Review: The Tourist

Posted on August 28th, 2017 @ 23:12
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The TouristThe Tourist by Robert Dickinson

My rating:

Blurb:

THE FUTURE HAS ALREADY HAPPENED.

It is expected to be an excursion like any other. There is nothing in the records to indicate that anything out of the ordinary will happen.

A bus will take them to the mall. They will have an hour or so to look around. Perhaps buy something, or try their food.

A minor traffic incident on the way back to the resort will provide some additional interest – but the tour rep has no reason to expect any trouble.

Until he notices that one of his party is missing.

Most disturbingly, she is a woman who, according to the records, did not go missing.

Now she is a woman whose disappearance could change the world.

Review:

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

What to do, what to do… I liked parts of this novel, but in others I thought the story was sorot of… losing itself?

Time travel to the power of ten here. A lot of actions, reactions and motives stem from the need for the characters to keep thinking in terms of ‘agency’… which, in turn, leads to many questions. For instance: young!you meets old!guy, who tells you ‘we’ll meet later’, and then later!you meets younger!guy, who of course doesn’t remember you because for him it’s the first time, but at this point you know that whatever happens, you’re not going to kill him, because his older self has already met you in the past. Sounds complicated? Not so much, but… yeah, one has to keep track of such occurrences in ‘The Tourist’, for sure.

The plot mainly follows two characters: Spens, a tourism rep in the early 21st century, who knows he’s about to be sent home for breach of contract, even though he doesn’t know yet what the breach will be (but he’s not too worried about that: after all, records inherited from future centuries show he’ll still have a life after that). And ‘you’, a woman in the future, who has spent years in prison due to her many suspicious activities. Both their stories intersect in the person of Riemann Aldis, as ‘you’ has to help him on a mysterious assignment, while Spens in the past finds himself tracking one of his clients, who wasn’t on the bus when the latter came back to the resort.

Among these plots is the ‘War Ourobouros’ thread: a Russian novel about strange people from the future whose aim is actually to conquer and enslave 21st century civilisation. Red herring? Smokescreen? After all, Spens and his fellow travellers looks different enough (taller, for starters) than humans like you and I; their presence is known in 21st century cities; and they -are- weird, with their resorts full of tourists and the knowledge they’re suspected of having about the future, in the shadow of their mysterious Geneva ‘government’. And if only people knew, indeed: that a Near Extinction Event is looming close, and that the futurekind isn’t allowed to mention it.

I really enjoyed the subtle aspects of future society, with all their tiny dystopian hints and secretive 25th century reports—they make it more understandable why all these tourists want to catch a whiff of our own society, not to mention ‘extemps’ choosing to actually stay there. The time-related developments, too, definitely kept me interested, as I tried to catch what tiny event would cause that other event from a previous chapter, or how an encounter we know will happen will actually play out. In terms of causality, of events triggering other events in a non-linear way, I found it worked fairly well.

Ultimately, though, I was disappointed in the overall plot, in that I completely understood how the characters came to end up where they did… but I feel the story was missing a final ‘why’ that would’ve tied everything together. I get what happened to the tourist, to Spens, to Riemann, yet at the same time there’s no sense of a bigger plot. The ‘you’ part was also weird for me; second person present tense narration is really tricky, and let’s be honest, I sometimes had a hard time going through these chapters, precisely because of that narrative device. Finally, character development in general was too light to my liking; on the other hand, this is a book whose strong point is the time travel aspect, so I still managed to enjoy it enough.

Conclusion: I’m giving it 3 stars because, let’s be honest, time travel is not easy to write about, and here I thought it was coherent enough, keeping paradox into account and playing well with how different people’s timelines may intersect. I wished it had had more of that ‘agency’ it advocates, though, instead of feeling in the end like it wasn’t really going anywhere.

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Review: Godblind

Posted on August 20th, 2017 @ 20:13
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GodblindGodblind by Anna Stephens

My rating:

Blurb:

There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire.

That time has long since passed and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost.

But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable.

