Yzabel

Book reviews, and my personal reflections about writing.

Les Fiancés de l'Hiver

Les Fiancés de l'Hiver - Christelle Dabos

Le livre se lit plutôt bien, en dépit de certaines maladresses stylistiques, et j'ai bien aimé la géographie du monde développé ici (monde au sujet duquel il reste sans nul doute beaucoup à découvrir dans les volumes suivants). De plus, les pouvoirs des différentes familles — lecture d'objets, transmission de pensée, illusions, mémoire... — se prêtent bien à pas mal d'intrigues et de développements.

Par contre, j'enlève de bases des étoiles ici car je ne supporte plus cette ficelle scénaristique maladroite qui consiste à faire de la rétention d'information sans raison valable. Ophélie se retrouve balancée dans un monde d'intrigues de cour où elle risque d'être au mieux déshonorée, si pas juste assassinée dans une alcôve, et sa nouvelle belle-famille l'y prépare donc en faisant... rien? Et lui reproche en plus de commettre des erreurs par ignorance. Ah si, elle reçoit des lecons de maintien et de diction. Super. Des leçons de diplomatie et de survie en milieu courtisan hostile auraient été plus utiles, ne serait-ce que pour la prévenir que "au fait, une de nos familles peut partager ses pensées, donc ce que tu dis à l'un d'eux, tous les autres le savent aussi". M'enfin moi je dis ça, je dis rien.

Résultat: l'intrigue se traîne, car en plus d'être enfermée la moitié du temps, Ophélie doit jouer le rôle d'une muette l'autre moitié (pratique pour poser des questions, tiens). Déjà pas bien bavarde à la base, pour le coup elle n'a vraiment plus grand chose d'intéressant, et subit les événements plutôt que de vraiment les déclencher pendant la majeure partie de l'histoire. Ses pouvoirs ne sont de plus pas vraiment bien exploités, à part quelques passages de miroirs.

Alors certes, cela permet de mettre en scène des actions et pas un énorme info-dump. MAIS. Mais. Il n'y a AUCUNE raison valable au silence de Thorn et de Bérénilde, silence qui met Ophélie encore plus en danger puisqu'elle reste ignorante des vraies menaces, et ne peut donc pas s'y préparer. (Ajoutons à cela le fait qu'Ophélie ne fait aucun effort pour essayer de connaître les gens et notamment son futur mqri, ce qui n'aide pas.) Ce roman n'est de loin pas le seul à avoir recours a cet artifice, cependant il serait grand temps que la fiction de facon générale s'en éloigne. En d'autres termes: c'est bien d'éviter d'avoir trop de scenes d'exposition, ce serait mieux que le moyen employé pour cela repose sur quelque chose de logique, au lieu de révéler un trou scénaristique.

L'autre gros problème pour moi a été la société, ou plutot les sociétes décrites:
- Anima: une matriarchie qui traite en fait ses femmes comme de la crotte. Aucun intérêt. En vrac: mariages arrangés, sois belle et tais-toi (ou bien tais-toi juste, en fait...), femmes "fortes" et "dominant leur mari" comme la mère d'Ophelie mais qui ne sont en fait que des caricatures dont le seul pouvoir se résumé a être épouses et mères... Si c'est pour véhiculer les mêmes clichés moisis qu'une société patriarcale, restons dans une société patriarcale, dans ce cas, ce sera un petit peu moins écoeurant.
- Le Pôle: toutes des salopes-courtisanes-intriguantes-séductrices. Sauf Ophélie, bien sûr, puisqu'elle est le seul personnage féminin qui ne s'intéresse pas au sexe, à l'amour, à la mode, et aux autres artifices "purement féminins". Déjà vu, déjà trop vu, on pourrait avoir autre chose que la trilogie vierge-mère-pute? Merci.

Ceci dit, au moins il n'y a pas de romance/triangle amoureux (pour le moment), ce qui est déjà plus que je n'ose en demander à un roman jeunesse ces dernières années.

The Feed

The Feed - Nick Clark Windo

I started this book beginning of March, I’ve just finished it now (mid-May)… I admit I had a very hard time staying focused and motivated to read it. Perhaps because of the absence of chapters (instead, we have scenes with breaks, and some of the scenes are pretty long), which was a bit of a turn-off for me.

The story has good themes: survival; the world as we know it ending; a technology (the Feed) both exciting and creepy; people trying to live in a community of their own after the fall; children getting abducted; and a mystery, a.k.a people being ‘taken’ in their sleep, effectively losing themselves and becoming someone else. And I admit that -this- part was fairly intriguing and interesting… once the book gets to it, that is, not before the 50% mark or so.

