Review: Erased

Posted on July 30th, 2014 @ 15:57
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ErasedErased by Margaret Chatwin

My rating:

Summary:

There’s that moment – you know the moment – when you emerge from sub-consciousness and enter full awareness. Now imagine reaching that moment with a pounding head, throbbing body, hospital ID band around your wrist, and no memory. No idea why you hurt the way you do, or how you got where you are. No clue what your own name is, or who the people next to you are.
I’m seventeen-year-old Ryan Farnsworth, and that’s what happened to me. Now I have to walk a mile in my own, unfamiliar shoes; view myself through the eyes of a perfect stranger; live the life a former me chose. I also need to figure out why that former me tried to kill me.

Review:

(Book read and reviewed for {Read It & Reap 315} in the Shut Up And Read group.)

This is the second book I read by this author, and like the previous one, I found it very easy to get into the story, always wanting to read “just one more chapter” before having to put it down. There was something pretty compelling to the writing, to the way the main character went about his life (though I’d have a hard time explaining how exactly such an effect was achieved).

In any case, I found “Erased” to be an interesting take on the themes of amnesia and, most of all, second chances. Ryan, the main character, is just coming back from a three-month stay in the hospital after a horrible car crash, with barely any memory of his family, his friends, and what his old life used to be. All he knows in the beginning is that his accident was very likely a suicide attempt… but of course, he doesn’t know why he wanted to kill himself, and trying to reclaim his life, in between coping with his body that’s far from done healing, is already hard enough a job as it is.

And this is where things are interesting, because the cracks start quickly showing under an apparently pristine surface, cracks Ryan may or may not have noticed before. Now that he’s more of a watcher, someone who observes the lives of those strangers called “parents” and “brother” and “girlfriend”, he’s also able to see them for what they really are, or at least, for what they might have made him feel before. The teenager he used to be—popular, football star, with plenty of friends and a gorgeous girlfriend—may not have been such a stellar person. Ryan’s brother is clearly hostile, in a justified way that Ryan just can’t understand because, well, he doesn’t remember, all that simply. And then, there’s Paige, the first person Ryan actually makes friends with post-accident, the one he remembers making friends with, which makes a huge difference.

Ryan was given a second chance, one to make things right, or at the very least to realise what was wrong before and not go through the same mistakes again. However, the other thing I really liked in this story was how things seemed very black and white at first, yet always had another edge, depending on whose point of view you relied. For instance, Ryan’s father behaves in a very encouraging way, motivating his son to go through physical therapy, to try and do things by himself (climbing stairs…) and not get caught into remaining physically weakened; Ryan used to be an excellent football player, one who could’ve easily gone to college on a scholarship thanks to that, and his father keeps reminding him of that in order to make him claim back his old life. Only Ryan isn’t so sure anymore he liked football that much, and feels under constant pressure… but he also doesn’t dare tell his father this, caving under this very pressure, when communication could’ve been key here. The same way, both his parents try to help him by throwing a party for him to meet all his family and old friends again, so that he can get reacquainted with them. The result? Ryan feels at unease, overwhelmed, starts to resent their decision—but he doesn’t tell them that meeting those people one by one, gradually, would’ve felt better for him. And Lucas, well, Lucas appears like an asshole to Ryan, for sure. However, his attitude made me wonder: how would I react if someone who had treated me badly for all my life suddenly waltzed back in without any memory, any regret of what s/he did to me? Lucas’s position was one of terrible pent-up frustration with no real outlet, in fact.

Nobody’s perfect here, people keep making mistakes, trying to clutch at memories, at a former life that won’t come back, or not the way it used to be. I thought it was an interesting take on this theme of how to live with amnesia, how to find oneself, and also how good intentions can quickly become hurdles, because nobody’s really equipped to react “the right way” to such trials. There isn’t even a “right way” at all in my opinion.

On the downside, the copy I got could’ve done with another round of edits. I found several typos, mistakes and formatting errors that became annoying after a while. I don’t know if it was my file only, though, or if other editions have the same problem. (It wouldn’t be the first time a file reads oddly on my phone, but not on another tablet. I’ve had it happen regularly with galleys, among other things.)

Then I was torn regarding my feelings about Ryan’s relationships with Paige. What I found more important here was the way things changed between Ryan and Lucas, whether such loathe between brothers could be mended or not, and this was a very moving and beautiful story to read. On the other hand, I felt Paige to be somewhat… just there. As a friend, she was all right; as a love interest, I was never sure if this was a good choice, if it was really that useful. I also wondered about a few other characters in the book, a few other relationships that could’ve been explored deeper (Ryan and his mother, or some of his former friends, mostly): I expected Ryan to pay more attention to those, whether it was to try and get his memories back or to understand better what kind of person he was before and what kind of things he did.

