Review: A Beautiful Poison

Posted on October 15th, 2017 @ 17:38
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A Beautiful PoisonA Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

My rating:

Blurb:

Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.

Review:

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

Loved the backdrop in this book. World War I (with the reader knowing it’s nearing its end… but not the characters). The dreadful influenza reaching American shores and starting a war all of its own. Socialites in their own little world, feeling the bigger world as an intrusion that may or may touch them (whether draft or flu). Murders in those ‘higher spheres’, with the reminder that with a little money, nobody will try and look further. The early times of another type of poisoning, too, for the girls who painted clock dials with magic glowing in the dark (if you haven’t done so yet, read The Radium Girls, it’s really interesting).

I liked the beginning well enough: an engagement party, one of the guests falling to her death on the stair, and it turns out the fall isn’t what killed her—poison did. This murder, more than the party itself, reunites the three main characters, who got separated four years prior to these events, due to various reasons, but mostly selfish ones, such as falling out of favour (God forbids your daughter keeps associating with the child of people who committed suicide, right, this is so vulgar and out of taste); and considering the latter, there’s no wonder this relationship is tainted, poisoned, from the start, simmering with both happiness at having friends back yet also with resentment and bitter memories. Which in turn made Allene, Birdie and Jasper unreliable narrators to the power of ten, because in a mystery with murders aplenty, they were part of the pool of potential culprits just as much as other people at the engagement party.

There was a lot of unhealthy tension in this book, because of the characters’ past, and because of other secrets that got revealed later. Although in a way, I liked it, I wasn’t too keen on how it all unfurled; the characters weren’t very likeable, but for me that wasn’t even due to their personalities (I can enjoy a ‘non-likeable’ character), more to the fact they were somewhat inconsistent with what was told of them at first. For instance, Allene is presented as loving chemistry, but this didn’t play as much of a part as I expected (mostly she still remained the socialite totally oblivious to the people around her, unless what affected those people affected her as well). Perhaps Birdie was, all in all, the most consistent of all. I’m not sure where the line was, that line that would’ve made me like these characters more; it just didn’t click with me here.

The narrative, I think, was also poised between too little and too much. Part of me wanted more of the setting (New York, descriptions, parties, how the flu claimed people—horrifying symptoms, and so many deaths), yet at the same time, the setting plus the murders didn’t mesh fully, and the plot felt too convoluted when nearing the end. And, of course, what’s happening to Birdie—as the author mentioned at the end (and I agree), historical accuracy demanded there could be no closure on that specific point, but this means that, well, either you already know about that bit of history, or you don’t, and it makes no sense. Tricky.

Conclusion: It was an OK read for me: mildly entertaining in general, but not a gripping mystery. Here I preferred the setting to the characters.

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Review: I Will Find You

Posted on October 10th, 2017 @ 20:13
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I Will Find You: Solving Killer Cases from My Life Fighting CrimeI Will Find You: Solving Killer Cases from My Life Fighting Crime by Joe Kenda

My rating:

Blurb:

Detective Lt. Joe Kenda, star of the wildly successful crime documentary series Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda, shares his deepest, darkest, and never before revealed case files from his 19 years as a homicide detective. TV viewers and readers alike are fascinated and horrified by abhorrent murders. They crave to know the gory details of these crimes, and seek comfort in the solving of the most gruesome. In I WILL FIND YOU, DETECTIVE LIEUTENANT JOE KENDA reminds us that cases like these are very real and can happen even in your backyard.

Joe Kenda investigated 387 murder cases during his 23 years with the Colorado Springs Police Department and solved almost all of them. And he is ready to detail the cases that are too gruesome to air on television, cases that still haunt him, and cases where the killer got away. These cases are horrifyingly real, but the detail is so mesmerizing you won’t be able to look away.

Review:

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

I never watched the show, so I won’t be able to compare for now (I may watch some episodes later if I can find some episodes that aren’t available for US only or through shady websites); actually, I hadn’t even known about Joe Kenda before requesting this book. The book itself, when I read its blurb, looked interesting, and I was in the mood for crime-related non fiction, so here I am now.

Interesting it was, indeed. I learnt quite a few things about police procedures, all the more because I don’t live in the USA, and basically all I know is what I’ve seen in TV series (no worries, I was kind of already suspecting that TV =/= truth ;) ). Not that it surprised me, but it’s always good to see that, well, one was right in wondering ‘do these things really happen like that?’

