Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

45418305._SY475_Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Published: October 31, 2019 by Subterranean Press

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis:

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.
Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Subterranean Press!***

As with all short story collections that I read, I prefer to review them by the story. Inevitably I will love some of them and not care for others and this collection was no different. I am a big fan of the author but some of these stories were a miss. I also noticed that there were some formatting issues with the ARC, which meant that sometimes I didn’t get the complete story. On the whole, this collection was a solid four stars with a lot more hits than misses.

Laughter at the Academy: 2 stars. I am not sure if it was the formatting issue or if the story was really supposed to be that disjointed. We got a little snippet of something “official” about the disorder in question, and then we would jump into a scene, right in the middle of a sentence. A scene that is totally unconnected from the previous scene. If that if how it was supposed to be, I didn’t like it. The snippets were good, but I never felt I got a full story.

Lost: 5 stars. This was a very short story but wow it packed a wallop. It was inventive and whimsical. It was riveting and profound. It was fantastic.

The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells: 5 stars. This is probably one of the more twisted stories I’ve read in quite a long while. It carries very heavy themes in complacency as a species, being too convinced of our own individual superiority to listen to people superior in knowledge than us. The desire for things to be the same and to be easy than to listen to harsh lessons. It was profound and deeply, deeply twisted.

Uncle Sam: 2 stars. The formatting issue was present here too, the story started mid sentence and I could tell there was more to it that I didn’t get. I didn’t really like this one. The story was slightly interesting but I didn’t really invest in the narrative for some reason. It was a bit obvious where it was going and the political assumptions in it were rather annoying. For example, “well obviously, even though many people think X thing, we all know that Y is true.” Well no, Y isn’t objectively true in the real world. If it’s objectively true in this world then fine, or if it’s true to those people then fine, but telling me that it’s true without more context was annoying. The ending was obvious, which also was irritating.

Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage: 3 stars. This story was okay. I would have liked a tiny bit more history on the story. I know it’s a short story but just thrusting someone into a fantasy world with no warning is a bit jarring, give me something to explain the things that are going on. The ending was good, I liked the conclusion a lot. Overall, it was fine but not as good as some of the others.

Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust: 4 stars. I love the land of Oz and stories about Dorothy’s adventures. This was definitely a darker story but I loved it. There wasn’t too much action, which disappointed me a little but the world introduced there was amazing.

Homecoming: 2 stars. I can honestly say I remember nothing about this story, even though I took notes. That says something I think.

Frontier ABCs: 4 stars. I can honestly say that I had no idea where this was going and it was a delightful little ride to find out.

We are all Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War: 5 stars. Holy crap this story threw me for a loop. I had to take a break from the book for a day or two because it just sent me reeling. It’s something so profound that I could imagine happening in our world. I have often said, “How do you prepare the world for a child’s toy saying they don’t want to be turned off because they are scared of the dark?” I love the complexities offered to humanity by AI and this story explored that beautifully.

The Lambs: 2 stars. Another exploration of AI and its uses in humanity but there was a problem here. I just didn’t buy it. I did not buy that this would be a reasonable alternative to the way things are right now. As a parent, I can’t imagine anyone seeing the technology presented and thinking “Yes, that’s a good idea for handling unruly, bully children”. And so, I didn’t enjoy the story because I couldn’t buy the premise.

Each to Each: 4 stars. Not too much to say about this one in particular other than it was really great.

Bring About the Halloween Eternal: 5 stars. Part of good sci-fi is using new formats to tell a story. This one used the backdrop of a GoFundMe project to tell the story and I loved that idea. It was playful, unique and wonderfully constructed.

Office Memos: 4 stars. I really loved this one because it takes the form of a bunch of company emails to narrate the story. Having been on the receiving end of many such mundane office emails I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare: 3 stars. This one was okay. It had some formatting issues at the beginning, so I missed out on the beginning of the story. It was a solid story, I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the others.

Driving Jenny Home: 5 stars. This particular story broke my heart. I cried all over my Nook. The sadness was palpable, the conclusion inevitable and all I could think at the end of it was “I’d do the same thing for the person I loved.”

