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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 - 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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review 2015-12-05 12:00
Yesterday's Gone (Season 1)
Yesterday's Gone: Season One - David W. Wright,Sean Platt

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

I seldom read serials, and I admit that reading one in the shape of a “novel” of gathered episodes kind of defeats the purpose (all the more since the authors mention their love of cliffhangers at the end), but… nevermind. I was in the mood for post-apocalyptic stuff, anyway.

So far, this first “season” isn’t the most original thing I’ve read when it comes to this theme: most people gone, survivors trying to figure out what happened (with some being really awful chaps), mysterious aliens-or-zombies creatures that may or may not be the reason behind the catastrophe, an infection… It’s part alien sci-fi, part zombie post-ap, and readers who enjoy the typical tropes of such stories are likely to get their share here, although at times it felt like a jumble of subplots more than a structured story, as if the authors were going along with whatever struck their fancy. This may or may not be true; I couldn’t make up my mind about it, as every time some new elements was introduced, I thought “yet another idea…, then “this could still come together in the end, with more seasons to go, depending on what they do, so let’s wait and see.” Truth be told, we don’t get a lot of clues about what’s happening behind the scenes; the hints are more of the gory variety (the worms, people being killed…)

The format itself is very TV-like, an obvious goal, and one I was looking for. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine this serial as episodes, complete with regular shifts from group to group. This worked well enough for me. There’s no shortage of action, and as the focus jumped from one character to another, I often found myself wanting to know more about the one left in a predicament… while also wanting to read about the current focus, that is. There were a few boring parts (I didn’t really like the ones about the kids, the Uno game, etc., as I was of course interested in what the characters would do as survivors), especially in the middle, although the pacing managed to bring me back in again in the last third of the book.

The characters are fairly typical of such stories. Survivalists (both good and bad people), some of whom were united by strange dreams and knew beforehand they had to prepare for the apocalypse. An ex-government agent/spook. A pregnant teenager from a conservative family. A father who now regrets he let his work get in the way of his family. A mother trying to protect her daughter. A young man who finds himself stuck, supreme irony, with his abusive stepfather, instead of the latter being dead/gone like most other people. A guy whose last conversation with his now-gone wife was an argument. A kid who meets an old man, the latter taking him under his wing. Even a serial killer.

I remained torn about these characters for most of the story: some of them are uninteresting and would deserve more spotlight to be allowed to shine, but others are definitely intriguing, even though not always exploited to their best, plot-wise.

Boricio was one of the vilest ones in this story, and yet, in spite of all the revolting stuff about him, especially the way he treated women, he also had a sort of “heroic bastard” side to him, probably because he was written with a humorous, slapstick comedy side; oddly enough, some of his scenes were enjoyable… in a much twisted way--like a train wreck that you can’t help but keep looking at. Edward, too, was fascinating: I still don’t know what’s true about him, what’s make-believe, who’s right about him, and let’s not forget the twist at the end of his arc in this first season.

On the other hand, the female characters were a letdown: mostly here to be the object of violence (Callie, Paola after her dream) and/or to be rescued and protected (Teagan, Mary and Paola) by the guys. The only “active” female character is the one in Boricio’s narrative, and she’s clearly one of the baddies, on top of not being developed anyway (Callie is first shown as badass, same in her flashback, but quickly devolves into frightened-girl-in-need-of-protection). And don’t start me on the rape scene, so nicely wrapped and dropped under the rug as a sort of afterthought; that was seriously infuriating. Definitely not the way to write such a scene and its aftermath, to say the least.

In terms of writing style, something that bothered me was the use of numbers (it feels really weird to read “20 yards” and not “twenty yards” in a novel – though maybe it’s just me). Another issue was a tendency to resort to “descriptive” sentences (he did this, she did that), which ended up in a lot of cases of “telling, not showing.” Finally, the dialogues also felt stilted most of the time, with a lot of flashback-type narratives when characters revealed what had happened to them; not uninteresting in itself, but told in ways that didn’t feel very natural, as if they were, well, scripted.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. I will likely read book 2, since I also got it through NetGalley anyway, because “Yesterday’s Gone” was interesting in more than one way. But I can only hope that this series will improve in terms of writing style and character development (and that we’ll get actual revelations about the monsters and the shady ops guys).

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review 2015-10-13 18:40
Ashstorm (A Seventeen Series Novel: An Action Adventure Thriller Book 4) - AD Starrling

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

I read the first three books in this series last year, and found them enjoyable—not the best, but definitely enjoyable, and making me feel like checking if book 4 was out. Which it was.

New characters are introduced here, some of them bearing birth marks (and displaying powers) like the main characters in the previous installments, leading more and more to the gathering of a kind of “league” who, no doubt, will have to fight more and more dangerous odds. Olivia and Ethan complement and enhance each other’s powers nicely, while Asgard is tied to quite a few people among the most important ones, owing to his own birth. If there's one thing, it's how little we see of the others as the cast keeps on growing. I can't help but feel impatient regarding the moment when they're finally all together (is this book it, or will others appear in the next one?). Such a group is bound to have an impressive dynamics.

The focus was less on Kronos in general, and more on one specific antagonist pursuing goals tied partly to it and partly to his own ambitions. The idea of a secret base and secret experiments was a bit basic, though, so I hope later developments—the kind hinted at by the end of the novel—will go deeper. That Kronos isn't "only that". I'm sure it's not.

I’m a bit torn, too, regarding relationships between the characters. Although the idea of soulmates finding each other is nice, it’s starting to feel like every set of people is meant to find their own love interest in each story. Maybe it’s just me, but at some point I’d like to see something different, bonds that would run very deep without necessary being “couple-love”. We have some of this here with Ethan and Asgard, and I wish we could see more: after all, they fought Jonah for decades, and their loyalty to each other is unswerving. Comrades to death, and all that.

I still enjoyed the blend of action and quieter moments nonetheless, all the more because the characters didn’t completely forget about their predicament (something that tends to happen too often in many books: as soon as the love interest appears, the impending end of the world doesn’t seem so important anymore, and too much time is spent on trifles).

Once again, I’m not rating this novel higher… yet I’ll still seek out volume 5.

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