What also really happens like that is crime itself, and sadly, what Kenda described in the book didn’t surprise me either (I don’t have a very good opinion of man as a species). Again, I can’t compare with the series, and I don’t know if what he writes about here is something watchers already know, or grittier/less gritty than what has been aired. It did seem gruesome enough to me. I’m not easily disgusted to the point of physically having to stop reading, but I can envision this being a turnoff, at least at times, as a reminder that people can do horrible things, including to their kids, innocent bystanders, for the stupidest reasons, for something as trivial as 20 quid, etc.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the tone/style. Not sure how Joe Kenda fares in the show, but here there were some turns of phrase, some vocabulary, that I felt was… not sure how to explain it, too demeaning or for shock value? I would probably have such words about criminals myself, so it’s nothing like ‘oh noes, swearing is bad’, and more like ‘the stronger the vocabulary/opinion, the lesser the impact’? Yes, I think that’s it: the grit and dark side can very well stand on their own, and they would have more impact if presented in a more ‘neutral’ tone. It may just be me, though.

(On the other hand, of course, you can tell that the author feels very strongly about this, and it’s completely understandable!)

Apart from this, I definitely found this book interesting, both for the police work it presented, and for the other aspect of Kenda’s life (his family, how they too had to cope with his career, how the horrors he’s seen affected his whole home, etc.).

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Review: A Man of Shadows

Posted on October 2nd, 2017 @ 20:54
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A Man of Shadows (Nyquist Mystery)A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon

My rating:

Blurb:

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.

Review:

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

Possibly more ‘SFF’ than truly ‘noir’, for the gritty/detective side was second to the mysterious/dusk/visions side; but I like both genres, so that was fine with me. It took me a while to get into the story, though, and I’m not really sure whether it’s because it didn’t fully grip me, or because I was also busy at the time with other books.

The story follows John Nyquist, jaded detective with quite a few dark shades in his past, after both his parents died; hired to find the runaway daughter of powerful businessman Patrick Bale, he stumbles upon more than what he’s signed for, including the daughter’s true heritage, a drug cartel, and the mysterious killer nicknamed ‘Quicksilver’, who offs their victims in the blink of an eye. As any good noir detective, Nyquist can’t leave enough alone, and feels compelled to help the daughter, who he feels has run away for a reason that’s more than just teenage angst.

The setting is definitely interesting, and would even lend itself to more developments, I’d say, considering the two sides (Nocturna vs. Dayside), the mysterious Dusk in-between, the microcosms in each part (like the bulb monkeys in Dayside, always running from one light bulb to the other in a desperate effort to keep the light going), the time-screwing aspect (how can anyone goo on different timelines that keep changing depending on where they go and what they do?), etc.

I felt that there was a lot going on here, especially with part of the plot revolving around characters and events with a foot in all those parts (as in, things like ‘works in Dayside, lives in Nocturna, has ties with Dusk’); but while some of it was shown, I expected more in that regard—and yet, at the same time, there were moments when the world superseded the narrative, making the latter muddled. I’m not sure if the intent was to show Nyquist’s descent into his own time-related problems, or to echo the ‘time drug’ concept, but it made the plot difficult to follow even though it’s not -that- complex.

In the end I couldn’t decide if this was a novel about these different cities or about the characters—I felt that one way or the other, there wasn’t enough to really keep my interest.

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Review: Darkover Landfall

Posted on September 22nd, 2017 @ 23:55
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Darkover Landfall (Darkover, #1)Darkover Landfall by Marion Zimmer Bradley

My rating:

Blurb:

Darkover, a planet of wonder, world of mystery, has been a favourite of science fiction readers for many years. For it is a truly alien sphere – a world of strange intelligences of brooding skies beneath a ruddy sun, and of powers unknown to Earth. In this new novel, Mario Zimmer Bradley tells of the original coming of the Earthmen, of the days when Darkover knew not humanity. This is the full bodied novel of what happened when a colonial starship crashlanded on that uncharted planet to encounter for the first time in human existence the impact of the Ghost Wind, of the psychic currents that were native only to that world, and of the price that every Earthling must pay before Darkover can claim for itself.

Review:

Erf. I’ve started re-reading this series, because I remember how much I loved it when I was a teenager… but damn, I didn’t remember this one was so bad. (Or is it because I sometimes used to like shite as a teenager, and that was part of it?)

The story in itself is not uninteresting, all the more since it’s THE origins book in the Darkover series, but the relationships… especially the way women are viewed and treated… Wow. That was one special level of bad.

 

I can sort of accept a patriarchal society, women being treated as wombs, etc. in the more 'medieval-like' novels of the series, because 1) it fits a certain conception of 'dark ages obscurantism', as cliché as that may be, and 2) as far as I remember, in those books, it was often presented as something that isn't so good: while it does remain infuriating, it's part of the conflict underlying those narratives.

