Review: The Emperor In Shadow

Posted on February 13th, 2017 @ 20:43
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Yamada Monogatari: The Emperor in ShadowYamada Monogatari: The Emperor in Shadow by Richard Parks

My rating:

Blurb:

Lord Yamada is called away―one last time―from his newly restored estates in Kamakura to help Prince Kanemore ensure that Princess Teiko’s son, Takahito, inherits the Chrysanthemum Throne. Unfortunately, assuming the throne proves to be the easy part. Yamada must then help Takahito renounce that throne in such a way as to hobble the power of the Fujiwara clan forever!

Rating:

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

First, please note this is not a standalone novel, contrary to what I thought when I requested it, but part of a series (and very likely the last volume). However, I didn’t find it difficult to follow the story and understand the characters: when the narrator alludes to events of the past or people he had previously met, he always adds a couple of sentences, nothing too long, just enough for a reader to understand the context. So this was good with me.

The setting here is that of feudal Japan (the Emperor and his court, bushi, military governors, geisha and courtesans) with a dash of supernatural: ghosts and youkai are common knowledge, and onmyôji and priestesses have actual power. In this world, Yamada and his faithful friend Kenji are confronted to attempted murder and political intrigue, from the Ise temple to the capital and the Emperor’s court; I found the mystery decent enough, not too complicated (my guesses about a few things turned out to be right) yet not too easy either for the characters to understand, without convenient deus ex machina bringing the answers (Yamada deducted those).

It took me a couple of weeks to read, but it definitely wasn’t boring (that was much more a matter of having lots of things to do and needing to prioritise other books in the meantime). The events made sense, the characters were likeable, and even though it’s not my favourite novel ever, it was entertaining and believable.

On the downside, there were instances of Yamada ‘hiding’ things from the reader, which I don’t particularly appreciate in mystery novels, and the female characters, while attaching, didn’t have much to do apart from conveniently be here when a specific piece of information was needed, or wait in their palace for the men to do all the work. Granted, the setting itself doesn’t lend itself to a lot of female freedom (aristocratic constraints, expectations placed on princesses, and so on), but it didn’t help.

Conclusion: Still enjoyable in spite of these flaws.

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Review: When the Moon Was Ours

Posted on January 19th, 2017 @ 20:52
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When the Moon Was OursWhen the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

My rating:

Blurb:

When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Review:

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

Enchanting and full of diversity, although the flowery prose didn’t convince me.

The book opens on Miel and Sam, a skittish girl with roses growing out of her wrist, and a boy who doesn’t exactly know if he wants to be a boy or go back to being a girl. In itself, this was an interesting premise, as both characters were searching for their inner truth, all lthe while being surrounded by lies (or what they perceived at such): Miel’s memory—not exactly the most reliable; what Aracely, Miel’s adoptive guardian, knows and what she doesn’t say; Sam having to hide his body in everyday life; and the Bonner sisters, with their red hair and their mysterious ways, four girls acting as one, enchantresses ensnaring boys and wielding their own kind of power that always gets them what they want in the end.

There’s more magical realism than actual magic here, although Aracely’s ability to cure heartbreak, as well as her being a self-professed curandera, definitely hint at ‘witchcraft’. It’s more about the way things are shown and described, in the moons Sam paints and hangs outside people’s windows, in the roses growing out of Miel’s skin, in the rumoured stained glass coffin meant to make girls more beautiful, in how modern life and themes (immigrants in a small town, transgender teenagers, fear of rejection, or the practice of bacha posh, which I didn’t know about before reading this book…) intertwine with poetry and metaphor, with images of rebirth and growing up and accepting (or realising) who you’re meant to be. Not to mention racial diversity, instead of the usual ‘all main protagonists are whiter than white.’

To be honest, though, as much as the prose was beautiful at first, in the end it seemed like it was trying too much, and the story suffered from too many convoluted paragraphs and redundant descriptions & flashbacks. As it was, even though I liked this book in general, I found myself skimming in places that felt like déjà vu. Granted, it’s much more a character- than a plot-driven novel, but I’m convinced all the prose could’ve been toned down, and it would have remained beautiful without sometimes running in circles and drowning the plot now and then.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars.

