Review: The Glittering Court

Posted on August 29th, 2016 @ 22:56
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The Glittering Court (The Glittering Court, #1)The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

My rating:

Blurb:

Big and sweeping, spanning from the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, “The Glittering Court” tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.

Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies who appear destined for powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training, and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court.

When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and then when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor.

But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands…

Review:

(I got a copy through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.)

This one… Well. Part of the plot was interesting, in that it offered an opening on the stories of three young women who may or may not be able to create a life for themselves… yet other plot points were a bit dumb, to say the least. Or worse.

First, the good: in spite of the whole Glittering Court premise (taking common-born girls and educating them to make them noble-looking wife material), the three main girl characters had motivations of their own to join that “school”. For Mira the refugee, without many prospects in Osfrid, joining the ‘Court is a way to try and make another kind of life for herself: she’s getting an education, she’s leaving for the “New World”, and even though it’s basically to snatch a husband, she hopes she’ll find another opportunity during that time she’s bought for herself. For Tamsin, it’s also an opportunity, one to rise in a world that otherwise will keep her poor at beast, and possibly forced to do darker deeds at worst (it’s never clearly said—I suppose it will be revealed in book 3—but I’m positive she’d under some kind of threat, and being the best student, getting the best husband in the lot, is the only solution for her to, paradoxically, free herself). For “Adelaide”, it’s about reaching for the unknown, because the known is going to be a prison of its own, and she’s so trapped she’s ready to do anything to escape, including something dumb (more about this below).

There’s also a whole Frontier/New World dynamic that goes past the initial, slightly insipid “let’s learn fashion and manners and wear nice dresses” idea. I probably wouldn’t have lasted through 400 pages of seeing the girls learn to act like proper ladies—or if it had been about that, I would’ve needed much more intrigue thrown in the middle to keep myself busy—so the parts where the girls are in the New World

On the downside… Adelaide’s motives were incredibly dumb and made no sense: facing the prospect of an arranged marriage with an insufferable man and his over-controlling grandmother, she uses the Court as an opportunity to run away… yet the whole thing is dumb because the Court is precisely what she tries to avoid, with perhaps a few more potential choices for a future husband, but that’s all. Basically, it’s still about getting married (sold), and going through the motions to attract a man’s (buyer’s) eye, and without much choice in the end, because if she doesn’t fetch enough of a price, or if she refuses to marry, she has to work (in bad conditions) to buy back her contract. I think I would’ve enjoyed her “deciding to create her own fate” idea much, much better if she had joined a band of highwaymen, or whatever else. Like marrying the first guy, taking his money, then arranging for the controlling grandma to fall down the stairs. For instance.

Unsurprisingly, I was also much unfazed when it came to the romance. The love interest is a nice guy all around, and a decent person, and definitely not the worst choice of partner, for sure. However, he remained bland, without much personality—and that’s really too bad, since it enforces the stereotype that “nice guys aren’t interesting”, which may become in turn “the only good romance must be with a bad guy”. (Not necessarily what happens in this novel, it’s just the way I perceived it: if the good guys aren’t made interesting enough, people are going to look to the less savory ones… won’t they?)

I feel that overall, this “dull” side to the main male character also expanded to the story as a whole. There are quite a few things happening, sea storms, rumours of pirates, a scheming noble, adventure/being pioneers in a faraway colony, some revenge plot (that everybody save for the MCs would’ve seen coming through the thickest fog on the darkest night ever), and yet I was never excited by what the girls went through. I still don’t understand how it came that events sometimes piled upon each other too quickly, to the point of being wrapped up a little too neatly at the end through a series of coincidences, making it look like so much was happening… and at the same time remained dull and without much of an actual plot. And hinting all the way at the two other girls’ secrets, and never revealing what they are. Argh.

The setting didn’t help: basically a Regency/Victorian Europe (=Osfrid) vs. a New World (=Adoria) with budding colonies, including “Alanzan heretics” looking for a place to worship in peace (=Protestants/Puritans), only the “natives” aren’t Native Americans but some sort of Celt-looking people. Anyway, it was much too close to our world’s history to be really original, and not very developed, resting on this “closeness”, therefore adding to the feeling of a cardboard backdrop. Moreover, it was problematic when it comes to the whole colonisation/”civilised men vs. savages” aspect, because it doesn’t stray from any colonial vision, first by sort of trying to make the whole Glittering Court look glamorous when it’s not (it’s not slavery, granted, but still a form of indenture with selling oneself to a man the only outcome), then by demeaning the “natives”. I kept hoping that there’d be some different undertones here, something to undermine the racist outlook on this, yet if there was, I couldn’t feel it.

