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review 2018-04-05 17:13
Invictus - Ryan Graudin

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

What I liked:

- The beginning. Of course, you can tell immediately where this is going, and that there’s going to be another proposal to offset the bad news, and you can guess what that proposal will be, but it’s OK because it’s why you’re reading the book. Well, why I was reading it, at any rate.

- Some aspects of the world building, with the idea of trained people going back in time to record events, and having to follow specific rules to avoid creating paradoxes. It makes a lot of sense, since the ‘grandfather paradox’ is definitely not the only risk in such a setting: it’s obvious that you wouldn’t want to kill your own grandfather if you hope to be born someday… but it’s much less obvious that even ‘small’ actions like gambling in a casino can have consequences, for instance by preventing the ‘normal’ winner from winning, in turn preventing them from doing things that should normally have happened, and so on. The most noticeable actions aren’t the only ones that can change the world.

- The crew’s dynamics. I have a soft spot for heist stories carried by a crew (ship, spaceship, band of misfits, whatever), and when the latter works well together, it’s even better. In itself¸ this part wasn’t the most exceptional ever, but I could feel the ties uniting them, and that was good.

- Diversity. Priya is obviously of Indian origin, Gram is dark-skinned, and Far also has inherited a darker complexion from his father. It’s not mentioned more than once or twice, but it’s good to see.

- The book was entertaining, I wanted to know how the story would go (good thing I’ve been on sick leave and with time on my hands to rush through it, huh), and in general the action and tension scenes were gripping.

What I didn’t like so much:

- The romance. I’m not particularly keen on romance in general, for starters— in my experience 90% of such subplots, when they happen in stories whose main genre is not romance, are there because it’s what people (or the market, or publishing houses, I’m never really sure) expect. As a result, the romance feels forced, and that’s the feeling I got here. I didn’t particularly care about Imogen having a crush, all the more since it led to some screen time being used up for conversations about boys and should-I-oh-no-I-don’t-dare. As for the romance between Far and Priya, it was announced very suddenly, its beginnings happened off-scene, and I never felt any real chemistry between these two. In a story revolving around an all-for-one type of crew, friendship all the way would’ve worked better for me.

- The lull mid-book, the part where they go to Las Vegas. Partly because of the romance-related conversations, partly because I wanted to shout ‘Seriously, characters, is partying and getting drunk the best you can do right now?’

- Some other aspects of the world building. Yes, I know I partially liked it. However, some elements were there for… no reason? Example: How can Priya be 17-18 and already a full-fledged medic, with mechanic skills to boot? When did she got time to learn all that? Or why do they eat synthetic food, why is ice cream so expensive? I felt the latter points were here to give a ‘science-fictiony’ sheen, but without explanations about why the world came to be like that, I can never fully buy it. (I’m not asking for a treaty about 24th century economics, but at least a couple of lines about the whys would be nice.)

- Part of the plot when it comes to Eliot’s involvement. First, it’d have been good to see a couple of successful heists before she appeared, so that the disruption she created would be even stronger. Second, the true reason for her presence is somewhat complicated, and may have worked better with a little more development. An example of what I felt rushed with that is how easily an antagonist character convinces other antagonist characters to work with him, towards the end, in order to stop her; it happened very quickly, wasn’t very convincing, and anyway, why didn’t he enlist his own after that, to add a strike force he could fully control?
(Side note: I found the names they used very confusing. I could deal with the endings, like FLT6, but the whole strings of numbers in the middle… I kept trying to imagine the conversation with Eliot speaking these numbers, and I’m surprised she didn’t make a mistake every two sentences when using those.)

- The characters, outside of their role as a group. As a crew, I thought they functioned together well; but as individuals, they felt flatter. They have their quirks, sure (Imogen dying her hair, Gram and his games), but quirks don’t make a full-fledged character. I didn’t really like Far, he had too much of the ‘strong ego/insufferable’ vibe without enough of the ‘dashing captain/charisma’ vibe, so to speak. Also, I would’ve liked to see more of Gram, for some reason I liked him best.

Conclusion: Cool concepts, with good action scenes. The book was an entertaining read, although it failed in other parts.

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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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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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review 2016-05-20 21:17
The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria
The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria - Carlos Hernandez

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

Well, this was a pretty original collection of stories, mixing science fiction and fantasy elements against a backdrop of Cuban culture (sometimes with clashes of various, if only generational ones) and magical realism. In this book, you'll get research centres on space stations, aliens visiting Earth and confronted to ubuesque situations, reality TV shows about hitmen, a piano haunted by the soul of his previous owner, artificial brain implants meant to help people recover from owful brain injuries, giant pandas prodded into mating through robotics, unicorns... Basically, quite a few different ideas here, but all looking, in the end, as perfectly logical and well-integrated. Suspension of disbelief? Totally. (Yes, even when Margaret Thatcher waltzes in.)

The writing style in general was pretty good, bordering on poetic at times, making it easy to picture items (the piano), situations and places. Owing to their cultural background, some characters sometimes spoke in Spanish, or what is close to it; I can't say whether this is annoying or not, because my own experience with that language, albeit very rusty, was still solid enough to allow me to understand.

My favourite ones:

“Homeostasis”: a take on cybernetics/neural implants and what it may mean in terms of envisioning “the soul”. When half your brain has been taken over by an eneural to help reconstruct your persona and allow you to function again as a full human being, can you be sure the person inside is still the person, and not an artificial intelligence?

“The International Studbook of the Giant Panda”: bizarre, with a dash of humour, a little disturbing, too... but surprisingly enough, past the first “WTF” moment, I realised I was enjoying this story a lot.

“The Macrobe Conservation Project”: disturbing too, in different ways. On a space station, a scientist tries to help preserve a fragile ecosystem based on parasites/symbiants living on corpses. Meanwhile, his son's only contact with his on-planet family is through robotic versions of his mother and brother.

“American Moat”: when aliens meet the local border patrol... hilarity ensues. And yet, there is something deeply worrying in this story, because it makes you wonder: is humanity really worth it, or are we just stupid bags of meat who'd better be left to rot?

“The Assimilated Cuban's Guide to Quantum Santeria”: the eponymous title and last story of the book. After his mother's death, a little boy desperately wants his father to be happy again instead of lonely, and turns to (dark) magic to help him. Bonus for the magical dead cat. Again, there are funny elements in there... but also reallyl touching ones. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And with pigeons.

The other stories were good as well, and none struck me as abysmal—if I had to rate them, they were all 3 stars minimum for me.

As for the cultural backdrop, apart from a couple of heavy-handed pokes at racism, these stories had a natural flow that made the characters appear as well-integrated within their surroundings (whether contemporary Earth or space), even when those weren't Cuba. I'm not sure how to express what I felt here, but I think it'd be something like: you don't need to understand this different culture to enjoy these stories, and it doesn't matter if some themes, character quirks, idioms and/or mannerisms aren't easy to understand because they're not yours—they're part of each story in a natural, logical flow, and while this isn't “my” culture, it both gave me nice insights into it, while also making me feel like there was no cultural divide. (Hopefully this makes sense.)

4 stars out of 5. I definitely recommend this book.

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text 2016-04-07 12:49
New Books I'm Reading!
An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes... An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes - Randy Ribay
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli

No spoilers yet! 

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