Overall, I’m giving this story 3.5 stars. I’m rounding it to 4 here because, in spite of its shortcomings, I really liked seeing how Ryan discovered the boy he was before, struggled with the idea, yet still tried to get past it and become a better person by learning from his former self. Basically, he had to function differently (if only because he couldn’t rely on even simple physical actions like keeping his balance), and I think he went through this in believable ways, including bouts of depression, of denial, but also of acceptance and will to become a new person, a self he could look in the face without being ashamed.

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Review: Horrorstör

Posted on July 29th, 2014 @ 23:35
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HorrorstörHorrorstör by Grady Hendrix

My rating:

Summary:

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Columbus, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring wardrobes, shattered Brooka glassware, and vandalized Liripip sofa beds clearly, someone or something is up to no good.

To unravel the mystery, five young employees volunteer for a long dusk-till-dawn shift—and they encounter horrors that defy imagination. Along the way, author Grady Hendrix infuses sly social commentary on the nature of work in the new twenty-firstcentury economy.

A traditional haunted house story in a contemporary setting (and full of current fears), Horrorstör comes conveniently packaged in the form of a retail catalog, complete with illustrations of ready-to-assemble furniture and other, more sinister accessories. We promise you’ve never seen anything quite like it!

Review:

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

3.5 stars. An interesting enough blend, in my opinion, of an IKEA/retail parody coupled with horror/ghost stories elements, though after a while, I wished said blend had been more balanced (hence my rating: I would have liked this book more if it had been the case, I think).

It plays on several tropes typical of the genre (people isolated in a haunted place, with dangerous things happening as soon as they’re separated, etc.), while also offering tongue-in-cheek criticism of large retail stores practices. One thing I really liked, both as a reader and as a graphic-designer, was that the book itself reads like an IKEA catalogue, complete with square format, furniture illustrations, pseudo-Swedish names. Those schemas also gradually shift from innocent-looking retail items to contraptions and devices that appear in the real horror part, and the change was subtle enough to make me at unease without realising, for a few seconds, what was actually wrong.

The characters weren’t too likeable in the beginning, in a cardboard-cut way, but some of them I started to appreciate after a while, and they displayed growth as well: nobody could get out unchanged from such an experience, after all, and the changes seemed to me both traumatising as well as positive.

Oddly enough, or maybe not, the serious horror part didn’t really cut it for me. It was definitely creepy, with vivid descriptions, and definitely fit what I’d expected from a horror story. In fact, I’m of a mind to dub it “Silent Hill meets IKEA”, in that the places the characters are trapped in aren’t merely frightening: they also toy with their psyches. However, I realised I missed the funnier tone from earlier chapters. The book cover made me expect more satire, and so, in the end, I felt a little disappointed in that regard.

Nevertheless, I’d recommend this story. It was entertaining, had its really scary parts, and its ending provides a conclusion to the night’s events while still leaving room for enough speculation—not a cliffhanger, but reader’s imagination, which is something I always appreciate.

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Review: The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2

Posted on July 28th, 2014 @ 22:03
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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 by Gordon Van Gelder

My rating:

Summary:

Fantasy & Science Fiction continues to showcase some of the most famous authors writing in any genre. The magazine jumpstarted the careers of bestselling authors such as Roger Zelazny, Bruce Sterling, and Jane Yolen and continues to champion bold new crossover talents including Paolo Bacigalupi and Ken Liu.

Now drawing upon F&SF’s impressive history of classic and contemporary tales, this extraordinary companion anthology revisits and expands upon sixty-five years’ worth of top-notch fiction. These broad-ranging, award-winning tales appeal to readers of genre fiction and beyond, exploring alternate history, time travel, urban fantasy, virtual reality, modern myth, horror, interstellar travel, epic fantasy, mystery, and space opera.

Review:

(I got a copy of this book from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 stars for this collection of 27 stories, some of which are funny and grotesque, some others dark and disturbing.

