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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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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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