There is no Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold: 5 stars. I can honestly say I’ve never read a retelling of Pandora’s Box, so this was a first and it hit the nail on the head. I loved every word and wanted the story to be longer.

In Skeleton Leaves: 4 stars. Speaking of retellings, Peter Pan anyone? This was also wonderful. I felt so sad for the characters and the ending I did not see coming, though I probably should have I was just too wrapped up in Wendy’s narrative to see it.

Please Accept My Most Profound Apologies: 5 stars. I have to say, I really love stories that are narrated as a letter from the bad guy, explaining themselves to the unfortunate sap who finds their manuscript before the end of the world. This was great and made my heart race in anticipation.

Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, at the End of the World: 3 stars. This one was an interesting concept and I liked the backdrop of the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it’s also one of my favorite places on earth. But in the end it was a little bland.

From A to Z in the Book of Changes: 3 stars. I liked this one, but it was just too disjointed for me. It seemed like unconnected threads that never came together to form a whole.

#connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere: 5 stars. I said earlier I loved playing with new mediums, this was a horror story told through someone’s Twitter timeline. I really liked that idea but wasn’t sure how effective it would be. Oh my God was it effective. It literally made my jump and feel uneasy sitting in my living room and continuing reading. It was superb. Probably the best one in the book.

Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves: 4 stars. We ended the book with the formatting cutting off a page or so from the beginning of this final story. It was deliciously twisted and well told.

Review: Refraction by Terry Geo

48348776__SY475_Refraction by Terry Geo

Published: October 4, 2019 by Amazon Digital Services

Buy this book at: Amazon

Synopsis:Most stories start at the beginning; this one begins at the end. At least for Maria.

Her sudden death sends shockwaves through her family and pushes her grieving mother to the very brink of insanity. After exhausting every avenue conventional medicine has to offer, Maria’s father, Henry, brings together the world’s greatest minds in the hope of carving out a new path.

Months pass, and as Henry watches his beloved Elena slowly drift away, he begins to lose faith. It is only then that a solution presents itself. A discovery so momentous, it saves Elena and reveals the most important scientific and technological breakthrough in modern history.

Silicate is founded; a privately funded facility which delves deeper into the human mind, able to discover answers to questions we are yet to ask. Securing Silicate’s secrets becomes of utmost importance; even after treating hundreds of patients, the public are still unaware of the wonders and terrifying reality Silicate has unearthed . . .
The world you know is only half the story.

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley!***

This book was everything I hoped for and yet nothing that I expected. I had hoped for a story about a shady company with a secret plan that stumbles onto something they didn’t expect. I got that. But I also got more than that, which I didn’t expect but I enjoyed.

This is a debut self-published novel and I must say that this was very well done. The cover is nice (anyone who’s read my reviews know how drool-y I get over good cover art), the synopsis is intriguing, it was well edited, the characters were engaging and the narrative was well paced.

I had a few complaints, mostly related to how characters behave with each other. I got a cardboard cutout feeling from a few people. I never connected with Jake, for example. I really wanted to like him, but he was just bland. Like a slice of plain toast. I wanted to like him but there was literally no personality to him. Similarly with Terrell (had to edit, somehow I confused the character and the author’s names, whoopsie!). I wanted to like him, but there was no depth to his character.

I also found it slightly annoying that everyone in Abby’s life can’t seem to use her name. In one two sentence exchange, her mother would call her “darling” at least twice. In a longer back and forth conversation, every sentence the mother uttered would include a “darling.” Now, I have a daughter. I have a lot of cutesy nicknames for my daughter, that I use a lot. And I do mean, A LOT. But not that much. I found it unnatural and irritating.

Those two points aside, I found the book wonderful. The story was well paced and gave me just the right amount of information to lead me down the merry path that the author wished me to take. That path ultimately led me to right where the author wanted me to be, not expecting the resolution at all. I can’t really call it a twist, because it wasn’t a twist. I also didn’t expect it or see it coming at all. Sometimes that would be a bad thing because it would mean that the author didn’t do a good job in hinting at his bigger story. But in this case I think the author did exactly the right job. We are supposed to see Silicate as this shadow company that is up to no good. That’s how these stories go right? Not necessarily.

