Review: Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets

Posted on September 14th, 2014 @ 12:33
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Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets: An Anthology of Holmesian Tales Across Time and SpaceTwo Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets: An Anthology of Holmesian Tales Across Time and Space by David Thomas Moore

My rating:

Summary:

The world’s most famous detective, as you’ve never seen him before! This is a collection of orginal short stories finding Holmes and Watson in times and places you would never have expected!

A dozen established and up-and-coming authors invite you to view Doyle’s greatest creation through a decidedly cracked lens.

Read about Holmes and Watson through time and space, as they tackle a witch-trial in seventeenth century Scotland, bandy words with Andy Warhol in 1970s New York, travel the Wild Frontier in the Old West, solve future crimes in a world of robots and even cross paths with a young Elvis Presley…

Set to include stories by Kasey Lansdale, Guy Adams, Jamie Wyman, J E Cohen, Gini Koch, Glen Mehn, Kelly Hale, Kaaron Warren, Emma Newman and more.

Review:

(I received an ARC courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 stars.

Like most anthologies, this one included interesting stories, and others that didn’t impress me much.

It focuses not on the Sherlock Holmes we know, but on other approaches, such as Holmes and Watson in the 70s, or as teenage girls, or in a China-like land of magic. This definitely stretches the canon pretty far, but also allows for something different. I’m quite an avid reader of Doyle’s original stories, and I’m always of a mixed opinion regarding that kind of approach: part of me wants to see what else can be done, in alternative universes, while another part always remains wary of what is going to be done to “my” Holmes, because past some point, it’s not really Holmes & Watson anymore. I’d deem myself as straddling the fence here.

Mostly I found this collection ranging from average to good, nothing abysmal or excellent. One thing I appreciated here, though, is the way Watson was handled: like a valuable partner to Holmes. I’ve always disliked when he was shown as a bumbling idiot (which he is really far from being); I didn’t get that feeling here. Whether as a drug-dealer in the 60s’ New york City or as a magician at the court of a powerful lord, Watson (or Jane, or Wu Tsan…) wasn’t some of comic relief, but a character in his/her own right.

On the other hand, for an anthology that wanted itself different, sometimes I thought it could’ve carried things just a tad bit further, for instance by playing more on the female!Holmes or female!Watson variation, or by exploring other venues than London or the United States, which were often used. Another gripe would be that the mysteries in some of the stories weren’t so interesting; a couple of them didn’t even have Sherlock solve something.

The ones I liked:

It’s not the best anthology I’ve ever read, and it might deter a reader who’s not at ease with stories sometimes veering towards the bizarre and nonsensical, but overall, it was still a pleasant enough read.

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The Thief Taker

Posted on September 12th, 2014 @ 09:40
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The Thief TakerThe Thief Taker by C.S. Quinn

My rating:

Summary:

The year is 1665. Black Death ravages London. A killer stalks the streets in a plague doctor’s hood and mask…

When a girl is gruesomely murdered, thief taker Charlie Tuesday reluctantly agrees to take on the case. But the horrific remains tell him this is no isolated death. The killer’s mad appetites are part of a master plan that could destroy London – and reveal the dark secrets of Charlie’s own past.

Now the thief taker must find this murderous mastermind before the plague obliterates the evidence street by street. This terrifying pursuit will take Charlie deep into the black underbelly of old London, where alchemy, witchcraft and blood-spells collide.

In a city drowned in darkness, death could be the most powerful magic of all.

Review:

(I got an ARC courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

When it comes to knowing whether you liked a book or not, some are really hard to place. This novel is one of those.

I really liked its atmosphere: London in 1665, the way its streets and buildings were depicted, how travelling from one place to another was so much different from what we know today, the many people we get to see, all both divided and united in a common fear. The plague is raging, and everyone wants out… or tries to do with what they have, including remedies and protective measures that we would definitely find stupid today, but that must have made sense at some point. The illness is sometimes depicted in really gruesome ways, and it helps enforcing the constant fear, the terror as soon as someone realises his spouse or her friend is developing “plague tokens”. The description of the plague doctor was also very vivd, instilling dread as soon as he appeared.

The interactions between Charlie and Anna-Maria were quite funny at times—he the boy left in an orphanage and proficient in the ways of the street, she a young woman with the manners and expectations of someone born in a good, though impoverished family. At first, I had my fears that
she would be a dead weight, but fortunately she proved she had resources of her own when it came to improvising and remaining strong throughout their journey to find who killed her sister.

However, I thought the plot on too many convenient occurrences (that happened by chance, and not because Charlie or Maria already had the relationships or resources needed). For instance, a character who discovered one of the victims’ corpses later appears to work for another character that Charlie happens to know, and is also a relation of yet another character that Charlie also happens to know. All right, a lot of people had either fled or died from the plague, but surely the world can’t be such a small place all the time? I would have accepted those coincidences easily if they had been of Charlie’s making, but here they were too much on the deus ex machina side.