Vulnerable to the blood-thirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains…

Review:

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

Attractive cover is attractive! Red and black? Count me in!

This is fantasy of the darker and grittier kind. People fight and die in puddles of gore; the Red Gods thrive on human pain and sacrifices (and their priests and believers are all too happy to oblige); and intrigue abounds in every corner of the world, making it difficult for the characters to know who are their allies, and who are their foes.

This is also the kind of novel about which I hold very divided opinions, because its selling points and its negative points are, for me, often sides of a same coin.

To be honest, I had some trouble to get into the story at first (not because of the sacrifice and rape in the first chapters—I guess it’s more related to the fact I don’t read a lot of fantasy these days, and while I am generally interested, I tend to have a harder time to get immersed in it). This may partly have been due to the short chapters, some as short as 2-3 pages, which creates a fast pace but makes it difficult to get invested in the characters, their predicaments and their stakes, all the more since the story follows several characters, and since the violence at times seemed a wee bit… here for the shock factor more than anything else? As a result, I didn’t feel very close to either the ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’, and that sense of ‘yeah, OK, that must’ve hurt, but I don’t really care’ unfortunately stayed with me.

(The short chapters were a positive thing in a way, though: I often read while walking or in public transportation, or during short breaks at work, and such chapters make it very easy for me too ‘break’ my reading and resume later.)

Another side of the book that is both positive and a hindrance is that it’s the first book in a series, and it looks like it’s going to be epic, with lots of battles and high stakes (a whole kingdom falling into war, people seeing their homes destroyed and families slaughtered, ambitious rulers, treachery and traitors in the heart of power, etc.). This said, it makes the story read more like an introduction, a prologue of sorts, before we get to the actual meat.

Yet another ‘same coin’ aspect: the intrigue. On the one hand, the plot twists were very easy to guess (who’s going to be a traitor, who’s going to double-cross who, etc.). On the other hand, for me, they were also of the ‘I know where this is going but I’m excited nonetheless’ kind.

I did like some characters enough (especially Crys, he’s the kind of easygoing trickster type I’m easily drawn to in novels) to feel invested at times. I’d wish for a little less sexism and homophobia, though (not on the author’s part, just in that specific world in general; it’s like it’s never accepted in most worlds, anyway *sighs*).

Conclusion: More an introduction to the actual plot, and with strengths that are weaknesses at the same time, but still interesting enough that I’d like to read book 2.

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Review: Lady Mechanika, Volume 1

Posted on August 19th, 2017 @ 22:28
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Lady Mechanika, Volume 1: Mystery of the Mechanical CorpseLady Mechanika, Volume 1: Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benítez

My rating:

Blurb:

 

 

The tabloids dubbed her “Lady Mechanika,” the sole survivor of a mad scientist’s horrific experiments which left her with mechanical limbs. Having no memory of her captivity or her former life, Lady Mechanika eventually built a new life for herself as an adventurer and private investigator, using her unique abilities to solve cases the proper authorities couldn’t or wouldn’t handle. But she never stopped searching for the answers to her own past.

Set in a fictionalized steampunk Victorian England, a time when magic and superstition clashed with new scientific discoveries and inventions, Lady Mechanika chronicles a young woman’s obsessive search for her identity as she investigates other mysteries involving science and the supernatural.

This volume collects the entire first Lady Mechanika mini-series The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse, including its prequel chapter The Demon of Satan’s Alley, plus a complete cover art gallery.

Review:

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

Set in an alternate Victorian (circa 1879) England, this comics deals with Lady Mechanika, a private investigator/adventuress whose limbs are actually mechanical, and who’d like nothing more than to find out who made her like that and where she comes from; all the while being pitted against the sinister Blackpool Armaments Co. and both its shady employer and soldiers. In this arc, Mechanika investigates the death of a mysterious young woman with mechanical arms similar to her own, only to realise that a lot more players are involved, including Commander Winter and a circus full of characters each with their own secrets.