On the whole, I really loved this book. It was a refreshing, imaginative story that is told very well. The author indicated that he would visit this world again in the future, I certainly hope he does because I want to know what comes next.

Nano tips: Making Time to Write

I am doing something different in the lead up to Nano this year. I used to take a few newbies under my wing and personally give them all my tips, advice, or encouragement. But this year, I think I just want to put my advice out into the ether. (And I worry that I just don’t have the time to dedicate to people individually anymore too and I don’t want to shortchange anyone).

All writers in the history of the written word have opined about never having enough time to write. It comes with the territory. The truth is, there’s never enough time to write. The writing monkeys will always be pawing at the back of your head, telling you to sit down and pound out all the wildest daydreams that you’ve had all day. That is the reality of being a creative type. But you also have to put in some conscious effort to make sure you are using your time wisely if you expect to write anything of length or substance.

  • Keep a time log for at least one week
    • You really do have more time than you think you do, you just haven’t realized it yet.
    • Track EVERYTHING! From sleeping, to eating, to job duties, to chores.
  • Analyze your time log
    • Do you notice any patterns in your behavior?
    • What about that hour and a half that you were browsing YouTube and didn’t want to put on the log…..
    • What about that period of time in the middle of your lunch hour when you’ve finished eating but still have time?
  • Make something your dedicated time to write.
    • It doesn’t matter if it’s 15 minutes or 2 hours of time, it is for writing only. Nothing else can interfere.
    • Put that period into your schedule so you aren’t tempted to do anything else.
  • Write!
    • It doesn’t matter if you put down 5 words in that time or 15,000 words. All of it contributes to the work you are trying to create. Sometimes it will be more, other times it will be less.
    • Minimize your distractions during your writing time. Phone away, television off, snacks and drinks within arms reach.

Personally, I add in two writing periods to my day during Nano. Before going to work, I typically wake up early anyway so I just shorten my morning routine to get some writing accomplished while the rest of the house sleeps. I find that I am most productive early in the day and late in the day. Accordingly, I also have a writing period after my child goes to bed until I go to bed. Every day. No exceptions. And yes, my phone and TV are a big distraction for me too. That’s why I recommend putting those phones and remotes away from your hands.

I never recommend the often suggested “get less sleep”. Being sleep deprived will not help your creativity at all. Now, if you typically get 8-9 hours of a sleep, then cutting back an hour is not a big deal. But if you’re like me and typically get 4-5 hours of sleep, DO NOT CUT BACK ANY MORE! It’s not healthy.

Let me know what your best way to find more writing time is.

Review: Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

23617219Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

 

Published: November 4, 2014 by Scribe Publishing Company

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: In 2153, cancer was cured. In 2189, AIDS. And in 2235, the last members of the human race traveled to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity. Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence. With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony.

Rating: 4 star

Review***Disclaimer*** I received a copy of this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Greg!***

This book was a delightful little read. Based on the synopsis it sounded like it would be right within my area of enjoyment and it turned out that it was. I had a few irritations with it, and there were a few struggles but I found that I did not mind those things too much because the story kept my interest well.

The book starts with a bullet pointed list of all the major accomplishments and failures of humanity in the 300-ish years leading from our present to the beginning of the story. While I found this information interesting, I would have preferred that the information was packaged in a different manner. Bullet points are not that enthralling to read. There was a short excerpt from a “history” of the same time period that we get at the end of the book and a lot of the same information was covered. It confused me why this was at the end and not the beginning. It would have been a better introduction to the story than an ending.

I also got the impression that the author struggled with his narrator a bit, which is understandable and I think anyone would have struggled with it but overall it was handled well. I could tell at times that the author really wanted Samuel to be able to describe things better but he couldn’t because he lacked the language or awareness for it at that moment. At times this led to a bit of an inconsistent narrative but not often enough that it got on my nerves.

Warning: There may be some spoilers beyond this point.

As I read other reviews for this book, I saw a lot of people wondering how humanity could get to a point of being so lazy that we experience a regression in all cognitive functioning and lose the vast majority of our language and ability to communicate. I wondered that too for a while. But then I got on social media for a few minutes and it all made sense to me. We already are practically communicating only in pictures these days with memes, GIFs, selfies and emojis. And plenty of people are so lazy that they can’t be bothered to seek out answers for themselves and instead of spending 30 seconds on Google figuring something out will instead spend an hour asking other people to do it for them. So, to me at least, I can completely see this as a future for humanity.