Here, though, in a group of engineers, colonists, space crew, scientists, where men and women have similar levels of skills, with gender equality laws on Earth? Nope. Doesn't sit with me. Especially not as soon as pregnancies enter the picture, and give yet another reason for males (and some women!) to be patronising, chalk every reaction to 'she's pregnant', veer towards gaslighting at times (because obviously, the guys in the story know better than Judy Lovat who's the father of her child), and go spouting crap about how not wanting children is some sort of mental illness. Camilla's arc was particularly painful, because, yes, she is being reduced to a walking womb, what's with the doctor even threatening to sedate her during her pregnancy (actually, it does happen once), like some kind of stupid, ignorant being who needs to be locked for her own good. Empowering much, right?

So basically, you get accidentally pregnant (not through any fault of hers—ghost wind was to blame, same for her partner), while you thought your contraceptive was doing its job, you don't want to have a child, but you're denied an abortion. OK. Not cool. In the context of colonists stranded on a hostile planet, that poses an interesting conundrum (= it's obvious that either they need to spawn as much as possible, or they'll die in one or two generations). However, was it really necessary to lay it in such rude and demeaning ways? The Battlestar Galactica reboot has a similar subplot, but the episode about it was at least treated with much more gravitas and moral ambiguity.

It is also important to note that, no, Camilla didn't sign up for this, so treating her as a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum was inappropriate. Putting it back into context: she's an engineer and programmer, she signed up to be part of the ship's crew during the trip, not to be a colonist meant to help populate a new planet. And even in the event of staying on that colony, it would've been in a society where she would've had a few years to make the decision.

 

 

I have no idea if anyone considers this book as a 'feminist' work, but if you do, please stop. This is not feminist, it's patriarchy at its worst: insidious.

[To be fair, I didn't remember this book as being the best in the series either, nor my favourite at all, so I'm still going to try rereading 2-3 others.]

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Review: Good As You

Posted on September 17th, 2017 @ 21:47
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Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride - 30 Years of Gay BritainGood As You: From Prejudice to Pride – 30 Years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn

My rating:

Blurb:

In 1984 the pulsing electronics and soft vocals of Smalltown Boy would become an anthem uniting gay men. A month later, an aggressive virus, HIV, would be identified and a climate of panic and fear would spread across the nation, marginalising an already ostracised community. Yet, out of this terror would come tenderness and 30 years later, the long road to gay equality would climax with the passing of same sex marriage.

Paul Flynn charts this astonishing pop cultural and societal U-turn via the cultural milestones that effected change—from Manchester’s self-selection as Britain’s gay capital to the real-time romance of Elton John and David Furnish’s eventual marriage. Including candid interviews from major protagonists, such as Kylie, Russell T Davies, Will Young, Holly Johnson and Lord Chris Smith, as well as the relative unknowns crucial to the gay community, we see how an unlikely group of bedfellows fought for equality both front of stage and in the wings.

This is the story of Britain’s brothers, cousins and sons. Sometimes it is the story of their fathers and husbands. It is one of public outrage and personal loss, the (not always legal) highs and the desperate lows, and the final collective victory as gay men were final recognised, as Good As You.

Review:

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

This was a really interesting insight into gay culture in the UK, from the seventies to nowadays: how it shaped itself, the hurdles gay people had to go through, how other people’s views gradually changed…

The book’s chapters follow specific themes, such as TV, AIDS, politics, football or pop music, rather than going in a purely chronological order. This makes for a rather comprehensive view of various areas of British culture, in the light of what being gay more specifically entails. The chapters are also well-segmented, and it’s fairly easy to pick up the book again if for some reason you had to leave it (to go do those pesky things called ‘work’ or ‘sleep’, for instance).

I learnt plenty here: how the introduction of explicitly gay characters in shows like East Enders or Coronation Street was perceived, how their actors were perceived at the time, how it changed with more recent series. Or how specific bands and singers were seen, who became a ‘gay idol’, who remained in the closet, who openly announced it. Or the many people who lost their lives to AIDS—and may not have, if they hadn’t had to remain closeted and more information had been available. Or Clause 28, which I had never heard about until now (not being from the UK probably didn’t help in that regard), and the journey from there to legalising same-sex marriages.

Paul Flynn interviewed quite a few interesting figures within the scope of this book, including Alison (who worked at the Lighthouse, offering end of life comfort to patients dying of AIDS), David Furnish (Elton John’s partner), or football player Robbie Rogers—not being particularly interested in football in general, I admit I somewhat knew that the latter is still a difficult area when it comes to being gay, but I wasn’t sure to which extent.

If anything, I would’ve liked to see more about the AIDS period, and somewhat less about the Kylie Minogue parts, so I guess I’ll have to pick other books for this.

Conclusion: Probably better as an introduction that will give you pointers to what to research in depth, so if you’re already very familiar with the country and period, the book might seem a little simplistic. Otherwise, go ahead.

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