Yzabel

Book reviews, and my personal reflections about writing.

Lady Mechanika - Vol. 1

Lady Mechanika, Volume 1: The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse - Joe Benitez

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

Set in an alternate Victorian (circa 1879) England, this comics deals with Lady Mechanika, a private investigator/adventuress whose limbs are actually mechanical, and who’d like nothing more than to find out who made her like that and where she comes from; all the while being pitted against the sinister Blackpool Armaments Co. and both its shady employer and soldiers. In this arc, Mechanika investigates the death of a mysterious young woman with mechanical arms similar to her own, only to realise that a lot more players are involved, including Commander Winter and a circus full of characters each with their own secrets.

The drawing style itself is, in general, well-balanced and elegant, and the colours match the mood of the various panels and situations. It’s probably a little overkill on the steampunk aesthetics (in that at some point, there’s going to be a lot of leather and corsets and goggles on top hats etc.), so depending on one’s mood about that, it may not be a selling point. On the other hand, there’s a lot of attention to details, which makes it a joy to look for those in panels, and even if they’re of the, well, aesthetic persuasion in spite of usefulness, there’s plenty to keep your eyes busy. (I usually tends to like steampunk aesthetics, so count me in the second category, even though I tend to criticise lightly. ^^)

Not bonus points on the boobs, though, and some of the extreme ‘female body poses’ that I see in a lot of comics. Eye candy and all that, I get it. It’s just... it detracts from the overall badassness of the characters. (And large boobs are seriously not convenient, especially since they easily hurt during stunts. Whatever.)

The characters as a lot were likeable enough: from Mechanika herself, with her doubts but also her resourcefulness and her desire to do what’s right, to Lewis the inventor whose bottle problems hint at dark events in his past. And the little Alexandra, with her gimmick ‘you’re an impostor’atttitude, which made her quibs with Mechanika quite funny—apparently some authors in the comics write stories about M, and the kid thinks these are the truth. There seems to be a current of underlying relationships that beg to be developed in later issues, creating a sense of an over-plot that will be gradually revealed (which I sure hope will happen in later issues because if it doesn’t, I’ll be disappointed). So far I’m not too happy with the two enemy women apparently becoming enemies because of a man (as it’s a pretty boring reason), but it may still turn out to be something slightly different, so we’ll see. I could do with a little less wordiness, though—it doesn’t fare too well in some panels, making pages difficult to focus on—yet I’m also torn about that because some of that dialogue was of the banter kind, and I think this fits well with Victorian/steampunk themes in general.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars, going on 4.Quite an enjoyable comics in spite of the (typical?) eye-candy. I still liked the artwork and additional covers no matter what, as well as the story and its slight cliffhanger/ominous tones at the end.

From Holmes to Sherlock

From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon - Mattias Boström, Michael Gallagher

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

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, more than I thought it would be—the matter of course I was definitely interested in, but the way the author gathered and presented his material gave the whole book a ‘storytelling’ side that kept me wanting to read, and read, and read. Much like Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. A biography-slash-history book that is in itself a big story.

I won’t deny that some chapters towards the middle (the period between Conan Doyle’s death and the modern adaptations after the 1970s-80s) weren’t the most interesting for me, but even those didn’t detract from the book as a whole. It takes us through the genesis of the original Holmes & Watson stories, how they came to be, how their author perceived them, the conundrum of seeing them more successful than his ‘most serious’ works and of wanting to kill Holmes... How they gradually escaped his and his family’s grasp, in spite of efforts to keep a hand on them, because what Doyle gave birth to was bigger than him, bigger than just a handful of people, and wanted out, plain and simple.

I’ve read all the original stories (will read them again), yet I admit I’m lagging behind when it comes to movies. Well, now I know exactly what to catch up on, what to look for, and what kind of tone these adaptations’ would be—the movies with Basil Rathbone won’t be the same than the BBC Sherlock series, nor is their Holmes the one from the 1980s series with Jeremy Brett. I’d need half a lifetime to catch up on all this (and I’d want to catch up several times, for sure), but now at least I have a clearer view of ‘the bigger picture’.

