Review: The Library of Light and Shadow

Posted on November 14th, 2017 @ 23:15
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The Library of Light and Shadow (Daughters of La Lune #3)The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

My rating:

Blurb:

In the wake of a dark and brutal World War, the glitz and glamour of 1925 Manhattan shine like a beacon for the high society set, desperate to keep their gaze firmly fixed to the future. But Delphine Duplessi sees more than most. At a time in her career when she could easily be unknown and penniless, like so many of her classmates from L’École des Beaux Arts, in America she has gained notoriety for her stunning “shadow portraits” that frequently expose her subjects’ most scandalous secrets. Most nights Delphine doesn’t mind that her gift has become mere entertainment—a party trick—for the fashionable crowd.

Then, on a snowy night in February, in a penthouse high above Fifth Avenue, Delphine’s mystical talent leads to a tragedy between two brothers. Devastated and disconsolate, Delphine renounces her gift and returns to her old life in the south of France where Picasso, Matisse, and the Fitzgeralds are summering. There, Delphine is thrust into recapturing the past. First by her charismatic twin brother and business manager Sebastian who attempts to cajole her back to work and into co-dependence, then by the world famous opera singer Emma Calvé, who is obsessed with the writings of the fourteenth-century alchemist Nicolas Flamel. And finally by her ex-lover Mathieu, who is determined to lure her back into his arms, unaware of the danger that led Delphine to flee Paris for New York five years before.

Trapped in an ancient chateau where hidden knowledge lurks in the shadows, Delphine questions everything and everyone she loves the most—her art, her magick, her family, and Mathieu—in an effort to accept them as the gifts they are. Only there can she shed her fear of loving and living with her eyes wide open.

Review:

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

When I requested this novel, I hadn’t realised it was the third instalment in a series; however, it turned out you can read it even without having read the previous ones, since the narrator does summarise well enough what her family is about, and that’s what you mostly need to know as far as background is concerned.

I liked the premise—Delphine’s gift and how it can turn out badly, the family with witchcraft gifts… I also liked how most characters felt like they had a life of their own: they definitely weren’t just plot devices, but had relationships, past experiences (sometimes together, sometimes not), and generally breathed and lived.

A lot of descriptions, too, were vivid, and allowed me to picture the places and scenes quite clearly. I’m definitely not sure about all of the fine details, though (avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt in Paris in 1920… uhm, it was avenue Victor-Emmanuel III, but even without knowing that it doesn’t make sense), so I advise not getting into that with a historian’s mind. Unless those were corrected in the final copy, that is. Anyway, the prose does have its charm, and whether New York, Paris or Southern France in the mid-twentied, it conjures the needed images easily.

I had more trouble with the pacing. For a good half, Delphine doesn’t do that much, to be honest, apart from being depressed because of her gift (which she probably wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t been such a doormat to her brother) and remembering her love story. I don’t know about the format it was told in (a diary), background info was needed here, yet on the other hand, it felt disjointed from the story. Moreover, while in terms of relationships the characters had a life, indeed, their actions and decisions were at times… silly. I could guess the turns and twists, and seriously, Delphine, that vision you had, that made you run away to the other side of the world… it was so obviously opened to many interpretations that it being a misunderstanding was a given here.

The story picked up after the characters arrived at the castle, but at that point I wasn’t ‘in’ it anymore.

Still, I may try the first book, because the parents’ story could be interesting (there’s a duel and a bargain with the spirit of a dead witch, apparently?).

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Review: The Voynich Manuscript

Posted on November 8th, 2017 @ 19:29
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The Voynich Manuscript: The Complete Edition of the World's Most Mysterious and Esoteric CodexThe Voynich Manuscript: The Complete Edition of the World’s Most Mysterious and Esoteric Codex by Stephen Skinner

My rating:

Blurb:

The Voynich Manuscript is an extensively illustrated codex featuring cosmological and astrological diagrams interwoven with detailed herbal illustration, relating both to the magical and alchemic view of the universe. It is written in a strangely beautiful cryptographic script.

