Review: Bad Girl Gone

Posted on June 18th, 2017 @ 18:18
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Bad Girl GoneBad Girl Gone by Temple Mathews

My rating:

Blurb:

Sixteen year-old Echo Stone awakens in a cold sweat in a dark room, having no idea where she is or how she got there. But she soon finds out she s in Middle House, an orphanage filled with mysteriously troubled kids.

There s just one problem: she s not an orphan. Her parents are very much alive.

She explains this to everyone, but no one will listen. After befriending a sympathetic (and handsome) boy, Echo is able to escape Middle House and rush home, only to discover it sealed off by crime scene tape and covered in the evidence of a terrible and violent crime. As Echo grapples with this world-shattering information, she spots her parents driving by and rushes to flag them down. Standing in the middle of street, waving her arms to get their attention, her parents car drives right through her.

She was right. Her parents are alive but she s not.

She s a ghost, just like all the other denizens of Middle House. Desperate to somehow get her life back and reconnect with her still-alive boyfriend, Echo embarks on a quest to solve her own murder. As the list of suspects grows, the quest evolves into a journey of self-discovery in which she learns she wasn t quite the girl she thought she was. In a twist of fate, she s presented with one last chance to reclaim her life and must make a decision which will either haunt her or bless her forever.

Review:

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

This ended up being a very uneventful read for me. The premise felt really cool: a girl finds herself in a creepy orphanage, realises it’s actually a kind of purgatory for murdered kids, and tries to find out who killed her so that she can move on. The beginning was intriguing, especially since, like other ghosts in the orphanage, Echo first has to piece together memories of her death—reliving the trauma at once would be too shocking—, and investigating why you’re in an orphanage when last you knew your parents were definitely alive, well, that’s tricky.

The problem lied mainly in how all this was executed. Not particularly thrilling, for starters. Echo has a couple of culprits in mind, so she and the other kids go to ‘haunt’ them and see if they’re going to wield under pressure, or are actually innocent, but… it wasn’t anything scary or memorable, more like pranks, not like the really creepy kind of haunting you could get when adding children/teenagers to the mix (in general, I find kid ghosts scarier than adult ones). The mystery itself—finding the murdered—wasn’t exciting either, nor were the murderer’s reactions. Perhaps this was partly due to Echo’s power as a ghost: entering living people’s bodies in order to perceive their thoughts. The investigation part, in turn, was more about vaguely picking a maybe-potential culprit, scaring them, popping in their mind, then be gone. Then the story. And then Echo’s past as a ‘bad girl’ was revealed, and it turned out it wasn’t so much bad as introduced without much taste.

Definitely cringeworthy was the drama-addled romance. Echo’s living boyfriend, Andy, is all about moping and wanting to kill himself over her death, and… well, call me hard-hearted and callous, but you’re 16 and that kind of relationship is by far NOT the first one you’re going to experience in life, so pegging everything on it always feels contrived to me. Then there’s cute ghost boy Cole, who’s not about murdering the hypotenuse (thanks goodness), yet was strange, considering Andy is not aware of his presence, and so the triangle is… incomplete? (Its attempts at becoming a square later didn’t help either.) Also contains examples of stupid Twue Wuv/The One/soulmate 4evah/Doormat Extraordinaire. Such as Echo being so happy that her corpse was dressed in her favourite dress at her funeral… Favourite because her boyfriend Andy liked it. I still have no idea if Echo herself liked the pattern or colour or whatever. In any case, these are the kind of tropes I dislike in novels in general, and in YA even more. Why always make it look like couple love is the ultimate end, as if nobody (whether girl or boy) couldn’t have a good life in different ways?

In fact, I was more interested in the orphanage’s headmistress (whose back story plays a part for a chapter or so) and other inmates, all with their own murders to solve. These I would’ve liked to see interact more than just as Echo’s sidekicks. But we don’t get to learn much about them, apart from how they died. Too bad.

Conclusion: Nope.

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Review: The Girl from Rawblood

Posted on June 14th, 2017 @ 19:55
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The Girl from Rawblood: A NovelThe Girl from Rawblood: A Novel by Catriona Ward

My rating:

Blurb:

For generations the Villarcas have died mysteriously, and young. Now Iris and her father will finally understand why. . .

At the turn of England’s century, as the wind whistles in the lonely halls of Rawblood, young Iris Villarca is the last of her family’s line. They are haunted, through the generations, by “her,” a curse passed down through ancient blood that marks each Villarca for certain heartbreak, and death.