However, it just didn’t grab me; the plot was sort of meandering, with the effect that I was very much aware that there was a plot, and of what it was, yet it felt like there was no plot. I don’t even know how that could happen. I also didn’t connect with the characters, except one (and, here too, we don’t see this character until mid-book). Even writing a review about it kind of bores me.

The writing itself was fine, although the parts in ‘Feed-speak’ were headache-inducing, to be honest.

Human Errors

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes  - Nathan H. Lents

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

I found this to be both an informative and entertaining read. While the author doesn’t delve very deep into details (each subject in each chapter would probably warrant a book of its own), and although I wish there had been more developed explanations at times, I’m also aware that one book couldn’t tackle everything in one go—and he nevertheless provides enough information for a reader to go on research some more later on a given topic.

I already knew some of the ‘human errors’ presented in the book (such as junk DNA and mutations), but definitely not others, such as why we get so many headcolds (our sinuses placed the wrong way), why we do actually make our own B12 vitamin but can’t use it (same with other vitamins—and this is why we need a varied diet, with all the problems it entails), or why our ways of procreating are, in fact, very inefficient compared to those of other mammals. So, discovering all this was fascinating, and the explanations provided also satisfy the unavoidable ‘why’ questions that rose immediately after (I’m very much a why person; every physician who attended me since I’ve learnt to speak can testify to this). For instance, we lost the ability to make our own vitamin C, whose absence will lead to scorbut and kill us; but the mutation that led to this defect wasn’t erased through evolution because it happened in areas where fruit was easily available, and a diet of fruit would compensate for our rotten GULO gene… until the latter stuck, happily passed around to descendants.

I liked that some explanations went a bit further: it’s not only about this or that physical defect, but also about how we’re still wired for survival techniques and reactions dating back to prehistoric times, and how some of our modern behaviours are thus impacted. An extended example would be gambling, and why people in general have irrational reactions such as ‘now that I’ve lost ten times in a row, I -must- win, there’s no other way’ (though statistically, you could lose an 11th time), or will bet more and more when they’re on winning streak, and risk losing it all or more, rather than save those earnings. Those would go back to the way we interpreted situations to learn from them and survive (man sees a lion in a bush, concludes bushes often hide a lion, and then avoids bushes). Same with optical illusions, due to our brains’ ability to ‘fill in the blanks’.

On the side of actual errors, I noticed a few (redundant words or phrases, that a last editing pass would probably remove). Nothing too bad, though.

Conclusion: Due to the lack of deeper details and general simple writing, this book is probably more for laypeople rather than people with a strong scientific background—but even then, there’s still a chance that some of the ‘human errors’ may still be of interest to them.

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future  - Ashlee Vance

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

An interesting read for me, considering I never went in depth into what Musk has accomplished (to be fair, I came to this book because I find Tesla cars sexy and thought ‘well, why not read this, at least I’ll know more about the man’).

I’m kind of sitting on the fence about this book. I liked learning about how Musk’s companies came to be, the problems encountered along the way, how things were at times one inch from just failing, but worked out in the end, out of both luck and determination. In a way, it’s a positive ‘lesson’: that sometimes things fail, but it shouldn’t prevent you from fighting for them and taking risks, because they just may succeed as well.

I also appreciated that the author interviewed other people, employees, ex-employees, friends, ex-partners, etc., and that he made them part of the whole: people without whom Tesla Motors or SpaceX wOuld’ve never been able to take off, engineers and mechanics and designers whose role was absolutely not negligible. Since a large part of the book was focused on these companies, acknowledging more than just one actor was a good thing to do.

I would’ve d liked it to go more in depth about how exactly things worked out, when it comes to the science/engineering part. Elon Musk seems like he knows his stuff, too, and has learnt over the years what he didn’t know and made him shoot for impossible deadlines at first (now I guess they’re just improbable, hah), and… I don’t know, I expected something more detailed in that regard. Maybe less of the business aspect, and more about the engineering the way Elon Musk himself goes about it?

Also, for a biography, I think it didn’t go to the bottom of things either when it comes to the man, and lacks a certain detachment. Musk doesn’t come off as a very empathetic person, to say the least, and while objectively I understand his drive, humanely the way he treats his employees is, well, not great at all. So I would’ve been interested in seeing more reflecting about this: coming from him, but also coming from the biographer. There -is- something wrong in the way all these visionary projects have come to be, and it was pretty much glossed over. (In short, was the harshness really needed, does innovation has to come to such a price, and would things have tanked with just a bit more empathy?)