So. Meh. 1.5 stars.

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Review: The Vengeful Half

Posted on August 22nd, 2016 @ 22:58
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The Vengeful HalfThe Vengeful Half by Jaclyn Dolamore

My rating:

Blurb:

Olivia might look human, but she’s grown up with a heavy secret: her mother is a potion-maker from a parallel world, the Hidden Lands.

Alfred is the blind, charismatic young heir to the illegal potions trade. When Mom is kidnapped by the magic dealers with whom she once made a bad bargain, Olivia has no choice but to trust Alfred’s offer of help. They travel to a strange new world of bootlegged American pop culture, lifelike doll people, and reincarnation. Alfred finds himself putting his position on the line to defend Olivia against his family’s conniving plans. Maybe he has morals…or maybe he’s just falling in love.

When Olivia escapes from an attack by a curiously familiar sorceress, she learns that potion dealers weren’t the only thing Mom was hiding from. Dark secrets lurk in Olivia’s past, and now Olivia must kill or be killed by the girl with whom she once shared everything…

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

This is one of those overdue reviews, since I’ve had this book on my tablet for quite a while. I remember requesting it partly because of its cover (the paperback one — by comparison, the Kindle cover on Amazon is pretty bland), which seemed quite ominous to me. What can I say, I’m weak when faced with a certain type of cover.

The plot was intriguing, for sure. A hidden world full of family secrets, alliances to be had, strange magic (the doll people and the potions), ancient feuds, revelations aplenty, and a hidden enemy who’s been bidding her time and is now bent on getting what she wants: possibly revenge… or something else? There’s almost too much going on at times. At first I thought it would be more a quest-like story, with Olivia going after her mother and braving danger to save her. It didn’t turn out like that, but that was alright, the kind of plot and intrigue it led to was pretty fine with me as well.

The characters: we have that girl, Olivia, who knows she’s from another world/civilisation, without having been brought up in it, which leaves room for showing this land to the reader, without necessarily having to explain *all* of it, since Olivia already knows part of it and we can dispense with. We have Alfred, rich heir and future boss to a crime family, who’s blind almost since birth and goes his way without whining about this—he’s used to it, he has trouble with some things but has found ways to cope. Alfred also has to constantly remind other people that he can do, not everything but a lot of things: a conundrum close, I think, to quite a few double standards going around disabled people (pitied and treated like children almost, or blamed for “not making enough efforts” by many, instead of being considered as human beings first and foremost…). There’s also Thessia, Alfred’s fiancée, who could have been a nasty bitch and/or a jealous whiner, especially since she fits the too-beautiful-to-be-true girl, and turns out to be an idealist, an activist, and, well, a fairly decent person to be around, even though she has her downside (Atlantean rich society seems to be hell-bent on having its girls marry rich heirs, and gods forbid they want to have a career of their own…).

So, all in all, a lot of interesting things here. Unfortunately, a lot more annoyed me, causing me not to enjoy this story in the end.

From the start, something kept nagging at me, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. At some point, the author mentioned when the story originated (more about that later), back when she was still a child or teenager; I think this was what I “felt” about it, for having gone myself through the same conundrum of taking a story I first created when I was 12 or so, and trying to trim it and make it something worth reading. This was something I found extremely hard to do, because what we perceive as wonderful plot twists and concepts when we’re younger aren’t necessarily good things to leave as is… yet “upgrading” them is easier said than done. And so, I had that strange feeling that I was reading something I might have written when I was younger, and my reaction to it was a little similar. It’s hard to explain. I could sum it up with “this feels like a very early work, and it needs more editing.”

Another thing that bothered me, when it comes to this theme of parallel/hidden worlds, is how close to ours the latter was, when a parallel world could pave the way to so many other things. Let me develop a bit more by giving a personal example: I grew up in France, with a lot of dubbed TV shows originating from the USA, and at the time I had that fascination for the USA. If I wrote a story, I set it in some imaginary US town. Not my home country, no, it wasn’t “good enough”: it had to be like the USA, feel like the USA, whatever. Obviously it didn’t occur to me at the time that Stephen King, for instance, set his stories in his country because that’s what he knew, and that I was under the impression everything was better there only because I hadn’t been exposed to shows from other countries. (Bear with me, I was 12-something.) And somehow, the way Atlantis people lived reminded me of this: their world felt like it hadn’t been so much evolving as trying to mimic Earth’s, and more specifically, well, you guess it. “Everything’s better if it looks like our world.” Kind of like being promised a walk in quaint little streets with exotic market stalls, and finding yourself in a mall instead—Atlanteans driving Ferraris didn’t exactly impress me. I’d stand with Olivia on that one, who was expecting a high fantasy world at first and found a place with chocolate and soda cans instead.

