BOOK REVIEWS

CREMA by Johnnie Christmas

I won’t lie, the main reason why I picked up Crema was the f/f romance (the pretty cover also helped). Sadly, although Crema had the potential of being a sweet love story with a touch of the supernatural, the execution left a lot to be desired. The plot felt hurried and the undeveloped main characters lead to a rather uninspiring romance.

The first few pages give us some speedy exposition about Esme’s past (she can see ghosts) before we move to the ‘present’ when Esme, now a young adult, works as a barista. In the space of a few pages she meets and falls for Yara and the two go from 0 to 100 in way too fast. One moment they are checking each other out, the next they have moved in together. Neither of their personalities really came across, as each page seemed more intent on advancing the frankly predictable plot than giving some depth to its characters. The bad guys are conveniently bad 24/7, our couple has an avoidable misunderstanding before the last act, and the ghost situation gets out of hand.
While the supernatural elements felt kind uninspired, I did like the design of some of the ghosts. The art in general was very pretty, although, if I had to be 100% honest I’ll admit that the way Esme is depicted is kind of…meh.
All in all this was a quick and forgettable read. Maybe those who haven’t read a lot of comics or ghost-stories may find this to be more rewarding that I did.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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BOOK REVIEWS

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

This novel has quite a lot of potential. The summary is made to intrigue, and I soon found myself buying a copy of it. Overall, I did ‘sort of’ like it, however, there were quite a lot of things that kept me from really enjoying the story. My main ‘issue’ is that Creatures of Will and Temper is very superficial. The characters are flimsy, the story is shallow and the execution is far too tentative.
First of all, I believe this is a pastiche of certain Victorian novels.I knew that the tone of the novel would be rather light so I was hoping for an amusing parody. The ‘connection’ that this novel claims to have to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray isn’t really apparent. Mentioning one beautiful painting isn’t the same as reinterpreting Wilde’s story.
Onto the novel itself…There is too much focus on small petty arguments between the two sisters; a good 70% of the story is the two fighting with each other and feeling ‘angsty’ about their lives. I know that the author is making fun of their dramatics, but, the length spent on these stupid quarrels makes them harder to laugh at.
A lot of the dialogues and the characters’ inner monologues came across as frivolous. Trivial talk that didn’t really bring the plot forward slowed the storyline’s pace. The story itself isn’t really fleshed out: I was expecting so much more from the supernatural element, which to my mind, played a very minor role in this novel.
There were moments in which I was amused by the over the top characters but they just didn’t last long. The story is rather inclusive and the finale is just laughable.
I think this would have worked much better if Tanzer had kept to a light-hearted tone without stressing the conflict between the sisters, and by better incorporating the supernatural element into her story.

My rating: 3.25 stars

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BOOK REVIEWS

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memory offers similar feelings as the ones experienced during a rollercoaster: it has its ups and downs but overall it is a mostly enjoyable ride. The book is named after its protagonist, Karen Memory, who narrates her past adventures with a fresh and fun voice. Her vocabulary which is full of slangs and humorous expression give an unique approach to an otherwise predictable storyline. In fact, it is mostly due to Karen being such an engaging and amusing character that make you want to read more.
Karen Memory mostly focuses on Karen’s particularly witty storytelling: she addresses the reader, foreshadows future events and knowing the outcome of her own story she is also able to criticize and comment her own –as well as other characters– previous behaviours and actions. Karen’s ‘unpolished’ prose narrates to the reader her very own story. It is then Karen’s own storytelling and her rather direct narrative style that make certain portions of Karen Memory particularly absorbing.
The heroine of her own story, Karen, could be both incredibly stubborn and insecure. She knows her worth and is capable of recognizing wherever she has acted rashly or not. Her funny and clever commentary make her into an entertaining and likable character that is easy to root for.
The other characters are mostly caricatures of the Old Western genre. However, despite this, the author was able to create an inclusive and likable cast of characters. Karen’s interactions with them can be incredibly lively and funny. Karen’s romantic relationship with Priya, the young girl who sets in motion the chain of events that become Karen’s ‘adventure’ – is perhaps the most noteworthy: it offers something more heartfelt than just a simple easy-laugh.

