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review 2018-01-20 20:45
Undercover Princess
Undercover Princess (Rosewood Chronicles) - Connie Glynn

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

There were good ideas in there, and I was fairly thrilled at first at the setting and prospects (a boarding school in England, hidden royals that looked like they’d be badass, etc.), but I must say that in the end, even though I read the novel in a rather short time and it didn’t fall from my hands, it was all sort of bland.

The writing itself was clunky, and while it did have good parts (the descriptions of the school, for instance, made the latter easy to picture), it was more telling, not showing most of the time. I’m usually not too regarding on that, I tend to judge first on plot and characters, and then only on style, but here I found it disruptive. For instance, the relationship between Ellie and Lottie has a few moments that border on the ‘what the hell’ quality: I could sense they were supposed to hint at possible romantic involvement (or at an evolution in that direction later), but the way they were described, it felt completely awkward (and not ‘teenage-girls-discovering-love’ cute/awkward).

The characters were mostly, well, bland. I feel it was partly tied to another problem I’ll mention later, namely that things occur too fast, so we had quite a few characters introduced, but not developed. Some of their actions didn’t make sense either, starting with Princess Eleanor Wolfson whose name undercover gets to be... Ellie Wolf? I’m surprised she wasn’t found out from day one, to be honest. Or the head of the house who catches the girls sneaking out at night and punishes them by offering them a cup of tea (there was no particular reason for her to be lenient towards them at the time, and if that was meant to hint at a further plot point, then we never reached that point in the novel).

(On that subject, I did however like the Ellie/Lottie friendship in general. It started in a rocky way, that at first made me wonder how come they went from antipathy to friendship in five minutes; however, considering the first-impression antipathy was mostly based on misunderstanding and a bit of a housework matter, it’s not like it made for great enmity reasons either, so friendship stemming from the misunderstanding didn’t seem so silly in hindsight. For some reason, too, the girls kind of made me think of ‘Utena’—probably because of the setting, and because Ellie is boyish and sometimes described as a prince rather than a princess.)

The story, in my opinion, suffers from both a case of ‘nothing happens’ and ‘too many things happen’. It played with several different plot directions: boarding school life; undercover princess trying to keep her secret while another girl tries to divert all attention on her as the official princess; prince (and potential romantic interest) showing up; mysterious boy (and potential romantic interest in a totally different way) showing up; the girls who may or may not be romantically involved in the future; trying to find out who’s leaving threatening messages; Binah’s little enigma, and the way it ties into the school’s history, and will that ever play a part or not; Anastacia and the others, and who among them leaked the rumour; going to Maradova; the summer ball; the villains and their motivations. *If* more time had been spent on these subplots, with more character development, I believe the whole result would’ve been more exciting. Yet at the same time all this gets crammed into the novel, there’s no real sense of urgency either, except in the last few chapters. That was a weird dichotomy to contend with.

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be interested in reading the second book. I did like the vibes between Lottie and Ellie, though.

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review 2017-07-27 20:40
The Serial Killer's Daughter
The Serial Killer's Daughter: A totally gripping thriller full of shocking twists - Lesley Welsh

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

 

Reading about Don’s twisted point of view and convictions about himself, others and the world about him, was fairly interesting. This kind of characters always feels like a train wreck to me: you know it’s going to be horrible, yet you keep on reading nonetheless, to see if the monster is truly so abject or if there’s anything else. I definitely won’t empathise with the guy (no kidding), but... yes, I find that interesting.

 

My major problem with this story, though, was the style itself, of a definite ‘tell-doesn’t-show’ kind, which kept throwing me out of the narrative at almost every page. In turn, I couldn’t empathise with the characters (whether ‘victims’, ‘criminal’ or ‘investigators’); this would have gone much better if their actions, their feelings, and whatever went through their heads, had been shown dynamically. However, I constantly felt that I was being given a recap, a textbook, telling me about them (I guess the flashbacks, or rather, where they were placed, contributed to that).

 

This diminished the tension created by the horrors described in Don’s notebooks and the investigation Suzanne embarked on, and didn’t contribute in making me warm up to ambiguous characters either, like ‘he’ (the man who follows Rose and Suzanne), for instance. So in general, I didn’t really care about them. I suppose I also expected something a little different, regarding the notebooks and the way Suzanne discovered the truth about her father—possibly something more psychological, and less along the lines the story followed in its second half.

 

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. Good basic idea, but I didn’t care much about the execution.

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review 2017-05-20 20:37
The Breedling and the City in the Garden
The Breedling and the City in the Garden (The Element Odysseys) - Kimberlee Ann Bastian

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

I thought I’d like this novel more. It has an interesting and probably complex mythos, juxtaposing our world and another, Elemental-like creator powers, a Fates triad, soulcatchers, the Devil, and quite a few more—something I wouldn’t have minded dive in more. However, the way information was revealed was strange: both an info-dump and confusing, which is an unfortunate mix. I don’t doubt that, had it been presented differently, I would’ve warmed up to it.

I don’t mind a book starting in medias res, but here I felt I was thrown into a story without having enough background elements to fully grasp who the characters were, what their roles were, and why they were important. Stingy Jack, the Tales Teller, the Apothecary... After a while, it started to make sense, yet too late into the story for me to have been allowed to care about them, and too little (for instance, the relationship between Buck/Bartholomew and the Shepherdess is only made clearer right at the end; had it been manifest sooner, I may have cared about the Breedling a bit more, I suppose).

Also, some of the decisions the characters made were odd, or at least presented in a way that that made them look like they came out of nowhere, or without subtlety. I was particularly unsure about Charlie’s ‘plan’ involving the speakeasy—it made sense in one way, but not considering the kind of people would go there, as if he couldn’t have thought about that (hint: precisely the kind of people Charlie didn’t want to see near Buck).

