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review 2018-08-13 16:20
Killing It
Killing It - Asia Mackay

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

A fairly entertaining novel, although it didn’t keep me enthralled.

I couldn’t decide if ultimately, the whole spy organisation was believable or not; some aspects felt far-fetched, where I had expected something more on the… ‘realistic’ side? Not that I know much about actual MI6 operations are conducted, that is: it was more a feeling than anything truly objective. Some parts I found amusing and inventive, in a sort of parodic way that I could only envision in a novel or a game (such as conducting interrogations in disused Tube parts, so that nobody would hear the cries over the din of trains or wonder about ‘that drunk, stumbling friend I’m dragging with me at 1 am is absolutely not a suspect I’ve just finished torturing’). I’d say this works if you’re looking for the kind of caricatural spy network, and works probably less well otherwise. As far as I’m concerned, I’m on the fence with it.

As a result, the plot was a little unconvincing, and I couldn’t really connect with Lex as a character: I liked her snarky comments in general, but found it difficult to reconcile her callous take on offing and torturing people with the double standard of ‘I do it on a regular basis to other people, but no one dare touch my daughter’. While wanting to protect one’s family is totally normal, there’s an underlying hypocrisy here that doesn’t sit too well with me, probably because I usually have a strong reaction to ‘do what I say, not as I do’ people.

On the other hand, the novel raises interesting, if not unexpected points about age-old attitudes in the workplace regarding women, and especially mothers. In that, ‘Killing It’ is close to a lot of things we can still see nowadays, where in spit of feminist progress and workplaces generally opening up, a woman’s position is still subjected to ‘having to prove herself twice as much as the men’. (There’s been a lot of progress IRL, and I sure won’t deny this, but I’ve been in enough interviews with barely concealed sexist questions to know that the way to full equality is still long.) Basically, Lex’s struggle with coming back to work after her maternity leave felt real and relevant: some of her colleagues, and especially her boss, kept on questioning her ability to do her job and not ‘giving in to hormones’ and all manners of crap arguments. Here, too, some things were caricatural and laid out too heavily (like Bennie’s attempts at putting Lex down)—and, of course, Lex’s job is not just any office job, and is much more dangerous—but it doesn’t change the fact that many people (other women included) still assume too often that as soon as one becomes a mother, one becomes ‘weaker/less smart/less able/whatever’ and have to prove herself all over again… while nobody bats an eyelid at a man becoming a father.

Conclusion: The humour didn’t always work for me, and some things were definitely hammered in too much. Still, as a light novel that doesn’t demand too much focus, it worked.

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review 2018-04-03 11:13
After the End of the World
After the End of the World - Jonathan L. Howard

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

This novel picks up where the previous one left (if you haven’t read it yet, stop here), or roughly, after Emily Lovecraft and Daniel Carter, alogn with Detective Harrelson, have been stranded in the Unfolded world for a few months, slowly adjusting to their lives in Arkham-instead-of-Providence.

And it’s not easy, because even though the Unfolded world is fairly similar when it comes to daily life (and better, in some ways, as in when Emily realises she own a nice house here instead of renting a flat), in many other ways, it is tremendously different. For starters, World War II ended much sooner, when the Third Reich dropped an A-bomb on Moscow in 1941, obliterating its whole leadership; and the Reich is now one of the world’s superwpoers, having been accepted because, well, the Holocaust didn’t concerned Jews but Communists, and for some reason this was much more acceptable to the West who turned a blind eye and ha-hemmed in a corner while it happened. Which infuriates Dan and Emily just as much, a different kind of evil still being evil after all; also, the Nazis are welcome in the USA and racism much more prevalent, so the Unfolded world isn’t so peachy for Emily herself.

(On a side note, I wish we had seen more of that. I don’t enjoy racist slurs in the least, but in terms of ‘show, don’t tell’, it never felt like Emily was really ostracised, apart from a couple of instances when some Gestapo guy said ‘who’s that black down there’ or something to that extent. In turn, the ‘lessons in political correctness’ given at times didn’t have the impact they could’ve had.)

The world is definitely not right by our heroes’ standards, who want nothing more than bring back its Folded version, but have no clues where to start… until Emily finds out she has the Necronomicon in her safe, Henry Weston is at his shenanigans again, and Daniel gets hired to spy on a joint German-US project in Miskatonic University. Weird stuff ensues, veering into spy-thriller-weird more than HPL-weird at first, but no worries, the latter is never too far behind.

Although I was hesitant at first about the spy thriller part, probably because of its apparent simplistic aspects (US vs Communists or US vs Nazis, it’s kind of the same... also Nazis make easy enemies: Instant Evil! Just add water!), the way it was handled was all in all interesting, in part because, let’s be honest, it makes for contrived enemies… but it also makes for entertaining scenarii. In fact, it reminded me of the Call of Cthulhu/Adventure! Crossover RPG I had played a few years ago, as well as of Indiana Jones movies, and I soon found my bearings again in that kind of plot and setting. We get typical but useful ingredients: scientists working on a secret project infiltrated left and right by Gestapo, Abwehr and probably a few others (Daniel even manages to throw the CIA in all that, and it blends in perfectly); research influenced by esoterism; evil cultists who’re all the more evil because they treat sacrifice as if it was a mere bureaucratic matter; a secret research facility on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean; not exactly human beings; and this mix works fairly well here.