Iris forsakes her promise to her father, to remain alone, safe from the world. She dares to fall in love, and the consequences of her choice are immediate and terrifying. As the world falls apart around her, she must take a final journey back to Rawblood where it all began and where it must all end…

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I did like the narrative weaving back and forth between past and present, shedding more light on characters that came before Iris and Tom, as well as the atmosphere of Rawblood, both stifling and inviting to nostalgia. I had more trouble keeping interested in the story itself, though: the characters weren’t particularly engaging, so I never cared much about them. I never really felt the connection between Iris and Tom, and therefore its role in the ‘immediate and terrifying’ consequences mentioned in the blurb didn’t have much of an impact

The present tense narration tended to throw me out of the story from time to time, which didn’t help; I’m not sure why, I’m not too keen on that tense when it comes to historical fiction (and/or when several narrators are involved, as it’s often difficult to tell who’s telling the story, and it was the case here at times).

The reveal towards the end made sense in a way, yet seemed to me like it fell a little abruptly, and wasn’t completely… justified. Revenge? But why, considering ‘her’ identity, why would she inflict that on the Villarcas? Accident, couldn’t help it? Hm, not really convinced here. Quite a few things were unclear, and not in a way that contributed to a mysterious / gothic atmosphere.

Conclusion: I may have liked it more, if not for the style and the characters.

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Review: One of Us Is Lying

Posted on June 7th, 2017 @ 21:20
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One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating:

Blurb:

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Review:

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

I’m not sure how I feel exactly about this book. I did expect a lot clichés when I started this book (which the blurb makes clear anyway), and clichés there were, but I’m still not sure I liked or not? Sometimes I do want to see how they pan out; sometimes I want something different from the start. Here, I’d say that mostly they don’t really deviate from the usual outcomes (girl falls for the bad boy, girl/boy cheats on partner, etc.), and the plot is a little heavy on high school stereotype drama at times. I suppose I also expected that the four teenagers’ secrets would be ‘darker’ than ‘oh noes I cheated on my partner’, since this seems to be so very common in plots (and here’s a reminder about how everything feels like the fate of the world depends on it, at that age).

On the other hand, even though these things were predictable, and even though I had my suspicions about the murderer halfway throughout the story, I found myself reading fairly fast because I wanted to see if other secrets would pile up on the existing one, if other characters would help shed light on what really happened, or what other clues would appear. Not that many, it turned out, but… it still kept me entertained.

The mystery was… okay-ish? The story focused more on the characters and their lives unravelling than on providing lots of clues or red herrings—entertaining, but not thrilling.

I had trouble with the 1st person narrative: our four suspected murderers take turns to tell the story, but their respective voices sounded too much like each other, so at times I found myself not too sure of who was telling a specific part, and I had to re-read, or use the ‘chapter’s title’ to see who it was about. The style is somewhat juvenile, however it wasn’t jarring (and definitely -less- jarring than that trend of having teenagers speak like 40-year-old chaps!).

Conclusion: Probably a novel that will hold more appeal for younger readers, but not so much if one is already used to such themes/plots and want to go further than stereotypes.

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Review: Clock Zero

Posted on June 4th, 2017 @ 18:06
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Clock Zero: I'm not my social feedClock Zero: I’m not my social feed by Nawar Alsaadi

My rating:

Blurb:

Tom is your average Joe working at a call center, with his real life going nowhere, Tom’s existence has been reduced to chasing Likes on Facebook and hearts on Instagram and Twitter. For Tom, owning the latest iPhone is what gives his life meaning, until the day he meets the enigmatic Daniel Drake, a man with a daring plan to rid the world of its social media smartphone addiction. Tom is captivated by the premise of a new unplugged world, but is Daniel Drake the good Samaritan he claims to be?

Technology trap. Terrorism. Corporate greed. Meaningless life. Narcissism. Clock Zero beautifully captures the existentialist struggles of this generation through an extraordinary voyage of suspense and satirical discovery.

Review:

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

Quite an interesting story, with likeable characters—possibly a like goofy, too, but I was in the mood for that, and also, taking jabs at helpdesks/customer service? Count me in, I’ve been in that kind of jobs that for some time now, and we all need to find our fun somewhere, otherwise we’d just get bonkers.

Anyway. That was for the fun parts, enhanced with the way the narrator swipes at social media, the amount of time we spend checking Facebook and Twitter, and how it’s so easy to get lost in it. Not that I don’t like my little FB time, but I know what it feels like to turn your computer on at the end of the day and realise you’ve spent the past two hours going through clickbait crap when you could’ve been doing something else. (Like reading, and reviewing, and therefore catching up on your backlog of NetGalley books, so that you can then post your reviews on your blog and FB page and… Wait a second.)

