Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is a retelling of Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail movie with zombies, in an original world of islands, complex mythology, and a wild-west vibe. The movie is one of my all-time favourite romantic comedies, so I had high hopes for this book.

There were some changes with the premise. In the movie, the romantic pair are business rivals. The bigger business eventually forces the smaller to close, a cause for permanent animosity between the pair in real life, while they become close through correspondence without knowing the identity of their friend. The romance hangs on whether she can forgive him for putting her out of business.

In the book, Hart, a marshal keeping a frontier town free of zombies, and Mercy, an owner of a funeral home, don’t have such a logical cause for their dislike. They hate each other at sight for no reason, which makes them rather unlikeable and weakens the premise. They too start corresponding, and find the other a kindred spirit while continuing to dislike each other in real life.

The pivotal moment, the attempt to meet for the first time, is copied from the movie. It doesn’t work as well as the author maybe hoped, and only managed to yank this reader out of the world of the book and remembering the original, which won the comparison. As the premise is different, the consequences of the meeting are different too. The romance basically hangs on whether she can forgive him for lying.

The book was at its best when it relied on its own worldbuilding and original story. For most of the book, the characters had their own stories going on that didn’t really touch. He had an apprentice to teach and needed to get over some trauma of his past, and she had the funeral home to save from a random jerk. She didn’t write to him to ask business advice, for example, like in the original (basically asking him to work against his own company).

Hart and Mercy improved on acquaintance. For the first part of the book, which follows the movie, the romance grew through letters. For the latter part, the romance was a rather run of the mill series of heat and heartache. Mercy handles her business problem with the help of her family. Hart handles the zombie problem with self-sacrifice. The latter brings the romance to a point in a rather forced fashion. It’s tear-inducing, but I didn’t find it terribly romantic.

The book was a mixed bag for me. I liked the world, which was much more complex than the story required. I liked Hart’s storyline, especially the parts with his apprentice, but it didn’t need to be that long. Mercy’s storyline with her family was nice, but much, much too long as well, and it took too long for her business trouble to solve. Put together and added with the romance, the plot was a mess that could’ve used chopping. I would’ve left the movie retelling out and gone with the author’s original story. It worked for the characters and the world best.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six had a lot of hype as a self-published book before being picked up by a publisher. I read the publisher’s version. I’m not entirely sure I understand the hype. It’s not the kind of book that usually gets it: there are no deep emotions, no romances, no high stakes and no action.

I found this a difficult book to like or dislike. It wasn’t bad as such. It’s well-written and has an interesting premise: six magically gifted people who are given a chance to become even more together. The problem is that nothing actually comes of it. Nothing happens.

The book consists solely of personal musings and endless conversations between the characters, each of whom have their POV chapters. Most of it is philosophical and scientific, or attempting to be so. While I found some of it interesting, it wasn’t enough to carry the book. There is no plot and no sense of immediacy. All the story-advancing elements are told second-hand, and the reader is seldom invited in.

This could’ve maybe worked, if the characters had been interesting and/or likeable, but they were all selfish and self-serving (Nico’s attempts to help Gideon the only exception, though we don’t really know why he’s doing it.) Reading endless chapter after another of unlikeable people interacting for their own gain was not entertaining. Having them contemplate killing one of them didn’t make them more interesting.

It didn’t help that they were like copies of the characters from The Magicians by Lev Grossman, or the TV version of it. I kept imagining Libby as Alice, Tristan and Nico as Quentin (one was filled with Quentin’s self-hatred, the other his quest of impossible), Parissa as Margo, Callum as Eliot and Reina as Julia. There even turned out to be a version of Penny among the characters.

For a book about magic, we learn very little about it. The reader is only given glimpses of magic being wielded by the POV character, so we never learn what it feels like. Most of the time we only observe it through other characters. The magic takes some kind of toll on the user, but basically there’s nothing the characters, especially Libby and Nico, can’t do. In the end, magic wasn’t all that important, only the end results.

Then came the out of the blue twist at the end, which the book should’ve worked better at foreshadowing to make it anything other than a blatant f-you on reader’s face. It does promise a more plot oriented second book, but it basically rendered the entire book until that moment pointless, especially the bits about time-travelling.

With the way the book ended, the follow-up should be more interesting, with proper stakes. But since I didn’t care about the characters, I’m not compelled to read it.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

The Heart Principle is the third book in The Kiss Quotient series of romances that follows three Vietnamese American men and their romances. It’s also the best of the three.