This was instructive, and I kind of liked it, so 3 stars… But while I know more about Tesla Motors, SolarCity and SpaceX, I don’t feel like I know -that- much more about Musk himself now.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns  - Archie  Bongiovanni, Tristan Jimerson

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

This is a very short book in the shape of a graphic novel/comics, so there’s no excuse not to read it. ;)

While I’m not particularly vocal about it when I write book reviews, and while the name I use is ‘feminine’, I don’t identify as a woman—my sex is female, but my gender is non-binary (more specifically, agender). So, it’s always mildly annoying at best when people keep referring to me as ‘she’. Sometimes they just don’t know, and of course, if I don’t tell them, they won’t know… therefore I tell them. Sometimes, too, other people just don’t care, or it forces them to reevaluate their paradigm, and, well, things don’t go so well in such cases.

Therefore I truly appreciate such books as this one—short and to the point, again: no excuse—that explain what it’s all about, and why it matters. Because being called ‘she’ is as much incomfortable for me as it is for a man who identifies as a man to be called ‘she’, for instance. (Also, for the grammar purists who say that ‘there’s only he and she pronouns, and they as a singular isn’t right’: singular they has been in use since the 14th century or so. Just saying.)

To be honest, I’m not entirely fan of the graphic style here; however, it is cute, with fun moments, and the art IMHO isn’t what matters the most in this book.

Except for a couple of things I wasn’t too sure about, mostly the two characters (Archie and Tristan) run you through a quick explanation of non-binary vs. cisgender (‘quick’, because the whole thing detailed would take a book of its own), situations about how to use they/them pronouns, and examples of misgendering and how to react to it tastefully, whether you’re the one being misgendered or an ally. Among such situations, when loved ones misgender you, but you know they’re supportive in plenty of other ways, ranting is not useful. But sometimes, too, when people deliberately refuse to acknowledge you (binary or non-binary, this is part of your identity, after all), and make fun of you and/or are deliberately hurtful, it’s also good to be reminded that it’s OK to let go of what is, all in all, abusive. It’s not easy to accept… but it’s true.

This book is a good introduction to the matter, easy to follow and understand, and one that you can also apply to other pronouns like ze/hir (yes, there are more than just the few mentioned here). Even though it’s not exhaustive, it paves the way for further reading for anyone who’s interested.

WaR: Wizards and Robots

WaR: Wizards And Robots - Brian David Johnson, will.i.am

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

That was a quick and fun read, even though I think it was too quick, and could’ve been developed into something a little longer without losing its focus or just filling pages: there was definietely a lot going on in this story, what’s with robots and wizards, of course, but also aliens and time travel!

I found the plot easy enough to follow, which isn’t always the case when time travel is concerned. I liked the two (three?) worlds depicted, too: Ada’s ‘present’ with its computers, drones and technological feats; the future world, full of despair but also of loyal robots holding the fort until the end; and, in a way, the world of the wizards, in a ‘powerful beings mired into their own past and refusing to acknowledge changes’ way.

The main characters, too, all had aspects that made them quite likeable in spite of their faults. Sara’s mum may not be available for her family, but she wants to further the cause of knowledge and build a good future for humanity. Ada has her sulky side, but on the other hand she’s loyal to her friends, whether humans or robots. Kaku is powerful, but uses his power and intelligence to learn and protect. Geller isn’t strong, but when offered a bigger power, he clearly uses it to help, and not for his own personal gain.

I’m not giving the book more than 2.5/3 stars, because even though I enjoyed it, it was too short to properly deal with everything, and the ending raised so many questions, and left so many doors open, for something that doesn’t look like a sequel’s in the plans (I had that feeling when I was some 50 pages from the end, and wondering how on Earth everything could be wrapped up). So, yes, the characters were enjoyable, but not very developed. There’s no clear explanation as to why the Spawn is here (well, there is one, but we never get to learn why exactly what they wre trying to destroy was so dangerous -for them-). There are too many unresolved threads when it comes to Ada’s present, such as the future role of the anti-robots people, or what she’s going to do after such an end to the story; and what awaits Geller is too vague, too.

Conclusion: Good for a quick and entertaining read, but don’t expect well-developed characters or a tight plot.

Fire (The Ninth Circle)

Fire - C. A. Harland

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

I had trouble at first to get into this book (I don’t know why, the first paragraphs felt strange?), however the feeling vanished after a while, once I got used to the narrative style.

The narrative is indeed somewhat specific, in that the chapters seem to me like they mirror episodes from a TV series, with the search for Hartley being the ‘season arc’, and the chapters often revolving around ‘side quests’. This turned out to be both interesting and a weakness. Interesting, because it’s a format I don’t see that often in books; a weakness, because it forced the chapters into a pattern that works on screen, but not so well on books (especially since here, most of the time it was about the sisters finding clues and rushing into a trap). So we had both an overabundance of side plots, but at the same time these plots were discarded after their ‘episode’, and in turn the main narrative was the only real one in the book.

