Review

Review: The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A murder mystery set partly in an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)? Intriguing.

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss definitely appealed to my (not so) inner geek, as the cover claims. In fact, not only geeks will be able to understand Dahlia. She will probably be familiar to many a twenty-something year old, trying to find their way in life. Unemployed for thirteen months, apparently useless at job interviews and unlucky in love, Dahlia Moss is offered a job by a strange friend of her flatmate – as a private detective. She is asked to work out who stole something from him. But that something is an item from an online game, and within a few days of asking her, her ’employer’ has been murdered. Dahlia soon finds herself caught up in a lot more than she expected.

At first, I found Dahlia a funny character. She was witty and happy-go-lucky, but soon her jokes and moods began to rub off on me and I actually found her to be quite irritating. How could someone be so useless, and miss SO MANY CLUES? Additionally, her flatmate felt a little too much like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl type of character, with her impromptu home theatre shows and crazy personality. In fact, most characters felt a little ‘cookie cutter’.

On the other hand, the story was quite fun, if a bit ridiculous. Dahlia gets dragged into the game more and more often as she gets deeper into the mystery, and learns more about her ’employers’ guildmates. However, the overall conclusion felt so weak, especially the motive behind the murder – as well as the murderer being quite obvious to the reader.

Whilst Dahlia Moss was a fun read at times, it loses points from me for having a rather abrasive main character, as well as being a little too obvious in its mystery. However, whilst the subject of MMORPGs/video games in books seems to be appearing more often, it’s still not that common – so if you’re looking for a book that involves those elements, it might be worth taking a look at this.

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Review

Review: The Eye of Minds (The Mortality Doctrine #1) by James Dashner

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

The Eye of Minds opens with the protagonist, Michael, witnessing a girl commit suicide within the game world of the VirtNet. But before doing so, she talks to Michael and tells him she will never be free. She cuts out her Core, the device which keeps the virtual life separate from the real one – meaning that if she dies in the game, she dies in real life.

The VirtNet is a place of escape for millions of people, who link up to the game via boxes which provide them with nutrients whilst they play. To some, having a virtual reality world to escape into 24/7 may be perfect. However, this shocking opening shows that there is a dark side to this virtual utopia – because it’s never a utopia, right? Through witnessing this act, Michael becomes involved with something he never expected, something that requires him to risk not only his virtual life, but his real one too.

The Eye of Minds is a very fast-paced novel that almost constantly kept up a sense of terror and fear, with Michael and his friends being pursued at every move. It took something that sounded like it could be an amazing invention and showed how it could go horribly, horribly wrong. Whilst I love the idea of a virtual reality online game, this was pretty terrifying. Whilst Michael’s friends, Sarah and Bryson, felt a little flat in all that we knew about them was that they were excellent coders, this also reflected how little Michael knew about his own best friends.

With a fantastic twist that I did NOT see coming, this is a fast-paced and action-packed science fiction novel with an element of mystery. It ended at a great point and got me really excited for book two. Whether you’re a gamer or not, I highly recommend this book – after all, just like with virtual reality, you forget the characters are in fact within a game for the majority of the book. Perfect for fans of the .//hack series or Ready Player One.

Review

Review: Drawn by Cecilia Gray

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

It took me a while longer to get to this book than I intended, especially as it is relatively short, and by that point I’d pretty much completely forgotten what it was about! Therefore I decided to dive into it with little knowledge, and was pleasantly surprised.

The basic premise is that Sasha, our protagonist, was abandoned as a baby and grew up in various foster homes. Due to a strange power of hers that makes people who hear her voice speak whatever is on their mind at that moment, she didn’t last long with many families, who were afraid of what she could do. Sasha ends up working for the CIA, as an agent in training, who want to use her strange gift to their advantage. After living happily with one agent for several years, she is suddenly placed on a case in Belgium and has to relocate, leaving behind everything familiar.