I really liked the series of tests that Samuel encountered trying to help his community but I also got frustrated with him at a certain point. Clearly, his efforts were going to waste. The rest of the colonists didn’t appreciate, nor even notice, his efforts to keep them content and happy so after a point I was wondering why he was still trying. This also leads me to the ending, at first I didn’t understand it. Staying with the other colony seemed like a natural step. These were people like Samuel. He could improve his own life and be with people who valued their minds, like he did. So why didn’t he?

I thought about that a lot since I finished the book last night and I think I came to a conclusion. Just like Samuel decided that he no longer wanted to waste his labor on colonists who would never progress, he equally didn’t want to waste his labor toward an effort that was directed for someone else’s benefit. He wanted to use his ingenuity, his mind, and his labor to forge his own way not just trade one master for another. In the end, I really like that message. It was an enjoyable book that I liked more than I first expected that I would.

Prepping for the Nano storm

National Novel Writing Month is 25 days away. Normally, for me, this means that I have nothing more than a general idea what I will be writing. Sometimes it’s a story that has been sitting with me for months, nagging at my imagination. Other times it hits me suddenly and I just know it’s the right story to tell. This month, I am attempting to not fly by the seat of my pants so much and, gasp shock horror, PLAN a little.

This is a new concept for me. In 13 years of doing Nano, I have never attempted this. Honestly, I feel totally out of my depth. So today, let’s talk a little bit about novel prepping. Or, rather, my pathetic approximation of prepping.

Some typical prep items I already figured out after this long. I know I will write it on my laptop. I know what program I like to use (though admittedly Scrivener needs to be an investment at some point). I have organized my haphazard research before. And I know the importance of backing up my work. Losing 24,543 words back in Nano 2010 taught me that one.

But what about the idea itself? I have never wondered before if an idea is worthy of being written. But, if I am going to spend all this time planning this thing out then I felt I needed to explore this a little bit. My skeleton idea:

From the beginning of time there has been a Light One. A cataclysmic event eons ago led to the creation of their equal opposite, a Dark One. The two have the same goal. One wants to snuff out the light. One wants to snuff out the darkness. Locked in battle for eons, will this dance go on forever?

I think it’s a good idea. But I also recognize that it could be too much project for me. I did that to myself a few years ago and the story was just too broad and it got away from me. So from here, I need to boil this idea down to its base. I have 2 characters. the Light One and the Dark One. This gives me decisions to make. Are they immortal? Have they always been the exact same two people? Is there a way to kill one and have their essence move on to a new host? Obviously, if they are at battle with each other there HAS to be a way for one to be defeated for good, otherwise the entire story is pointless. This has been quite a conundrum for me the past several days. Working out the kinks in a logical way that won’t leave a reader feeling “WTF just happened, that makes no sense!”.

Slowly, the details on my characters are coming together. I can start to imagine them in my head, which is a vital step for my process. I cannot write a character that I can’t imagine. Their dynamic and interactions are starting to come to light. They are becoming people. There is still a long way to go on that one, but we’re making our way.

Now I have to tackle something I hoped to forever avoid, an outline. I’m scared folks. I have never written this way, but I am willing to try. I have much more limited writing time these last few years, I don’t have time to spend days mentally hashing out a problem that presented itself because I didn’t plan! I recognize the value this will have, but I think I need a few more days to reconcile it in my head.

Review: Rain Will Come by Thomas Holgate

rain will comeRain Will Come by Thomas Holgate

Expected Publication: March 10, 2020 by Thomas & Mercer

Pre-order this title: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: A thrilling, page-turning debut about a twisted killer and a broken cop—both with nothing to lose.

Paul Czarcik, the longest-tenured detective in the Illinois Bureau of Judicial Enforcement, puts the rest of the team to shame. Ruthless and riddled with vices, Czarcik always gets his man. And fast. Until now…

A double slaying isn’t the open-and-shut case of urban crime he’s used to. Connecting it to a high-profile Texas judge, Czarcik realizes something bigger is going on. It’s the work of a serial killer for whom Chicago is just the beginning. Now he’s inviting Czarcik to play catch-me-if-you-can on a cross-country murder spree.