Another thing I liked was that the focus shifted slightly in this book from Dan to Emily. We already know by now of Dan’s ancestor and the abilities he’s inherited, and there was a solid risk of Emily remaining more of a sidekick (a badass one, but a sidekick nonetheless) when it came to the weird/non-Euclidian parts. Well, let’s just say that reading can indeed empower people. (I bet you can already tell where this is going.)

Conclusion: 4 stars, it was an enjoyable read in spite of the few peeves I had about it, and I breezed through it, and now I want the next instalment.

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review 2016-04-10 09:00
A Long, Cold Winter
A Long, Cold Winter - Lindsay Smith,Max Gladstone

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

Not exactly a novel, as it's the first episode of a serials, containing chapters 1 to 3. Which makes it a bit frustrating, as in, obviously, at some point one wants to know how it goes next. Fortunately, a lot of episodes are already out at serialbox.com

It introduces the major, or at least some of the major players (there may always be new ones in later chapters, after all) of a Cold War fought behind the Iron Curtain, but also behind other front lines, ones that not necessarily follow the former... Which makes, and is hopefully going to make, interesting conundrums as far as the characters are concerned: two people may be on the USSR side as far as their mundane lives go, but one is fighting for the Ice while the other is fighting for the Fire when it comes to magic. This cannot go well, can it?

On the side of Ice, and incidentally of the KGB, Tanya and Nadia are seeking a Prague student whose affinity for magic makes her a target for the Fire. Meanwhile, Gabe, a CIA agent, is trying to do his job while struggling with a little magical problem of his own, that may or may not demand he joins Ice in the end (it'd be that or dying, I suppose). The Fire players are honing their weapons, and independent players are also introduced—not everyone wants to join one side, but can they really remain independent, or will they be terminated at some point?

This first installment was sometimes a bit rough on the edges (some parts veered on mixing points of view—though the Kindle formatting didn't help in that regard, and it was a bit less problematic in the PDF I got). However, as far as introducing characters and setting, this was definitely intriguing, and I'm of a mind to get all the episodes once they're out. Hopefully in a couple of weeks?

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review 2016-02-11 18:57
Havelock (full novel)
Havelock - Jane D. Everly

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.]

I started reading this novel as a serial last year, and now that the full novel is available, well, here's the full review.

The style is a little surprising, in that it mixes parts from Eliana's point of view (1st person, present tense), and parts seen through other characters (3rd person, past tense). I'm not sure what the intent was—more and more novels do that, so I'm actually never really sure—but it didn't bother me the way it did in other stories. It lent a certain immediacy to Eliana's scenes, and since they were of the action-packed kind, it fitted. I liked her humorous way of describing situations, too (that scene with the psychatrist? Totally something *I* would have one of my RPG characters do), and how she played her assets while totally embracing who she was. With an agenda of her own, she nevertheless lends her skills to MI6 in a loyal way.

There's a lot of mystery surrounding the characters in the beginning. Nothing's revealed about Eliana, but she clearly demonstrates resourcefulness and abilities to fight and get out of dire straits. More is to be learnt later, cast in the shadow of her origins, and if you read between the lines, those origins are easy to translate into another name, another myth.

Other characters are also close to tropes clearly reminiscent of typical spy narratives, yet a lot of things here work in a reversed way. The dashing spy/action type is a woman. The big boss is also a woman (and got there through years of service in which she played an active role, even getting severaly wounded, not because she was a paper-pusher). The potential mark-to-be-seduced is a guy. The villain is... villainish, yet his ruthlessness and his plan make him enjoyable. We have plants, betrayals, red tape bearing down on the good guys, and if you like spy novels, this book provides a lot of nods to the genre, while playing the tropes close to our 21st century world and problematics (terrorism rather than cold war, etc.).

The story's plot looked promising, and overall it remained enjoyable. The chase goes on for quite a few chapters, with some action scenes described in an enjoyable way. The villain and his sidekick are one step ahead, while the "heroes" are also skilled enough to try and keep up no matter what.

I was a bit less satisfied with the latest chapters, mostly because some events fseemed to unfold a bit too fast: I wouldn't have minded a few more scenes, a few more occasions to see our heroes in action. I rooted for the “good guys”, I wanted to see them win, but I also felt like the mastermind's plan would have deserved more attention—that Eliana would have met a couple more reversals, sort of, as the enemy had a definitely strong scheme, and I didn't want to see them beaten too quickly either. Still, I enjoyed the story as a whole, so it's a 3.5 to 4 stars for me.

Conclusion: A bit stereotypical, but of the kind that was fairly entertaining.

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review 2016-01-14 18:46
Disruption
Disruption - Steven Whibley

2.5 stars. It was highly implausible and a bit silly, and Matt definitely should have died at least a few times because of all that was going on around him—he survived and "thrived" more out of sheer luck and coincidences than anything else. Still, it was a fun read.

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