Arthur Conan Doyle gave life to Holmes and took it away, but the Great Detective just won’t stay dead, will he? It’s all the readers and actors and directors and other authors that gave him a much, much longer life than expected.

Conclusion: Highly recommended!

Nothing

Nothing - Annie Barrows

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

Well, this book captures ‘nothing’, which is both good (the character Charlotte intends to show nothing exciting happens in her life, and she does that well), and not so good, because in the end, it made for a fairly plotless novel that read like a journal, quite slice-of-life, and it wasn’t exactly exciting. So I’m on the fence here, in that I get the intention, but don’t really enjoy it?

The author nailed the ‘teenager narrator voice’—also both a good and a bad thing: good for characterisation, bad for... hm, let’s say that 20 years later, it’s not particularly interesting (yep, I wasn’t interesting myself in my teens, hah). The intended audience being YA, possibly the latter won’t be too much of a problem, as younger readers may relate to Charlotte’s views on life... or maybe not? I tended to like Frankie more, in any case, because at least she sometimes -does- things, and tries to initiate change.

The awkwardness of relationships is also well-portrayed, for instance Charlotte’s relationship with Sid, how they met through internet and kept texting each other, and Charlotte likes him but is convinced they’ll never met and it’s doomed to fail anyway, and so on.

Of course, the book shows that the ‘nothing’ Charlotte complains about isn’t such a truth; little things happen, opportunities arise, the girls are just so convinced their lives are boring that they don’t notice those things are being important, through the way they add up. But that’s also something I wasn’t really at ease with.

First, the girls are quite similar, and it was difficult at times to know if a chapter was about Frankie or Charlotte (at some point I just went with 3rd person = Frankie, 1st person = Charlotte); they’re not helped in that by their common background, there isn’t much diversity in here, nor in the friends they mention, most often in passing.

Second, there’s a subplot that Charlotte sort of... brushes over as if it was trivial, and I’m sorry, no, I don’t think anyone would go through such an event and then just leave for home and not realise even for five minutes that what they did was awesome and, yes, important.

That’s the part where Charlotte prevents a school friend from getting raped by a boy who clearly saw she was drunk and didn’t know what she was doing anymore. Way to trivialise attempted rape, and way to show how selfish and shitty a person can be, I mean, hello Charlotte who won’t stay with her because, oh my God, then she has to tell her parents she was at a party and her parents will think she was drinking too and she’ll be grounded... Yeah. I get it, ‘nothing’ happens in your privileged little life. And let’s not mention the ‘wai things would be more interesting if we were gay’. Nope, no love from me, girl. Can we stop using LGBT relationships as plot devices, and use such characters as, you know, people with personalities?

(show spoiler)



Conclusion: At least it was a quick read, and points for writing teenager characters fairly well, but I can’t say I enjoyed reading Charlotte’s parts.

Bizenghast Collectors Edition 1

Bizenghast Volume 1 - M. Alice LeGrow

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

I've had this comic book on my shelf to read and review for quite some time, I just didn't get to it until now. (I've known about it for quite, quite some time, back when the author posted on deviantART, and when I saw it on NetGalley, well, it reminded me that at some point, many years ago, I used to check on the related art from time to time.) The copy I got is the Collectors Edition, vollume 1, gathering the first chapters of the Bizenghast series, and I'd say it's more an introduction for now, but still giving the reader to see enough.

A strange girl who isn't getting over her parents' death and whose health seems to suffer in consequence; a boy who seems to be her only friend, in the small remote town where she lives with her aunt who doesn't know what to do with her; and a contract signed in a mysterious castle with a strange arachnoid-slash-humanoid being, with the goal of freeing spirits who couldn't find solace in death, following a trail of riddles. I am not sure yet where this is leading, but in themselves, the first 'tasks' involved sufficiently creepy elements to keep me hooked.