Now, I kind of liked the world building in this story. It’s not the most original ever (there are demons and fae, and humans who train to fight and destroy them and have their own community… we’ve seen that in several series), but the way the nine ‘circles of Hell’ were also involved in the mundane world as nine circles of criminality (prostitution, gambling, money laundering, etc.), and let’s not forget Hell’s Archive and its government, was a good idea. This organisation, this world both parallel to and intertwined with the human world, organised in something understandable, lent more weight, too, to the argument the characters have at some point with the enemy, that is, ‘you kill us demons, but contrary to humans, -we- aren’t given free will, so who’s the most at fault here?’ (So yeah, demons kill and abduct humans and all that, and have to be stopped. Still, that guy had a point.)

I also enjoyed the relationship between the sisters. Tala first appeared as annoying, but redeems this aspect thanks to her strong loyalty to her family. Same with Aiva, who at first looked like she had taken the easy way out for no reason, but turned out to have one (or at least, a trauma explaining her decision), and then focused back on her family when it became really important.

Last but not least, while there were a couple of potential love interests throughout the book, the story remained focused on family relationships (including Owen), and I was glad it didn’t devolve into the typical ‘urban fantasy that is in fact an excuse for some shoddy paranormal romance’ (UF and PNR are two different genres for me, you can tell which one I favour…).

I do regret not seeing more about their relationship with Hartley. All we know about the younger sister is that she’s a paranormal investigator and has a gambling problem, but since she was never seen interacting with her sisters before she vanished, it was difficult for me to really care about her, about what motivated her search, and more importantly, to understand her decisions and her exact plan. It also raises the question of what exactly will happen after that: so there was that huge plan in motion for years, and… Now what? What will the sisters do with their inheritance after that?

Another problem were the action/fight scenes (and there were quite a few), which I found a little too ‘descriptive’, and as such didn’t have enough impact. I didn’t have trouble to imagine them, but I didn’t feel the tension, the adrenaline, so to speak. The writing in general was okay-ish, and didn’t thrill me.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. It’s not the most original story or world ever, and the writing has just as many good as bad points. I may still be interested in checking out the next book, though, if only to see what the consequences to this series of events will be.

Planetfall

Planetfall - Emma Newman

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

Science fiction that is more of the social kind than hard, as in, while it was easy to imagine how the colony ran, the story focuses on the main character and her relationships with other people, rather than on a lot of technology. In a way, I liked this aspect, but on the other hand, with Ren being pretty much a recluse, her interactions weren’t always so developed; in the end, I’m not exactly sure what to think of it.

The storuy revolves around Ren, and in a certain measure Mack and Sung-Soo. More than 20 years ago, Ren and Mack embarked on an expedition throughout the stars to find another planet, guided by Lee Suh-Mi, who determined that planet’s location after waking up from a coma. After landfall, they found a strange structure they quickly nicknamed God’s city, into which Suh-Mi walked in, never to come out. Since that time, every year sees a ritual, almost religious ceremony take place, which will last until the day Suh comes out again. Only it quickly becomes apparent that this is all based on lies crafted by Mack and upheld by Ren, for fear that without it, the community’s union and focus will collapse, and the colony will be destroyed.

I spent most of my reading torn when it came to Ren as a character and narrator. It’s obvious that while she’s competent in her job, she’s also broken in quite a few ways (her reclusiveness, the reason why she never lets anyone into her home, the mental disorder she’s been developing due to all the stress and lies piling up), and this made her touching; you can tell from the early chapters on that she’d endured trauma and has been coping and suffering all by herself, ashamed of her choices, then refusing to look at them, then not even realising anymore that she had a problem (one that is all the more important that all the things she hoards are materials that can’t get recycled to fuel the colony). Yet at the same time, it was difficult to relate to her and to really care about her, probably she keeps people at a distance. Also, due to the latter, the other characters never really came into focus: Nick remains ‘the guy who’s in because he had money’, Carmen is ‘that annoying religion-obsessed woman’, and so on.

The foundations of the colony, too, were of a kind that made me cringe. Let’s be honest, I’m not a religious person, and basing such a whole expedition on ‘finding God’ (with the potential consequence that, if the religious aspect is destroyed, everything else is, too) seemed, I don’t know, flimsy. Deeply, I believe that what a society needs is ethics, and not religion: the latter can too quickly devolve. Which makes Mack’s lies and fears sort of understandable, if not justified, considering all everything goes to the dogs when the lies are revealed (because they will be, that’s half the plot, after all). In the end, I found myself not caring whether the colony collapsed or not.