The style was the other element that really bothered me. Omniscient point of view isn’t my favourite, so when it comes with a prose I don’t enjoy, I don’t do well with it. Dialogues were often stilted, with characters telling about their past as if they were reading from a book (I never expected Charlie to speak the way he did), and a lot of telling instead of showing. Since there were a lot of heated feelings in the story (grief, tension between gangs, wariness, simmering violence, threats...), this ‘telling’ was all the more obvious.

Nevertheless, there were good parts in the novel. Charlie especially was a relatable character: not perfect for sure, torn between his desire to follow his mother’s wishes (by helping those younger than him) and his wish to be free to live a life of his own—and yet, his natural tendencies always carry him towards taking care of others. He had to go through a lot, dealing with his grief while trying to follow his sense of duty, and no matter what, I definitely cannot fault a person for accepting their responsibilities.

I don’t think I’ll pick the second book though. It’s more a 1.5/2-star read for me.

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review 2016-08-02 20:10
The Body Reader
The Body Reader - Anne Frasier

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

For three years, Detective Jude Fontaine was kept under lock, in the dark, abused and malnourished, at the hands of her unknown abductor. With no contact with any other human being than that man, her survival reflexes made her learn to "read" him, in order to stay alive. After she seizes an opportunity to escape, she realises she has retained this ability to "read" other people, booth the living and the dead: even a frozen corpse will still "talk" to her, in its expression, the way its fists are closed, and so on. As she's trying to go back to her former career as a cop, Jude understands she can use this newfound skill to make things right.

Excellent idea, but one that I thought wasn't exploited enough throughout the story: we are made to see June "read" her new partner first, then "read" a corpse, yet nothing much happens in that regard after that, and it's like the body-reading concept got lost along the way, along a more "traditional" thriller story. This was rather too bad, as I would have enjoyed seeing more of Jude's ability, things that would truly set her apart from "just yet another very talented cop".

Another problem I had with the story was the moments when Jude tried to figure out how to go back to a normal life, or even if she could: a new flat, maybe getting back with her boyfriend, her tense relationship with her family... All interesting things, but presented in too descriptive a way, rendered too flat: I didn't "feel" her predicament, I simply read about it, and it just wasn't the same. I felt more connected to Uriah, who had his own emotional struggles to contend with, but here too the whole thing was more descriptive, not vibrant enough.

Finally, the ending was too neatly wrapped, too quickly, without the kind of intensity I'd expect from the last chapters of a thriller. I could also sense the places where the story was trying to mislead me, yet at the same time the lack of involvement (or, should I rather say, the sideline involvement) of some characters gave a few things away.

I did like, though, how Jude, even though toughened and emotionally withdrawn, went about getting back control of her life by doing something useful, like picking up cold cases, and how the author didn't fall into the typical trappings of adding some romantic twist in there. Sure, there's the boyfriend, but this side plot is never presented as an end in itself, never touted as "Jude's salvation in the arms of a man", or whatever similar tripe. In the same vein, Jude and Uriah give off a definite "work partners and perhaps friends someday" vibe, not a "and perhaps lovers someday" one.

2 stars: I quite liked some of the themes here, but this remains an "OK" book and nothing more, because it fell flat for me, and because its ideas weren't developed enough compared to what the blurb had made me expect.

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review 2016-07-02 22:49
Much of Madness
Much of Madness (The Conexus Chronicles Book 1) - S. E. Summa

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

Quite a few original ideas in this one. Ultimately, though, I found it too disjointed, in plot as well as in writing, and while I shall acknowledge its premise as definitely interesting, it wasn't a novel I really enjoyed.

To be fair, some background information is delivered little by little, not as huge info-dumps. The problem was mostly the order in which everything was disclosed: more than once, I felt that “this information should have come sooner”, or “that revelation deserved being held for just a little longer”. I could feel that in the characters, for instance; in the nature of Seraphina's powers, her relation with Rolf, the way she wove her spell to get the book; in the way Kath's background was introduced (kind of “oh yes, by the way, I'm this species and I come from that family”); or Max's nature—it looked like Marceau was the one doing all the work from beginning to end? Had such tidbits been handled differently, I suspect I would've enjoyed them more.

(And what exactly is the Conexus? Some kind of supernatural government or body, obviously, but it seemed oddly absent, only mentioned in passing in the beginning and at the end.)

In general, I didn't really connect with the characters. Partly because their presence wasn't always justified—I'm still wondering what was the point in having Vespa hang around. And partly because of the book's “tell not show” tendency and stilted dialogues; the way Marceau address Seraphina was often pretty unnatural, which easily turns into suspension of disbelief as far as I'm concerned. (As a side note: the names. Sera, Finn and Khat are amlrights, but “Marceau” immediately conjures images of old French mimes, and “Vespa” that of Italian scooters. I couldn't get that out of my mind. It was... distracting.)

As for the plot, well, for me (again) it was shadowed by the romance. The latter was of course important when it came to the curse, I won't deny that; only the “telling” and dialogues didn't spoke of chemistry between Sera and Marc. And the “daily life snippets” were too long and several too many—as in, they eclipsed the Big Bad of the story, and the threat he was supposed to pose, in such a way that all feeling of urgency was lost. I could almost picture him popping out of a box at times, saying “muhaha, wait, I'm still here, let's not forget me.”

Conclusion: Interesting types of supernaturals and magic (Sin Eaters, magic boosts, necromancy...) but plot- and character-wise, it just didn't work for me. Not so much madness in there...

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