The drawing style itself is, in general, well-balanced and elegant, and the colours match the mood of the various panels and situations. It’s probably a little overkill on the steampunk aesthetics (in that at some point, there’s going to be a lot of leather and corsets and goggles on top hats etc.), so depending on one’s mood about that, it may not be a selling point. On the other hand, there’s a lot of attention to details, which makes it a joy to look for those in panels, and even if they’re of the, well, aesthetic persuasion in spite of usefulness, there’s plenty to keep your eyes busy. (I usually tends to like steampunk aesthetics, so count me in the second category, even though I tend to criticise lightly. ^^)

Not bonus points on the boobs, though, and some of the extreme ‘female body poses’ that I see in a lot of comics. Eye candy and all that, I get it. It’s just… it detracts from the overall badassness of the characters. (And large boobs are seriously not convenient, especially since they easily hurt during stunts. Whatever.)

The characters as a lot were likeable enough: from Mechanika herself, with her doubts but also her resourcefulness and her desire to do what’s right, to Lewis the inventor whose bottle problems hint at dark events in his past. And the little Alexandra, with her gimmick ‘you’re an impostor’atttitude, which made her quibs with Mechanika quite funny—apparently some authors in the comics write stories about M, and the kid thinks these are the truth. There seems to be a current of underlying relationships that beg to be developed in later issues, creating a sense of an over-plot that will be gradually revealed (which I sure hope will happen in later issues because if it doesn’t, I’ll be disappointed). So far I’m not too happy with the two enemy women apparently becoming enemies because of a man (as it’s a pretty boring reason), but it may still turn out to be something slightly different, so we’ll see. I could do with a little less wordiness, though—it doesn’t fare too well in some panels, making pages difficult to focus on—yet I’m also torn about that because some of that dialogue was of the banter kind, and I think this fits well with Victorian/steampunk themes in general.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars, going on 4.Quite an enjoyable comics in spite of the (typical?) eye-candy. I still liked the artwork and additional covers no matter what, as well as the story and its slight cliffhanger/ominous tones at the end.

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Review: From Holmes to Sherlock

Posted on August 9th, 2017 @ 18:52
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From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an IconFrom Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias Boström

My rating:

Blurb:

Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a unique literary character who has remained popular for over a century and is appreciated more than ever today. But what made this fictional character, dreamed up by a small-town English doctor in the 1880s, into such a lasting success, despite the author’s own attempt to escape his invention?

In From Holmes to Sherlock, Swedish author and Sherlock Holmes expert Mattias Boström recreates the full story behind the legend for the first time. From a young Arthur Conan Doyle sitting in a Scottish lecture hall taking notes on his medical professor’s powers of observation to the pair of modern-day fans who brainstormed the idea behind the TV sensation Sherlock, from the publishing world’s first literary agent to the Georgian princess who showed up at the Conan Doyle estate and altered a legacy, the narrative follows the men and women who have created and perpetuated the myth. It includes tales of unexpected fortune, accidental romance, and inheritances gone awry, and tells of the actors, writers, readers, and other players who have transformed Sherlock Holmes from the gentleman amateur of the Victorian era to the odd genius of today. Told in fast-paced, novelistic prose, From Holmes to Sherlock is a singular celebration of the most famous detective in the world—a must-read for newcomers and experts alike.

Review:

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

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, more than I thought it would be—the matter of course I was definitely interested in, but the way the author gathered and presented his material gave the whole book a ‘storytelling’ side that kept me wanting to read, and read, and read. Much like Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. A biography-slash-history book that is in itself a big story.

I won’t deny that some chapters towards the middle (the period between Conan Doyle’s death and the modern adaptations after the 1970s-80s) weren’t the most interesting for me, but even those didn’t detract from the book as a whole. It takes us through the genesis of the original Holmes & Watson stories, how they came to be, how their author perceived them, the conundrum of seeing them more successful than his ‘most serious’ works and of wanting to kill Holmes… How they gradually escaped his and his family’s grasp, in spite of efforts to keep a hand on them, because what Doyle gave birth to was bigger than him, bigger than just a handful of people, and wanted out, plain and simple.