The plot mostly relies on Karen’s upbeat storytelling. With its ‘Old West’ vibe and the many references to the Western genre, Karen Memory is exactly what it claims to be: a lighthearted and playful adventure yarn. It is far from being a serious and intense read; it’s an action-adventure sort of Western with girls and guns and steam-powered trappings.
The ‘bad guys’ are recognizable as being as such right at the very start of the story. Soon certain scenes seemed a bit repetitive and predictable. So much so that the whole book feels like a series of chase scenes. More problematic is that a lot of the action is just a ‘reaction’: there is nothing complicated about it, the main characters are simply retaliating to the bad guys.
While Karen Memory succeeds in containing larger-than-life heroes, scheming villains, and gritty action it does not offer a complex narrative with difficult characters and provocative concepts. The author favours a fast-snapping plot over deep or poignant themes.
Karen Memory does not have a thoughtful plot or multi-layered characters. The book did feel a bit flat and predictable but in a way it is so because of its wanting to make homage to the ‘Western’ genre. While it does rely too much on the genres common tropes by having a young female protagonist who falls head over heels for a young Indian girl, it does also satirizes it. Steampunk elements also add a nice little touch to the setting, although at times descriptions of these ‘elements’ were a bit unclear.
Overall, Karen Memory reads a lot like a movie. It relies on its quirky storytelling and action scenes rather than including a unique setting or a complex story.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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BOOK REVIEWS

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

For the most part, I really loved reading The Stolen Child. Carey’s writing is a real treat to read, and I was intrigued by the story from the very beginning. However, as much as I enjoyed it, I was equally very irritated by certain parts of it. No matter my reaction, negative or not, I did feel passionate about this book, so for that reason alone, I would recommend it.

The Stolen Child is set in a remote fictional island, just off the Irish coast, during the late 1950s. Drawing on Irish folklore and mythology, the author deftly places a narrative of magical realism against a domestic backdrop. Carey has crafted an eerie tale in which the setting and supernatural elements allow her to explore the extremity of human behaviour away from the ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ world. The book delves into the dangers and powers of superstition while also addressing themes such as motherhood, friendship and rivalry. Carey easily shifts between domestic mundanity and a more magical reality while also depicting the ambiguity of a community torn between two worlds.

Like their island, the residents of St. Brigid, a saint that is both pagan and christian, have clashing beliefs: they believe both in the existence of fairies and a christian God. They are a traditional people who do not mind being cut-off from the rest of civilization. However, when storms and accidents the populations dwindles. So much so that the last few inhabitants of St. Brigid have been promised new council houses on the mainland. Not all are eager to leave the island behind. Twins Emer and Rose – married to two brothers – have opposing views. Emer, feared by others for the strange gift she possesses, desperately wants to leave because she fears that her young son, Niall, will be taken by the faeries. Rose, on the other hand, would happily raise her children on the island. Tensions arise further with the arrival of an American, a woman named Brigid, who has inherited a house on St. Brigid, and is seeking a well rumored to cure any illness. The islanders, who are a secluded people, do not welcome her foreign ways. That is with the exception of Emer. Emer, an outcast herself, is intrigued by Brigid, especially since she suspects that the newcomer may possess powers of her own.

The Stolen Child is an emotionally torrid book in which lies a seam of violence which was often unnecessary. In fact, one couldn’t help but to feel a sense of foreboding while reading this novel. There is a constant sense of dread that is emphasized by the unease between the two protagonist. Carey centers her story centres on two equally unlikable characters and putting Emer’s gratuitous cruelty against Brigid’s conceitedness. Much of the story revolves around the relationship between these two women. While they both possess ties to the faery people of St. Brigid, they do not share the same ideals, and that is what makes their relationship so tense. This may could deter some readers, given that many will undoubtedly find Brigid to be cruel and vainglorious despite the author’s attempt to make her seem like a kind of ideal feminist ‘hero’.

Carey plays around with different concepts by linking fairies and magic with lust, rape, pleasure and power. The author’s lyrical style matches the story’s atmospheric setting and alluring storyline. Using a poetical and sensual voice Carey has created a tale imbued with myths and old lore. The constant sense of anguish however detracts from the overall enjoyment of the novel. Also, it was impossible to gloss over the fact that all of the characters, especially Brigid and Emer, are –for the most part– incredibly infuriating. The Stolen Child uses a melodic prose to tell an enticing mystery that explores the nature of fear, love and authority but also suffers from a story populated by unsavoury characters. Towards the end, the plot loses its initial spark, and by then I had grown tired of the two detestable main characters, so, despite loving Carey’s writing, I think that The Stolen Child would have benefited from a more conclusive plot. Last but not least, I didn’t always like the way in which the author handled certain things; that is to say that I couldn’t tell wherever she actually approved of how some of her characters behaved or not.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to read Carey again.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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