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review 2018-06-08 21:14
LIFEL1K3
LIFEL1K3 - Jay Kristoff

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Overall, I enjoyed this book, although ultimately it didn’t live up to quite a few of my expectations.

The worldbuilding isn’t tremendously developed here, but what is shown was enough for me to draw a satisfying idea of what it must be like. Post-apocalyptic future, in that, without surprise, humans have been destroying their planet to the point of tsunamis ravaging California (the story is clearly set in its remnants) and solar radiations giving anyone cancer if they walk out unprotected even for an hour or so. It’s a harsh world to live in, where people eke out a living by foraging scraps, prostitution, being in gangs, or competing in the WarDome game by piloting huge robots meant to punish AI robots who stopped obeying the Three Laws (yes, that’s Asimov’s Laws—they tend to work well in various sci-fi worlds, methinks).

Piloting one of those ‘machinas’ is exactly what Eve, the main character, does to earn money and pay for her grandfather’s medication, encouraged by her tiny robot Cricket and her best friend Lemon. Except that her latest fight doesn’t go well at all, and she finds herself manifesting a strange power that sends religious fanatics and bounty hunters on her trail… although not only. This is how she meets Ezekiel, the ‘lifelike’ (an android built in such a way that he looks completely human not only on the surface, since he has blood-like liquid in his veins, metal bones and not simply motors, etc.) This merry band runs away, trying to escape their pursuers as well as to find what happened to Eve’s grandfather, in a world that would look great on screen: radioactive deserts with storms full of glass debris, enemies on motorbikes with rocket launchers, a city made of a whole landlocked float, the ghost town of what used to be a powerful corporation, a living underwater ship… The author doesn’t disclose that many details about geopolitics or history in here, however what he shows us worked for me, and let me imagine this world where Eve and her friends have to live.

In terms of characters, mostly I didn’t care for them, except Lemon. She comes off as the most human and balanced (both strong and fragile), with a cocky attitude and a to-the-death loyalty that felt genuine.

Also, special mention for the novel crossing Anastasia with Pinocchio. I don’t think I had seen or read that yet, and I found the idea interesting, as well as working fairly well.

Where I wasn’t happy with the book:

1) The romance. As often in YA, it was too much of the insta-love kind, without chemistry, and since we get to see how it started only through flashbacks, there was very little in it to make me like it. Eve took a bullet to the head and her memories are sometimes frazzled, and Ezekiel is too many shades of ‘I love you and you’re the only one who gave meaning to my life so now I’m here and I’ll do anything for you’ (commendable, but not very interesting nor even plausible, considering we never got to -feel- how it developed).

2) Ezekiel. Here we had an excellent opportunity to show a character that is not human, yet was built to be like humans, only without the emotional maturity that we develop over ten, twenty, thirty years. Granted, this is mentioned a couple of times, when it comes to the other lifelikes and the way they learnt to love (quickly, brutally, in a way that could drive them mad if the relationship broke, since they didn’t have the emotional background to soften the blow)—but then, this came through -them-, instead of through Ezekiel’s experience.

I think part of the problem stems from the fact we don’t have chapters from Ezekiel’s POV. Eve, Lemon, even a few minor characters now and then: sure. But not Ezekiel. So, in the end, we really get that ‘doll-like’ character who, sure, is an excellent fighter, but whose motives to help Eve never raise past the state of plot device. I would have loved to really see his point view rather than been told about it, see his inner questioning, how he sees the world, how he accepts (or not) his condition of nearly-but-never-human being, especially since this would’ve worked with a certain plot twist also prompting another character to question what being human means.

(A note here regarding the sexual relationship between Ezekiel and Eve; we don’t see it, but it’s more than just vaguely implied. I know that for some people, this is a complete turn-off. I must say I did find it interesting, not so much abnormal and disgusting than intriguing and raising lots of questions about, well, being human, what it means, how it is defined, etc. Did the lifelikes have sexual relationships because they were programmed to, in a perfectionist desire to copy human biology? Was it something that developed ‘naturally’ in them because they looked so much like humans and lived among them? Did they read about it, and so were conditioned from the beginning to believe it was the next step, and from there, would it mean that they could’ve learnt other forms of physical love if given the chance? So many roads to explore, but that weren’t… -sigh-)

Conclusion: In terms of action and of a world easy to picture, this was a fun and entertaining read. However, I regret it didn’t go further than that.

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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 2017-09-22 23:06
Darkover Landfall
Darkover Landfall - Marion Zimmer Bradley

Erf. I've started re-reading this series, because I remember how much I loved it when I was a teenager... but damn, I didn't remember this one was so bad. (Or is it because I sometimes used to like shite as a teenager, and that was part of it?)