Drawn was a sweet story, if not hugely well-developed. It had a really interesting premise – a girl able to make people speak their minds, recruited by the CIA – and I would love to see it as a full novel rather than the 150 odd pages it currently is. This would also have allowed more time to develop the characters from the cookie cutter characters they are, particularly Vivianne as the teenage rebel. Sasha as a protagonist was interesting, with her artistic talents as well as the more unusual, and I really like one particular personal element that was added at the beginning of every chapter: comic strips of Sasha’s life, drawn by Sasha herself. She felt more real, more 3D, although unfortunately she was one of very few developed characters. The reason for Sasha having to go to Belgium seemed a bit far-fetched: the CIA getting involved in graffiti terrorist? Really? But I suppose it had to also be something suitable for younger audiences. The ending was lacking, but again I think the book would really have benefitted from being longer.

This was very much a story about building friendships and trust, about first love and working out who you really are and where you belong. Those were the elements I enjoyed, more so than the mystery of the identity of Kid Aert. A sweet, short story that I would love to see developed into a full novel.

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #8: L.A. Noire & Crime Noir

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to talk about: the influences of crime noir on the video game L.A. Noire.

L.A. Noire is one of my absolute favourite video games. Set in Los Angeles in 1947, the player takes on the role of Cole Phelps, an LAPD officer, who works his way up the ranks and through the various departments. It uses very unique technology, in that each of the voice actors were actually filmed as they recorded their lines, making each character’s face very realistic. The reason for this is that the player, as Cole Phelps, must interview and question various people, making judgements based on their facial responses, expressions and body language.

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Influenced by crime noir films and books of the 1940s and 1950s, the developers have made sure this is reflected in everything from the colour palette used to advertisements seen around Los Angeles, from the language that the people use to the songs and radio stations on Phelps’ car radio. Each case that the player must attempt to solve borrows from crime noir film and fiction in various ways, and I wanted to share a few of those bookish influences with you today.

The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe #1) by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep

When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.

Raymond Chandler is possibly one of the biggest influences on L.A. Noire, an infamous crime writer whose noir fiction has been well-loved since publication. The Big Sleep is the first book in his Philip Marlowe series, and like Marlowe, Phelps finds himself embroiled in a lot more than he expected. As well as being an influence on the game itself, there is a small tribute to Chandler’s work – the theatre on Sunset Boulevard within the game also advertises a screening of the film of The Big Sleep.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and when Spade’s partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby’s trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him?

Although The Maltese Falcon is set in San Francisco, rather than Los Angeles, there is no denying its influence on L.A. Noire. As the author who popularised ‘hard-boiled’ detective novels, the crime noir genre owes Dashiell Hammett a lot. Like The Big Sleep, the developers made a nod to The Maltese Falcon when they made the film one of the hundred film reels that Phelps can collect around Los Angeles.

L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet #3) by James Ellroy

L.A. Confidential

Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three LAPD detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The novel takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood.

L.A. Confidential is the third in James Ellroy‘s L.A. Quartet, and probably the most famous of the series – as well as being one of the longest crime novels ever written. Although it is set four years after the events of L.A. Noire, the game used similar ideas of corrupt cops and showing the less glamorous side of Hollywood. It is also not the only Ellroy book that inspired events in the game: his account of the real-life events of the Black Dahlia Murder (The Black Dahlia) also influenced one particular case within the game.

I have to say that playing L.A. Noire has definitely made me more interested in reading some crime noir fiction. Thanks to the game, I feel a little more familiarity with the events of the period (and the music, oh the music!) which makes fiction set then more appealing. I also loved how Phelps’ character was built in the game – he is definitely not flawless – and would love to read about more characters like that.

Have you ever played L.A. Noire, or read any crime noir books? What did you think?

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I found a nice shiny new car… and this happened five minutes later. Oops. Bye bye, nice shiny new car.
Blog Tour, Review

Blog Tour + Review: Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes #2) by Anthony Horowitz

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

This review is part of the TLC Book Tours tour for Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz.