The art is sometimes confusing and inconsistent, though, potentially because it's a work that started years ago, and one can see the author's style changed over the years. Still, it's worth a read.

Cold Hearted

Cold Hearted - James A. Hunter

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

I do believe I liked this second instalment in the series more than the first one (usually, it’s the contrary).

Still packed with action, a little less noir and but with perhaps a bit more grit towards the middle , and also more female presence this time (not the Damsel In Distress kind either—she’s the one saving his ass more than the contrary... and at the same time, she’s also the way through which he can realise he may be a better person than he thinks). A dash of potential romance, but it's light, and follows the no-nonsense I'm getting used to from Yancy, and from the other party as well: they both know they live in a world that isn't what it seems, that is more often than not hectic and unforgiving, and so they're going with a carpe diem attitude rather than the usual sappy 'true love forever'.

The plot felt a little tighter than in the first book, although I could’ve done with a few less flashbacks (we already know about Yancy’s past family and time in ‘Nam from book one, so having him think about it -and- tell another character about it was redundant). Here there are more hints of a meta-plot that I think is going part of the next books in the series for now, considering a certain name dropped during a conversation, and which is bound to resurface. So far I like the world the characters evolve in; the author keeps going with other supernatural creatures than the usual vampires, werewolves and ghosts—there is a sort of werewolf, but only in appearance, and that creature’s nature is actually really cool in my opinion. The Guild of mages is prooobably full to the brim with corrupt people, and I bet it’s going to end in Yancy and a couple of good guys having to save the world or something (if the ones appearing good aren’t the most corrupt of the bunch!), which would be predictable, but also fitting in that kind of universe. I’m not sure I’d like to see it otherwise anyway.

While the main antagonist was more of the pitiful kind, all things considered, he was a good reminder than sometimes one doesn’t need to be truly evil at hear to do evil... and thus, anyone in a moment of weakness may end up turning to means they shouldn’t envision. Yancy included (good thing he plans for failsafes).

Conclusion: It still reads in some places as if it could do with another editor’s pass, but all in all the story and the characters were entertaining (in a good way, that is).

The Comic Book Story of Video Games

The Comic Book Story of Video Games: The Incredible History of the Electronic Gaming Revolution - Jonathan Hennessey, Jack Mcgowan

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

Fairly interesting, although to be honest, in spite of the early chapters being educative in their own ways, I would’ve preferred to see the focus more on the actual video games (and industry) themselves, rather than also on the electricity/industrial revolution parts. The art style, too, was not always consistent, and sometimes too stiff.

On the other hand, I appreciated the inclusion of actual video games characters in panels, as watchers or part of the ‘narrative’; just trying to remember or find out who they were, was in itself another, different dive into history. (Well, maybe it wouldn’t work that well on someone who knows less about such games, but for me, it worked.)

I also liked how the book included some of the backstage workings behind the whole video games industry; they were plenty of things I didn’t know, for instance Sony and its Playstation, I had no idea there had been a deal in the plans with Nintendo for CD games, and that it completely fell through. (I’m not feeling younger, though. Being reminded that this PSX I got in 1998—and I made it a point to get a US model, too, since the European one didn’t run the games I wanted—was even a few years older than that... well...)

Conclusion: An informative and colourful read. I do wish it had spent just a little less time on the really early years, where ‘games’ per se weren’t so much concerned (to be fair, I already know a lot about computer history in general).

Saint Death

Saint Death: A Novel - Marcus Sedgwick

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

This is not a happy book, and to be fair, I’m a little unsure why I requested it in the first place, since I’m usually not too keen on reading ‘realistic’ stories (the world is depressing enough as it is). Well, no: I guess I requested it because I like Marcus Sedgwick’s stories, also I met him briefly at a book festival and he was definitely a cool guy. So, yes, I guess there’s that.