The story in itself is not uninteresting, all the more since it's THE origins book in the Darkover series, but the relationships... especially the way women are viewed and treated... Wow. That was one special level of bad.

I can sort of accept a patriarchal society, women being treated as wombs, etc. in the more 'medieval-like' novels of the series, because 1) it fits a certain conception of 'dark ages obscurantism', as cliché as that may be, and 2) as far as I remember, in those books, it was often presented as something that isn't so good: while it does remain infuriating, it's part of the conflict underlying those narratives.

Here, though, in a group of engineers, colonists, space crew, scientists, where men and women have similar levels of skills, with gender equality laws on Earth? Nope. Doesn't sit with me. Especially not as soon as pregnancies enter the picture, and give yet another reason for males (and some women!) to be patronising, chalk every reaction to 'she's pregnant', veer towards gaslighting at times (because obviously, the guys in the story know better than Judy Lovat who's the father of her child), and go spouting crap about how not wanting children is some sort of mental illness. Camilla's arc was particularly painful, because, yes, she is being reduced to a walking womb, what's with the doctor even threatening to sedate her during her pregnancy (actually, it does happen once), like some kind of stupid, ignorant being who needs to be locked for her own good. Empowering much, right?

So basically, you get accidentally pregnant (not through any fault of hers—ghost wind was to blame, same for her partner), while you thought your contraceptive was doing its job, you don't want to have a child, but you're denied an abortion. OK. Not cool. In the context of colonists stranded on a hostile planet, that poses an interesting conundrum (= it's obvious that either they need to spawn as much as possible, or they'll die in one or two generations). However, was it really necessary to lay it in such rude and demeaning ways? The Battlestar Galactica reboot has a similar subplot, but the episode about it was at least treated with much more gravitas and moral ambiguity.

It is also important to note that, no, Camilla didn't sign up for this, so treating her as a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum was inappropriate. Putting it back into context: she's an engineer and programmer, she signed up to be part of the ship's crew during the trip, not to be a colonist meant to help populate a new planet. And even in the event of staying on that colony, it would've been in a society where she would've had a few years to make the decision.

(spoiler show)



I have no idea if anyone considers this book as a 'feminist' work, but if you do, please stop. This is not feminist, it's patriarchy at its worst: insidious.

[To be fair, I didn't remember this book as being the best in the series either, nor my favourite at all, so I'm still going to try rereading 2-3 others.]

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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 2015-12-27 09:00
Marked
Marked - Sue Tingey

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

I almost gave up. But I don't like not finishing a book I'm supposed to review, so I made an effort.

First reason is because I didn't exactly get what I expected. When I got the ARC, the blurb I read led me to believe the story would be focused on paranormal investigation. The actual story, though, is more of the paranormal/supernatural romance type, with very little investigating in it. Not saying this is bad per se, but I'm not a huge proponent of romance at the best of times, and this one, like many others should I say, just didn't work.

Second reason is... the one that always makes me grit my teeth and feel like climbing up the curtains and scream: "Stop holding back information!" Typically goes as follows: Important Character finds him/herself in dangerous circumstances, and needs to tread on eggs; however, in order to properly tread on eggs, you obviously need background information—background information that other characters have, bur refuse to disclose for Some Reason, usually of the "you don't want to know" or "don't look" kind. Which is the best way of getting Important Character killed, or at least committing some Horrible Faux-Pas, but whatever, I guess we're dealing with some Schrödinger's Logics here.

So when half the book is filled with such inane moments, of course I'm bound to be annoyed. Lucky being a bit of a doormat in that regard, too easily allowing shifty characters to derail the conversation, didn't help.

Third: Male Posturing. I am oh so fed up with all those hot sexy love interests immediately crapping out testosterone as soon as they end up in the same room. I can understand Lucky not wanting to be involved with guys if it's meant to be like that all the time. Also the whole "now you bear my mark" thing, a.k.a "You're Mine In Whatever Way I Choose, by the way I never asked your opinion before lumping this on you but it's fine, right, I'm sure you don't mind". In a nutshell (I hate that expression so I'm going to use it just out of spite): doormat female character being treated like an item, and thrown under false pretenses in a world where women's most prized value is to allow their future husbands access to positions of power (and then they can pop out kids, then get offed when they've outlived their usefulness).

And there you also have the plot, not making much sense, and without much happening. The last chapters became a little more interesting (although still with the whole let's-be-sex-toys-together thing at moments when it just shouldn't have been there); yet what led to it could probably have been avoided had Lucky been a little less dumb, and her "protectors" more forthcoming with what may be taking place behind the scenes and how to start playing the political game. Seriously, you don't dump a person into such a situation "for your own safety", then tell her "actually you're in great danger here too", then add "but I'm not going to explain to you how it works because Reasons."

I'm afraid I'll have to pass on the next one. Definitely not my thing.

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