(To be fair, though, all this might still hold more appeal to a teenage audience than it did to me: I also remember thinking “those are plot devices/themes I would’ve used myself, since I loved them, when I was in my teens.” I had that thing going for telepathy and psychic powers in general, and parallel worlds, and “aliens/people with powers coming from those worlds to live hidden on Earth”. I seriously doubt I was the only one.)

Third annoying bit: the somewhat sexist, somewhat dismissive way a few characters tended to act. Alfred disappointed me towards the end when it came to Thessia (pretty assholish move to make if you ask me, and then she’s left to go away with the equivalent of “kthxbye see ya later, ah women, they always need some time to calm down huh”). Or what I mentioned above regarding heiresses only good enough to marry—any female character with a position/job of her own seemed to be either a villain or a reject/castaway/fugitive, as if no “proper woman” could hold her own. Although was pointed as backwards thinking, I felt a dichotomy, a certain hypocrisy in how it was mentioned, yet the people mentioning it still kept buying into the patriarchal model nonetheless.

Fourth: so many tropes. So, so many. You’ve got it all: pretty boy with a beautiful fiancée against which the main character feels so plain (but still becomes a love interest fairly quickly); people who were supposed to be dead but aren’t; telepathy/psychic powers being used and thrown in in vague descriptions, solving things a little too easily at times; mandatory love triangle; elite school in which talking to The Wrong Person will turn you into a black sheep, instantly, just add water. It felt like a soap opera at times, and since I’m not particularly keen on those, it didn’t help.

On the fence: the drawings, comic strips and short inserts. I didn’t care about the style, but I can certainly understand the appeal, and who would fault an author for including those and being enthusiastic about it? Not me! However, I think they disrupted the flow of the story in some cases, either by revealing too much about the characters at that specific point or by just being there in the middle (did we really need pictures of the various soda brands?). More annoying though were the written inserts: in between two chapters, we get a bit (twice!) about how the story was born. Not uninteresting, yet… this could and should be put at the end, otherwise it’s either disruptive or meant to be skipped, which would defeat the whole point.

Conclusion: could’ve been for me, but… nope, sorry.

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Review: The Drosten’s Curse

Posted on August 18th, 2016 @ 21:36
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Doctor Who: The Drosten's CurseDoctor Who: The Drosten’s Curse by A.L. Kennedy

My rating:

Blurb:

“I shall make you the jewel at the heart of the universe.”
 
Something distinctly odd is going on in Arbroath. It could be to do with golfers being dragged down into the bunkers at the Fetch Brothers’ Golf Spa Hotel, never to be seen again. It might be related to the strange twin grandchildren of the equally strange Mrs Fetch–owner of the hotel and fascinated with octopuses. It could be the fact that people in the surrounding area suddenly know what others are thinking, without anyone saying a word.
 
Whatever it is, the Doctor is most at home when faced with the distinctly odd. With the help of Fetch Brothers’ Junior Receptionist Bryony, he’ll get to the bottom of things. Just so long as he does so in time to save Bryony from quite literally losing her mind, and the entire world from destruction.
 
Because something huge, ancient and alien lies hidden beneath the ground and it’s starting to wake up…

Review:

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

I was supposed to read this one for a RL book club, and it wasn’t available at any of the local libraries, but then I saw it on Edelweiss, and got approved. So here we go.

Unfortunately for this poor book, I didn’t like it: while it did deal with interesting and challenging themes, the plot was much too muddled, regularly losing itself in ramblings that didn’t really contribute to developing the characters, and made it rather difficult to keep on reading. In terms of style, this definitely reminded me of most of the (few) fanfiction stories I read, in that it felt “unedited”, with everything left in there because the author didn’t know what to cut out of the narrative, or didn’t want to do it. I think that was mostly the problem. Clipping here and there would’ve done this novel a lot of good, by allowing it to focus on what really mattered.