There are less fun parts, too, closer to actual terrorism, with a plot meant to destroy cell towers, satellites, etc., through a virus uploaded on everybody’s smartphones. A revolution of sorts, to force people to look up from their phones and enjoy life again. Kind of extreme (I’m trying not to spend too much time on social media, but let’s be honest, if internet and networks in general are gone, I’m out of a job). One will like this idea or not. It’s probably a case of ‘doing the wrong things for the right reasons’. In the light of recent years and the growing amount of terrorist attacks, this commentary is not, well, enjoyable, yet one can also (unfortunately) relate to it while reading about it (my main Tube hub is closed today because of that, now let me tell you that’s one instance I was glad to hang on FB instead of being out socialising!).

Style: the writing is OK, some typos now and then (it was an ARC so hopefullyl those were corrected in the final version), and at first the narrator alluding to hashtags and emojis was a little confusing. Nothing too bad, though.

I’m torn about the twist in the end—can’t decide whether I like it, or would have preferred the story to end one chapter earlier. Still unsure as well if the book was meant to be totally satirical, and if I should get angry at it (I preferred to treat is as satire and fun, because I’m too lazy and it’s too hot outside to waste energy into such feelings).

Conclusion: Maybe not the best read you can find when it comes to taking jabs at social, yet enjoyable nonetheless.

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Review: Upside Down

Posted on May 29th, 2017 @ 21:58
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Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in StorytellingUpside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling by Monica Valentinelli

My rating:

Blurb:

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is an anthology of short stories, poetry, and essays edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates. Over two dozen authors, ranging from NYT-bestsellers and award winners to debut writers, chose a tired trope or cliche to challenge and surprise readers through their work.

Read stories inspired by tropes such as the Chainmaille Bikini, Love at First Sight, Damsels in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Black Man Dies First, The Villain Had a Crappy Childhood, The Singularity Will Cause the Apocalypse, and many more…then discover what these tropes mean to each author to find out what inspired them.

Review:

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

3.5/4 stars; I liked quite a few of these short stories, none of them made me roll my eyes, and to be fair, the essays at the end of the book were also quite interesting.

My favourites:

* “Single, Singularity”: While it doesn’t really invert the trope it’s based on, I’m a sucker for AI stories, and this one was both thrilling, and chilling in its ending.

* “Seeking Truth”: The ‘blind psychic’ trope, subverted in that here, the blind person is extremely skilled at reading other people, no need for special powers for that.

* “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place?”: A mix of Sesame Stree-like TV shows and jaded ex-super soldiers trying to go home. Very nostalgic, perhaps a wee bit long, but a good read nonetheless.

* “Chosen”: A comic twist on ‘the Chosen’, with jabs at tropes like the gun-toting weapons maniac, the Buffy-like teenager fighting demons, and pedantic occultist scholar. This one was really fun.

* “The White Dragon”: A different take on the ‘yellow peril’, in a 1920s San Francisco (also, I liked revisiting that city in such a light, now that I’ve finally been able to actually travel there).

* “Her Curse, How Gently It Comes Undone”: The Witch and the Damsel In Distress, poised against each other, each with their wiles and strengths, and with the story playing on the trope of men rescuing the Damsel… only they’re not the right people to do the job.

* “Burning Bright”: I really liked the main character here, just the right mix of slightly hinged and yet fairly grounded at the same time.

* “Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint)”: This story plays well on both the Santa Claus/Christmas and ‘old soldier goes back to war’ tropes.

* “The First Blood of Poppy Dupree”: At first I thought this would be about werewolves, and it turned out it was something else, which I liked.

* “Until There is Only Hunger”: A strong story, with a definite end-of-the-world feeling, dwindling hope mixed with growing despair, and characters trying to find whatever comfort they can, although this rings more and more hollow. Bonus point for characters not being typical cis/hetero/white.

* “Drafty as a Chain Mail Bikini”: I suspected where this one was going, but I liked it, and it made me laugh.

* “The Tangled Web”: Love at first sight and romance woes… but not among humans, which lent a different dimension to this story.

The essays: definitely read those. They deal with the Hero’s Journey, its limitations, the Heroine’s Journey, its limitations as well, and push further, when it comes to trans and gay/lesbian heroes, which is really needed. Because let’s be honest: it’s already difficult to find a good story where a woman is not reduced to accomplishment = family/motherhood/taking care of others, but it’s even worse when you’re non-binary.

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