Going rogue, Czarcik accepts the challenge. But as the bodies pile up, he must come to grips with the fact that nothing—not the killer, the victims, or the rules—is what it seems in this bloody game of cat and mouse.

Rating: 3 star out of 5 stars

Review:  **Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Please note, changes to the manuscript may take place after publishing. Thank you Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer!**

I love a good cat & mouse story. A jaded, surly detective pursuing a psychopath story. In some ways this was a good fit, in other ways it didn’t live up to expectations. I feel it’s important for me to note right up front that this book is not breaking any new ground in the genre. Czarcik is like so many other surly over-the-hill detectives in detective novels. He likes booze, cocaine and hookers and doesn’t like following the rules. Nothing new to see here. The killer styles himself an avenging angel, a vigilante bringing justice to the helpless victims. Again there is nothing new here. So, if you aren’t bringing anything new to the table, you really need to give me a good chase.

Ultimately that is where this book failed for me, the chase. We find out who the killer is in the 3rd chapter and find out his whole plan about 40 pages after that. Once we know those two things, there’s not much left to do except chase him down and stop him, right? That was a very slow process, it seemed to take a long, long time. We spend about 275 pages on the first 3 victims, then rush through the entire last 2 victims and finally stopping the killer in less than 75 pages. We spent way too much time on the first half, not early enough time on the second half.

Another odd point for me was the writing itself. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the writing. The grammar and spelling are solid. The narrative is enjoyable. But the author seemed to occasionally throw things in that were just strange. And because they didn’t make sense, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what he meant rather than enjoying the narrative. For example, in a single paragraph the author managed to change a single character’s eye color 3 separate times. First her eyes were described as deep blue, got it. A sentence later they were “more like opal than ice”. Um, okay, opal is generally iridescent though. I have seen blue opals, but they aren’t deep blue but then neither is ice. So is it deep blue? Or blue opal? Then two sentences later they were sapphire. Which again, is a totally different color than either deep blue or blue opal. So I spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out what color her eyes were instead of continuing to read. I think the author tried to get too fancy.

Two more minor gripes. First, can we stop giving people psychic powers but insisting they aren’t psychic? The not-psychic-but-kind-of-psychic “rush” that Czarcik gets was strange, never explained and didn’t make a lick of sense. At one point he is tipped off by someone mentioning how they wouldn’t want to be the insurance adjuster who has to come out to the murder scene. Although I have no idea why an insurance adjuster would be necessary at a murder scene but somehow this leads Czarcik on a long, winding path from insurance adjuster to….AH HA! Someone is keeping a secret from me….about insurance….sort of, but in the end not really. Very weird.

So, I know this sounds like a book I didn’t really like, and on the whole it was disappointing. But it did keep my interest. I did want to find out how it ended. I enjoyed Czarcik as a character. I enjoyed the writing. So overall, it was not a great book but it was entertaining and worth the read.

Review: The Gatherer by Colleen Winter

gathererThe Gatherer by Colleen Winter

Expected Publication: November 26, 2019 by Rebel Base Books

Buy this book at: Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Synopsis: Storm Freeman gave the world a miracle. She designed The Gatherer to draw electromagnetic energy from the air and disperse free and infinite electricity to rural and underprivileged communities. Her invention helped people but devalued power industries. Some revered Storm as a deity. Others saw her as an eco-terrorist.

Then the miracle became a curse. The Gatherer unleashed a plague that damaged the human electrical system, bringing pain, suffering–and eventual death–to anyone continually exposed to the technology. Stricken herself, Storm goes into exile, desperate to find a cure–and destroy her invention.

But there are people in the government and in the corporation that funded The Gatherer who refuse to publicly acknowledge the connection between the device and the spreading plague. And they will stop at nothing to find Storm and use her genius for military applications . . .