I also found the last chapters to be a muddle of sorts. Some things happened, yet when I thought about them, I realised that I didn’t see them actually happen in a chapter, and that there logically wouldn’t have had time for them to happen; the narrative should have shown them to the reader, at least. Revelations about the real identity of the murderer left me wondering if I had completely missed something, or if it was just confusing. Same with how everyone was related within the plot. I felt as if everything was dumped on me all at once, too abruptly, and in a way
that didn’t always make sense.

Finally, I wished a few more elements had been explained. What of Charlie’s brother? What secrets did the papers hold? Was there actually some intriguing at the Court, considering how many hints were dropped that the King knew something, or that some of the people close to him were involved in some conspiracy? (Unless this book is the beginning of a series, in which case such information may be revealed in the next installment, but I’m not so sure about that.)

Conclusion: I really liked the depiction of plague-ravaged London in the 17th century, but the plot didn’t cut it so much for me in the end. 2.5 stars.

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Yesterday’s Kin

Posted on September 10th, 2014 @ 16:09
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Yesterday's KinYesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

My rating:

Summary:

Aliens have landed in New York.

A deadly cloud of spores has already infected and killed the inhabitants of two worlds. Now that plague is heading for Earth, and threatens humans and aliens alike. Can either species be trusted to find the cure?

Geneticist Marianne Jenner is immersed in the desperate race to save humanity, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Siblings Elizabeth and Ryan are strident isolationists who agree only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Marianne’s youngest, Noah, is a loner addicted to a drug that constantly changes his identity. But between the four Jenners, the course of human history will be forever altered.

Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent human extinction—and not everyone is willing to wait.

Review:

(I got an ARC courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 out of 5 stars. It was a quick and pleasant read, though I must admit I guessed the twist fairly easily (am I getting good, or what? I used to never see them coming…).

I quite liked the science the story rested on (mitochondrial DNA). I’m not knowledgeable enough to tell whether everything was right or not, but it seemed to me it was, and I didn’t find it difficult to follow the more technical explanations later in the book.

The relationships between characters were interesting, and echoed the way aliens and terrans remained estranged from each other: isolationist aliens, communicating only with a select few, in an isolationist country, while the world has to face the prospect of a widespread, lethal disease… yet all the while, the concept of “family” keeps playing an important role, as a reminder that no matter what, emotional ties remain strong.

The reason why I didn’t like this book more is mostly because I thought it was too short. There would have been so many aspects to explore, go deeper into: the characters themselves (interesting family dynamics, that would’ve deserved more “screen time”, especially as far as Ryan and Elizabeth were concerned); the reactions in the months between the aliens’ arrival and the actual beginning of the story; the reactions of the rest of the world, too. The novel broached these topics, and gave more than just a few pointers—yet for me, it was a case of “either you’ve said too much, or not enough”. I wanted more, plain and simple, more of what looked like a fascinating society (the aliens), more of the humans’ actions and views on what would happen after the end. There’s a strong opening there, with two equally strong possible outcomes, and I felt it just ended a little too abruptly.

A good and entertaining story nonetheless. I do’nt think I’ve ever read any novel by this author (though I have one of her “how to write” books), but I’d definitely check out for more of her works in the future.

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Review: Flesh Failure

Posted on September 8th, 2014 @ 12:36
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Flesh FailureFlesh Failure by Sèphera Girón

My rating:

Summary:

London, 1888: Agatha drags herself from a shallow grave to roam the fog-shrouded streets of the dark city, trying to piece together what happened. Her new friends, the ladies of the night, live in terror of Jack the Ripper, while Agatha persistently searches for what she discovers she needs to stay alive: electrical charges.

As her memory grows stronger, the hazy images from her past come into focus, but questions remain. Do her answers lie in the shadows of the streets, the hidden corridors of London Hospital, or someplace far more frightening?

Review:

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

An enjoyable take on the theme of animating the dead, woven with bits of historical events such as the Ripper’s murders. Agatha wakes up buried in the woods, and has to claw her way out of the earth. Only helped by brief flashes of memory, she goes on her own quest to find out what happened to her, why she recalls herself as different-looking, and who created her.

I’m going to confess to a total lack of impartiality here: I love stories on the theme of reanimated humans, creatures who start out as “monstrous” and have to find their way in the world, for all the questions they raise about our own humanity. This short novel may not have been perfect, but it still made me think about that no matter what. In spite of Agatha’s smell and scars, there were people who natueally came to help, fed her, gave her clothes, let her sleep in their home. They weren’t perfect people either, they had their flaws, they may end up rejecting her after a while, but the fact remains: there’s still goodness in human beings.

The novel deals with a certain kind of symbolism, too. Seven days for Agatha’s “rebirth”. Electricity as a conductor for life, but also as a means of destruction, just like fire can keep you warm, yet burn you to a crisp if you get too close. Though not exceptional, such symbols still remained interesting.