Review:

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

I discovered the Voynich Manuscript sometime last year, and since then have been intrigued by it, both its text and illustrations.

Most of the book is devoted to scans and photos of the manuscript’s pages. In that regard, while I got a PDF copy here, but I definitely recommend a paper one to fully appreciate those since the illustrations in the PDF were a little blurry, perhaps because it was an ARC and not the final, sold version (I’d get such a copy myself if I had enough space to keep physical books). A paper copy also lends itself more easily to going back and forth between photos and the introduction & commentary, at the beginning of the book, and I think being able to do that is a must-have here. Finally, for want of deciphering the Voynich, being able to admire and contemplate its content is part of the pleasure, after all—so, paper all the way. (I do hope it’s printed on some nifty glossy paper with a very nice smell; yes, I sniff books, I’m liable not to buy one if it literally stinks.)

Speaking of the introduction, I found it really interesting, regarding the manuscript’s history but also the many interpretations, and descriptions of specific illustrations and why exactly they’re puzzling (such as the one with women bathing in an intestine-like shape—I learnt something new about what that may represent, and further than that, if it’s the right interpretation, what it reveals about the manuscript’s author).

The manuscript itself… Fascinating ‘gibberish’, I wish I had more abilities in deciphering, for I would fail for sure, but at least I might have more of an insight about where to possibly start? It doesn’t seem based on a European language, at least not an alphabetic one, and is thought to rely on a syllabic system. Was it an entirely created language?

I do hope someone will one day fully decrypt it. Preferably while I’m still alive to see it.

Conclusion: 4 stars (well, 3 for an ebook version because you can’t leaf through as easily, but I’m nitpicking).

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Review: Grip

Posted on October 29th, 2017 @ 12:08
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Grip (Slip, #2)Grip by David Estes

My rating:

Blurb:

In a tumultuous world of population control, one illegal child has slipped through the cracks. Now, as a teenager, Benson Kelly has escaped certain death at the hands of the Department of Population Control, only to find himself the symbol of a rebellion, something he never intended.

While trying to survive one day at a time, Benson seeks to unravel the tangled knot of secrets left behind when his father died, the key to which has something to do with his mother, Janice Kelly, recently escaped from the insane asylum.

As the rebel group known as the Lifers continue to use brute force to send a message to the government, Benson’s twin, Harrison Kelly, seeks to exploit a loophole that could be the key to freedom for his brother. All that’s required is a simple act of murder.

Meanwhile, Population Control’s attack dog, a sadistic cyborg known as The Destroyer, closes in on Benson and his family. His directive: Kill them all.

Faith, family and love will be pushed to the limits in the GRIPping sequel to Slip.

Review:

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

Keeping on catching up with my NetGalley readings. I finished the first book earlier this week, now on to book 2, which was also a good one in its own way, and not the dread ‘second book syndrome sufferer’ I usually fear in such cases.

It does pave up the way to the ‘grand finale’ of book 3, of course, among other things by introducing new developments and therefore a third way, so to speak. It’s not about the hunt for Slips only, not anymore; the Lifers are also involved, and no party is all black or all white. The action is not only about running away/reacting this time, although the book does have its share of such scenes since they’re part of its premise, however the characters also start making moves of their own, instead of only the villains setting plans in motion. And even if said moves are a little on the clunky side, the characters are clearly proactive and taking on their enemies now.

The story has its share of twists. Like in the first book, they are partly predictable (e.g. the one where only the audio part is played), yet at the same time some of them are of the gritty kind, that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected in a YA story (this is not YA for 12-year-old, for sure). And as far as I can tell, there’s one major twist that is a definitive one, there’s not going to be any ‘surprise, I’m back’ scene (I hope there won’t be because it was a sad moment, and retconning it would cheapen it).