Rating: 4 star out of 5 stars

Review: 

***Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book for free on NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley!***

This book was a nice surprise for me. I read the synopsis and thought to myself, “Well, that sounds like just about every dystopian young adult book I’ve ever read.” But it wasn’t and that surprised me a lot. I found the plot intriguing and the characters were crisp and refreshing. I didn’t really mean to make them sound like apples, but there we are.

Really only to things got on my nerves and I hope they are rectified before publishing. 1. The plot moves back and forth in time quite a bit, and there is no indication in the text about when we’re in a particular time period. I found it rather confusing with no idea what time period we were in until I had read a page or two. Even a “X year” at the beginning of the chapters from the past would help. 2. Sometimes the text seemed a bit disjointed. For example, I would read something and then all of a sudden they’d be talking about a dead body and I’m thinking “wait, when did someone die? what happened?” So I went back and read those passages again and still can’t figure out what happened. This didn’t occur a lot, but it happened a few times.

Storm was a good character, though I found her assumed helplessness a bit annoying sometimes. This book was the time for her to harness the power she still has and step forward into action. I saw that a little bit at the end, but it was quite literally only in the last 2 chapters. Prior to that she was a passenger to the plot and I wanted more from her.

Maria is a great character, a real kick butt strong woman with a purpose. The only drawback to her character is that I felt she was a vehicle to the next book. She seemed a little irrelevant to this particular plot but she was the method of getting our characters to the next book.

The plot moved at a good pace and the writing is exciting. I really enjoyed the journey this book took me on as a reader and I look forward to the revelations we get in the next book. I wish I could come up with more great things to say about this book, but anything else will spoil the plot and I endeavor to keep this review spoiler free. But it is a good, fun read that you should check out.

Review: Alive by Scott Sigler

aliveAlive (Generations Trilogy #1) by Scott Sigler

Published July 14, 2015 by Del Rey

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: I open my eyes to darkness. Total darkness. I hear my own breathing, but nothing else. I lift my head…it thumps against something solid and unmoving. There is a board right in front of my face. No, not a board…a lid.

A teenage girl awakens to find herself trapped in a coffin. She has no idea who she is, where she is, or how she got there. Fighting her way free brings little relief—she discovers only a room lined with caskets and a handful of equally mystified survivors. Beyond their room lies a corridor filled with bones and dust, but no people…and no answers.

She knows only one thing about herself—her name, M. Savage, which was engraved on the foot of her coffin—yet she finds herself in charge. She is not the biggest among them, or the boldest, but for some reason the others trust her. Now, if they’re to have any chance, she must get them to trust one another.

Whatever the truth is, she is determined to find it and confront it. If she has to lead, she will make sure they survive. Maybe there’s a way out, a rational explanation, and a fighting chance against the dangers to come. Or maybe a reality they cannot comprehend lies just beyond the next turn.

 

Rating: 2 star out of 5 stars

 

Review: I cannot begin to tell you how dismayed I am to be giving a book by Scott Sigler just two stars. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever given one of his books less than four stars. For me, Scott Sigler is an auto-buy, auto-read author. If he puts it into print, I will read it. And every single time, I have loved it. Until this time. When I first heard this book was being published I was a little surprised. Young Adult is not really the Sigler wheelhouse. Dick jokes and very colorful language is part of the writing style, none of which can be in a young adult book. But he’s an extraordinary writer so I didn’t worry about it too much. Surprised but not worried. In hindsight, I should have been worried.

Now, in order for me to be intellectually honest, I also have to mildly rebuke the author a little. On the podcast for Alive, and apparently on the book (at least the advance copies), he felt it necessary to add a little notation that said if you’re going to review this book, please don’t post spoilers and ruin it for other people. This shocked me. My jaw literally dropped. Scott Sigler has never been someone that didn’t understand the reader/author line and always been very respectful of any and all feedback. But this was not okay. Once that book is out into the world, you no longer control it as an author and you certainly don’t control the way it is read or reviewed. If someone doesn’t wish to be spoiled, they should probably not read reviews. Or look for ones that specifically state no spoilers. Let’s not repeat this pattern Scott Sigler, it’s not a good look.

Alright, all that finished. Consider yourself warned, there be spoilers ahead.