And, anyway, I enjoyed the story. Though I should’ve guessed it wouldn’t be a bed of roses for the characters (pay attention to the very first character we meet, too). It is both realistic and haunting—haunted as it is by the presence of Santa Muerte, who may or may not be present, and who can tell, and does it really matter? For the characters believe in her and in her powers, and quickly learn that you must be crazy to try and trick the White Girl.

The story is told in third person point of view, present tense, which I typically enjoy less than past tense for a simple reason: it’s difficult to use, and too many people fail at it. Here, it works, and lends itself to that haunting atmosphere I mentioned previously, making the story somewhat surreal... which, in turn, strengthens its gritty aspects even more.

This isn’t a happy world, and there isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel. Yet this is also a world where one can learn to retain their human dignity, and not give in to the darkness. A world where there are still good people in spite of all the bad ones. It is both hope and sadness—and death, who unites everybody in the end.

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.

Turing's Imitation Game

Turing's Imitation Game: Conversations with the Unknown - Kevin Warwick, Huma Shah

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

That was an informative, albeit also controversial, read about Turing’s ‘Imitation Game’, focused on the game itself rather than on the man (who I like reading about in general, but here I was definitely more interested in his famous ‘test’, since I keep hearing about it, but never in much detail). It sheds light on Turing’s aim when devising the test, as well as on what he predicted, and that may or may not happen sooner than expected.

Several sections in the book are devoted to examples of studies and events during which the test took place, pitching human judges against both machines and other human beings, without the former knowing what or who the latter was. Actual, textual examples allow the reader to try and make their own judgment—and determining where the machines are is not so easy as it seems. I was accurate in my guesses except but once, I think, however I can see where judges were ‘fooled’, and why. At other times, I was surprised at the outcome, for instance quite a few human participants made ‘boring’ answers to conversations, which in turn prompted judges to believe they were talking to a machine—and conversely, some AIs were clearly programmed with a variety of lively potential responses. Eugene Goostman, especially, with its persona of a 13-year old Ukrainian boy whose English is only second language, has good potential (in that you can tell some of its/his answers are stilted, but not more than if it/he was an actual learner of ESOL).

The test as a whole posits several interesting questions and conundrums. Namely, the fact that it’s based on language, and that one may wonder whether being able to converse means one is gifted with ‘thought’. Another one is whether the test as it exists can really be used as a marker: aren’t the various chatbots/AIs out there simply well-programmed, but in no way indicative of whether they’ll be able to go further than that?

Also, I’m not sure I can agree with the 2014 ‘the Turing test has been passed’ result, as it seems to me the percentage is too low to warrant such a qualifier (if 90% of judges were fooled in believing they were conversing with a human, now that’d be something else... or am I aiming too high?), and it’s too early anyway for the current AIs to have been developed far enough (as fascinating as some of their conversations were, they still looked much more like complex chatbots than anything else—at least, to me).

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. I did learn quite a few things no matter what.

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire - Rosamund Hodge

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

Hmm, not sure about this one. It’s a retelling of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, in a city that is the last one standing while the rest of the world has been invaded by ‘zombies’, where three families share the power, and where the religious order of the Sisters of Thorn has to perform yearly blood sacrifices in order to keep the undead at bay. It has a mysterious plague that makes people rise again after their death if precautions aren’t taken, and in that city, ‘the Juliet’ is actually a warrior bred from birth through magic rituals, with the ability to sense if someone has shed her family’s blood, and the compulsion to avenge said family member in turn (in other words, she still does a few other things than feigning death, thinking Romeo is dead, and promptly killing herself in turn). Also, she’s doomed to turn mad at some point

All in all, why not? This was interesting. The story itself, though, was kind of confusing, and although it did end up making sense, there were quite a few things I would’ve seen developed more in depth. Such as the Night Games, or the Necromancer (who kind of turned up at the awkward moment), or the Romeo/Paris/Vai trio relationship.