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Review: Strange Magic

Posted on January 12th, 2017 @ 23:14
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Strange Magic (Yancy Lazarus #1)Strange Magic by James A. Hunter

My rating: 

Blurb:

Yancy Lazarus is having a bad day: there’s a bullet lodged in his butt cheek, his face looks like the site of a demolition derby, and he’s been saran-wrapped to a banquet table. He never should have answered the phone. Stupid bleeding heart—helping others in his circles is a good way to get dead.

Just ask the gang members ripped to pieces by some kind of demonic nightmare in LA. As a favor to a friend, Yancy agrees to take a little looksee into the massacre and boom, he’s stuck in a turf war between two rival gangs, which both think he’s pinch-hitting for the other side. Oh, and there’s also a secretive ass-hat with some mean ol’ magical chops and a small army of hyena-faced, body- snatching baddies. It might be time to seriously reconsider some of his life choices.

Yancy is a bluesman, a rambler, a gambler, but not much more. Sure, he can do a little magic—maybe even more than just a little magic—but he knows enough to keep his head down and stay clear of freaky-deaky hoodoo like this business in LA. Somehow though, he’s been set up to take a real bad fall—the kind of very permanent fall that leaves a guy with a toe tag. Unless, of course, he can find out who is responsible for the gangland murders, make peace in the midst of the gang feud, and take out said magical ass-hat before he hexes Yancy into an early retirement. Easy right? Stupid. Bleeding. Heart.

Review:

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

A fun enough read in the UF genre, even though it dragged enough in places, and some things would’ve needed more development.

This book is packed with grit, action and magic suited to it, with a no-nonsense main character who wasn’t the most interesting ever, but likeable enough, in a sort of Noir way. This is the kind of character who’ll try to do the right thing, even if it means getting into dire straits, and I can seldom fault that: at least that’s a laudable motivation, and I’ve seen much, much worse in terms of not getting one’s priorities straight.

The novel reads a bit differently in terms of supernatural creatures involved: there’s magic, sure, but not the usual vampires or werewolves—the ‘monsters’ we get to see are more of the Rakshasa or extra-dimensional variety, which is a nice change.

Also, no useless romance, so bonus point as far as I’m concerned. Yancy’s family doesn’t exactly count, the ‘romance’ already happened—but there’s definitely something to unveil here in the next book(s), because why he had to leave them is not very clear.

On the downside, as previously said, the story itself dragged in some parts, causing me to skim more than read; some editing would’ve been good here, and same with the various flashbacks or inserts about this or that fact. (The latter made me think, ‘why not?’, but they tended to break the flow of action when they occurred during, well, action scenes, which is to say regularly.) This reflected on the characters in general: had they been more developed, they would’ve been more interesting to follow. Not to mention the lack of female characters, apart from a passing mention and a hostage.

The antagonist’s motives weren’t deep enough (so the guy doesn’t want to kill, but he still plans on having many people die to further his goal, but he doesn’t like and wish things were different, but he’s still going with it… Huh?), and when considering the plot as a whole, that was a seriously weak point. There were those serious stakes, pitching gangs against each other, trying to get Yancy killed while we’re at it, involving dangerous creatures, for a motive that didn’t hold much water and didn’t make a lot of sense because it was so likelyl to backfire anyway.

Still, I think this series would have potential, were it to give more room to its characters to evolve, so I’ll give the second book a try.

Enregistrer

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Review: The Girl Before

Posted on January 4th, 2017 @ 17:31
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The Girl BeforeThe Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

My rating:

Blurb:

A damaged young woman gets the unique opportunity to rent a one-of-a-kind house. When she falls in love with the sexy, enigmatic architect who designed it, she has no idea she is following in the footsteps of the girl who came before: the house’s former tenant.

Review:

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

When Jane applies to live at One Folgate Street, a minimalist house designed b y famous architect Edward Monkford, after recently suffering bereavment, she doesn’t know yet that another woman, Emma, lived there before her, and that events surrounding her were not of the good kind. What matters is that even though the house comes with two hundred rules designed to make it the perfectly ordered and uncluttered, the rent is cheap, and it’s an opportunity at starting a new life and letting go of a painful past. But Emma’s shadow is everywhere: in the place she inhabited, in how the landlord used to perceive her, in how the house started to shape her… and the same thing may happen to Jane.

