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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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review 2015-12-10 19:37
Nirvana
Nirvana - J.R. Stewart

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

I can't remember how I got approved. I think I received an invitation, months ago, but didn't get to reading the book until now. And then, halfway through, I realised what I had was the first ARC, and that I needed to download it again, because the author had rewritten a lot after the first batch of reviews. Or something to that extent? Anyway, I got the second version, and I'm glad I did. I still didn't like "Nirvana" in the end, but I can commend the effort, as there was quite some improvement compared to the first version. (On the other hand, it gets to show that when a book's in a first draft state, or close to it, it's really best not to publish it... Reviewers aren't beta-readers.)

The premise was definitely interesting: future dystopia, post-apocalyptic world after a series of environmental disasters, people living under tight control from corporations (mainly Hexagon), and blowing their hard-earned money on a virtual world named Nirvana—even as little as one quarter of an hour a week, as it's the only escape from daily drudgery in bunkers. In typical dystopian fashion, our heroine, Larissa (prefers to be called Kenders) discovers dark secrets while investigating into the death of her boyfriend Andrew. Also in typical dystopian fashion, there's a clear cut between the elite, the rich and famous, who can afford housing in "the Bubble", whereas the others are left to survive however they can: as Nirvana operators if they're lucky, as slaves in the Farms if they're not.

To be honest, it's pretty difficult for me to review only the second version, without thinking about the first one. The second version felt, all in all, smoother: where the first one threw me in a world where Kenders patrolled the wastelands as a soldier, without much sense of direction, here she felt much more integrated in her world, being a Nirvana operator. The technology seemed more real, too, better thought and described, and the narrative more logical: moving fast, but clearly not as over the place as the first version's was. I could tell where the story was improved, and in a way, I'm glad I got to read both versions (at least partially).

I didn't like it, though. A shame, but, well, it happens.

- The character's age, first. In the original story, Kenders was 24, Andrew and Serge a couple of years older... And this was good. Now Kenders is 17, the guys are 19-20, and this felt just so weird. I could believe in a 24-year-old now-soldier, ex-punk rocker/university student. But the same character aged 17, reflecting on all that stuff she had done "years ago"? Not believable, especially not when surrounded with people of the same type (so many "gifted kids" in one place, when nothing highlighted that fact = strange). Moreover, it cast a shadow on the Kenders-Andrew relationship: I always have a hard time with those "old couple-slash-soulmates forever" tropes when the characters are so young.

- The environmental disaster(s). They felt like they happened in 1-2 years, even if they were nothing new for the characters, and the world-building here was kind of lazy, too. The bees disappeared, OK, but they're not the only way plants can reproduce. Other species play a part as well. I wasn't sold on that one reason.

- The explanation heavy-handed "corporations are evulz" message.

- The beginning of the novel was smoother (the parts with Serge and in the Bubble made much more sense!), but the last chapters went so fast! One moment, this or that character was alive... then they were dead, and it happened in such a quick and dispassionate way that I was all "Wait, what... Oh... Am I supposed to feel sad, now?" I couldn't get invested in their lives, their emotions, in what was at stake for them. Kenders being in a punk rock band didn't add much to her personality, and the part with her father... didn't lead to much either?

- Some very, very stupid decisions. Of the too-stupid-to-live kind. Literally. Why did so-and-so have to engineer such a situation where they would end up dying along with the enemy, when there were likely other solutions? Why didn't they anticipate that the "bad guys" wouldn't come alone / wouldn't be fooled by the diversion? *That* kind of decisions. And Kenders wasn't especially clever.

- Nirvana itself. Mostly it was Kenders meeting Andrew in their 2-3 favourite online places. In the end, I didn't get the effect I was expecting (i.e. "lost in a virtual world / confusing virtual world with reality and vice versa"). Both worlds were always very clearly delimited in my opinion.

- The Red Door program. It gets lumped on us in the beginning and at the end, but there was no real central thread regarding this. I was under the impression it was here just because any dystopian world needs its oppressive, gets-rid-of-"dissenters" program.

- Info dumps. Lots of them. This didn't change much between the first and second versions.

- The love triangle. Not even worth mentioning. Uh.

Conclusion: An improved version, but one that would still need lots of work for me to enjoy it.

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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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