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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Review: The Cygnus Virus

Posted on December 22nd, 2016 @ 20:35
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The Cygnus VirusThe Cygnus Virus by T.J. Zakreski

My rating:

Blurb:

Andron Varga is a small-town lawyer on planet Terra and he’s having a bad year.

A cosmically bad year.

First, he loses the love of his life to an errant meteorite. And then his computer downloads a virus from deep space that crashes the Internet.

And not just any deep-space-Internet-crashing virus.

Its name is Cygnus and it has a plan. To hijack a human cloning project so that he can be born into the world as Jesus.

All Cygnus needs is a good lawyer willing to do very bad things.

Review:

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

This is rather an oddball. I couldn’t decide whether I somewhat liked it, or if it just wasn’t for me. So in the end, I guess I’m going with a “meh” rating.

This story comes with a blend of crazy sci-fi, people encoding themselves in virtual space, cloning experiments, and religious fanaticism. The parallels with our world are not only obvious but totally on purpose and often played for laughs (the Holy Cloth, lawyer jokes, and so on). This was for the most part enjoyable, and provided for a background that was both unknown but easy to understand.

The “Cygnus Virus” is also, let’s be honest, a troll, and in a way, it was fun to read about (well, provided one doesn’t squirm at the prospect of porn-bombing descriptions and e-mails containing goat pictures and the likes). Not a very “pleasant” character, for sure, and one that struck me as more immature than anything else, not to mention the bleak surroundings and situations he created for Andron and others; still, that cloning project was both hilarious and genius, when you think about it (imagine injecting a /b/-level troll into the cloned body of the next Messiah… yeah, Charlie-Foxtrot much?). OK, it’s vulgar. The Berlin sim had a vulgar side, too, however at the same time it foreshadowed the kind of decision Andron would probably have to make later, and that was interesting. And he tries, the poor guy, doing the best he can with what he has.

And the ending. Cosmic irony to the power of ten. I liked that.

On the other hand… the present tense narration just grated on my nerves from beginning to end—I think this is part of the reason why I never warmed up to the book in general. In some cases, it works, in others it fails.

Moreover, I think the story could’ve gone a bit further in Andron’s motivations and/or Cygnus’s behaviour. Considering the blurb, I expected Andron to be more ruthless, and conversely, Cygnus was more like a kid throwing a tantrum, which was fun, but dampened the potential for Evil he was bringing to Terra.

Conclusion: I liked most of the story’s themes, even though it could’ve done with less sex-troll material and with more seriously-evil instead, but the narrative tense and the outcome (and outlook on life) of some of the characters were perhaps a bit too… well, too b leak to my liking.

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Review: Facehooked

Posted on December 21st, 2016 @ 21:48
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Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and LivesFacehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives by Suzana Flores

My rating:

Blurb:

The number of Facebook users worldwide exceeded one billion in August of 2012. With the increase in Facebook users, psychologists have seen an alarming increase in the number of Facebook related complaints from their clients. Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist, has interviewed Facebook users of all ages for three years exploring the positive and negative features of Facebook and evaluating the effect it has on our lives.

Facehooked explores the problems most commonly found on Facebook, including controversial topics such as self-esteem, privacy, peer pressure, stalking, emotional manipulation, among others. Readers are not only provided with practical tools to help identify and avoid unhealthy behaviors, but also suggestions for healthier interaction on Facebook.

Review:

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

An interesting study on people’s behaviours and addictions on Facebook: a useful social tool in some cases, a problem in others.

To be honest, I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, but that’s because I’m used to social networks, and to reading about them, and to making my own mistakes on them (I was young once, too, right?). For anyone who’s interested in seeing past the surface and a mild or nonexistent usage, this study will bring enough information to be worth one’s time. It’s also interspersed with testimonies that definitely ring true, considering my own experience of Facebook (and other networks) and what I could see on them.

The book offers insights into typical online behaviours, stressing out where the problems are: not being careful enough with one’s privacy (and the consequences thereof), falling in with toxic people, checking one’s account once too many, seeking validation to the point of forgetting that it can and should come from offline life as well (not to say first and foremost), and so on. I’m positive that a lot of us, even though we probably all see ourselves in the light of “this only happens to other people”, are guilty or one or other behaviour—perhaps not in such a dramatic way, but at least slightly. Who’s never posted a selfie they made sure to embellish, or felt slightly miffed when a friend or family member posted a group picture in which we don’t show our best side?