I won’t comment on whether it’s faithful to the character of the Fourth Doctor as played by Tom Baker: I don’t know the “old” series except through a couple of the very first episodes, and I wouldn’t be able to judge on anything else here than the physical appearance of the Doctor (which seemed to be conform to the photos I’ve seen). I wasn’t convinced by the parts told from his point of view, but that’s because, to me, we’re not supposed to know exactly what he thinks—he seemed to close to a human character, when he should feel a little more “alien” in some ways, at least.

The other characters weren’t particularly well-developed, which is all the more troubling considering the length of the novel. Putta had a fun underdog strike going for him, but I felt his personality was more brushed-over than exploited like it could’ve been, with the more serious sides it started to show. Bryony… to be honest, I didn’t really care: so the Doctor finds her brilliant and plucky and all, but she seemed more a plot device, a token character, especially with the little we know about her (being a History major and so on—barely relevant since it wasn’t used except for one scene when she imagines she’s that renowned professor going to conferences). Strangely enough, the twins were more tangible, being always here in the background, always watching.

As for the story itself, as said: good themes, with a definite creepy factor, yet unfortunately poorly executed. 1 star.

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Review: The Hypnotic City

Posted on August 17th, 2016 @ 10:57
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The Hypnotic City (The Gold and Gaslight Chronicles Book 2)The Hypnotic City by Andrea Berthot

My rating:

Blurb:

Philomena Blackwell survived a city plagued with monsters, the gilded cage of high society, and the rule of a heartless man… and she aims to leave it all behind.

It’s 1905, and London has finally been freed from Henry Jekyll’s terrible legacy – its people cured, its thirteen-year quarantine lifted. The world is waiting, and for a girl who dreams of being its most dazzling star, what could be more enticing than the bright lights of New York City?

She is drawn across the ocean like a moth to a flame, her heart set on proving that while she may be small on the outside, her soaring talent eclipses even Manhattan’s towering skyline. When she lands a big break, it seems as if the city is ready to fall under her spell – just as she seems to be falling for a handsome young stage manager. But is it her stage presence mesmerizing the audience, or something more sinister behind the scenes?

Philomena has always relied on her fierce will and fiery heart, but a new and more terrible danger lurks in the shadows of Broadway’s bright lights, and even a mind as determined as hers may not be immune to its seductive, insidious pull…

Review:

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.]

Although this sequel to “The Heartless City” is more of a standalone, I’d still recommend reading the first novel, as it will make understanding Philomena (and her relationship with her friends) better.

Philomena herself is a character I liked a lot in the previous book. As a young woman, almost a girl still, who grew up in an infested London and a slave of her household, just good enough to be married and have children as soon as she’d be of age, she could have been just any old secondary character, but let not her diminutive stature fool you: there’s fire and heart and willpower underneath. Disowned by her family, she goes to New York to fulfil her dream of becoming a singer on the Broadway scene. There starts the story of “The Hypnotic City”.

I must admit I remained torn throughout my reading, because of the “rags to riches” aspect—it was hard for me to decide if it was too cliché to my liking, or if it provided, on the contrary, a nice mise en abyme to Tom Casey’s shows: they’re described as “ridiculous and inane” by Jamie, stories where a working girl discovers she’s actually from a noble background and gets to embrace her legacy while also finding love… and this runs parallel to what happens to Philomena, except that she knows she’s of noble birth, but hides it, since people are always scared of her whenever she mentions coming from London. I tend to be on the fence regarding such plots, and there are quite a few clichés as well in this one: the letters that never arrive. Still, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that was totally on purpose, the author going all “sod it, I like those tropes, so I’m going to use them”, and not something done to fit a stereotype just because “some people love it”. I cannot fault that, and any reader who enjoys this kind of story is very likely to enjoy this one more than I did. (Which isn’t to say I didn’t—it’s just not my favourite kind of plot, if that makes sense.)

One really good thing here, regarding this “sterotypical plot”, is the feeling of unease permeating it. Perhaps because I already knew what Philomena had been through, perhaps because I expected “something” to happen at some point, but also because, under all the glitter and budding-singer-becomes-a-star glitz, I could sense that something was amiss. And I’d say the characters feel it too, especially Jamie, who may speak out of jealousy or contempt, yet nevertheless puts a finger on a few strange things in the process.

