owes a Russian crime boss, because otherwise her own parents will be targeted. Well, OK, nevermind that she should never have let things go that far, all the more if she’s so good at reading people at the poker table, but ‘questionable decisions’ being a key here, alright, I can go with that.

On the other hand, I never really got a good feeling for Teddy, or for the other characters. Some of them had a sort of ‘larger than life’ vibe, with their quirks (the animal medium who likes doing yoga naked, the ex-cop who’s a charmer and can literally set things on fire, the hacker who’s also an empath…); but they remained fairly one-dimensional. Teddy barely thought of her family except in the beginning, we know nothing of the others except for a couple of things like ‘his family’s rich and he has a boat’, and so when the story took a more action/heist-oriented turn, it was hard to root for them.

The other thing I didn’t like—and which contributed to my not enjoying the sotry as much as I hoped—was the globally juvenile aspects. These people are 20-something (Teddy’s 24, and Pyro must be at least 25 considering he served in the police for some time, and I doubt you just start there at 15 or so), but the whole Whitfield academy had a strong high school feeling, and I constantly thought I was reading a YA novel when in fact it was marketed as geared towards adult, with adult characters. I don’t mind YA in general, even though I have my gripes about a lot of books; I don’t think that ‘because it’s YA, it’s necessarily stupid and uninteresting.’ This said, the aforementioned gripes involve a certain number of tropes that I find cringe-worthy, such as the mandatory romance and love triangle, the professor who immediately favours certain students and begrudges the heroine and her friends, or the whole ‘school stars vs. misfits’ aspect. And those tropes were clearly present here, to the point of making me forget that those characters were, uh, two years from going to work for the FBI? Suspension of disbelief was then shattered every time forensics or the shooting range was mentioned; it’s like the story couldn’t make up his mind about whether it was meant to be about teenagers or about adult people.

Not sure if I’ll be interested in the sequel.

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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 2016-11-07 21:16
The Easy Way Out
The Easy Way Out - Steven Amsterdam

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

OK, I admit I don't really know what to write in this review, which seldom happens. It wasn't a bad story—and its theme is fairly interesting (legalised euthanasia, and potential risks and abuse that may be related to it vs. what it accomplishes for people who suffer). But I never really feel connected to the characters, and thus never really cared about them.

I can feel somewhat close to the debate about euthanasia. I'm not sure if it's something I'd choose for myself, however with my phobia of cancer, I really "get" the wish to go while you can still decide for yourself, because I see absolutely no point in "living longer" if this "life" is spent pissing myself in a hospital bed and begging for morphine or not being aware anymore of what's around me. At this point, that's not even surviving anymore, so... I don't know. Somehow I really hope I'll never have to find out for myself. That's the kind of knowledge I can blissfully remain ignorant of.

Evan's dilemmas, his trouble adjusting to what his job demanded of him and what, deep inside, he wanted/needed to give, were interesting as well. There are a lot of grey areas here, and I'd often wonder at all the legal parts in this legalised assisted death in the novel: on the one hand, the law has to prevent abuse, otherwise it's easy to veer into murder; on the other, what do you do when a patient with degenerative disease has expressed until the end their wish to die, but their disease prevent them from drinking their glass of Nembutal? Not helping means denying their wishes; but actually helping them drink may be construed as "pushy" and "choosing for them". So, so very grey.

Also, props for including a relationship that is not the cookie-cutter traditional heterosexual one, AND including it in a natural way, as something that simply "is", and not some matter for moral discussion or judgment or whatever. You don't see that too often to my liking in books and movies. Granted, I wished Evan had been more involved in it, because Lon and Simon were lovely and supportive people, and I felt they were always left on the sideline; but that has nothing to do with gender.

On the other hand, some things were not fleshed out enough. Evan's relationship with his boss Nettie, for starters—I was sure there was matter for discussion here, a basis for more conflict and/or, on the contrary, more relating, yet it was never really accomplished. Same with Evan's decision to keep mum about his job when it came to some of (close) characters, or Jasper's Path, which came a bit out of nowhere?

I didn't really get either the very, very quick decline in Viv. Sure, it was dramatic, however the scientist in me would've liked to see more explanations about her going from Parkinson's to almost-miraculous recovery to going downhill in a matter of 4-5 days. I totally get the whole tragedy in her condition—a fiercely independent woman who finds herself becoming dependent and is inwardly scared of it—but this decline felt like a plot device and not like an exactly natural evolution of said plot, if that makes sense.