I’ve read all the original stories (will read them again), yet I admit I’m lagging behind when it comes to movies. Well, now I know exactly what to catch up on, what to look for, and what kind of tone these adaptations’ would be—the movies with Basil Rathbone won’t be the same than the BBC Sherlock series, nor is their Holmes the one from the 1980s series with Jeremy Brett. I’d need half a lifetime to catch up on all this (and I’d want to catch up several times, for sure), but now at least I have a clearer view of ‘the bigger picture’.

Arthur Conan Doyle gave life to Holmes and took it away, but the Great Detective just won’t stay dead, will he? It’s all the readers and actors and directors and other authors that gave him a much, much longer life than expected.

Conclusion: Highly recommended!

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Review: Nothing

Posted on August 6th, 2017 @ 20:19
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NothingNothing by Annie Barrows

My rating:

Blurb:

Nothing ever happens to Charlotte and Frankie. Their lives are nothing like the lives of the girls they read about in their YA novels. They don’t have flowing red hair and hot romantic encounters never happen—let alone meeting a true soul mate. They just go to high school and live at home with their parents, who are pretty normal, all things considered. But when Charlotte decides to write down everything that happens during their sophomore year to prove that nothing happens and there is no plot or character development in real life, she’s surprised to find that being fifteen isn’t as boring as she thought. It’s weird, heartbreaking, silly, and complicated. And maybe, just perfect.

Review:

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

Well, this book captures ‘nothing’, which is both good (the character Charlotte intends to show nothing exciting happens in her life, and she does that well), and not so good, because in the end, it made for a fairly plotless novel that read like a journal, quite slice-of-life, and it wasn’t exactly exciting. So I’m on the fence here, in that I get the intention, but don’t really enjoy it?

The author nailed the ‘teenager narrator voice’—also both a good and a bad thing: good for characterisation, bad for… hm, let’s say that 20 years later, it’s not particularly interesting (yep, I wasn’t interesting myself in my teens, hah). The intended audience being YA, possibly the latter won’t be too much of a problem, as younger readers may relate to Charlotte’s views on life… or maybe not? I tended to like Frankie more, in any case, because at least she sometimes -does- things, and tries to initiate change.

The awkwardness of relationships is also well-portrayed, for instance Charlotte’s relationship with Sid, how they met through internet and kept texting each other, and Charlotte likes him but is convinced they’ll never met and it’s doomed to fail anyway, and so on.

Of course, the book shows that the ‘nothing’ Charlotte complains about isn’t such a truth; little things happen, opportunities arise, the girls are just so convinced their lives are boring that they don’t notice those things are being important, through the way they add up. But that’s also something I wasn’t really at ease with.

First, the girls are quite similar, and it was difficult at times to know if a chapter was about Frankie or Charlotte (at some point I just went with 3rd person = Frankie, 1st person = Charlotte); they’re not helped in that by their common background, there isn’t much diversity in here, nor in the friends they mention, most often in passing.

Second, there’s a subplot that Charlotte sort of… brushes over as if it was trivial, and I’m sorry, no, I don’t think anyone would go through such an event and then just leave for home and not realise even for five minutes that what they did was awesome and, yes, important. That’s the part where Charlotte prevents a school friend from getting raped by a boy who clearly saw she was drunk and didn’t know what she was doing anymore. Way to trivialise attempted rape, and way to show how selfish and shitty a person can be, I mean, hello Charlotte who won’t stay with her because, oh my God, then she has to tell her parents she was at a party and her parents will think she was drinking too and she’ll be grounded… Yeah. I get it, ‘nothing’ happens in your privileged little life. And let’s not mention the ‘wai things would be more interesting if we were gay’. Nope, no love from me, girl. Can we stop using LGBT relationships as plot devices, and use such characters as, you know, people with personalities?

Conclusion: At least it was a quick read, and points for writing teenager characters fairly well, but I can’t say I enjoyed reading Charlotte’s parts.

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