Still, I enjoyed the world-building: the author didn’t need to explain a lot for me to picture this world, with its self-sufficient, half-living houses, built at the foot of that bizarre organic city that will kill whoever gets too deep inside. And while I kind of guessed quickly what the big secret was (it got dragged for a little too long as well), trying to imagine what happened to the people in the other pods was also enjoyable. The writing style itself was pleasant, and I never struggled with it. Besides, it looks like there’s much diversity in that colony, but it’s never presented in a heavy-handed way (‘oh, look, people of colour!’). Ren as I perceive her is likely black or close to, the founder/pathfinder is Korean, several other are probably of Indian or Pakistani origin, it’s not ye olde average colony full of white men only, and it’s also not emphasised: these people all come from different backgrounds and areas of the world, and it’s normal, and it’s normal that it’s normal because why would you ever expect anything else? In other words, the book doesn’t feel the need to justify anything about it, which is great.

The ending is somewhat controversial. I think I liked it, in general; it feels like giving up, and it leaves quite a few things unexplained when it comes to God’s city, but it was strangely fitting (with Ren having to first strip herself of everything that was dragging her down, in order to understand what they had refused or been unable to see in the beginning). However, I also think that some parts of the plot were not sufficiently explained, or dealt with too quickly, especially the part about Sung-Soo; had this been better strung into the narrative, its impact would have been different.

Norman

Norman: The Doll That Needed to Be Locked Away  - Stephen Lancaster

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

I’m not sure how to rate this book. When I requested it, I thought it was a horror novel, but then upon looking closer, it was in fact a recounting of actual facts? Problem being that, while I am interested in paranormal phenomenons in a vague, general way, I’m not what you could call a ‘believer’—I’ll read about it, and watch shows etc., but I’m going to be detached from it. And while I’ll appreciate those things for the storyteller factor, for the ideas they give me for stories or pen & paper RPG games, I actually have trouble with suspension of disbelief when they’re -not- novels (yes, strangely as it sounds, I may ‘believe’ in this slightly more if it’s fiction… go figure).

So, do keep that in mind when it comes to my review: I probably wasn’t the right audience for it, at least not at this moment in my life.

I kept wondering why the family had the doll in their bedroom, of all places. I’ve always found dolls creepy AF (whether the ragdoll type or those uncanny-valley ‘looks like a real baby’ dolls), so even for the sake of research, I wouldn’t see myself keeping one in anything else than a closet or the basement. More puzzling is why they’d do that in a house where a teenager lives, where the grandchildren regularly come to visit, and where pets dwell, too. Choosing to endanger yourself for the sake of studying some phenomenon is fine and all, I mean it’s your choice, but bringing your kid and pets into it is… I don’t know, kind of irresponsible. I never got the feeling that Hannah agreed to it, or was thrilled with the idea. And when you see what happened to the cat, well…

The other big problem I had with this book was the amount of errors. Since I got an advanced reader copy, I know (I hope) these may have been corrected in the final, printed version, but in the meantime, they threw me out of the narrative.

This said, even though I’m ever the sceptic, the photos and video captures throughout the book were interesting to have a look at. This is typically the kind of stuff I have to see for myself in order to ‘believe’, of course, so the whole ‘we’re not releasing them because it’s our private home’ won’t convince me. Still, it remained interesting to see.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars.

Home

Home - Amanda Berriman

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

This started as a bit of an annoying read, due to the ‘child voice’ narrating it—it wasn’t so easy for me to get into it. Jesika is a difficult narrator to contend with, in that, on top of being unreliable because she sees the world through her own filters, those filters are very much naïve and different from an adult’s. The way she perceives and interprets events wasn’t always easy to follow, and the fact that the words she used weren’t necessarily the right ones didn’t help. However, after the first couple of chapters, I got used to her voice, and I didn’t notice its ‘quirks’ anymore, or at least not in a way that disrupted my reading. Which was, of course, a good thing.

The story itself deals with difficult themes, too, that aren’t completely visible at first due to the aforementioned filters. But don’t mistake those for callousness: because Jesika seems ‘remote’, this actually makes events more… raw, in a way, in the absence of adult filtering. The reader soon gets to realise the issues Jesika’s family is facing: poverty… but not enough to really get help; having to contend with shady people; illness, probably due to their dire living conditions; and, of course, what comes later, once Jesika meets Paige and starts to wonder if what’s happening at her home is normal or naughty, and if she should tell her mother Tina, and won’t her mother stop loving her if she does that? (And that’s the biggest fear for her child: being rejected by their parents…)

Although the novel never veers into sordid (I don’t want to say that Jesika’s narration revealed Paige’s secret in a ‘cute’ way, because it’s not cute, it’s never cute, it’s creepy AF and no child, well actually no one, should ever have to go through that—but it did soften the blows in a certain way), it wasn’t exactly an easy read. Jesika and Paige are both so very young and vulnerable, all the more when one remembers that getting through the regular babble of children at such a young age can be exhausting, and doesn’t leave much room for actually listening, really listening to them when they try to convey something serious. I did enjoy the grown-ups’ reactions around Jesika, though, since they did take things seriously. There was a particular moment, for instance, when Tina could’ve done the coward thing, could’ve chosen to ignore the signals, because acknowledging them sort of put her at risk, too. There are so many stories, so many happening in real life, too, when unfortunately people close their eyes on the obvious and choose the easy way out.