Conclusion: interesting, but I never felt involved.

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review 2016-09-12 18:45
Smoke
Smoke: A Novel - Dan Vyleta

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

 

I really liked the premise: sin and violent emotions taking on shape and scent, through a strange smoke people let escape in spite of themselves, in an alternate Victorian setting where, much like in real Victorian England, the "lower classes" are considered as sinful, while the "upper classes" are supposed to be their betters—and what's best here than -not- displaying the dreadful Smoke, right? However, ultimately I couldn't care about the story at all, nor about the characters. I partly blame this on the rhythm, and partly on the choice of narrative tense and voices.

 

The first chapters, albeit a little slow, had the kind of atmosphere I hoped the whole novel would carry throughout, involving a private boarding school, creepy students, and masters entrenched within their stinky moral rectitude. Lovely, isn't it? There is so much one can do with such a setting (can you tell I like boarding school settings?). There was so much promise to the strained relationship between Julius, the apparently perfect, almost angelic student who submits others to his own rule on top of the teachers', a monster in elegant disguise, and Thomas, a murderer's son, openly convinced that he's a monster and will end up like his father.

 

Alas, after that, or more specifically about the part where the boys go visit London, things went downhill.

 

I can definitely say the narrative style didn't convince me: a blend of a first and third person, but also of present and past tense. Unfortunately, first POV present is difficult to properly achieve, and third POV present is even more difficult... and it just didn't work here, bringing a constant jarring note to the story. I spent more time being bothered about the tense shifts and sometimes confusing points of view, than really paying attention to what I was reading. Not to mention that some of those narrators weren't so useful, being brought in for one scene, then never again—in other words, I never got to get a feeling for these characters, not enough to care about what happened to them. This extended to the actual main characters, who could have had an interesting dynamics as a twisted love triangle, united in sin and darkness as they were uncovering a plot that may or may not destroy England as they knew it.

 

Another really bothering thing was how the Smoke was everywhere, permeating every stratum of society, at the heart of the mystery... yet in the end, there was no clue as to -why- exactly it existed, what brought it out of humans. Something supernatural? Something physiological? Nada. And since there's no indication whatsoever that there'll be a second volume, for now it looks like we'll never know. (Also, because the origins of Smoke, its nature, are involved in the plot our three "heroes" unveil, the absence of revelation and information is all the more annoying.)

 

It took me weeks to finish this novel, and to be honest, had I not felt like I owned a review for NetGalley, I'd have DNFed it.

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review 2016-08-22 22:02
The Vengeful Half
The Vengeful Half (The Atlantis Families Book 1) - Jaclyn Dolamore

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

This is one of those overdue reviews, since I've had this book on my tablet for quite a while. I remember requesting it partly because of its cover (the paperback one -- by comparison, the Kindle cover on Amazon is pretty bland), which seemed quite ominous to me. What can I say, I'm weak when faced with a certain type of cover.

The plot was intriguing, for sure. A hidden world full of family secrets, alliances to be had, strange magic (the doll people and the potions), ancient feuds, revelations aplenty, and a hidden enemy who's been bidding her time and is now bent on getting what she wants: possibly revenge... or something else? There's almost too much going on at times. At first I thought it would be more a quest-like story, with Olivia going after her mother and braving danger to save her. It didn't turn out like that, but that was alright, the kind of plot and intrigue it led to was pretty fine with me as well.

The characters: we have that girl, Olivia, who knows she's from another world/civilisation, without having been brought up in it, which leaves room for showing this land to the reader, without necessarily having to explain *all* of it, since Olivia already knows part of it and we can dispense with. We have Alfred, rich heir and future boss to a crime family, who's blind almost since birth and goes his way without whining about this—he's used to it, he has trouble with some things but has found ways to cope. Alfred also has to constantly remind other people that he can do, not everything but a lot of things: a conundrum close, I think, to quite a few double standards going around disabled people (pitied and treated like children almost, or blamed for "not making enough efforts" by many, instead of being considered as human beings first and foremost...). There's also Thessia, Alfred's fiancée, who could have been a nasty bitch and/or a jealous whiner, especially since she fits the too-beautiful-to-be-true girl, and turns out to be an idealist, an activist, and, well, a fairly decent person to be around, even though she has her downside (Atlantean rich society seems to be hell-bent on having its girls marry rich heirs, and gods forbid they want to have a career of their own...).