I’m not really one for blog tours nowadays – or rather, I’m very picky about which books I go for. However, having read Anthony Horowitz’ first Sherlock Holmes reboot, House of Silk, I knew I would be more than happy to join the tour for its sequel, Moriarty.

As with House of Silk, Horowitz immediately captures the spirit and style of Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing, and honestly if I was given a sample of writing from the two of them, I’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. Therefore these books fit seamlessly into the Sherlock Holmes universe, and I really do believe that Anthony Horowitz was the perfect choice to take on this big task. His Victorian London is dark and atmospheric, and it’s easy to imagine Holmes and Watson solving crime there. It was also interesting to meet a character so similar to Sherlock – or rather, a man so obsessed with him that he had begun to mimic Sherlock’s ways and techniques.

Unfortunately, despite the fantastic writing, I wasn’t hugely drawn in by the story. House of Silk kept me reading, turning pages and following the mystery, but I just wasn’t quite as interested in Moriarty. I felt the ending was a little predictable, although I have to admit it wasn’t until about half way through that I worked it out – I had someone else in mind for the first fifty percent or so.

Overall, a good addition to the Sherlock Holmes universe, and I stand by my word when I say they could not have picked anyone better than Anthony Horowitz to carry on writing about Holmes. Not quite as enjoyable as House of Silk for me personally, but a fun mystery novel nonetheless, with a wonderful cover to boot.

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Review

Review: Midnight Crossroad (Midnight #1) by Charlaine Harris

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Previously on the blog, I’ve discussed Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Novels quite a bit. I’ve recommended books for fans of the TV show adaptation, written a guide to the series for Horror October, discussed representations of vampires in media and chatted about my thoughts on the series. The series may have dragged a little towards the end in my opinion, but I carried on reading because I had to know what happened to Sookie and co – and overall it’s a series that I’ll always cherish, for its wonderfully dark sense of humour and great cast of characters. So imagine my delight when I discovered that Charlaine was working on another series – one that promises to bring together characters from ALL of her previous series! And thanks to both Netgalley and the publisher, Gollancz, I’ve had the chance to read the first book.

The first chapter is written in a rather unusual style, introducing the reader to the small town (or rather hamlet) of Midnight, Texas. Although it was quite a nice way to set up the tiny community and its residents, there was just too much information to take in at once and some of it felt totally unnecessary – for example, about the decoration in Fiji’s house and garden. However, what the first chapter did give me was a picture of a close-knit community, that is perhaps hiding something a lot bigger and rather out of the ordinary. The idea of a small country town with just a few inhabitants, but ALL of them with something mysterious or secrets they want to keep hidden is a pretty engrossing one!

Although the story is told from several third person POVs, I suppose Manfred would be considered the main character. Everything begins when he moves into town, and the reader often sees the world through his eyes: like Manfred, they are also new to Midnight. I didn’t much like Manfred. He is an internet and telephone psychic, and whilst he genuinely has some ability (apparently, not that he has really used it yet) he actually admits that a lot of what he does is fictitious and uses psychological manipulation. He just seemed completely fraudulent to me, and then the fact that he thinks he can go at scoff at Fiji for being a witch seemed rather… laughable. He also develops a bit of fixation on one of the young girls in the town by the name of Creek, which was just creepy. Although he is revealed to be only twenty-two to her eighteen/nineteen (I originally assumed he was early to mid thirties), the way he thinks about this girl he barely knows is, for want of a better word, quite frankly rather ‘stalkerish’.