At the same time, the circumstances Jesika, her mother and her baby brother have to face aren’t all in shades of black only. There are people around who’re ready to help them, and once Tina manages to get past her pride and accept those outstretched hands, she realises that friendship and trust are things you can find even when everything looks bleak. There could have been darker consequences, and in fact, it’s good there weren’t, considering the story’s themes are already dark enough as it is.

Conclusion: 3.5 / 4 stars.

Zombie Abbey

Zombie Abbey - Lauren Baratz-Logsted

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

A story with Austen undertones… and zombies. (I’ve seen it compared to ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, but not having read that one, I honestly can’t tell.)

At Porthampton Abbey, a couple of years after World War I, the Clarke family has to contend with the problem of the entail, just like in ‘Pride and Prejudice’—meaning that if one of the daughters (preferably the elder, Kate) doesn’t marry very soon and has a male heir, their family will lose their estate after the death of Earl Clarke. Which is why the latter has invited a couple of potential suitors to stay for the weekend, including an older businessman from London, a duke, and a recently discovered cousin who’s very likely to inherit anyway, considering he’s the only male heir (but here’s to hope he’ll marry Kate, and all will be well in the world). And the story would go its posh, merry way, if not for the strange death of a villager, found half-devoured… A villager whom his widow has to kill a second time with a bullet to the head.

The beginning of this story definitely has its appeal: the Clarkes display a comical mix of common sense (Kate when it comes to hunting, for instance) and quirky, whimsical inability to grasp that other people are not only their servants, they’re, well, human beings with their own lives, too. This was a conflict in itself in the book, with the ‘Upstairs’ people having to realise that they have to pay more attention to the ‘Downstairs’ people. The build-up to the part where zombies actually make an appearance was a little slow, but in itself, it didn’t bother me, because discovering the characters (and rolling my eyes while trying to guess who’d kick the bucket) was quite fun. Granted, some of the characters weren’t very likeable; the earl felt too silly, Kate too insensitive… but on the other hand, I liked where Lizzy and Grace started and how they progressed—Lizzy as the girl whom everyone thinks stupid, yet who turns out to be level-headed when things become dangerous, and Grace being likely the most humane person in her family. The suitors, too, looked rather bland at first, however a couple of them started developing more of a (pleasant) personality. And I quite liked Fanny as well, the quiet-at-first but assertive maid who refuses to let ‘propriety’walks all over charity.

After a while, though, the style became a little repetitive. The way the various characters’ point of views were introduced at the beginning of each chapter or sub-chapter, for some reason, tended to grate on my nerves, I’m not exactly sure why; and while I don’t have issues with casts of more than 2-3 POV characters, here the focus regularly went back to some action already shown in a previous chapter, but this time from another character’s point of view, which felts redundant.

I also thought that while there -were- zombies, I’d have liked seeing a little more of them. There was tension, but I never felt the story was really scary (for me and for the characters both), and the moments when a character got hurt was usually due to their being too stupid to live and doing something that no one in their sane mind should’ve done anyway.

Finally, I’m not satisfied with the ending: I don’t know it there’ll be a sequel or not, but if it’s meant to be a standalone, then it leaves way too many things open.

Conclusion: 2.5 /3 stars. I’m curious about how the situation at Porthampton Abbey will unfold, and if there were a sequel, that’d be good, because it’d mean the characters could finish growing, too.

The School for Psychics

The School for Psychics - K. C. Archer

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

An enjoyable fast-read when it came to the ‘psychic powers’ theme. I really liked the premise: a young woman who’s been making questionable decisions, and gets a second chance in a school for people with psychic abilities, where they’re trained to protect and server… but a few people on the inside have different agendas, and it’s a constant game of trying to figure out what’s at stake, and if it’s going to be a bunch of revelations, or something much more lethal. The powers the students have are varied, ranging from precognition to telepathy and even pyrokinesis, and I liked how the novel tried to bring a scientific approach to it: after all, they’re training people who’re going to end up working for the FBI or NSA.

The first scene also engaged me from the beginning, what’s with Teddy being banned from Las Vegas casinos, but still sneaking into one, disguised as a different woman, to hopefully win the money she owes a Russian crime boss, because otherwise her own parents will be targeted. Well, OK, nevermind that she should never have let things go that far, all the more if she’s so good at reading people at the poker table, but ‘questionable decisions’ being a key here, alright, I can go with that.