***SPOILERS***

Let’s talk about the redeeming qualities about this book first, that’s the shorter of my two lists. The premise of this book is very good, it’s intriguing and mysterious and horrifying at time. It was executed badly but the premise was great.

Em was a character with a lot of potential. A scared little girl who is thrust into a position of authority when she doesn’t know anything more about the situation than anyone else. Where Em fell short was that she ended up being largely boring. Most of her verbal dialogue and inner dialogue alike are “I’m the leader, I think that person wants to challenge me to be leader but I’M THE LEADER!!” Seriously, she repeats this so many times I was praying someone would actually challenge her leadership so she could stop stressing about it.

All of the other characters really don’t matter. Bello is very important to Em for some reason that I never figured out, she didn’t do anything except sit around, look pretty and be boring. O’Malley has some potential to be interesting because I got the sense that he is a secret trouble maker, he always seems like he’s supportive of Em but I think he’s undermining her behind her back. Bishop is scary and violent but, oh, those dreamy eyes and muscles of his. We hear a lot about liquid eyes and taunt muscles and flat stomachs too. Which brings me to my biggest problem with this book:

These kids are supposed to be 12 year olds stuck in adult bodies. Why are they all so sexually interested? Kids at 12 have crushes based on who looked at them across the playground, not because they are enthralled with their muscles and boobs. 12 year olds haven’t figured out what boobs are yet. So on one hand you have prepubescent kids acting like 16-17 year old kids, but then also calling these mysterious people who locked them away “grown ups”. I am pretty certain that most kids stop referring to adults as grown ups much earlier than 12 years old. It was very strange.

The kids, Em in particular, at times struck me as both a much younger and much older child and it did not make sense. She also seemed very disingenuous as a female character, often times she read like a boy. This could be explained by something I heard the author say in his podcast when he was asked how difficult it was to narrate a 12 year old girl. (Note: while in quotations, this is not a direct quote, but it’s close), “It really wasn’t that hard because the world of Alive is post-gender, post-race, post-everything except the caste system that they don’t even understand yet.”

This leads me to a question, if your world is post-gender, why differentiate between girls and boys at all? Presumably the “grown ups” that are cultivating their bodies for their own use don’t need to breed because they can live for millennia, so…why was this important anyway? And why exactly is everyone so obsessed with how attractive the opposite gender is, if it is really irrelevant? It was the strangest remark I’ve ever heard, I listened twice just to be sure I heard it correctly. And I am not sure what this caste system is because we were too busy obsessing over leadership and muscles to explore it at all.

While we’re on the subject of gender in characters, what the fuck was with dressing 12 year olds in too-small, too-tight, busting-at-the-seams Catholic schoolkids outfits? And everyone was so completely hot? Are we really sexualizing 12 year old children? I found that to be one of the more disturbing aspects of the whole book. My brain just kept screaming “Stop it! These are children! Literally prepubescent children!”

I will walk away from that for awhile and move on to tropes. This book has all of them. Smoldering eyes, liquid eyes, scintillating muscles, flat firm stomachs, boobs popping out of shirts, wistful glances across fields of flowers. There was so much purple prose I was inspired to quote from Willy Wonka. Sigler, you’re turning violet Sigler!

Lastly, the plot. It was boring. 70% of the book was walking, arguing about leadership, gazing longingly at each other, and occasionally doing something they think is a bad idea (I shouldn’t look in that room, oh I did anyway, OMG that’s awful I shouldn’t have looked!) Then when we finally started getting answers I was presented with Brewer the Cheshire Cat who I thought was supposed to be the bad guy, but apparently isn’t. But if he is a good guy, then why the hell was he talking in so many circles. I also lost my mind when Brewer gave them a lecture about “why tell you when I can show you, that’s so much better”….and then proceed to TELL them for about 6 pages everything that was going on. That was followed with 10 more pages of the actual bad guy, Matilda, once again telling them everything they need to know about what’s going on. I thought showing was better? I could almost hear the author over my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Are you so super surprised? You never saw it coming did you?” Honestly, no I didn’t see it coming but it also wasn’t that great either. My final feelings once I turned the last page were a big, whomp whomp.

Unfortunately, this trilogy will tie directly into the larger Siglerverse very heavily, I can see that, so I have to read the next two. I really don’t want to, but I will. Maybe it gets better, if not, I’ll let you know.