Another good thing is that the heroine is not a passive, helpless creature who lets events unfold around her; she tries to seize chances (going to auditions…) when she can, and she asserts her will (when a man boos her at her first show, she improvises and ends up impressing the audience). Phil knows what she wants, and is ready to fight for it, even though there are moments when she feels defeated. Yet this is also part of what “being a strong character” entails: it doesn’t mean being strong all the time, nor doing everything alone, it also means being able to acknowledge when you need help, and get it, and then win. Sort of.

The romance part was alright (I know, I know, I’m really a tough audience in terms of romance). Philomena’s love interest definitely had flaws, which made him human (and that’s good), but those flaws weren’t a deal breaker for me, unlike all these brooding-assholish “I’m so dangerous so don’t come near me characters”, and he was a decent person all around, who respected Phil’s personality.

The other guy was revolting, to say the least. I hated reading about him—and that is an extremely good thing, since eliciting feelings in a reader isn’t so easily done, at least not when I am concerned. When an author conveys how despicable a character is, in a manner that makes me feel like strangling said character with their own guts, well, that author has done something right.

I do believe the story could and should have been longer, though. As it is, a lot of screen time, so to speak, was devoted to the “rags to riches” part, and by contrast the resolution came too quickly. We barely get to see anything of Iris, Elliot and the others, when their role was important and would have deserved more, without necessarily detracting from Phil’s status as the main character. As it is, it seemed as if the main story was all told already, and that the mysterious/conspiracy part of the plot had to be dealt with because a resolution was expected, yet without being really convinced about it. Had this part been more developed, it’d have been a 4-stars for me.

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Review: Malus Domestica

Posted on August 14th, 2016 @ 21:43
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Malus DomesticaMalus Domestica by S.A. Hunt

My rating:

Blurb:

Kids are going missing in the tiny hamlet of Blackfield, Georgia, and nobody knows why except for Robin, the homeless young woman that just rolled into town last night.

When she claims she knows who’s responsible, only 4th-grader Wayne Parkin and his schoolmates Pete, Amanda, and Juan believe her…but it takes a terrifying encounter with an interdimensional creature to spur them into action.

Robin proves to be a formidable monster-hunter with strange supernatural powers, but a tragic setback reveals a secret organization and a centuries-old conspiracy.

Can new friends and old enemies band together to save Blackfield from an unspeakable darkness?

Review:

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

1.5-2 stars. I liked the ideas at this novel’s core, but ultimately I had a hard time getting into it, and had to force myself to go on reading. I guess this was a matter of rhythm, and of some clichés that didn’t sit too well with me.

The premise: young witch hunter Robin Martine has been travelling through the USA, filming her tracking and fighting witches (women who sacrificed their heart to goddess Ereshkigal in exchange for powers and a longer existence). She puts her videos on her YouTube channel, followed by thousands of people who don’t realise this is no special effects, but reality. After years spent training and hunting, Robin comes back to her home town, to get rid of the witches who killed her mother; along the way, she gathers quite a little posse of various characters who’ll help in that quest.

As said, the ideas themselves were fine. The YouTube channel? Why not: surely being anonymous would be a better choice, but there’s a certain appeal to the “hide in plain sight” theory. The various secondary characters formed a pretty diverse cast— a veteran turned artist, a kid and his father, a gay childhood friend and his brother owner of a comics shop… There’s a creepy house, existing on two different levels (I love that kind of atmosphere, those “parallel nightmarish worlds” layered over the normal world). A ruthless killer. Cats who’re more than cats. The stifling surroundings of a small town where just about anyone can be a spy of the witches. And so on.

The problem with the characters, though, were that in spite of their diversity, they were also a bunch of clichés, and not very developed as individuals. Kenway had his own background story and issues, but Leon’s bereavement for instance was just touched upon, and he wasn’t more than “Wayne’s father” in the end. Same with Joel, who felt like a potential sidekick but also like a gay butt-monkey of sorts. These side-stories both took too much room, in a way, while at the same time just being here, instead of being fully exploited (“while we’re here, we might as well…”).

I was hoping to see more of the witches and the killer working for them. While they did create a predicament for the “heroes”, I kept thinking they could and should have done more, been more frightening, brought even more weirdness into the story.

The writing itself was alright (although I found it weird when onomatopoeias were inserted—don’t ask me why I’m sensitive to that). Even though I mentioned having trouble getting back to the book every time I stopped, it wasn’t because of the style.

Really, it’s too bad I didn’t like it more. This book could’ve been right up my alley, but didn’t work for me in the end.

Enregistrer

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