“So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online.” // Review of Viral by Helen Fitzgerald #aww2016

Title: Viral
Author: Helen Fitzgerald
Audio book narrator: Ellie Griffiths, Vivien Heilbron
Genre: Thriller
Date Read: 22/05/2016 – 24/05/2016
Rating: ★★★
Review:
viralcoverThis is a book that will definitely get you thinking about issues of consent, online bullying and the woefully inadequate laws we have to deal with it. However, I have to admit that the writing let me down a bit.

The book opens with Su-Jin Oliphant-Brotheridge, South Korean by birth but adopted as a baby by Scottish parents, dealing with the aftermath of a very humiliating video of her being posted online. Chapters alternate between Su trying to remember the events of that night, and her Sheriff (that’s Scottish Sheriff, not American) mother trying to find a way to punish those who have humiliated not only Su but the entire family.

Su has always been the sensible, practical one, while her sister Leah has been wilder. This has meant that in their teen years they have started to drift apart, but Su has always hoped they could regain the closeness they had when they were young. The disparities between these two characters were really well-drawn, and I really enjoyed seeing Su learn to come out from under Leah’s shadow and their eventual reconciliation.

Unfortunately, I felt that the chapters from their mother, Ruth’s, POV let the story down a bit. When informed that technically, the video breaks no crimes, Ruth sets about seeking her own justice for her daughter and her family. While I know that many middle-aged people are not so tech-savvy, I would have thought that someone in Ruth’s position in life would have had at least a working knowledge of how videos might end up going viral, and how social media works. This was not the case, and it didn’t endear me to her character, because she just ended up coming across as really naive. Her chapters also alternated between past and present tense, and I kept getting the timeline confused, which didn’t help.

I actually thought that the book may have ended up with a rather unsavoury ending, but fortunately, this was not the case (the unsavoury-ness may have still happened after the end of the book, but it’s never mentioned). I actually really liked the way it ended and that was enough to bump it up from 2.5 to 3 stars for me. Overall, this is definitely a thought-provoking book, but one that falls a little flat in the execution.


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(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

Book Review: Captive Prince by C. S. Pacat #aww2016

Title: Captive Prince
Author: C. S. Pacat
Genre: Queer fiction/fantasy
Date Read:
27/03/2016 – 30/03/2016
Rating: ★★

Review:

captiveprincecoverFair warning, this review contains spoilers.

There are parts of this novel that I want to bring up that some readers may prefer not to know about. I also want to give trigger warnings for rape and other sexual violence. I’ll try to keep my ranting to a minimum, but this book did make me cranky.

Last July I read For Darkness Shows the Stars and really enjoyed it. When I was perusing some other reviews, I came across one written by a black American, who pointed out that a slave owner is still a slave owner, regardless of how benevolent they are, and a narrative where they were presented as the good guys was offensive to her. While I didn’t change my rating of the book because I wanted to accurately reflect how I felt about the book when I read it, this review did make me rethink how I viewed certain narratives from my privileged position as a straight, white reader.

Memories of this came back to me as I was reading The Captive Prince, which even I found to be even worse than FDSTS in terms of its slave narrative. Given that the term “pleasure slave” is in the blurb, I went in expecting that there would be probably be some questionable sexual content in there. What I didn’t expect, though, was a whole aristocracy obsessed with sex, who see rape as a form of entertainment, and who have “pets” as young as thirteen who pleasure them, or pleasure each other while their owners look on.

Aggh, just writing that paragraph has made me feel gross all over again.

Ostensibly, the country where all of this is going is the “enemy” of the books main hero, Damen, deposed Prince of Akelios. However, Prince Laurent, quintessential anti-hero, heir to the throne of Vere and Damen’s eventual love interest, is entirely complicit to this behaviour, and even if he never actively participates in the abuse himself, he does watch, and in one scene instructs another character on how to perform a sex act on Damen, who is an unwilling participant in the scenario. I’m all for a good redemption storyline, but I feel that someone who has grown up in this atmosphere has very little chance for it, and even if he changes, how much of the rest of the country is going to change along with him?

The other thing that bothered me was exactly the issue that was brought up in that other For Darkness Shows the Stars review. Damen objects to the treatment of the slaves in Vere, and argues that in Akelios, the slaves give up free will in the knowledge that they will have a “perfect life”. Well, that’s all very well, but you’re still keeping them around to do your bidding, including sleeping with you at your whim, even if you do treat them nicely. Also, they are “trained” in the art of submission and pleasing their masters, which is sex slavery at worst and grooming at best, which has its own slew of problems.

Having said all of that, C. S. Pacat is a good writer. More than once, I felt conflicted about the fact that I was enjoying the writing, and that I did want to keep reading, despite my objections to the content, even if not a huge amount happens until the last third or so of the book. However, for that reason, I very steadfastly avoided reading the Chapter 1 preview of the next book, because I didn’t want to put myself through this all over again. I have heard from several places that Book 2 is a lot better, and given the set-up, it seems it probably would be, but when I have so many books already on my TBR, I don’t want to risk one that may very well make me cranky all over again.