I’m not sure about the characters. I sort of liked the Juliet? Because she had that idea that ‘I’m already dead, and Romeo is dead, so I don’t care about dying because it means I can see him again’, yet at the same time she was quite lively and determined and not actively trying to take her own life while moping; her story is also rather sad (stripped of her name/real identity in a family whose beliefs in the afterlife involve having a name in order to be saved... nice). Romeo, though, was kind of stupid, and Paris way too naive; of the power trio there, the one I definitely liked was Vai (with a twist that was a bit predictable, but eh, he was fun to read about, and I totally agreed with the way he envisioned problems and how to tackle them!). As for Runajo... I don’t know. Determined, too, yet there were several moments when I thought her decisions should have her get killed or cast out or something, and she wasn’t because Plot Device.

(And very, very minor thing that probably only peeved me because I’m French, but... ‘Catresou’ sounds just so damn weird. I kept reading and ‘hearing’ that name as a French name, which sounds exactly like ‘quatre sous’—that’s like ‘four pence’—aaaand... Yep, so bizarre.)

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. To be fair, I liked the world depicted here in general, and that this retelling is sufficiently removed from R & J as to stand by itself; however, it was probably too ambitious for one volume, and ended up confusing.

Void Star

Void Star - Zachary Mason

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

This story takes us on the paths followed by three characters very different from each other: Irina, carrying a brain implant that gives her perfect memory and access to AIs; Kern, a young refugee from the San Francisco favelas, who taught himself through books and martial arts thanks to a laptop found in a dump; and Thales, son of a murdered Brazilian politician, whose life hangs by a thread only because his body may reject the implant that saved his life at any moment.

The world depicted in the novel is not exactly cyberpunk, not exactly transhumanistic, not exactly dystopian, but a blend of all three? Life-prolonging and youth treatments exist... only for those who can afford them. The implant in both Irina and Thales’s brains is exceptional... but. Large corporations dominate everyday life, but the protagonists are different from their more usual cyberpunk counterparts. Earth is going through climate changes and places like Singapore are gradually going underwater, and many people don’t have access to basic necessities... but at the same time, a sense of wonder still permeates the story, if only because of the way the characters are confronted to various threats and obstacles, yet also to hopes and openings towards new paths. Kern’s laptop, for instance, because of what it represents, or could represent, for a young boy living in the streets. Or the inhuman and fascinating beauty of the AIs introduced here, the destructive Cloudbreaker and the elusive Mathematician.

This is both close to us, making it possible to grasp it, with its technologies that we can understand (tablets and phones, albeit somewhat obsolete for the wealthier characters), and at the same time deeply alien and full of mysteries (what would it be like to live with a perfect, artificial memory you can access just whenever, yet that may send you into seizure and kill you?).

‘Void Star’ reads well, although for some reason I felt like taking my sweet time with it, perhaps because unconsciously I didn’t want to finish it too fast? It may sometimes be a wee difficult to follow, since it doesn’t rely on detailed explanations, instead taking its readers through its characters’ travels; I quite liked that, though—I like that in general in SF/F, even though I know I can’t read such stories when I’m too tired, for fear of losing my pace and missing important hints. While some events appeared, as a result, a little confusing, in the end I could still piece everything together. The three main narratives are well interwoven—chapter Y actually holds the missing answers to what happened in chapter X, and so on—and even when I didn’t have all the information to understand their world in the beginning, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Conclusion: Not the easiest read around, due to its (beautiful but sometimes complex) descriptive language and concepts; however, if one is ready to tackle that, this book can be positively fascinating.

Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have A Nemesis

Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have A Nemesis - Richard Roberts

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher.]

I remember being disappointed with the previous instalment. This one, although not as strong as the first volume in the series, I felt was better—probably because it deals less with slice-of-life/school moments, and tackles more seriously the matter of Penny wanting to come clean to her parents about the Inscrutable Machine. Well, ‘seriously’ being a tentative word, because her plan is, as Ray and Clair put it, just crazy enough to actually work. (On the other hand, well, it’s a plan crafted by a 14-year-old mad scientist, soooooo... why not!)