On the other hand, I never really got a good feeling for Teddy, or for the other characters. Some of them had a sort of ‘larger than life’ vibe, with their quirks (the animal medium who likes doing yoga naked, the ex-cop who’s a charmer and can literally set things on fire, the hacker who’s also an empath…); but they remained fairly one-dimensional. Teddy barely thought of her family except in the beginning, we know nothing of the others except for a couple of things like ‘his family’s rich and he has a boat’, and so when the story took a more action/heist-oriented turn, it was hard to root for them.

The other thing I didn’t like—and which contributed to my not enjoying the sotry as much as I hoped—was the globally juvenile aspects. These people are 20-something (Teddy’s 24, and Pyro must be at least 25 considering he served in the police for some time, and I doubt you just start there at 15 or so), but the whole Whitfield academy had a strong high school feeling, and I constantly thought I was reading a YA novel when in fact it was marketed as geared towards adult, with adult characters. I don’t mind YA in general, even though I have my gripes about a lot of books; I don’t think that ‘because it’s YA, it’s necessarily stupid and uninteresting.’ This said, the aforementioned gripes involve a certain number of tropes that I find cringe-worthy, such as the mandatory romance and love triangle, the professor who immediately favours certain students and begrudges the heroine and her friends, or the whole ‘school stars vs. misfits’ aspect. And those tropes were clearly present here, to the point of making me forget that those characters were, uh, two years from going to work for the FBI? Suspension of disbelief was then shattered every time forensics or the shooting range was mentioned; it’s like the story couldn’t make up his mind about whether it was meant to be about teenagers or about adult people.

Not sure if I’ll be interested in the sequel.

Paris Adrift

Paris Adrift - E.J. Swift

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

I love myself a time travel story, and both the premise as well as the cover here caught my eye. Unfortunately, even though ultimately it was a quick an easy read (as opposed to a book I trudged through), I wasn’t sold on the story or the characters.

I think this is due to the prologue letting me expect a more ‘targetted’ time travel story: a group of time travellers (called ‘incumbents’) holed up in a bunker in Prague, the world dying around them due to a nuclear apocalypse. This war having been triggered by a speech made at the Sacre-Coeur in Paris, the group decides to send one of them back in time in order to prevent that man’s lineage from ever starting. But there’s a catch here: these incumbents can only travel using ‘anomalies’ to which they’re attuned, and since they can’t use someone else’s Anomaly, in this case they need to send someone with an Anomaly in Paris. Which turns out to be Léon, an incumbent with too many travels under his belt, who may or may not be able to perform -all- the time jumps needed to alter the past. Léon does jump, but his aim tis to find a budding traveller in 2017 Paris, and guide them to discover their Anomaly, then to perform the required jumps while they’re still ‘fresh’, so to speak. Along with Léon comes the chronometrist, a former traveller who lost her body (and probably her sanity, too), and whose task is to guide the new incumbent.

…And that’s where it started to turn wrong, because for most of the book, the plot felt only remotely touched, with our new incumbent, Hallie, being guided in such a circumvented way that from beginning to end, I’m not sure she really got what she was doing. And I’m not sure why that was, considering one of Léon’s directives (stated in the prologue, no spoiler here) was to guide her once her ‘mission’ was accomplished, but that… didn’t happen? It was weird. It mostly consisted of Hallie stumbling through her Anomaly, ending up in a different period, bumbling around trying not to get in trouble, with the chronometrist taunting her now and then. It tied up in the end, yet I never got rid of the feeling that plot-wise, the book was plodding rather than making progress.

Character-wise, too, I believe that time spent on stumbling around was meant for character development, but in the end, I didn’t get that much of a feel for Hallie and the people around her, and they end up rather boring to me.

Now, to be fair, I really liked the way the novel approached solutions to ‘prevent a person from being born’. In a lot of time travel stories, the usual approach is to kill them (the Sarah Connor effect), which obviously raises its lot of ethical questions. Here, Hallie found (well, was pushed to) other ways, and that was refreshing to see.

Wendigo Rising

Wendigo Rising - James A. Hunter

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

Still an original setting, one that makes use of less known supernatural/folklore creatures (such as Sasquatches—I don’t think I’ve seen a single vampire yet in this series, and this is refreshing). We also find again some of the previously involved characters, such as agent Ferraro, Yancy’s old Vietnam comrade Greg, and James from the Guild, along with unlikely allies in the person of, well, Bigfoot and his daughter (he’s not named Bigfoot, although Yancy keeps calling him Kong, for want of being able to remember his full name). To be fair, at times I preferred these two Sasquatches, once they got past their tendency to refuse to explain their real reasons.