The ads and propaganda inserts are interesting, too. At first I didn’t care much for them, but little by little they’re helping draw a more comprehensive picture of the world (the technology people have at hand, the comments—both published and deleted—on newspaper articles

The characters keep evolving, Harrison especially is going on a path I like: at first he felt to me like he was ‘just there’, some kind of afterthought patched onto Benson’s story, yet here he takes action, initiates moves that have their own ethical backlashes, gets to go through ordeals as well, discovers betrayal… At the same time, while he does resent his father and seems to unconsciously prevent himself from properly grieving, he’s also accepted his brother like, well, a brother. He’s an interesting counterpoint to Domino: both children had very similar backgrounds (a Slip sibling, one parent being constantly away to take care of the Slip), but Harrison is going a completely different path. On the other hand, I don’t care that much for the Destroyer, perhaps because at this point he’s so broken that even his fighting against his leash doesn’t look like there’ll be much development her, apart from ‘yay I get to be a psychopath 100% of the time now’.

A few new characters get introduced, like Destiny (another Slip, who goes through her own dark moments because of the mistakes she made, and has to learn to outgrow this—all the while showing her inner strength and resourcefulness in terms of survival techniques, -she- didn’t have a Michael Kelly to craft a false ID for her after all!). Or the Agriculturists, more in the background for now but with an agenda of their own.

Conclusion: A solid second book that furthers the overarching plot.

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Review: Slip

Posted on October 26th, 2017 @ 20:16
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Slip (Slip, #1)Slip by David Estes

My rating:

Blurb:

Someone must die before another can be born…

As sea levels rise and livable landmasses shrink, the Reorganized United States of America has instituted population control measures to ensure there are sufficient resources and food to sustain the growing population. Birth authorization must be paid for and obtained prior to having a child. Someone must die before another can be born, keeping the country in a population neutral position at what experts consider to be the optimal population. The new laws are enforced by a ruthless government organization known as Pop Con, responsible for terminating any children resulting from unauthorized births, and any illegals who manage to survive past their second birthday, at which point they are designated a national security threat and given the name Slip.

But what if one child slipped through the cracks? What if someone knew all the loopholes and how to exploit them? Would it change anything? Would the delicate resource balance be thrown into a tailspin, threatening the lives of everyone?

And how far would the government go to find and terminate the Slip?

In a gripping story of a family torn apart by a single choice, Slip is a reminder of the sanctity of a single life and the value of the lives we so often take for granted.

Review:

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

I hadn’t read anything by David Estes in quite a while, and when I saw this series on NetGalley, I thought, well, time to address this state of affairs. I shall also confess that nowadays, I do have a bit of a love-hate relationship with YA dystopias in general, for various reasons, and I was glad that this book, while it is a bit predictable and uses expected tropes, avoids what are the usual pitfalls of the genre for me.

The main characters in general were likeable. Benson is a good mix of resourcefulness, emotions and inner strength. Luce is the obvious ‘love interest’, but without falling in his arms, and with a past that makes it possible (while awful for her) to develop this relationship more slowly and believably than what usually happens in YA novels; she’s also resourceful, daring, and doesn’t hesitate to stand by her friends (well, OK, I guess her decision to face danger with Benson who lied to her was kind of stupid, but…). Michael Kelly as well is an interesting man, torn between his job and his mission of killing unauthorised babies and children, and his desire to protect his son. I didn’t care much for Harrison, though, perhaps because of his ‘perfect athlete and student’ record, and I thought that his mid-book decision came a little out of nowhere, considering he wasn’t seen pondering much about it (and his feelings) before. And I’m on the fence about the Destroyer, in his case I believe I -would- have want to see more of him before he became a Hunter, for his evolution into a psychopath to be better pitched against him as a child (in a way, I love to hate him for his appalling personality, but he’s too one-sided as a villain).

The world in which these characters evolve was also better rounded up than usual in dystopian YA novels (where I often get the feeling of a ‘pocket world’, totally isolated from the rest of Earth, which always makes me wonder where are the other countries and why they’re not poking their noses in). The population control method in those new USA is harsh, however the situation that led to it makes sense: climatic change, rising water levels, drowned coasts, less resources left to feed all the people, and it is logical to expect that the rest of the world has met a similar fate, hence if everybody stays in their corner and develop their own policies, it’s not unbelievable. This world is all the more creepy because it’s not such an impossible future, all in all.