... And you can sense this plan smells like Eau de Backfiring from the moment it is formulated, and can’t help but wait for the train wreck to happen, and... I admit, I liked that part of the plot. Even though it didn’t cover the whole book (too bad). In a twisted way, the mistakes Penny keeps committing seem to me like they’re actually her subconscious, or perhaps her power, acting her to act: she wants to be a hero, she regularly tries to help people and do good deeds, but somehow she seems more cut out to be an ambiguous hero at best. More suited to be filed with the likes of Lucyfar than Marvelous.

(I’m also thinking that IF this is what the author is indeed going for, then it might also explain the Audit’s lack of insight about her daughter: maybe the Audit does know, has known for a while, and isn’t saying anything because she wants Penny to realise by herself what her true decision will have to be.)

What I regret:

- Like in the previous two books, we don’t see much of Ray and Claire, both in terms of development and sidekicking (summer camp kind of gets in the latter’s way). Hopefully the last volume will take care of the whole ‘Ray’s family’ issue. Or maybe it’s not worth it? I don’t know, I’ve always felt there was something off to them, and not merely as in ‘they don’t like superheroes/villains so I can’t tell them I’m one now.’

- The coming back of a friendtagonist: I was expecting it, I wanted to see it happen, yet at the same time, the way it was dealt with felt like a plot device. Kind of ‘this character is needed to help Penny build one specific machine, and then will be unneeded for the rest of the book.’ Meh.

What I’m in between about:
- The ending. It is fairly depressing, and a cliffhanger... yet at the same time, I’m glad the whole thing wasn’t solved just like that, since it would’ve been too simple, and... ‘too clean?’

Conclusion: Not on par with volume 1, howeve it did leave me with a better impression than volume 3.

Bad Girl Gone

Bad Girl Gone: A Novel - Temple Mathews

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

This ended up being a very uneventful read for me. The premise felt really cool: a girl finds herself in a creepy orphanage, realises it’s actually a kind of purgatory for murdered kids, and tries to find out who killed her so that she can move on. The beginning was intriguing, especially since, like other ghosts in the orphanage, Echo first has to piece together memories of her death—reliving the trauma at once would be too shocking—, and investigating why you’re in an orphanage when last you knew your parents were definitely alive, well, that’s tricky.

The problem lied mainly in how all this was executed. Not particularly thrilling, for starters. Echo has a couple of culprits in mind, so she and the other kids go to ‘haunt’ them and see if they’re going to wield under pressure, or are actually innocent, but… it wasn’t anything scary or memorable, more like pranks, not like the really creepy kind of haunting you could get when adding children/teenagers to the mix (in general, I find kid ghosts scarier than adult ones). The mystery itself—finding the murdered—wasn’t exciting either, nor were the murderer’s reactions. Perhaps this was partly due to Echo’s power as a ghost: entering living people’s bodies in order to perceive their thoughts. The investigation part, in turn, was more about vaguely picking a maybe-potential culprit, scaring them, popping in their mind, then be gone. Then the story. And then Echo’s past as a ‘bad girl’ was revealed, and it turned out it wasn’t so much bad as introduced without much taste.

Definitely cringeworthy was the drama-addled romance. Echo’s living boyfriend, Andy, is all about moping and wanting to kill himself over her death, and… well, call me hard-hearted and callous, but you’re 16 and that kind of relationship is by far NOT the first one you’re going to experience in life, so pegging everything on it always feels contrived to me. Then there’s cute ghost boy Cole, who’s not about murdering the hypotenuse (thanks goodness), yet was strange, considering Andy is not aware of his presence, and so the triangle is… incomplete? (Its attempts at becoming a square later didn’t help either.) Also contains examples of stupid Twue Wuv/The One/soulmate 4evah/Doormat Extraordinaire. Such as Echo being so happy that her corpse was dressed in her favourite dress at her funeral… Favourite because her boyfriend Andy liked it. I still have no idea if Echo herself liked the pattern or colour or whatever. In any case, these are the kind of tropes I dislike in novels in general, and in YA even more. Why always make it look like couple love is the ultimate end, as if nobody (whether girl or boy) couldn’t have a good life in different ways?