Strangely, I didn’t feel that much of a connection with a lot of those. Maybe I’ve become picky after a few disappointing experiences with anthologies recently, or maybe I tend to expect more definite endings; I regularly got the feeling that this or that story was interesting (because of its theme and/or the questions it raised), but without going as far as I thought it should go, considering that I expected “the best”, yet felt I got “good only”. It’s definitely strange, indeed, since I wouldn’t say those texts are bad. Objectively, there’s a lot of creativity in here, lots of different concepts, lots of exploring, which all represent a variety of stages in the history of speculative fiction. Subjectively, they just didn’t touch me the way I thought they would.

My favourites:

* Maneki Neko: I really like the idea of a network linking people, everybody being a link in the large picture chain without knowing what it’s going to end in, but performing acts (of kindness, but also totally random sometimes) for strangers. It would almost seem of the conspiratorial kind… but it could also be seen as another way of living, with the awareness that whatever you do for others, someday a stranger will do something good for you as well.

* The People of Sand and Slag: An exploration in what being human entails, once technology/biotech have gone so far that human beings can regrow limbs, live on basically dirt if they need to, and have lost part of what make us who we currently are.

* The Paper Menagerie: Bittersweet and touching, a tale of magic and love gone misunderstood until it’s much too late for the protagonist to do anything about it.

* The Anything Box: An interesting reflection of people’s (especially children’s) ability to dream, and how this ability can be so easy to crush by other people who think they know so much better than you. After I read it, I was all the more determined to never let anything destroy my soul.

* The Prize of Peril: Probably not as original today as it was when it was first published, but as far as reality TV goes, it definitely felt “right”. The Good Samaritans, the people helping the protagonist, aren’t so good as willing to see danger pop up here and there for as long as possible. Very ambiguous.

Not so favourites, though still intriguing:

* The Bone Woman, as a tale of second chances and dreams given to those who’ve lost everything.

* The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates, for its blend of haunting longing and trying to fit into a new life.

* Winemaster: An exploration of microcosms on different scales, how they may be perceived, and where people would draw the line at, well, “people” and “not-people anymore.”

* The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything: Pretty amusing. I somehow expected the ending, yet it still made me chuckle no matter what.

* The Third Level: Here, too, I could somewhat sense the twist coming. However, it was one of those stories where it just doesn’t matter: you see it coming, you want it to come, and it’s really satisfying.

Overall, it is a pretty satisfying collection, and makes for an appropriate introduction to lots of different types of SF/F stories, especially for readers who’re not very familiar with what those genres at large have to offer. My “problem” with it is mostly personal, a matter of feeling, rather than of actual literary worth. Sometimes, it just happens…

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Review: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars : Verily, A New Hope

Posted on July 24th, 2014 @ 22:20
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William Shakespeare's Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher

My rating:

Summary:

Inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in the English language—and William Shakespeare—here is an officially licensed retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations—William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

Review:

(I’ve had my sights on this book for quite a while. When I saw it up on Edelweiss, I promptly requested a digital copy, and was pretty glad I was approved quickly. All this in exchange for an honest review, of course.)

I must confess I’m a long-time Shakespeare addict. I sure don’t find all his works wonderful, I have my favourites and my not-so-favourites, and sometimes I take it more in jest than in earnest, but we’re nevertheless speaking here of someone who recognises her iambic pentameters when she sees them, and who can still quote most of Edmund’s speeches even five years after studying King Lear. I am, simply put, totally biased, and not ashamed of it the least bit.

I’m also an old Star Wars nerd. Seriously. I stopped counting a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) how many times I watched the original triolgy—both the first version and the remastered one. Also, know that I drive to the tune of Darth Vader’s voice giving me directions whenever I turn my GPS on.

Simply put, as I was reading this play, I kept thinking: “My, actually staging it would be great, and I’d probably be ready to do it, even though I have no experience whatsoever in theatrics”.

I also couldn’t help but find traces of Joseph Campbell in there, which the afterword confirmed, and which isn’t surprising at all. Shakespeare’s plays rest on a lot of classical archetypes, and George Lucas’s do as well, considering his own contacts with Campbell’s works. (Have I ever said I deeply admire the latter?)

This book contains a lot of things I loved:
* Hints at scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, including Luke delivering a “poor Yorick” soliloquy while contemplating the helmet of the Stormtrooper whose armour he stole.
* Proper use of “wherefore” (honestly, you have no idea how good it is to find an author who doesn’t mistake it for “where”).
* Hilarious asides from R2D2, whose bleeping and various other noises are only a cover for real thoughts. Pretty much like the typical Fool, in fact.
* Tongue-in-cheek quips at the movies:

HAN: Aye, true, I’ll warrant thou hast wish’d this day.
[They shoot, Greedo dies.
[To innkeeper:] Pray, goodly Sir, forgive me for the mess.
[Aside:] And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!