So, all in all, a lot of interesting things here. Unfortunately, a lot more annoyed me, causing me not to enjoy this story in the end.

From the start, something kept nagging at me, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. At some point, the author mentioned when the story originated (more about that later), back when she was still a child or teenager; I think this was what I "felt" about it, for having gone myself through the same conundrum of taking a story I first created when I was 12 or so, and trying to trim it and make it something worth reading. This was something I found extremely hard to do, because what we perceive as wonderful plot twists and concepts when we're younger aren't necessarily good things to leave as is... yet "upgrading" them is easier said than done. And so, I had that strange feeling that I was reading something I might have written when I was younger, and my reaction to it was a little similar. It's hard to explain. I could sum it up with "this feels like a very early work, and it needs more editing."

Another thing that bothered me, when it comes to this theme of parallel/hidden worlds, is how close to ours the latter was, when a parallel world could pave the way to so many other things. Let me develop a bit more by giving a personal example: I grew up in France, with a lot of dubbed TV shows originating from the USA, and at the time I had that fascination for the USA. If I wrote a story, I set it in some imaginary US town. Not my home country, no, it wasn't "good enough": it had to be like the USA, feel like the USA, whatever. Obviously it didn't occur to me at the time that Stephen King, for instance, set his stories in his country because that's what he knew, and that I was under the impression everything was better there only because I hadn't been exposed to shows from other countries. (Bear with me, I was 12-something.) And somehow, the way Atlantis people lived reminded me of this: their world felt like it hadn't been so much evolving as trying to mimic Earth's, and more specifically, well, you guess it. "Everything's better if it looks like our world." Kind of like being promised a walk in quaint little streets with exotic market stalls, and finding yourself in a mall instead—Atlanteans driving Ferraris didn't exactly impress me. I'd stand with Olivia on that one, who was expecting a high fantasy world at first and found a place with chocolate and soda cans instead.

(To be fair, though, all this might still hold more appeal to a teenage audience than it did to me: I also remember thinking "those are plot devices/themes I would've used myself, since I loved them, when I was in my teens." I had that thing going for telepathy and psychic powers in general, and parallel worlds, and "aliens/people with powers coming from those worlds to live hidden on Earth". I seriously doubt I was the only one.)

Third annoying bit: the somewhat sexist, somewhat dismissive way a few characters tended to act. Alfred disappointed me towards the end when it came to Thessia (pretty assholish move to make if you ask me, and then she's left to go away with the equivalent of "kthxbye see ya later, ah women, they always need some time to calm down huh"). Or what I mentioned above regarding heiresses only good enough to marry—any female character with a position/job of her own seemed to be either a villain or a reject/castaway/fugitive, as if no "proper woman" could hold her own. Although was pointed as backwards thinking, I felt a dichotomy, a certain hypocrisy in how it was mentioned, yet the people mentioning it still kept buying into the patriarchal model nonetheless.

Fourth: so many tropes. So, so many. You've got it all: pretty boy with a beautiful fiancée against which the main character feels so plain (but still becomes a love interest fairly quickly); people who were supposed to be dead but aren't; telepathy/psychic powers being used and thrown in in vague descriptions, solving things a little too easily at times; mandatory love triangle; elite school in which talking to The Wrong Person will turn you into a black sheep, instantly, just add water. It felt like a soap opera at times, and since I'm not particularly keen on those, it didn't help.

On the fence: the drawings, comic strips and short inserts. I didn't care about the style, but I can certainly understand the appeal, and who would fault an author for including those and being enthusiastic about it? Not me! However, I think they disrupted the flow of the story in some cases, either by revealing too much about the characters at that specific point or by just being there in the middle (did we really need pictures of the various soda brands?). More annoying though were the written inserts: in between two chapters, we get a bit (twice!) about how the story was born. Not uninteresting, yet... this could and should be put at the end, otherwise it's either disruptive or meant to be skipped, which would defeat the whole point.

Conclusion: could've been for me, but... nope, sorry.

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