My favourite characters were Fiji, a witch who runs a shop and various classes on magic from her home, and her cat, Mr. Snuggly. Mr. Snuggly was actually one of the most interesting characters, in my opinion… I’d like to learn more about the Reverend, who is DEFINITELY hiding something and I have a suspicion as to what it might be, but looks like I’ll have to keep reading the series to confirm my theory.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Midnight Crossroad is sort of an amalgamation of all of Charlaine Harris’ previous novels, including characters from previous books, implying that they are in fact all set in the same universe. Despite the presence of a vampire, and the reference to True Blood (as ‘that synthetic stuff’) and various other supernatural entities, it felt like a very different world. Not that it’s a bad thing. The vampire in the story, Lemuel, is more accepted by his fellow citizens than many of the vampires of Bon Temps and Shreveport – although Midnight has a much, much smaller and apparently less prejudiced community. No-one seems to bat an eyelid at a vampire in their midst, and even when some more surprises come later on, everyone takes them fairly calmly. Which just goes to show that life in Midnight is not exactly ‘normal’… I found myself waiting for familiar characters from the Sookie Stackhouse Novels, but unfortunately none have appeared so far!

Although I did enjoy the book, I had a couple of criticisms. For the first third of the story, until Midnight’s residents made a shocking discovery, and the surprising twist that comes with it, it felt a bit dry. It wasn’t until that moment that I felt the book really picked up. I also have to question the logic of the citizens of Midnight. One character’s girlfriend ups and leaves two months prior to the beginning of the story. Without a single possession. And he ASSUMES that she’s just left him because she doesn’t love him, has met someone else etc – why would she go without a single thing? Why would you not report her as missing sooner? If someone you love DISAPPEARS without taking a single thing with them, not their purse, phone, passport etc, why would you assume it’s because they don’t care? The other problem I had with the book was the conclusion: Midnight’s residents deal with their ‘villain’ in a very illogical and stupid way, pretty much putting themselves at risk.

In conclusion, whilst I enjoyed Midnight Crossroad it didn’t feel like anything special. The conclusion was shocking, but for everything supernatural about Midnight it just seemed so… normal. However, if you’re a fan of Charlaine’s previous work, I’d recommend giving it a try.

 

And thanks to Gollancz, I also have an exciting link to share with you all: a free sample of the first four chapters of Midnight Crossroad!

 

Review

Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

It is rather difficult to write a review for this book for some reason, because not much really happened.

That is not to say that it was a dull book, but the story progresses very slowly. The book begins with a young William Bellman, and slowly takes the reader through his life: from the start of the story where he kills a rook, through his advancement at the mill, through all the deaths and hardships of his life and on to the opening of his mourning emporium, Bellman & Black. And throughout his life, a mysterious figure, dressed all in black.

Although the book is snail-paced, it works very well for showing William’s character and nature: inquisitive and curious, hard-working and dedicated. The reader also gets a feel for how William’s life feels, with the people he loves dying all around him, whilst he still fights on. What’s most interesting is that, despite the book feeling this way, it skips over big chunks of time – one minute William is just a young boy, the next he is nearly twenty years old, then suddenly in his thirties.

The chapters are interspersed with facts about rooks, occasionally hinting at how rooks never forget, creating an eerie tone that looms over William throughout the course of the book. However, this is pretty much as eerie as it gets. There are no big shocks, no horrific moments, even the mysterious Mr. Black isn’t that creepy. For something labelled as a ghost story, it sure doesn’t feel like one.

I wasn’t very satisfied by the ending. I was expecting some sort of big surprise or revelation, some explanation for the previous events: but nothing. However, despite the slow pace of the book, and not much happening, it is when Bellman finally opens his ‘mourning emporium’ that things get much more interesting. I loved the description of the building and all the items within – who knew there could be so many shades of black?!

I also spent the majority of the book working out where it was supposed to be set. It kept mentioning Stroud in the chapters about the wool mill, which is the town where I went to school and used to play a big part in the wool industry, so I assume it is based in Gloucestershire. It also mentions Bristol and Oxford, which widens the area but I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s set in the south-west of England somewhere!

Overall, definitely an interesting story and concept, although with some rather dull moments – however these aren’t too common – though I would have liked more of a resolution.