A few things didn’t sit too well with me. First, some editing blips (a character’s name is known before she’s properly introduced) and redundant mistakes (“then” instead of “than”) that became annoying after a while, and were likely not typos. There were also a couple of happenings that I can’t make up my mind about, because they’re a bit too close to Shelley’s story. The encounter with the blind man was one of those. I honestly don’t know if I liked this or not, if it was typical retelling homage or closer to a copy of the original scene. Then there was Agatha’s behaviour: I thought she could have questioned it more, especially when it came to her cravings for blood and how she responded to them. (If looking at Shelley’s story—and there’s no way a reader can’t see the parallels here, they’re totally on purpose—the “monster” started quite innocent, his gradual descent due to his trials. Agatha, on the other hand, seemed to start as a monster already, and maybe she was a little too inhuman, so there wasn’t that much character progress to have. That’d be my major complaint, and why I’m not rating it higher.)

The ending felt too abrupt, as if the story suddenly had to be wrapped up right now. However, it fits with what happens in the last paragraphs, so even though I would’ve liked to read more, writing it that way was actually logical.

Readers who aren’t so keen as I am about this kind of story may not find it more than “OK”, but in my case, it still struck a chord, and after the first slow pages, I got into it fairly easily.

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Review: The Girl and the Clockwork Cat

Posted on September 6th, 2014 @ 11:02
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The Girl and the Clockwork CatThe Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack

My rating:

Summary:

Feisty teenage thief Maeko and her maybe-more-than-friend Chaff have scraped out an existence in Victorian London’s gritty streets, but after a near-disastrous heist leads her to a mysterious clockwork cat and two dead bodies, she’s thrust into a murder mystery that may cost her everything she holds dear.

Her only allies are Chaff, the cat, and Ash, the son of the only murder suspect, who offers her enough money to finally get off the streets if she’ll help him find the real killer.

What starts as a simple search ultimately reveals a conspiracy stretching across the entire city. And as Maeko and Chaff discover feelings for each other neither was prepared to admit, she’s forced to choose whether she’ll stay with him or finally escape the life of a street rat. But with danger closing in around them, the only way any of them will get out of this alive is if all of them work together.

Review:

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

I had good expectations for this story (a street thief, victorian/steampunkish setting, part-mechanical cat), but in the end, it won’t leave me with a lasting impression, unfortunately.

The daughter of a prostitute and one of her unnamed customers, Maeko hit the streets after her mother got in debt, trying to help her pay it back as well as she could, but also resenting her. She made her way as a pickpocket and burglar, thanks to her nimble fingers and lithe body, and because she was street-savvy enough. That is, until the beginning of the novel, for at some point I thought she was not as clever as she was supposed to be. Some of her reactions seemed logical, but some of her other actions were too naive. (For instance, when she had to keep something from an enemy, she went back to a certain place, saw that said enemy had located it, too… yet she still went there to hide her package. The natural thing to do would have been to think “this place is compromised, he might not have believed what they told him, and come back later with more people.” At least that’s what “street rat thinking” should be for me.)

The setting itself is an alternate London divided between the Literati (the “modern society” and its police) and the pirates (those who openly don’t approve); the kids who fall between those are doomed to a life in an orphanage, reform house or work house, or to a life on the streets. Mostly we see this world through Maeko’s eyes, so of course everything couldn’t be developed, but it would’ve been better in my opinion if she had had just a little more interest in what happened around her, or if other characters had been there to give more information about that society. Some do… just not enough. This setting screams for more, having more to say about itself, without any room to do so.

The romance part was unneeded, a love triangle dumped out of nowhere on those poor characters. All it did was to make Maeko blush and blush and blush again and again. It quickly became old and tiring, and did not bring anything to the story. At least Maeko realised there was no time to think about boys in her predicament. On the downside, she had those thoughts fairly often, which created a tiresome cycle: “I think I like him. But I must not think about that now. But I think I like him. But I don’t have time to worry about this now.”

I wasn’t too impressed with the plot, which consisted mostly in two/three characters looking for people (the same people every time). Just like Maeko’s thoughts and blushing, it became repetitive after a while: locate people, see they’re already in someone else’s hands, realise they’re in no position to help them escape, retreat/get pursued by the police or detective, hide, rinse and repeat. I really wished the plot types would have been more varied.

The writing was all right, though a bit redundant and “telly” in places (especially when Maeko’s thought process was concerned).

The ending: if this is a standalone, then it deserved a better one, a proper one, that would wrap up everything, not just leave the reader to imagine “it probably happened like that”. If it wasn’t, it’s still a sort of cliffhanger, but one that doesn’t offer that many promises of revelations in a second book.

In the end, there were grounds for good things here, but those weren’t enough to make me enjoy the story.

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