In fact, I was more interested in the orphanage’s headmistress (whose back story plays a part for a chapter or so) and other inmates, all with their own murders to solve. These I would’ve liked to see interact more than just as Echo’s sidekicks. But we don’t get to learn much about them, apart from how they died. Too bad.

Conclusion: Nope

The Girl from Rawblood

The Girl from Rawblood: A Novel - Catriona Ward

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

I did like the narrative weaving back and forth between past and present, shedding more light on characters that came before Iris and Tom, as well as the atmosphere of Rawblood, both stifling and inviting to nostalgia. I had more trouble keeping interested in the story itself, though: the characters weren’t particularly engaging, so I never cared much about them. I never really felt the connection between Iris and Tom, and therefore its role in the ‘immediate and terrifying’ consequences mentioned in the blurb didn’t have much of an impact

The present tense narration tended to throw me out of the story from time to time, which didn’t help; I’m not sure why, I’m not too keen on that tense when it comes to historical fiction (and/or when several narrators are involved, as it’s often difficult to tell who’s telling the story, and it was the case here at times).

The reveal towards the end made sense in a way, yet seemed to me like it fell a little abruptly, and wasn’t completely… justified. Revenge? But why, considering ‘her’ identity, why would she inflict that on the Villarcas? Accident, couldn’t help it? Hm, not really convinced here. Quite a few things were unclear, and not in a way that contributed to a mysterious / gothic atmosphere.

Conclusion: I may have liked it more, if not for the style and the characters.

The Diabolic

The Diabolic - S.J. Kincaid

A lot of good ideas in this book, and I really liked the first part... but it started to go downhill when the Mandatory YA Het Romance plot waltzed in. I felt there were so many other ways the whole 'Diabolic without emotions may actually discover her humanity' could have unfolded, instead of romance (especially the boy/girl kind) being touted as the one means to everything and the main dilemma all at once. Also, NOT bonus points for the one LGBT aspect, considering how it turns out.

Too bad because the Empire in space/religious faith vs. technology revival side of the story, coupled with GoT-like politics, could've been really interesting otherwise.

One of Us Is Lying

One of Us Is Lying - Karen  M. McManus

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

I’m not sure how I feel exactly about this book. I did expect a lot clichés when I started this book (which the blurb makes clear anyway), and clichés there were, but I’m still not sure I liked or not? Sometimes I do want to see how they pan out; sometimes I want something different from the start. Here, I’d say that mostly they don’t really deviate from the usual outcomes (girl falls for the bad boy, girl/boy cheats on partner, etc.), and the plot is a little heavy on high school stereotype drama at times. I suppose I also expected that the four teenagers’ secrets would be ‘darker’ than ‘oh noes I cheated on my partner’, since this seems to be so very common in plots (and here’s a reminder about how everything feels like the fate of the world depends on it, at that age).

On the other hand, even though these things were predictable, and even though I had my suspicions about the murderer halfway throughout the story, I found myself reading fairly fast because I wanted to see if other secrets would pile up on the existing one, if other characters would help shed light on what really happened, or what other clues would appear. Not that many, it turned out, but... it still kept me entertained.

The mystery was... okay-ish? The story focused more on the characters and their lives unravelling than on providing lots of clues or red herrings—entertaining, but not thrilling.

I had trouble with the 1st person narrative: our four suspected murderers take turns to tell the story, but their respective voices sounded too much like each other, so at times I found myself not too sure of who was telling a specific part, and I had to re-read, or use the ‘chapter’s title’ to see who it was about. The style is somewhat juvenile, however it wasn’t jarring (and definitely -less- jarring than that trend of having teenagers speak like 40-year-old chaps!).

Conclusion: Probably a novel that will hold more appeal for younger readers, but not so much if one is already used to such themes/plots and want to go further than stereotypes.