Some of the action scenes were pretty interesting. There’s a curious ‘battle of the bands’ at some point, mixing music with combat, and that isn’t something I’ve often read. Other such scenes left me quirking an eyebrow, though, like the one with Cassius. I quite dig Cassius, but I’d like to know more about him, apart from the little Yancy tells us about him, and the fight scene I’m thinking about, the one at the end, was… OK, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to make of it. It was fun in a WTF way, but it jarred with the rest of the UF/supernatural-oriented action. I think a little less action in parts would’ve been good here.

This book tended to annoy me more than the previous ones when it comes to Yancy’s personality, though. I’m all OK for the grumpy, no-strings-attached guy who prefers to live in his car, but the way he acts at times is much too childish for someone with so many years of experience, and especially so many battles and betrayals behind him. I guess this is why I particularly appreciated the moment when ‘monsters’ put him back in his place regarding ‘all the people they had killed’ vs. ‘did you ever wonder if the monsters you killed had friends and families?’

Conclusion: 2.5 stars, there are good things in this series, and the end paves the way for more, since part of the threat is gone, but not fully… and things could still go terribly wrong.

Flip

Flip - David Estes

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

The conclusion to this trilogy, and a satisfying one, although I found the ending a little too quick and predictable.

One of the things I liked here is that we got more information about the world around the RUSA. Not a lot, of course, the trilogy’s aim wasn’t to paint a full geopolitical portrait; nevertheless, I always appreciate it when sci-fi/dystopian settings take into account not only to focus country, but also the others. This shakes off the ‘pocket universe’ feeling that is very often prevalent in this genre. In fact, it’d almost deserve a spin-off so that the author can have fun with what’s happening around and outside the RUSA.

Like in the previous books, I also enjoyed the family relationships. Benson and Harrison could’ve been awful to each other, even when thrown in the same predicament, with constant jealousy and resentment. While there were some tensions (it was unavoidable), though, they embraced each other’s respective existences, as a discovery of the brother they didn’t know they had, instead of embracing negative feelings. Which was great. And which leads me to another aspect I enjoyed: the toned-down romance. Yes, there is a romantic subplot, however:
- It’s not the main focus;
- It doesn’t cause the characters involved do stupid things and make stupid decisions because LUUUUURVE (I’m so tired of those silly romance plots where the world is ending but the main character is still too busy pondering which of the guys/girls s/he’s in love with);
- I mentioned this in my review about volume 2 already: when Benson is concerned, I liked seeing such a predictable romance -not- happen. Having everyone find their Twue Wuv or whatever would’ve been too saccharine for me. The focus here is FAMILY, not romantic love, and especially not romantic love as the be-all and end-all and the Highest Form of Love Ever.

Bonus point for Jarrod’s arc. That character was a POS and I hated his guts, but you know what, that’s GOOD, because it means I cared. He helped emphasize one end of the spectrum (the other end being the corrupt government), with his ‘a means to an end’ attitude and terrorist ways, including what he roped Geoffrey into doing. Who does that to a kid, spewing BS such as ‘your sister would be so proud of you’? Yeah. Exactly.

Now, to expand a little on my comments about the ending:

- ‘Too quick’: that is, compared to all the reversal of fortunes previously encountered.
- Predictable: there were quite a few more twists in this instalment, with the last secrets being revealed. However, as a result, the ending felt somewhat… uneventful? As if it was indeed the last sprint, but one that led to no more surprises. Don’t mistake me, it’s a good conclusion, only just a little too well packaged and ‘clean’ and neatly tied, for a series that was grittier than a lot of YA series out there… so I guess I expected something more bittersweet, with some last twist, maye?
- Some parts were anti-climactic, like what happened with the president.
- I gather that the Destroyer is gone, buuuuut… Like THAT? Now that was disappointing, all the more since we didn’t get to see him do much in the first half of the novel. Alright, as a villain, he was ‘too much’ anyway. Yet that end felt almost… comical? And it jars with the darker tones of the trilogy, because deep down, Domino is a broken human being—he was already deranged before, but he was also treated like an object, stuffed with mechanical parts, brought back from the brink of death instead of being let go with dignity, and generally it was as if everybody discarded his humanity from the beginning, never giving him any chance at all. (I’m not saying a redemption arc would’ve been good here—he was too far gone. Just… not -that- kind of ending.)

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. In spite of my criticisms, I did enjoy this last volume.

Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done

Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done - Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser

That was a pretty interesting read, and an encouraging one, in a world where encouraging girls to go into technical careers is still not such a given (yes, even in 2018).

Also, bonus points for introduction to Python at the end, with a few examples of short, easy programs you can try. The only coding I've done so far was with Scratch, and I'm not very familiar with Python apart from a short foray with Ren'Py, but this basic syntax was very easy to get. I like that the authors chose something 'simple': I believe it won't look discouraging to someone who knows nothing to coding.