(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

Book Review: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil #aww2016

Title: Life in Outer Space
Author: Melissa Keil
Genre: Contemporary YA
Date Read:
08/03/2016 – 10/03/2016
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

lifeinouterspacecoverAfter having enjoyed Melissa Keil’s second novel, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, so much when I read it last year, it was only a matter of time before I sought out her first one, Life In Outer Space. While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much, Melissa Keil certainly has a wonderful narrative voice that makes her books a pleasure to read.

Sam and his friends are unapologetic geeks, just trying to get through the last couple of years of school without getting beaten up too many times by the local jocks. Then along comes Camilla, the daughter of a famous music journalist. She seems to work some kind of magic on everyone in their year group, but especially Sam, and before he knows it, she has completely rewritten his normal routine for him.

I have to admit that one reason it took me nearly six months to get around to this book was that while I was pretty sure I loved Cinnamon Girl for its writing as much as anything, I wasn’t sure I’d be as interested in a book with a male protagonist. Sam is a really sympathetic character, though; he would resonate with anyone who was a nerd or geek as a teenager, myself included. As with her other book, it was really obvious that Melissa Keil has a lot of geek-cred. She didn’t just do a bit of research into nerd culture, she understands completely the references she is making.

I did think that Camilla was a little bit too Manic Pixie Dream Girl (look it up on TVTropes) to feel like a real character. She gets on with both the popular crowd at school and the geeks in Sam’s group, she plays WoW (and is good at it, much to Sam’s amazement), and she’s a super-talented songwriter, though she doesn’t like to talk about it. Still, she wasn’t quite at Mary Sue levels of special snowflake, so I was still able to enjoy her part in the story.

The whole narrative is cute and light-hearted, even when the subject matter gets a bit heavy. My main issue was that I felt that perhaps Melissa Keil had recycled ideas from this book into her second (which I read first), as there were lots of similarities. For example, the main character in this book is an aspiring screenwriter with writer’s block; the main character in Cinnamon Girl is an aspiring comic writer with writer’s block. In both books, a character appears who makes huge changes in the lives of the characters around him/her. However, I was reading fairly quickly and was for the most part able to ignore these.

I definitely recommend Melissa Keil’s work to any fans of contemporary YA. She has a third book coming out this year and she is definitely an author to keep an eye on!

Book Review: Mirrorfall by Grace McDermott #aww2016

Title: Mirrorfall (Require: Cookie #1)
Author: Grace McDermott
Genre: NA/urban fantasy
Date Read: 11/01/2016 – 18/01/2016
Rating: ★★☆

Review:

mirrorfallcoverI was recommended this series by a friend years ago when it was still a web serial and not yet available in book form. I think perhaps if I had also read it as a web serial, I would have been a little more forgiving of it, but as it was, I found it hard to really enjoy. It definitely delivers on its promise of being “urban fantasy for geeks”, but a lot of that went over my head, too, which didn’t help.

When Stef Mimosa was only two, she died of a gunshot wound, but an Angel confronted Death and brought her back. Years later, Stef still remembers this, but she tries to focus on science instead, and pays the bills as a hacker. After a job goes crazy wrong, her Angel, actual name Ryan, finds her hiding in a wardrobe, and introduces her to the Agency, an organisation that combines magic and technology to benefit and protect the masses. When Stef joins them, they are in preparation for Mirrofall, an event where another world ends and pieces fall to Earth. Stef quickly embarks on training to help her take part in the process, but her own insecurities threaten to prevent her from ever really being part of this new world.

I think one of the issues is that the book covers such a short space of time. The events really only take place over about a week, so in terms of character, there is little time for anything to really change. When you think about this short time span, the fact that Stef undergoes very little character growth, and is still having exactly the same “I’m a failure, I can’t be here, I’ll f*ck everything up” freak-outs at 90% that she was having at 25% of the book, is not surprising. But it’s frustrating to continue reading that and not see any change.

On the flip side, Ryan was very quick to adopt her as the daughter-he-never-had (he has a son who has nothing to do with him, but Stef remembers him saving her and he’s sentimental about things like that) and to let his affection for her cloud his judgement. He makes some really poor decisions for really no reason at all, like making her a field agent like him in the first place, and then letting her be in the field with him for the Mirrorfall, despite the fact that she hasn’t even had a week’s worth of training and she is really better suited to the tech department.

There’s another character, Curt, who does actually point out these issues, but I felt like I was supposed to be finding him annoying and whiny, rather than the voice of reason.

The world-building was actually really good, but filtered through Stef’s tech-oriented mind, a lot of it went over my head. I’m still not sure whether Ryan was AI or what. Stef viewed him as some sort of program or code, but I didn’t actually understand for the most part. I did enjoy the descriptions of the different magical creatures that Stef and Ryan met.

The other main issue was that this definitely could have used another edit. There were typos and words missing often enough, and certain… not really leet-speak, but words mostly used online like “fsck” instead of swearing and “pls” rather than please. I wouldn’t have minded if it had been Stef writing a note, but when she used “pls” in dialogue, it seemed odd.

While the editing isn’t something that can be fixed by anyone but the author, from the reviews I’ve read of the second book, it does sound like it addresses some of the plot/character issues I had, so I haven’t entirely written off. It’s just always a bit sad when you don’t love a book as much as the friend who recommended it did.