Well, this novel was quite readable, and I took pleasure (and was thrilled) at discovering gradually, through a double narrative, what happened to Emma and what is now happening to Jane: their reasons for moving into the house, their personal lives, what tragedies befell them and how those kept affecting them, as well as the parallels slowly drawn between them. There’s a constant game of similarities intertwining here, only to better highlight the differences and subsequent reveals, for neither Emma nor Jane are exactly who we think they are at first.

Granted, some of these revelations are a little convoluted. In hindsight, there’s also nothing invalidating them, and provided one’s willing to take a “what if?” approach, rather than expecting answers and explanations set in stone, well, it can work. They are problematic in some ways, though, for reasons I won’t explain here as not to spoil, but let’s just say that these are unreliable narrators we’re speaking of here, and lies or at least things unsaid are a big part of this story. Including infuriating lies.

I wasn’t satisfied with the ending—to be honest, I much preferred the beginning and the gradual increase in tension, when I was still wondering if there had been a murder or if it was suicide, and if the culprit was who I thought it was, or not. The ending… well, let’s say it was a bit of a letdown, with a last, questionable twist related to ‘perfection vs. imperfection’ that I found callous and uncalled for. Again, no spoilers, but frankly, it was unnecessary (and I don’t think it plays very well either into the theme of ‘sterile perfection and narcissism’ in Edward’s little world).

Conclusion: Enjoyable throughout, only it didn’t reach its full potential in the end.

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Review: All Darling Children

Posted on December 31st, 2016 @ 14:51
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All Darling ChildrenAll Darling Children by Katrina Monroe

My rating:

Blurb:

All boys grow up, except one.

On the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death, fourteen-year-old Madge Darling’s grandmother suffers a heart attack. With the overbearing Grandma Wendy in the hospital, Madge runs away to Chicago, intent on tracking down a woman she believes is actually her mother.

On her way to the Windy City, a boy named Peter Pan lures Madge to Neverland, a magical place where children can remain young forever. While Pan plays puppet master in a twisted game only he understands, Madge discovers the disturbing price of Peter Pan’s eternal youth.

Review:

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

I read Barrie’s book, as well as watched Disney’s Peter Pan movie, so long ago that I honestly can’t remember all details. Still, this retelling looked interesting, and so I decided to give it a try.

Madge, Wendy’s granddaughter, lives a not-so-happy life with her grandma, and keeps trying to escape to find her mother who may or may not be in Chicago. One night, when she finally gets a chance to leave, she gets spirited to Neverland: another chance, one to learn more about her family, her mum, and everything Wendy never told her. However, Neverland quickly turns out to be more terrifying than an enchanted island full of fairies and forever-boys. Clearly not the fairy tale a lot of children and people think about when they hear the name of ‘Peter Pan’ mentioned.

There are interesting themes and ideas in this book: what the boys’ rituals involve exactly, what happened to Jane, the slow disintegration of Neverland, what happened to Hook and Tiger Lily… I’ve always liked the “Hook as an ambiguous villain” approach, and here, he’s definitely of the ambiguous kind, since it’s 1) difficult to know if he wants to help or hinder, and 2) he’s no saint, but Pan is no saint either, so one can understand the bad blood between those two.

I was expecting more, though, and had trouble with some inconsistencies throughout the story. The time period, for one: it seems Madge is living in the 1990s-2000s—welll, some very close contemporary period at any rate—, which doesn’t fit with the early-1900s of the original story. I know it’s not the main focus, yet it kept bothering me no matter what: there’s no way Wendy could still be alive, or at least fit enough to bring up a teenager, and she would’ve had to give birth to Madge’s mother pretty late in life as well. And since there’s no hint that ‘maybe she stayed in Neverland for decades, which is why Jane was born so late,’ so it doesn’t add up. Also, Michael is still alive at the end? How long has it been? He must be over 100 or something by then.

None of the characters particularly interested me either. I liked the concept of Pan as tyrant, but I would’ve appreciate more background on this. And while Madge was described as someone who was strong enough to make things change, her actions throughout the story didn’t exactly paint her in that light; it was more about the other characters saying she was like that, or telling her what she had to do, and her reacting.

I found the ending a bit of an anticlimax. Things went down a bit too easily (I had expected more cunning, or more of a fight, so to speak?)… though props on the very last chapter for the people it shows, and for being in keeping with the grim underlying themes of Neverland (kids who ‘never grow up’, huh).

Conclusion: Worth a try, but definitely not as good as what I expected from a Peter Pan retelling.

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