Anna Sun is a violinist suffering from burnout caused by sudden fame and lifelong masking of her autistic side to be good enough for her family. When her boyfriend of five years wants to see other people, she goes on a dating app and finds Quan Diep, a businessman recovering from cancer. It’s supposed to be a one-night stand, but they are having trouble in the bedroom, and so they keep rescheduling dates. Anna’s anxieties cause them some problems, but Quan has experience of autistic persons and knows how to give her space and support.

A true test of their budding relationship comes when Anna has to become a full-time caregiver of her father. The pressure of her family and the workload causes her to burn out even worse than before, and before she realises what’s happening, she’s managed to break Quan’s heart. Good thing he’s almost unbelievably understanding.

This was a great book. Unlike the other two, it was told in first person by Anna and Quan both, which gave the characters greater depth. The romance took a backseat towards the end of the book and Anna’s recovery became the focus. It wasn’t made easy or glossed over, but I would’ve liked Quan’s point of view to it too. After all, he was put in the same position as her caregiver Anna had been, and it would’ve been nice to see how he handled the pressure. And while the emotional payoff wasn’t about the romance in the end, it was sweet and satisfying. A good ending for the trilogy.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

These Twisted Bonds by Lexi Ryan: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

These Twisted Bonds by Lexi Ryan

These Twisted Bonds finishes These Hollow Wows duology that began with a book of the same name. It’s YA fantasy set in an original world, and since it’s impossible to review without spoiling the first book, be warned.

The book starts where the first ended. Abriella—Brie—is fleeing, feeling betrayed by Sebastian and Finn, the two princes competing for her heart and the crown, and battling her new powers as a fey, knowing she can never return to her home in the human world. She finds an unexpected ally in Misha, the king of the Wild Fey, but she isn’t entirely able to trust him either.

Once things settle down a little, she sets out to solve the mess she finds herself in. She’s bonded to Sebastian she no longer loves and who she believes wants her only for her new powers so that he can take the throne. She loves Finn, who deserves the throne, but can’t have it, because of all sorts of complicated reasons. All she wants is to be human again and bring peace to the fey realms.

I confess, I couldn’t see a way out of the complicated dilemma. I’m not entirely sure I cared for the outcome either. Unlike in the first book, I didn’t like Brie much. She’d lost her strength and self-reliance gaining her new powers and was constantly relying on men to solve things for her—mostly because she had no idea what was going on, but it was still annoying. Finn and Sebastian were as bland as ever, and while I rooted more for Finn, I wouldn’t have minded if she hadn’t chosen either of them.

There was action and twists and turns aplenty. Brie found her backbone in the end, though not quite the way I would’ve hoped, as the shadow-self was a kind of random, deus-ex-machina move. And I was a little disappointed with the final twist. It was elegant and emotional enough for YA sentiments, but it solved everything for Brie without any input from her, which was a bit of a let-down. And reducing the two men with Brie to consorts and lesser beings so that she could shine was downright disappointing. It saved her from becoming a supreme being and taking all the power, which wouldn’t have fit the YA genre, but at least it would’ve given her the keys to solving things. Other than that, the ending was neat and satisfying enough so that the reader doesn’t crave for more.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

The Wolf by J. R. Ward: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Wolf by J. R. Ward

Black Dagger Brotherhood: Prison Camp is a spin-off of the original BDB series, and The Wolf is the second book. It follows a group of vampires and wolven who are kept in a secret prison camp, some for decades. It’s heavy on original BDB characters though, this time Vishious.

The Wolf follows Lucan, a vampire-wolven hybrid who’s been thrown in the prison by his wolven relations for being a mixed breed. He’s given some freedom, however, to handle the drug trade the prison relies on. On one such mission, he runs into Rio, an undercover cop who is about to learn the hard way that her cover has been blown.

Since there’s nowhere else to go, Luke brings her to the prison camp. She goes through most of the book without understanding that the people around her aren’t exactly normal human. For a cop, she’s amazingly incurious about it. She’s had a blow to her head though, and she’s more than a little distracted by Luke.

This was once again an insta-love/bonding story where the male decides that the female is for him. Why though, is never entirely clear, and why she falls for him under the straining conditions isn’t clear either. Lust is obvious; love not so much. But they have great need save the other and both work towards it until the final showdown.

The action parts were good. Rio is a no-nonsense cop who can handle herself, and Luke is a long-time prisoner who somehow has managed to retain his identity. Together they were more like an action duo than a romantic couple.

Meanwhile, the brothers work towards finding the prison camp. They’re taking quite a roundabout way to it though, and don’t come even close the whole time. Maybe in the next book. There are three more prisoners to go.