Of course, let’s not be alarmed. Because one is on Facebook doesn’t mean they’re an addict or have psychological issues. But it’s food for thought. How many times a day do we check our social media accounts, or experience “fear of missing out”? Asking oneself this kind of question can be an eye opener—for instance, I find myself browsing FB when I’m in the bus or other “boring” situations, but I guess I could just bring a book, or chat with someone instead.

Downside: in my opinion, the book could have addressed some of these situations in more depth than just “ignore the person” or “stop checking your phone”. I assume that anyone with addictive behaviours has best seeking help, and a mere book won’t replace an actual person, however when it comes to stalker situations especially, there should be more (I mean when someone’s being stalked on Facebook—just saying “well ignore them” places the responsability on the victim’s shoulders, while the faulty person keeps doing what they shouldn’t). I guess that was not the point of the book; still, it would’ve been useful.

Conclusion: A bit too short to my liking—as usual when I’m interested in something, the more the better—yet an interesting read that I’ll recommend, especially to someone who doesn’t know much about social networks.

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Review: The #MonuMeta Social Media Book

Posted on December 18th, 2016 @ 23:15
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The #MonuMeta Social Media BookThe #MonuMeta Social Media Book by Roger Warner

My rating:

Blurb:

Mee Corp is the developer of the world’s number one social network, The Stream. Based at the recently sold-off Natural History Museum, it’s run by bizarre aliens whose seemingly human appearance masks a hideous secret: their sinister mission is to make (fake) people matter. Tara Tamana, The Stream s talented new Head Architect, holds the key to the city’s fate. The trouble is she s got way too much sass to figure it all out – and she’s also gone missing. Who can find her and help her save the day? Enter an ageing janitor, a large marble statue, a small bronze boy and a fairy queen. Their quest is to find the girl and save London from mind control, ham-fisted cloning, and a monstrous arachnid with a voracious appetite…

Review:

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

This one was a bit of a strange read—I guess I could categorise it as an over-the-top near-future sci-fi cum fairies blend, with an underlying funny criticism of social media, abusing technology, and PR stunts? Even though it took me longer to read than I expected (mostly because I had library books I had to finish in a hurry!), in the end it was a positive read, and I had fun.

The story follows the shenanigans of animated statues, ex-librarians become janitors in a museum converted into offices for a software and social media company, genius programmers sometimes too engrossed in their code for their own goods, spirits of a fairy persuasion, and execs with a shady agenda in the name of their real boss. It has highly amusing moments (the Endless Demo!) as well as scary ones (Tara and her bucket of fake bacon in Tank #6)—yes, those vaguebooking-like descriptions are on purpose, since conveying all the weirdness of that future!London isn’t so easy in just a couple of sentences.

Obviously, the nonsense is on the surface; it does make a lot of sense underneath, provided you set aside all questions about “how can statues be animated” and “why would a person’s skin spontaneously turn blue”, which aren’t so important, in fact. I didn’t need explanations here to willingly suspend my disbelief, which is good. What mattered were the dangers looming over our “heroes”, and these were of a kind that could very well hit home at some point: that is, to which extent our daily immersion into the web and social websites, our obsession with sharing everything and knowing everything about each other online, may end up being abused and affecting us in ways we hadn’t imagined. Behind the humour and the antics of a bunch of misfits sometimes not very well-equipped to understand each other, lies this kind of questioning.

On the downside, sometimes the plot seemed to meander and lose itself, in a way that I can probably blame on plot holes rather than on “it’s meant to be weird.” (I tend to consider that a “nonsensical” story still needs an internal logic of its own to function properly, even if that logic seems complete nonsense on the outside. I hope I’m making sense here.) The villains were also a bit too much of the cartoonish kind, and while it can be fun, I keep thinking they would have remained fun yet more credible if that trait hadn’t been enhanced.

Conclusion: 3 stars—but that’s because over the top tends to be my thing, so if it isn’t yours, maybe you’ll like it less, though.

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