Book Review: Earthcore by Scott Sigler

31676014._SY475_Earthcore by Scott Sigler

Published: May 20, 2017 by Empty Set Entertainment

Buy this book at: Amazon \ Barnes & Noble

 

Synopsis:

Deep below a desolate Utah mountain lies the largest platinum deposit ever discovered. A billion-dollar find, it waits for any company that can drill a world’s record, three-mile-deep mine shaft. EarthCore is the company with the technology, the resources and the guts to go after the mother lode. Young executive Connell Kirkland is the company’s driving force, pushing himself and those around him to uncover the massive treasure. But at three miles below the surface, where the rocks are so hot they burn bare skin, something has been waiting for centuries. Waiting …and guarding. Kirkland and EarthCore are about to find out first-hand why this treasure has never been unearthed.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

Review:

Just a small disclaimer, I LOVE Scott Sigler. Like really love Scott Sigler. I’ve read everything he’s ever produced and enjoyed almost all of it. When Earthcore was first released all the way back in 2005ish I was skeptical, it was okay but I didn’t think that it was his best work. Now, all these years later, he rewrote the entire thing and re-released it. And WOW! It is so fantastic. The writing structure is a lot cleaner and the characters are a lot more fleshed out. In the first reading I didn’t really care about many of the characters because they didn’t strike me as real people but they did this time.

Connell Kirkland is a tragic figure, I found myself rooting for him, cursing him, and crying for him throughout the course of the book. A few of the side characters didn’t do much for me, like Veronica. I thought she was a whiny bitch and needed to go away. I wish we had seen more of Sonny but the story largely demanded his absence so I understand it.

The premise of this is an interesting one. A mining company stumbles on a lot more than they bargained for and aren’t sure what it is until it’s too late. Could it be claimjumpers trying to steal their find? Other miners that beat them to it? A lost tribe that has lived underground for a few thousand years? Or is it sabotage? Unfortunately for almost all the characters, it’s much much too late before they figure it out.

While I was listening to the audiobook, I found that the narrator distracted me a little for the first few chapters and I was skeptical that I would continue. But I stuck through it and was rewarded, he got a lot better and it was much more enjoyable.

I will stop before I am tempted to spoil the whole thing, all I will say is that it’s time to prepare. Prepare for Mount Fitzroy.

Review: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

unorthodox  Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

Published: January 1st, 2012

Buy this book at: B&N / Amazon / Books a Million / Book Depository

 

Synopsis:

The instant New York Times bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author. As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. It was stolen moments spent with the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott that helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, for the sake of herself and her son, she had to escape.

 

Rating: 4 star

 

Review:

I’ve been a bad bad reviewer. I haven’t managed to read more than a single book this entire year. Okay, one and a half if I’m being honest…I am halfway through another. But, in my defense I did give birth and now have a 5 month old daughter. So I’ve been a teensy bit busy. But I found time to read! While I’m at work pumping milk for my baby, that’s a whole half hour that could be spent reading instead of browsing Facebook or playing Candy Crush.

This was a quick read but a good one. Feldman paints a vivid picture with her words and transports you directly to her world. I was engrossed in the story. One would like to think that things like this don’t happen in a free country, but alas it does. I lived through a similar religious experience (with a different religion of course) and was interested to see how much these experiences overlap. Not surprisingly, the answer is quite a lot. Religious abuse is a real thing.

While I am aware of the accusations of exaggeration and lying by the author, I personally choose to give the benefit of the doubt. People do behave this way. People in such strict religions do these kinds of things. And when someone dares to leave the flock, their former community throws mud all day long to try and discredit them. I can’t say for sure that is what is happening in this case, but it seems logical.

As a woman and a mother, I found the book infuriating. I can sympathize with how utterly out of the place the author felt in the world that she had been born into. Her yearnings for more were palpable. I found myself rooting for her to succeed and break free from what felt like such a confining life. I can’t say much more about this book except that I found it very compelling.

And now I hear someone yelling at daddy for a nursing, so I will wrap up. Hopefully I can make at least one more review this year…we’ll see lol.