* Leaning on, or even breaking the fourth wall, and addressing the audience, much like in the original plays.
* Strong attempts at respecting the movie’s lines:

VADER I find thy lack of faith disturbing

or

LEIA Thou truly art in jest. Art thou not small
Of stature, if thou art a stormtrooper?

* Actual stage directions—probably one of the reasons why I felt this could very well be staged.
* Iambic pentameters. I checked. I counted. They’re not so easy to pull.
* Illustrations in the shape of etchings featuring Star Wars characters with their normal looks combined to some late Elizabethan fashion elements.

I was less at ease with the fifth act, though, and I think it was mainly because the Star Wars scene is a space battle, yet trying to conform to stage directions led to a lot of talking and describing actions. The attempt didn’t work so well as it did in other parts of the book. I also questioned how the book may be perceived if read by someone who doesn’t appreciate both SW and Shakespeare: I’m not convinced it would make a good introduction to either of those. One definitely needs to be acquainted with both to start appreciating it.

Overall: a few things I didn’t like, but that never hampered my enjoyment of the book. I found it cleverly executed, as well as both a fun read and one that made me try and match scenes/quotes from the movies with their potential parallels in Shakespeare’s plays. 4.5 stars.

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Review: Tabula Rasa

Posted on July 23rd, 2014 @ 10:09
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Tabula RasaTabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin

My rating:

Summary:

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this action-packed debut thriller with a Katniss-esque heroine fighting to regain her memories and stay alive, set against a dystopian hospital background.

Sarah starts a crazy battle for her life within the walls of her hospital-turned-prison when a procedure to eliminate her memory goes awry and she starts to remember snatches of her past. Was she an urban terrorist or vigilante? Has the procedure been her salvation or her destruction?

The answers lie trapped within her mind. To access them, she’ll need the help of the teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, and a pill that’s blocked by an army of mercenary soldiers poised to eliminate her for good. If only she knew why . . .

Review:

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

Good idea and interesting beginning, but the second third kind of dragged in my opinion, and the ending was, well, wrapped up in a trope that made me really roll my eyes.

I liked the premise of PTSD victims being given a second chance (whether “true” victims or perpetrators) by having their memory removed—or at least, all the memories pertaining the trauma and/or crime. And in the beginning, nothing is certain as far as Sarah, the narrator, is concerned: was she so psychologically damaged and abused that she couldn’t function even with normal treatments? Or was she some hardboiled criminal, considering how despised she was by some of the hospital’s personnel? I thought the ambiguity was well-played here, because both reactions were present: nice doctors and nurses making small talk with her, while others would scowl and prevent her from having contact with other patients. Her skills, too, were ambiguous: they could be those of a burglar just as well as those of an acrobat, after all.

However, I found the pacing after that rather problematic, being a blend of action scenes interspersed with slow moments in which info was dumped and nothing really interesting happened. The mandatory YA romance subplot felt boring, too, and as is too often the case didn’t bring anything to the story. On the one hand, I get that it was part of Sarah’s development and return to her true self, something to make her feel like fighting and not give upt, but… on the other hand, does a person in such a situation really need some love interest to do that? Why did it have to be romance? One that sprang in a couple of days or so, no more. I don’t dislike romance plots; however, most of the time, they’re not really useful, and are of the marketing ploy kind, “because romance sells”, instead of being fully part of the story. Here, that was exactly my impression. Budding love? Sure. Full-blown romance with “I love you” and feelings that the person is/was The One, in less than 72 hours? Doesn’t work for me. In this type of setting, survival is key, and professing love just like that was kind of cheesy anyway.

Some of the plot points were fairly predictable, along with conveniently placed flashbacks and special snowflake syndrome (after a while). Add to this a few mind-boggling moments, such as soldiers not even taking someone’s pulse to see if that person’s indeed dead (huh?). Also, I didn’t like the ending—more specifically, the part where the Big Bad nicely explains what the plan was all about. I want explanations, of course, only I prefer them to be shown to me, not unveiled in a gloating villain speech. It’s been done too often for it to work, not to mention that the villain’s motives were… too basic.

On the bright side, somehow I still managed to like Sarah and Thomas. They had a “no bullshit” streak, in that they planned to get things done and acted on those plans, and didn’t mope around while being useless. I’m tired of heroines who don’t get anything done themselves, and Sarah was all but that. Which is why I’m leaning towards 1.5/2 stars here.

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