Minor pet peeve: I really have a hard time with the name ‘Pop Con’, that just looks so much like ‘pop corn’ to me. XD (But I do see the naming convention roots à la 1984.)

I found the beginning a little slow, possibly because it devoted quite a few chapters to a part of Benson’s life that I felt I didn’t need so many details about—the story becomes more interesting after the boy grows up and we meet his friends. After that were more action scenes, especially once ‘the chase’ gets into motion (that’s no spoiler, of course at some point people would realise who the Slip is!). There was a bit of a plot hole/flimsy explanation, though, regarding the Wire/Jumpers/Lifers connection; it would’ve demanded some more preparation to be more logical, I think.

Conclusion: 3.5, not perfect but definitely enjoyable, especially its second half.

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Review: Artemis

Posted on October 21st, 2017 @ 19:14
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ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir

My rating:

Blurb:

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Review:

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

I loved “The Martian”, so of course I was bound to request this one. To be fair, I didn’t enjoy it as much, but it was still a good, fun read in several ways.

I found the characters in general likeable enough, in definite ‘shades of grey. The ‘heroes’ of this story are seldom all white, and go about their business with good intentions and shady ways. The businessman who moved to the moon to help his ailing daughter, but is a crook on the side. The economist who almost single-handedly set a whole country as the only entry point to the Moon, and won’t shy away from closing eyes on criminal deals as long as they help keeping Artemis afloat. The city’s policeman (Artemis has something like 2,000 inhabitants, minus the tourists, so Rudy does the job) who’s keeping order by breaking a few arms at times if he deems it’ll be a better punishment than prison. And, of course, Jazz Bashara herself, porter by day, smuggler by night, of sorts, running her little operation with no one the wiser.

(Granted, not everyone is a complete a-hole here, Jazz’s father for instance is a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t want anything to do with his daughter’s shady side; on the other hand, Jazz clearly has him to thank for her own ethical side, the one that makes her never renege on a deal, and puts her in the (trustworthy criminal’ category, so to speak.)

The story itself starts in a fairly typical way for heist stories: Jazz needs money, her criminal activities aren’t bringing in as much as she needs, nor quickly enough, so when a dangerous but particularly juicy deal comes her way, she shoves her qualms in her pocket and accepts it. Only it turns out she’s bitten more than she could chew, and finds herself embroiled in an almost conspiracy, forcing her to gather all her wits, resources and allies in order to find a way out. All in all, the kind of story I like to read: maybe not the most original, but with high potential for action, fun, quirky characters, and, well, capers.

There isn’t as much technical detailing in this novel as there was in “The Martian”, so it’s definitely not hard to follow. The whole caper(s) resting on scientific knowledge and using the moon’s gravity and peculiar sides to work within the plan, that was really interesting for me. Maybe the welding-related descriptions were a little too long at times, though; at least, I didn’t care as much about those as I did about other scientific explanations.

I liked the overall diversity in Artemis. This small city has, from A to Z, a multicultural side that I think worked well, and didn’t rest on the usual ‘Western world colonises space’ (Kenya and its space company holds the entry door to the moon, Artemis’s administrator is a Kenyan woman, the policeman is Canadian, Jazz and her father are from Saudi Arabia, many of Jazz’s contacts are Vietnamese or Slavic, etc.).

I wasn’t totally on board with the way Jazz told the story, though. The wit didn’t work as well here as it did in “The Martian”, mostly, I’d say, because there’s too much of a dichotomy between Jazz’s ‘voice’ and her age: sometime in the middle of the story, we learn she’s 26, but from her tone, attitude, expressions and way of being, I would’ve thought her late teens/20, and not older. There -is- an immature side to her character, so in itself it’s not like her voice doesn’t fit at all, yet it didn’t feel ‘right’ either.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. Disregard the author’s previous best-seller, take this story as it comes, and enjoy the heist parts, the assembling of Jazz’s motley crew, the description of Artemis, and the outings on the Moon in an EVA suit that can spring a leak just any time due to the characters attempting bold moves and daring rescues.

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